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News Comment
"A View From Across The Pond" an Englishman's personal view of the week's news in the USA -
from Erithacus


29th September 2001 

It’s October on Monday. A scary month, and not just because it ends with Halloween. October is the month that saw two of the biggest ever stock market crashes in 1929 and 1987, and colossal falls in 1978, 1979 and 1997.

Many analysts, however, believe this October will see some of the largest rises in the stock prices for many months as the markets continue to recover from three-year lows seen shortly after the attacks on the United States on September 11th. Already falling when the attacks happened, the Dow Jones index had its worst quarter since 1987 losing 1700 points. The last week saw a rise of 7% to a closing level on Friday of 8847, and the Nasdaq managed to climb 55 to 1498.

As well as some of the worst falls, October has also brought the turning point in "bear markets" on numerous occasions. Notable among these were 1946, 1957, 1960, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1987, 1990 and 1998.

The New York Stock Exchange

Better than expected levels of consumer confidence accounted for much of the week’s rises, and although statistics for economic growth in the second quarter showed a rise of just 0.3% it was better than the recessionary figures many had feared. It is expected that the figures for the third quarter will show the economy has contracted by at least 0.5%, but the disruption to the whole economy by the events of September 11th is calculated by some economists to have accounted for at least a 0.6% fall on its own.

Next week promises to bring mixed news likely to create highly volatile movements on all the financial markets. Manufacturing figures on Monday from the National Association of Purchasing Management are expected to be poor, as are figures for car and truck sales also due on Monday. The Federal Reserve meets on Tuesday, and is expected to announce yet another interest rate cut, with expectations of 0.5% already factored into the markets. There is a real possibility of a 0.75% cut. September unemployment figures for the U.S. will be released on Friday and are not likely to show any improvement.

The wild card in next week’s likely events is, of course, any news related to military action in the now-certain war against terrorism. The scale, direction, and global support or otherwise for any action remains largely an unknown factor, but many analysts believe that aggressive moves by the U.S. at this stage will produce a definite "patriotic rally", at least in the short term. Additionally, the news of exactly WHAT action will be taken should be enough to produce higher trading volumes. At present it seems that many investors are simply doing nothing.

While many in other countries have expressed serious worries about infringement of civil rights many governments are saying will be necessary in the fight against terrorists, it seems Americans have no such concerns. A poll published in the Washington Post revealed between 65% and 95% would be in favor of increasing police powers to tap telephones and intercept mail, e-mail and voice mail. Most also favored powers to arrest and hold foreign terrorist suspects indefinitely. Nine out of ten people favored a military response with the objective of killing or capturing Osama bin Laden, and 63% felt it essential the United States destroyed Afghanistan’s Taliban government. 39% also believed Iraq was involved in some way in the attacks, and wanted the United States to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussain.

A similar poll by Time Magazine showed Americans were impatient at delays, but were prepared to wait a month or more if necessary before seeing positive military action in Afghanistan. Four out of five believe there will be further attacks on the U.S., whether or not action in Afghanistan is fully successful.

The Personal Computer is finished

The business revolution of personal computers based on Intel chips and Microsoft operating systems is over, according to reports by leading computer experts. The PC has had its day, and companies likely to take the lead within the next 18 months will be Sun Microsystems and IBM. "Microsoft can't stop this; it can only attempt to control it," said Tony Occleshaw, IBM marketing manager for software.

This prediction was repeated throughout the computer industry press and elsewhere.  And is five years old this week.

What happened?

Finally for this week I see an interesting story about the four-year-old space probe "Deep Space 1" and its examination of a comet. Its fly-by of the comet Borelly has astounded researchers by revealing that the comet’s core is off-center. "It is in the wrong place and we have to figure out why," said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Objects program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

As this is only the second ever close examination of a comet, the first being Halley’s Comet in 1986 (remember that one? "It’s going to hit us, and it will be the end of the world"), I just have to wonder why they are so sure the comet’s core is "in the wrong place". Is it not just possible the core is exactly where the core always is on this type of comet?

It reminds me of a verse by Hilaire Belloc. I think I’ve mentioned it before:
"But scientists, who ought to know
Assure us that it must be so.
Oh, let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about."

29th September 2001                        

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Links to previous news comments:

31-March 2001

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