Kirt's Cogitations™ #214
Ignorance is NOT Bliss
Ignorance is NOT Bliss
I am no doctor, but I do know a little about how the human body
works. This knowledge has helped me stay healthier nutritionally than I might otherwise have, and it helps me to
avoid stress and shocks that could be damaging. Now, those statements might seem so obvious that they hardly need
mentioning. Such is not the case generally though, as evidenced by the poorer health of people in third-world
countries and even in the impoverished inhabitants of our own country. Just a few nights ago I read an article by
an emergency room doctor that told of an immigrant (illegal, I might add), who presented at an emergency room with
a 2-year-old boy who was lethargic and pale (normally bronze-skinned). To make a long story short, the diagnosis
was incredibly severe anemia, cause by low levels of iron in the blood. It turns out the parents had been feeding
this child nothing but grocery store milk for nearly six months. Without iron, hemoglobin cannot attach to blood
cells to carry oxygen efficiently. The boy was basically suffocating along with being malnourished. Contrary to
the popular saying, ignorance is not always bliss.
I am also no professional market analyst, but I do understand enough about the markets to keep me from being
avoidably harmed by it. In fact, I have never actively traded stock. Many of my engineering colleagues are quite
active in daily trading and while I am not privy to their successes – or lack thereof – they are very smart people
and know what the risks are going into the game. Such is evidently not that case with all who invest, however.
Just as there are people who suffer physical maladies out of ignorance, I found out recently just how ignorant
(could actually be stupidity) some people are about the stock market in which they willingly invest. It is one
thing to take some hits and acknowledge that you alone are responsible for the results because you alone decided
to assume the risk. It is quite another to get burned by market forces, and then blame everyone around you for it.
Last week, the NASDAQ-listed company I work for held its annual stockholders' meeting (I am not a shareholder, but
do have some out-of-the-money
options). While I did not attend, I
did listen to the webcast after it was over. What I heard astounded me. The first 2/3 of the meeting was filled
with ho-hum financial stuff and speeches about how we performed over the last year (which was outstanding, by the
way) and predictions for the future (which is also outstanding). After the calm came the storm. Person after
person stepped up to the microphone to pound our officers with what I consider to be insulting, inane, utterly
foolish questions, and to deride some of them personally. The crime? Our stocks that were once $80/share before
the tech bubble crash in 2000 and the terrorists attacks in 2001 are, a full six years later, still only valued at
$6. To make matters worse, some of the founding-era officers had had the audacity to exercise a few options with
strike prices of under $1. Surely high crimes and misdemeanors had been committed. A public lynching was in order,
and by Jove, they were just the people to do it!
I assume since those people are savvy enough to be
investors that they are also sophisticated enough to use a computer to surf to the free financial websites like
finance.yahoo.com (that is where I always go to see what is
happening). There, they can look at market performance charts of the DJIA and NASDAQ since 2000. Likely without
exception every publicly traded company took an awful beating. 9/11/2001 rubbed salt in the wound, further
depressing the markets. Some companies never recovered, while others – most, thankfully – struggled back to their
feet and thrive again today. While 9/11 came without warning, the tech bubble crash was portended by many. Does
the phrase “irrational
exuberance” ring a familiar bell?
For years people were warned about the potential for a major market
correction. For years the stock prices of high-tech companies climbed in value based on astronomical P/E ratios.
It was investors - both professionals and laymen - that pumped air into the bubble daily. Speculation and hard
cord gambling was paying off handsomely in that era, so the elephant in the room was ignored, so to speak. You
know the story: People were selling their houses and taking out huge loans in order to raise cash to invest in the
markets. Some literally bet the farm…and lost it all. Surely that is old news to everyone now, right? Have we not
Apparently, some are stuck back in the spring of 2000. One lady got up twice to scold us for her
holdings of $85/share stocks, and how she never was able to build that bathroom off the back porch because of our
company (she really said that). The woman personally attacked (verbally) one of our company founders (who laid
everything he owned on the line to help start the company) for having dared to build a large house in the country
while she was forced to live in a modest city home. Some man all but accused a couple of our senior staff of being
involved in a stock options back-dating scandal because of the much-below current stock price value of the options
that were recently exercised. Our CFO explained that those options were granted almost a decade ago, before the
market run-up, and before the stocks had split two or three (or four) times. There is a 10-year statute of
limitations on exercising options, and that time was nearly at hand. It was use them or lose them time.
another complained that we only take from the community in the form of tax breaks and never give back. He seemed
oblivious to all the programs like March of Dimes, Habitat for Humanity, and various other charities that the
company and its employees and families take active roles in both during work time and personal time. We also
sponsor university research and hire college interns during the summer. Oh, and we also employ about 1,000 people
locally fulltime with higher than average pay rates. There are a lot of very nice cars in the parking lots
(excluding my embarrassing 1995 Mercury Tracer wagon).
Clearly these people had a bone to pick with our company and they would take any opportunity to air their
grievances – justified or not. Clearly, they have absolved themselves of all responsibility for their own
decisions made more than six years ago. Our official representatives were as polite as they could be in
responding. Good for them; I might not have been as cordial.