Understanding Wall Street: Maybe I Wasn’t Blowing Smoke …

Investing on Wall Street: the same thing as gambling. OK, I’m a year late in observing this, but I just discovered this last night. I was Googling myself (and we all know how painful a procedure that can be for a male over the age of 35) to see if this new site had been picked up yet by various search engines.

I know it’s really too new for the various spiders to have found it and indexed it, but just thought I would check. That’s when I came across this mention in The Stalwart of me and a story I wrote for Electronic News from November of last year. The Stalwart is a blog about financial markets and the economy, kept by a former equity analyst and an investment banker. Last year they cited a story I had done about a stock sell-off suffered by flash memory makers.

I was so jazzed to stumble across this because I’ve always found the world of high finance, particularly Wall Street, rather mystifying. When I first got hired to write for Electronic News, I didn’t know squat about semiconductors, and knew even less about the stock market. After a year at E-News, I could hold my own with a process engineer when it came to talking about semiconductor manufacturing, but I was still mystified by the vagaries of the stock market. Even as I wrote stories about it for publication, I was always worried, in the back of my mind, that maybe I was missing some key piece of information that would suddenly explain Wall Street in a way that made sense.

This was only reinforced by my environment at the time: having arrived in Silicon Valley at the pinnacle of the dotcom boom, I was always immersed in the world of venture capital and the stock market, or so it seemed. Wherever I went, that’s all anyone wanted to talk about. Wanted to get attention at a party or bar? Just mumble something about Internet startup or IPO.

Then came the dotcom bust, and that’s all anyone ever wanted to talk about: stocks and stock options. At work, my inbox would always be full of analyst reports about the chip industry, and most of the time, I’d be wondering if they were talking about the same chip industry I was covering, because from my vantage point, I couldn’t see what they were talking about half the time.

I eventually caught onto the racket that is Wall Street and investing, of course. I concluded that from the investors’ standpoint, at least, it was and is essentially intelligent gambling, and as such, very fickle. This was only compounded by some (not all, but some) of the research being put out by analysts, which now comes to us at Internet speed.

Then of course, there are the message boards … As an editor I was always struck by the lemming-like nature of investors to rush to buy and sell based on the scantest of questionable information, misperceptions or sometimes deliberate misinformation. I even wrote a parody of Shakespeare (you only hurt the ones you love) about Wall Street and its fickle nature for E-News. Later came a column about one of the more amusing examples of investors’ misperceptions.

Which brings us back to The Stalwart. I won’t bore you with the details; you can follow the above links to see for yourself, if you wish. It was just gratifying for me to see that I was seeing the same thing these Wall Street veterans were seeing, and that they felt I was on the mark.