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THE DAY AHEAD: Media indicator points to market bottom

COMMENTARY--Has the stock market hit bottom? That question is being asked a lot lately and I'm not going to claim to have any crystal ball, but there is one particular indicator you may want to consider.

The media indicator.

You won't find this as an index, but if you look around you'll notice it. It goes like this: The media is notoriously behind. By the time the mainstream press catches on, you know things are about to change. When the media is all on the same bandwagon going "bah, bah," you know things are about to do an about-face.

That's why I'm going to guess we're near the bottom for the Nasdaq. How do I know? BusinessWeek, Fortune and a host of other business magazines have had covers dissecting the bear market, recession and tech collapse. But that's just a start. Many of those Sunday morning political talk shows--you know the ones occupied by politicos, talking heads and policy wonks--devoted a lot of time to Wall Street's woes.

On March 18, ABC's "This Week," hosted by Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, had Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos, Morgan Stanley Chief Strategist Byron Wien and Warren Buffett as guests. Simply put, Sam and Cokie were doing the best CNBC imitation they could do.

Maybe it was just that "This Week" got tired of politics. Or maybe it means that Wall Street's fortunes can't get much worse.

It's the same deal with the broadcast news programs. You'll inevitably get some mention about the market. Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly even floated the idea last week that Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton knew the markets would tank, but failed to warn the public.

When all these media types are talking about the bear market and what Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) CEO John Chambers thinks about the economy it has to be the beginning of a bull market. Every media outlet is proclaiming the sky has fallen.

Looking back, it turns out that a little content analysis of the media would have predicted when market peaked last year.

AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL), then Time Warner, launched eCompanyNow, a new economy magazine, in June 2000 just as the "new economy" was becoming just the "economy." Time Warner was obviously salivating over those ad-filled issues of The Industry Standard, Business 2.0 and all those new economy mags back in 2000.

That first issue of eCompanyNow pondered Internet incubators (remember them?), how Web marketplaces will change business forever (we're waiting), and getting jobs at dot-coms (are any left?).

But Time Warner Publishing's late entry to the new economy bandwagon was just the beginning.

The clear signal that the markets had peaked in 2000 was TNT's "Bull," a Wall Street soap opera about a bunch of investment bankers. "Bull" made its debut in August, but was inevitably cooked up a few months earlier when investors were going ga-ga over those dot-coms that now are lucky to be listed on the Nasdaq.

Then we got Fox Broadcasting's show The $treet. It debuted in November and went off the air a few episodes later. You could say it was quickly delisted. "Bull," however, is returning for a run in 2001. Let's hope the market cooperates this time.

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