"Outlined against the blue-gray tinge of a computer monitor, the Four Horsemen rode again.
"In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases.
"Their real names are Gates, Jackson, Greenspan and That Damn Broker Demanding I Cover My Margins. They formed the crest of the technology cyclone before which another fighting Nasdaq team was swept over the precipice at Wall Street yesterday afternoon as hundreds of thousands of spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the stock chart before them.
"A cyclone can't be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone starts from the tech sector, where the LCD screens of wireless phones still gleam amid the cars clogging Silicon Valley's Route 101, those in the way must take to bonds and blue chip stocks at top speed.
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"Yesterday the cyclone struck again as Old Economy beat New Economy, - 0.5 percent to - 1.8 percent, with a set of backfield stars that ripped and crashed through a strong Army defense with more speed and power than the warring cadets could meet.
"Old won its fifth game in its last six starts against New through the driving power of one of the greatest backfields that ever churned through the floors of any trading floor in any stock market age. Brilliant backfields may come and go, but in Gates, Jackson, Greenspan and That Damn Broker, shielded by a fast and charging desire to steady the economic ship and cover their butts, Old Economy can take its place in front of the field.
"New Economy sent one of its finest teams into action, an aggressive organization that fought to the last play around the first rim of darkness, but the Four Horsemen had already ridden down everything in sight. It was in vain that thousands of traders pleaded for the New Economy line to hold. The New line was giving all it had, but when a tank tears in with the speed of a fiber optic network, what chance had margin buyers to hold?
"Tech had its share of stars as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), JDS Uniphase (Nasdaq: JDSU) and many others, but they were up against four whirlwind backs who picked up at top speed from the first step as they swept through scant openings to slip on by the secondary defense.
"The quartet was something more than a match for the Army's great set of forwards, who had earned their fame before. In the early going, defense ruled with an iron fist and a neverending chorus of "Sell!", but Old Economy limited its losses to a mere 20 yards while New's offense was pushed back 308, or more than three full lengths of Gates' ego.
"Always there was Gates and antitrust regulators, or Greenspan and the Federal Reserve, directed through the right spot by cool and crafty judgement. The cyclone soon was roaring, ripping another 270 yards out of the strongest teams in the game. The cyclone had struck with too much strength and bureaucratic power to be stopped.
"Once again the cheering New Economy cadets began to call for a rallying stand. They are never overwhelmed by any shadow of defeat as long as there is a minute of fighting left.
"Up to this point the techs had been outplayed by a crushing margin. Each Army attack had been smothered almost before it got underway. Even the great Intel, the star from Santa Clara, one of the great runners of its day and time, rarely had a chance to make any headway through a massed wall of tacklers who were blocking every open route.
"A sudden change came late in the third quarter, when Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), raging like a wild man, suddenly shot through a tackle opening and ran several yards toward its first quarter earnings report scheduled for today.
"The New Economy had a chance to rip open the chilly atmosphere at last, and most of the millions of stockholders joined in the tribute to trading art. But that was tech's last chance to score. From that point on, it was seesaw, up and down, back and forth, with the rivals fighting bitterly for every inch of ground. It was harder now to make a foot than it had been to make ten yards. Even the all-star Old Economy cast could no longer continue to romp for any set distances.
"New Economy brought a fine team into action, but it was beaten by the inexorable power of negative momentum, spurred by fears of government regulation, higher interest rates, rising oil prices and Those Damn Margin Calls. The negative power formed solidly and came along in unbroken order, always at terrific speed, carried by backs who were as hard to drag down as African buffaloes.
"One strong feature of the New Economy play was its headlong battle against heavy odds. Techs fought on with fine spirit until the scoring chance came at last. Tech has a better team than it had last year. New Economy has no cause to gloom over its showing. It played first-class financial football against a market with more momentum than it could match.
"Those who have tackled a cyclone can understand."
Apologies to Grantland Rice, but it's the only way to look at the market these days.