I read the next day's Wall Street Journal online very late in the evenings. And the Journal is particularly good at times like these because -- at least in the news section of the paper -- one gets a concentrated view of how professional market observers see what's going on, absent much of the distracting glosses of the political right and left.
The most sobering article (subscription required) I read was on Williams, the telecom and energy trading company. I only have a layman's understanding of such matters. But the essence of the story seemed to be that Williams hasn't been caught in any clear shenanigans and it's not that they're some house-of-cards, never-to-be-profitable business like so many dotcoms. They're just caught in the massive downdraft in the entire market. And now, for these various reasons, they've been unable to renew a certain unsecured credit line. And this may lead them further into the ditch.
Particulars aside, the sense one gets from reading this article is how the chaos in the market -- and of course the flat-on-its-back telecom industry -- is creating a massive economic downdraft that might force decent companies -- a number of which control a lot of critical infrastructure -- into the ground.
What makes this all really unsettling is that the executive branch, frankly, seems not to have any idea what's going on.
That's a strong statement and obviously I make some of my living being critical of Republicans. But it's really true. I think most honest observers are starting to see that. And frankly that's scary.
On Monday the president made some rambling remarks about bright times being around the corner and buying on the dips and a few other points that were virtually incomprehensible. Beside that he argued why he shouldn't can his Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, a man who is essentially a non-entity in the administration, whatever his own virtues may be. O'Neill has been pretty much silent through all of this. But he's prone to gaffes. So maybe it's a good thing.
The vice-president is silent because he's under investigation by the SEC.
Economic advisor Larry Lindsey is silent or maybe just can't figure out what to do.
The same pretty much goes for Commerce Secretary Don Evans, the third member of the president's economic brain-trust which gave him the sage advice not to include any serious reforms in his early July Wall Street speech.
Can anyone honestly deny that no one seems to be at the helm?