The Stock Market, Like Pavlov’s Dog

Today the stock market has rebounded somewhat after a few tough days, although that result could turn on a dime.

What caused the stock market to plummet the last few days?  Poor sales by large companies?  Weak economic data?  Lingering concerns about an unemployment rate that remains too high and millions of Americans giving up on job searches?

Nah.  It’s because earlier this week Ben Bernanke may have hinted that the Federal Reserve is going to tighten its prolonged loose money policy and may actually reduce the amounts of cash it has been pumping into the economy.  Of course, whether the Fed actually is going to change its policy isn’t entirely clear.

It’s sad, really.  We’ve gotten to the point where the Wall Street titans and stock market wizards have become so addicted to the manipulations wrought by the Fed’s monetary policy that the market simply responds, like Pavlov’s dog, to the Fed’s opaque pronouncements.  Ben Bernanke sounds a bell, and the market starts slobbering like Fido expecting a wet can of Alpo to splat into his food bowl.

This should be a concern for all of us, especially those of us who are trying to save for retirement.  The stock market, where so many people keep their money, has become a one-note opera.  The overriding focus is on what the Fed will do.  Actual economic performance, actual company performance, and other “fundamentals” that used to be reflected in stock prices now are overridden by the aggressive actions of the Fed.

It’s not a good thing when the stock market is so easily manipulated, and when companies become so dependent on easy money.  The fact that it is an arm of the federal government that is doing the manipulating doesn’t make it any better.

Oh, The Glamour Of Air Travel

It seems as if air travel is on an unending, downward spiral, and who knows when we will hit bottom.

Long gone are the days when people dressed up for an airplane trip and airlines showered you with food and drink on your voyage.  Now you’re likely to find yourself seated next to a sweaty, plus-sized person wearing cutoffs, a tank top and flip-flops, and you consider yourself lucky if a flight attendant hurls a handful of peanuts in your direction at some point during the flight.

On our flight to Bermuda Wednesday, Kish and I were starving after a long run through the Charlotte airport to catch our aggressive connection.  The flight offered no complimentary peanuts, crackers, or snack food, so we were forced to buy a bag of chips and Chex mix to get something in our bellies.  The Chex mix was $3.49, and my Late July Organic Sea Salt Multigrain Chips and Zesty Tomato Salsa was $4.  Seems like a lot for a small bag of chips, but airlines apparently are looking for every conceivable revenue source — be it baggage fees, early boarding fees, or charging for other former freebies — and if you don’t fly with food you should just prepare to be gouged.

I’m not sure where the downward spiral will end.  Some airlines apparently are experimenting with charging for trips to the bathroom.  That seems like the logical next step in the quest to make flying as unpleasant and irritating as possible.