Let us know when it's time to panic, OK?

Susan Reimer suspects the guys on Wall St. have a vested interest in us folks on Main St. acting like nothing's wrong

August 22, 2011|Susan Reimer

Don't panic.

That's what Wall Street is telling Main Street.

Those same guys who are photographed almost daily with their faces buried in their hands — there is even an Internet photo gallery called "The Brokers With Hands on Their Faces Blog" — are telling us not to panic.

So, I have been wondering. What does "don't panic" mean? If we shouldn't panic when the Dow drops 600 points in a single day, when, exactly, should we panic? When it drops 400 points the next day?

What would panicking look like, anyway? If brokers holding their heads as if they are nursing the worst hangover ever isn't panicking, what is? Money in mattresses? Bodies on the sidewalk? Soup lines?

CNBC's Jim Cramer, host of "Mad Money" and a pretty volatile guy himself, said, "Whenever we hear 600-point decline, you can't help but be scared to death. Still, stay the course."

What course would that be, Jim — the one off the cliff? The one from the top of the roller-coaster? The one into the Jersey barrier?

The smart course appears to be cash and gold. But I'll bet that's not the course you are on, is it? That's because you stayed the course when everybody else was getting out of the market and putting their savings in cash and gold.

My guess is, they were panicking when they did that.

Wall Street has a vested interest in Main Street "staying the course." They need us to keep pouring our savings into mutual funds as if there weren't a hole in the bottom of that bag. If we quit saving for retirement — a finish line that keeps moving — those clowns will be out of work.

And I bet they would panic then.

A McClatchy-Marist poll shows that 70 percent of Americans think the worst is yet to come, and that poll was taken before Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating.

(In a side note, the U.S. government is now investigating S&P for irregularities. Don't you love it? If S&P were a person, it would be on an enemies list and have its phones tapped.)

Anyway, 70 percent of Americans believe that the country is not just "on the wrong track," a question that is often asked in these kinds of polls. No. They believe we are in for some fresh hell, that something is heading our way that we can't imagine or describe.

Should we wait until it arrives? And then panic?

The New York Times has been writing about "neurofinance," the study of how our brains operate when it comes to money.

I bet if you scanned a person's brain while telling him that his 401(k) is now worth zip, his gray matter would light up like a Ferris wheel at night. Maybe that's what panicking looks like? Like your brain is on fire?

Don't panic, Wall Street is telling Main Street. Over time, the stock market returns 7 percent to 10 percent. Not the most recent 10 years, it's true. The S&P Index is nearly a percent lower than it was 10 years ago.

Wall Street is apparently referring to some other decade.

A decade when everybody wasn't panicking all the time.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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