ROCK BOTTOM IN SILICON VALLEY? NOT QUITE YET
by Scott Budman
I knew we were in trouble when I saw the Chaucer.
There we were, inside Orchard Valley Coffee, a great place to get the lay of the high-tech land: lots of techies, dozens of open laptops, all the wifi you can eat and coffee you can drink.
As a reporter, you treasure places like Orchard Valley, where people of all ages and jobs hang out. It’s easy pickings for those classic “how people are feeling” stories. And, after nearly two decades of doing such stories, you start to get a feeling the moment you walk in just who will be willing to talk with you about the issue at hand.
Today’s issue, of course, is the stock market. Are people spending more time thinking about it these days? Most of the people I know sure are. It’s the topic at local hangouts, on the train, even at the gym, where instead of sports, the big-screen TVs are now morbidly tuned to the stock ticker.
So I figured that finding people to talk at Orchard Valley would be easy. In fact, it was too easy. Everyone wanted to talk stocks. I felt like a (very amateur) psychologist. “How low can it go?” asked a man looking for work. “Should I change my 401 (k)?” asked a programmer. “What about my kids? Are their jobs safe?” came from a gentleman of a certain age, whom I reluctantly agreed to point to a stock-tracking website.
But an English professor? That, I didn’t expect. I remember reading Chaucer in college, so I struck up a conversation with Margaret, figuring it would be a break from stock talk. Nope. She took a break from Chaucer to focus on The Investor’s Tale. She was concerned about her retirement plan, her parents’ pensions, the plans she made with her husband to buy their first house — all things she expected to fall in line as recently as a few months ago. Now, they are all things to worry about — endlessly.
It’s amazing how even those who studiously avoid investing in individual stocks, or talking about them at parties, or watching Jim Cramer, realize that we’re all connected to the market now. The pundits have been wrong about a lot of things, but I’d argue that they were right about the “ownership society.” With our mutual funds, college funds, and retirement plans, we’re all in this together, whether or not we’re tracking Cisco to see if it’s still a buy at $16.
And what was the coffeeshop consensus? We’re not out of this yet, despite the occasional bright spot in the market. There are still plenty of concerns that come with a recession, whether or not you’re buying & selling equities. So expect lots of questions and opinions to come flying at you … whether they come from someone reading a blog, or a Medieval epic poem.
[For more Scott Budman stories, visit http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/business/]