From Enron to Omicron, How The Media Mislead Investors

I’ll get to daily market action, in a minute. First, the lessons of history.

Twenty years ago Thursday, Texas energy company Enron officially declared bankruptcy.

During its heyday, Enron ranked seventh on the Fortune 500 and was lionized by the media as the epitome of corporate excellence. In mid-2000, Enron’s stock hit a high of $90 per share.

But Enron had made a lot of shady bets, and they turned sour. By November 2001, the stock had plunged to less than $1 a share, wiping out $11 billion in shareholder wealth. Enron filed for Chapter 11 protection on December 2, 2001. Federal prosecutors discovered egregious financial crimes, leading to prison sentences for Enron’s C-suite.

As Enron was imploding, its executives were assuring employees that the company was fine, and they should keep buying the stock for their retirement accounts. Many television “pundits” defended the company, even as it was going down in flames. Thousands of credulous Enron workers were ruined.

Fast forward to the Theranos scandal. Elizabeth Holmes, ex-CEO of the now-defunct blood testing company, once was the topic of fawning profiles in the press. Just like Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, she graced the cover of Fortune magazine as a business hero. Lay was convicted of securities and wire fraud (he died before sentencing). Likewise, Holmes is currently on trial for securities and wire fraud.

The takeaway: Wall Street success stories touted by the press frequently turn out to be financial fairy tales. Gullible investors get left holding the bag. Business cable channels promote celebrities and simplistic narratives, and play on the fear and greed of viewers. The goal is to boost ratings and manufacture consensus. You’re a consumer to be entertained, not an investor to be informed.

It’s why I subscribe to the contrarian school of investing. I’m always wary of the conventional wisdom, because it’s usually wrong. As I explain below, the recent sensationalism about Omicron appears to be wrong, too.

The big rebound…

Stocks on Thursday bounced back from their Omicron-induced slump. The U.S. indices surged as follows: the Dow Jones Industrial Average +617.75 (+1.82%); the S&P 500 +64.06 (+1.42%); the tech-heavy NASDAQ +127.27 (+0.83%); and the small-cap Russell 2000 +58.91 (+2.74%).

Read This Story: Omicron Rattles Investors, But Economy Keeps Humming

The world is still assessing the threat of the COVID Omicron variant. But in the meantime, economic fundamentals remain sound. Consumers are demonstrating an eagerness to spend, corporate earnings are robust, and the jobs market is healing.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that weekly jobless claims increased 28,000 to 222,000 in the week ending November 27, versus 240,000 expected. Continuing claims fell 107,000 to 1.956 million, and layoffs plunged 34.8% to 14,875.

Jobless benefits rolls fell below 2 million for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the U.S. in early 2020. The jobs market is returning to pre-pandemic normality (see chart).

On Friday, the Labor Department reported mixed news. The U.S. economy created far fewer jobs than expected in November, with nonfarm payrolls increasing by only 210,000 for the month. However, the unemployment rate fell dramatically to 4.2%, even though the labor force participation rate for the month jumped to 61.8%, its highest level since the depths of the pandemic in March 2020. The estimate was for 573,000 new jobs and a jobless level of 4.5%.

Wall Street has decided to accentuate the positive aspects of the latest jobs data, and to focus on the economic momentum that’s likely to carry into next year.

After the opening bell Friday, the Dow, S&P 500, NASDAQ, and Russell 2000 were all trading in the green. Omicron seems to be fading as a concern.

“Reopening plays” are leading the stock market’s rebound, as investors regain their bullishness about economic recovery. These cyclical equities got hit the hardest during the recent Omicron-triggered swoons and now they’re snapping back the most.

Financials are performing particularly well, as they extend their already impressive 2021 rally. The country’s big banks have reported robust third-quarter operating results and they’re enjoying the fruits of a record-breaking merger and acquisition market.

What’s more, the economic recovery is boosting bank profits and reducing the number of bad loans that they had anticipated during the nadir of the pandemic. Financial stocks are poised to continue outperforming in 2022.

Underplayed in the breathless coverage of Omicron are reports that symptoms are mild. Many patients infected with the Omicron variant have recovered quickly, without the need for hospitalization. Epidemiologists say this could signal the light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic, which contradicts the alarmist headlines.

Don’t get me wrong. I take the deadly pandemic very seriously. Investor caution is warranted, and in previous columns, I’ve been showing you ways to hedge your portfolio. But from Enron two decades ago, all the way up to Theranos and then Omicron, mainstream media coverage has been a poor guide.

The team at Investing Daily are skeptics, and we dig hard for the facts. Looking for a rock-solid growth opportunity for Q4 and beyond? We’ve just pinpointed an investment play that’s on the cusp of market-beating gains. For details, click here.

John Persinos is the editorial director of Investing Daily. To subscribe to John’s video channel, follow this link.