Department of Corrections

My mother called me at the crack of nine on a Saturday morning not long ago.

“Did you lose all your money in the stock market?” she wanted to know. She understands that my job has something to do with technology.

“Mom, you can’t lose it if you don’t sell,” I said. This might not be technically true, but in general, it’s historically valid-—plus, it had the added advantage of sparing my 75-year-old mother the demoralizing news: The lion’s share of her eldest son’s investment portfolio consists of five books of S&H Green Stamps.

Reflecting later on that telephone call-—including the subtle reminder that May 14 is Mother’s Day and that David, the good son, is flying down to spend it with her-—the significance really sunk in:

This technology business has become truly pervasive. It’s gotten to the point where people who couldn’t even spell IPO six months ago now are worried sick over trends on the Nasdaq.

The four-alarm fretting really got clanging on the news of the Microsoft verdict (see page 16). Even though sophisticated analysts were supposed to have discounted that eventuality months earlier, the stark reality of the monopoly’s legal trouble seemed to jolt the bears out of hibernation.

Well, it was about time for them to get up, anyway. No one has permanently parked the business cycle.

Hard on the heels of that Microsoft ruling, tech stocks across the board (or boards, to be more precise) were transformed—as the New York Times put it—from “stars to stumblers.”

In mid-April, daytraders were fainting and stockbrokers were eyeing the ledge. Not only were the federal income taxes due, but Wall Street was in shambles. Just listen to this April 15 Bloomberg report:

“U.S. shareholders lost $2.1 trillion this week as the Nasdaq and other stock markets plunged, fanning concern that a five-year rally may be ending.

“Almost half those losses came Friday, as a 9.7 percent rout in the Nasdaq Composite Index contributed to the biggest single-day evaporation of stock wealth ever . . . .”

A 9.7 percent “rout”? Timeout.

At the end of the day on April 14, the Nasdaq had dropped 35 percent since March 10. Guess what. The board was still up 32 percent over the previous 12 months.

Now, let’s take the primary perp: Microsoft. At close of trading on April 14, 2000, old MSFT sold at $74.13. Yes, that was a far shriek from the $119.13 the software giant sold for on Dec. 27, 1999. But how does it look compared to the $31 Microsoft sold for on May 1, 1997? The gain between May 1, 1997, and April 14, 2000, represents more than a 139 percent increase. That’s slightly better than passbook appreciation, wouldn’t you say?

Maybe it’s time to ask all those whimpering stock jockeys one question: Care for some cheese to go with that whine?

As you know from reading the pages of this newspaper, thousands of technology companies are doing well because they make tangible, valuable contributions to our schools and our society every day. Their fundamental success doesn’t depend on the vagaries of a volatile stock ticker. Companies that rest solely on hype and greed won’t last, that’s true.

Good. Get rid of them.

We live in an age when TV weather forecasters can whip up hysteria at the prospect of a hard rain. Now the TV news teams—with the Wall Street equivalent of a hard April shower—have found a way to scare my dear, old mother. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Well, don’t worry, Mom. We still have the Green Stamps.*

*You still can trade them in, too, at Sperry & Hutchinson’s five remaining redemption centers. S&H has retired stamps in favor of “greenpoints,” incidentally web-based buying incentives you “click rather than lick.”