Wall Street Should Find Comfort in Boundaries

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The markets, skittish children that they are, tend to respond well to boundaries.

Such as the floor NASDAQ apparently found on Friday in the wake of the Great Intel Sell-off. The index dropped off a cliff to the 3600 range with the Friday morning bell, but rumbled back to the 3800s — with investors showing a remarkable ability to think independently of the troubled blue-chip bellwether. Other tech stocks — non-Intel, non-Microsoft, non-Cisco stocks with names like Broadcom that regular folks don't recognize — are hitting highs and reminding investors that there's more to the Internet Economy than semiconductors. With the onset of Q3 earnings season just a week away, there's not much sign of more preemptive bad-news warnings like Intel's. Which means that there may not be much more bad news.

Such as the 84-cents-to-the-dollar floor that the G7 nations have apparently declared for the euro. On Friday the Alan Greenspans of Japan, Britain and Canada (and ours too) teamed up with the European Central Bank to buy euros and demonstrate confidence in the ailing currency and the Eurozone economy it represents. OK, so it didn't work spectacularly — investors are still unconvinced, and while the euro rebounded it didn't rebound much. But if the U.S. is willing to toy with the fortunes of its mighty dollar to make sure the euro's woes don't topple Russia, Asia and Brazil all over again, well, that's the sort of confidence that markets can sink their teeth into.

And then there's the big story — the ceiling, the reason Al Gore, the G7, and the euro are all so sick, or at least the most recent one: oil prices. Just as $10 a barrel in the Asian-flu days of 1998 was too low (definition of supply disruption: spigots got turned off then; now we're paying for scarcity), $35 a barrel is way too high now. Prices like that aren't just prohibitive for Al Gore's shivering Midwest swing voters, they could choke off the nicely chugging global economy. Especially in Europe, where mammoth gas taxes would have made the old enviro-Gore green with envy. Keep the oil flowing, and maybe demand for the euro — and for the populist Gore — will follow.

If there's a kegger this week on Wall Street, though, it probably won't wake up the neighbors. Earnings season has not been robbed of all its suspense. The euro has not been cleansed of all its warts. And when the Clinton administration suddenly gets highly interventionist six weeks before a tight election — and Larry Summers gets as pliant as Joe Lieberman — there's a certain troubling feeling that this is all just sleight of hand. The children have been shown how far they can go before Mom and Dad step in and keep the household running smoothly. But even Mom and Dad tend to set rules that they can't enforce forever.