It's 3:30 A.M. Do you know what your portfolio is doing?

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

From The Boston Herald

It's 3:30 A.M. Do you know what your portfolio is doing?

August 15, 1999

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If the rest of you don't mind, I would just like to address the powerful people in the financial world for a moment. I know you're busy. I don't mean to take up too much of your time, but my mother has just one small request. You see, she has heard that many of you want to expand the trading hours of the stock market, and she happens to hate the idea. Could you please do her a favor and keep everything the same?

Really, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. will do just fine.

My father is a stockbroker, and Mom already doesn't see enough of him. The last thing she needs is for him to have a longer trading day. She will never get to see him then. In fact, the last thing anyone needs is a longer trading day. I don't care if you really, really, really want to make a trade at 2 in the morning. Suck it up and wait a few hours. OK?

With the growing democratization of the stock market, many are clamoring for longer sessions. The New York Stock Exchange wants to add an early morning and an evening session, while NASDAQ plans to add a four-hour session at night.

Meanwhile, several other companies are creating private stock exchanges that will allow trading of popular stocks 24 hours a day. As more and more people get wired to the market, the demand for 24-hour trading is getting harder to ignore.

But ignore it we should. Even with our short trading hours, this country is becoming addicted to the stock market. With everyone from your grandmother to your paperboy involved, Wall Street has become our national lottery, and an expensive 24-hour lottery just a mouse-click away is more than a little dangerous. Soon we will all have the chance to lose our shirt (or pajamas) at 3 a.m.

This is progress?

Expanding the hours certainly won't be good for our health, either. What happens when the day traders must become night traders as well? Already they sit at their computers all day without eating, and soon they might be doing the same at night. No sleep. No food. Just trading. All day and night. Is this really a good thing? Eventually, we might even have a new problem in this country - malnutrition of the rich. "Well, sure, Bob became a multimillionaire from his investments, but with all his trading, he just forgot to eat. It's a shame, really."

And what about market stability? There are always days when the Dow Jones average is in free fall all afternoon only to be saved by the closing bell. Take away that closing bell, and who knows how low the markets will go? Even on great days, investors need time to reflect on all the information that is out there. Or sometimes they just need time for a deep breath.

If we eventually expand to a 24-hour market, not even traditional investors will be able to escape it. This can only lead to a permanently anxious society. Think about it. How will any investor sleep knowing that his or her portfolio could collapse overnight?

In a few years, will even those investors who are not on line suddenly be calling up their broker in the middle of the night just to see how their shares of Microsoft are holding up?

I'm not sure, but I do know one thing. My mom certainly hopes not.

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