Wall Street sell-off. Conventional wisdom has long been that a Mitt Romney victory would have been good for the markets. So it was no surprise when Wall Street had a post-election sell-off last week. But the election is not all that’s driving the market. Worries mount about the looming “fiscal cliff” and the situation in Europe continues. So will the downturn continue? Within the past week technical indicators, such as the market’s performance against rolling averages, have all pointed to a downturn. About 90 percent of the S&P 500 companies have reported third-quarter earnings, and results have been especially weak on the revenue side, with just 38 percent of companies beating analyst projections on sales. Many retailers, because of a January year-end to their fiscal year, are a month behind in reporting, so this week the markets will look to earnings releases from Walmart, Target, and other large retailers for their direction.
Puff piece on MSNBC. The New York Times gave an early Christmas present to MSNBC this weekend in the form of an uncritical and misleading profile. The profile focused on the network’s hard-left shift in the past two years and its ratings gains. On Election Night, the Times piece tells us, MSNBC had 3 million viewers, which is a recent high-water mark for the network. Much later in the story we discover that Fox News on most nights has more than double the MSNBC audience. The Times story also mentions only in passing the fact that MSNBC charges cable companies very little to carry the program, because if it charged what Fox charges, almost no cable operator would carry it. This price differential will likely allow Fox to fend off MSNBC competition for years to come. It’s true that Fox skews toward an older audience, but its audience is so much bigger that even among younger viewers, Fox out-pulls MSNBC. Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, told the Times, “We’re closer to Fox than we’ve ever been.” Technically, that’s true. It’s gone from way less than half the size of Fox to about half the size of Fox. And given the serious fragmentation of the media market, it’s hard to imagine it growing much beyond where it is now. But the battle of the networks is almost endlessly entertaining, so—as they sometimes say—stay tuned.
Numbers keep coming in. The more the data trickles out about the election last week, the more we see why President Obama won a second term. Obama’s “ground game” or get-out-the-vote effort was world-class in 2008, and his team took it to a new level in 2012. Turnout for both parties was lower this year than in 2008, but new data suggest that Obama’s team had the process so under control that they did only what was necessary to beat Romney by an undisputed margin. While Karl Rove and other Romney surrogates were dismissing the polls as biased, Obama’s team trusted the data and made decisions based on it. National Review has suggested that a mere 400,000 votes in four states would have swayed the election, but that suggestion completely ignores how difficult getting those 400,000 votes would have been for Romney, and how easy it was for Obama to turn the dials on his base. Obama dominated virtually every demographic category except white males. The New York Times has a fascinating graphic breaking down the vote by demographic category. I commend it to you.
Valerie Eliot dead. My favorite 20th century poet, T.S. Eliot, had a complicated love life. He married his first wife, Viviennne, in 1915, but she quickly became neurotic, a hypochondriac, eventually altogether insane. She spent the last years of her life in a mental hospital, dying in 1947. Eliot by then had converted to Christianity and became the greatest poet of his generation. Eliot spent the next 10 years leading a life of workaholism and melancholy. Then, in 1957, he married Valerie, who was 31 at the time. Eliot was 69. It was a short but, by all accounts, an inordinately happy marriage. After Eliot’s death in 1965, Valerie proved to be a shrewd executor of Eliot’s estate. She leveraged his part-ownership in the publishing house Faber and Faber his own copyrights into a very large fortune. (Every time the musical Cats plays, the Eliot estate gets a payday.) Valerie then used the fortune to create Old Possum’s Practical Trust, which funds the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, perhaps the world’s most prestigious poetry prize, and many other charities. She was also an able editor of Eliot’s letters and other unpublished works. I share all this now because Valerie Eliot died on Friday, at age 86.