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Change and Convenience

"...and all the speeches put together did exactly what they were intended to do, and established in the hearers' minds that there was no speculation so promising, or at the same time so praiseworthy, as the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company." - Nicholas Nickleby

Recall the old saying: "The more things change, the more they remain the same." The above quote from Charles Dickens' serialized 1838 novel is, as they say, proof of the potatoes.

"Pretty well!' echoed Mr Bonney. 'It's the finest idea that was ever started. 'United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company. Capital, five million, in five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each.' Why the very name will get the shares up to a premium in ten days.'"

"And when they ARE at a premium,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, smiling."

"When they are, you know what to do with them as well as any man alive, and how to back quietly out at the right time,' said Mr Bonney, slapping the capitalist familiarly on the shoulder."

During the 1990s dot-com bubble investors fell for nearly anything the Street coughed up with dot-com in its name. And to be sure there were plenty, some more foolish sounding than others: Ourbeginnings.com, a site for those soon to be betrothed; Justforthefeet.com; Hotjobs.com and Lifeminder.com. The list was long and lush. A couple of these even purchased expensive ad time for the 2000 Super Bowl. One company, now defunct, a grocery chain that traded publicly and that was going to revolutionize the way folks purchase their vittles, sent out its goods in gaudy peach-colored delivery trucks with green trim.

More recently the Securities and Exchange Commission put out a warning about the latest stock scam. In early December handwritten faxes started turning up around the country. The faxes were addressed to a "Dr. Mitchel," imploring him to turn on his cell phone so he could place an order for a stock that was set to triple in what is known around the Street as "the January effect."

The faxes were sent by someone named Chris claiming to be the good doctor's financial planner. (Given the holiday season, perhaps the sender is also a part-time punster!) The only other identification was a phone number listed at the bottom to be called if the fax had been received in error. The number was a dud. The kicker appeared in the postscript of the scrawled note: "You'd better be good to me this Christmas. No other broker has given you back-to-back wins four times in a row." Each fax touted a different stock, all real companies, and all small cap OTC or bulletin board beauties with thin floats.

So you probably think most folks just ignored the faxes, not according to the SEC. Greed is a powerful force. All the faxes were dated December 15 and all the stocks rallied within a few days. One of the stocks tripled in price, another leaped 60 percent, while the other jumped 18 percent, all on heavy volume.  A few days after the run-up, however, the stocks began....Well, we think you can decipher the rest of the story. And of course no one connected with any of the companies claimed any knowledge of the faxes.

In Dickens' time they had to hold meetings and use the public speech format to do the pumping and dumping. Today's pump and dump action comes courtesy of the electronic media. It's a matter of convenience.

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