Yesterday, in reviewing some of my birthday gifts, I told you why stock in Tiffany may have climbed so high (though not whether it would climb higher — I keep my record of predictions near perfect by making them all retrospective). But that was not the point.
I promised to stagger around today until I finally got to the point. So let me just tell you about a couple more birthday gifts first, which will eventually get us there.
From my partners in Moscow I got two amazing things. First, a matryuzhka, one of those great hand-painted Russian dolls-within-dolls-within-dolls. Only this one, far from having Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnez, et al, inside each other — or even Bill and Al and Hillary and Tipper and Chelsea and Socks, or (my personal favorite) Homer and Marge and Bart and Lisa and The Baby — this one had a fat-faced lobotomized fellow on the outside whom, I slowly came to realize, was me. And inside me — me again, this time holding up a pack of Camels, as I once had in Russian TV commercials, saying “Nye Kuritye!”(Don’t smoke.).
However bad I looked (I looked bad), you’ve got to admit this is a pretty great gift.
The other thing I got from Moscow was a 5-minute video with actual news footage of the “Great National Celebration of Feeftief Burseday Andrew Tobash” (the narrator did his manful best). There were people marching in the streets, fanfare, amusing if suspect translations (could the people really have been holding up banners celebrating me?), sequences inside the offices of my little advertising agency, and finally a big “Kheppy burseday, Endi!” from my partners and all the employees. (We’re up to about 80 now; please let me know if you need a Russian advertising agency or have some computer graphics you’d like done on the cheap.) I was blown away.
And still I roam aimlessly, not even approaching the point.
It is time to home in.
Which brings me to my last birthday gift, the one I got for myself. (Oh, what the heck, I figured, you can’t always be a total tightwad.)
My surprise party had been held at the Sony building in Manhattan. (The printed invitation read, in huge letters, SUPRISE!, my boyfriend being a big-time designer but not a big-time speller.) It seems you can rent the Sony store after hours, slap some old home videos on 100 video screens, and crank up the band. Sony makes a little money on the rental and gets 200 potential consumers to troop through the sales floor on the way to and from the party. Smart, these Japanese. (And now, ever so gradually, I am finally getting to The Point.)
As one of those 200 potential customers, I got a glimpse of Sony’s shiny silver pocket-sized digital camera that stores up to 108 snapshots (108 good ones, because you can review and delete the bad ones as you go) on a single “roll.” Except of course there is no roll. It’s digital. You download the “shots” onto your computer and then print them out on your printer (or onto a special little printer designed to print near-professional-quality glossies specifically with this camera). Or maybe you don’t print them at all, you embed them in your e-mails or make them available to anyone who “clicks here.” (I have not yet learned to do all this.)
Yes, Kodak and Polaroid and a smaller firm whose name I forget have their own nifty, considerably less expensive models — I saw those at CompUSA and almost bought one. But Sony’s seems to take the cake (as for $850 it should). Among its dozens of clever little features is the rotating lens. Face it forward and you take a picture — as man has been doing since ancient times — of what’s in front of you. Flip it around and you take a picture of yourself and whoever’s standing next to you. This eliminates the age-old need to find some friendly passer-by to take the picture for you. What’s more, because you don’t squint into the viewfinder as you do with a traditional camera — you just look at the camera’s postage-stamp color video screen that you hold out in front of you (and doesn’t that take a little getting used to?) — you can get your face looking just the way you want it to before snapping the shot. Jim Carey could play with this thing for hours.
And, yes, it tells you when you need a flash, which is built in. The battery is rechargeable (and costs only slightly less than a trip to France). You can set it for “rapid fire” to shoot four frames in succession if you’re taking an action shot . . . and then delete the three that were too soon or too late to capture the instant bat hit ball. And more. It is, in short, amazing.
Which got me thinking: don’t count the Japanese out. Their economy and ours may have traded places somewhat — remember a few short years ago when the value of the Japanese stock market exceeded our own, and we imagined we would soon be ceding our global economic preeminence? But it’s never good to get cocky.
I love my new Sony camera. And around the same time I noticed some stories about Toyota’s aim to become the world’s number one auto maker, and how one of its new Lexus brands is outselling Caddy’s Catera two-to-one. (I like the Catera ad campaign. If my 1992 LeBaron didn’t have another five good years in it, I would seriously consider buying one.)
Not that Detroit is quite as important to our overall economy as it once was, or that there isn’t plenty of room for Sony success in a prosperous American economy. Indeed, it’s always important to remember that a healthy Japanese economy is good for our own, not bad. So we want lots of great Japanese products to buy here, just as we want the Japanese to take the money they earn from that and buy some of our great products.
Still, the point is just that, for those who assume there will never be another U.S. recession (economist David Bostian, who has an impressive and iconoclastic record with these things, predicts one beginning later this year), that U.S. corporate profits will never dip, that there will never be another bear market, and so on . . . well, just remember the economic news may not always be quite as good as it is today.
The future is wildly bright, to my eyes. But it’s not time to get cocky — any more than the Japanese were smart to get carried away a few short years ago when there was no cloud on their horizon.
I’m not saying we have gotten carried away, certain Internet stock bubbles notwithstanding (many of them already long since pricked), just that there is always that danger. Save for the future; live beneath your means; when it comes to investments, buy the best relative values, and don’t limit your horizon to the U.S. It’s a big wonderful world, of which we are only a big wonderful part.