What will you do when your spouse shows you the cover headline on this month's Forbes, "Everyone Ought to Be Rich," and asks why you're not?
How will you react when your spouse says, "Dear, why have you underperformed?"
How do you explain away the barrage of news over the past few weeks about the spikes in the Nasdaq composite index and Yahoo? About the one-day 700 percent run-up in VA Linux?
Are you going to say: "It's really a secret bear market? Secretly, I'm a bear."
No, this will not do. This is not a time for wisecracks. It's a time for excuses. Quote that old saying. "A bird in the hand . . . is a mess."
But seriously, the bane of investing today is the need so many feel to measure their performance as of midnight, Dec. 31. We do it, I suspect, because the mutual funds do it. For them it's survival.
For us, it's just a snapshot at a particular point in time, which may or may not be enlightening.
If you can't help yourself, however, forget the hyper-stocks and the hyped reporting as you assess your performance. If you've gotten in on some of this mega-growth, congratulations. But you are an aberration.
It's been a very good year--but not that good. It's also been a strange year.
I was reminded of this last week by two reports from Merrill Lynch, noting that the only dream results for the year to date have been within technology, with the Nasdaq composite index up roughly 65 percent. Within technology, the heavy growth has been concentrated in Internet-related shares, which have appreciated 224 percent.
The same report also noted that that figure was heavily influenced by the performance of initial public offerings, to which most of us have no direct access. The report did not calculate the extent to which IPOs contributed to the overall gain, but the number undoubtedly will prove to be huge.
Roughly 70 IPOs have appreciated from their offer price by 500 percent or more, 40 by 700 percent or more and a staggering 30 by more than 1,000 percent, according to a listing provided by Bloomberg News.
The IPOs have skewed everything, even the Wilshire 5000, an index of the entire market, which is up roughly 17 percent for the year. The Standard & Poor's 500 is now hanging around the 16 percent level.
The Dow Jones industrial average is up about 22 percent. And the Russell 2000 index of small-cap companies is up about 11 percent. As for mutual funds, the latest Lipper performance reports show that diversified equity funds are up for the year by 19.47 percent; sector equity funds, 22.12; and world equity funds, 38.97 percent.
On the whole, these are more-than-decent results.
Beneath the numbers, as Merrill Lynch's Bob Farrell noted, is the telling reality that half of the stocks in the S&P 500 were down for the year, that more stocks were hitting new lows than new highs all year, and--get this--that companies reporting no earnings were up an average of 52 percent in share price. Compare that with companies that do have earnings, which on average lost 2 percent.
In other words, to make a lot of money you would have had to throw a lot of money at companies making no money.
In a future column, I'll try to provide some insight into how you, too, can still profit from the tech revolution. It is by no means too late. But, sorry, it's probably too late for this century, so you may have some explaining to do. If wisecracks don't work, and indexes don't work, try sarcasm.
"The market is bifurcated--divided into two forks. One fork is technology. The other is everything else. It was no accident that I picked the wrong fork. I did it on purpose. I'm actually a contrarian, an independent thinker, just like your dad, dear. These other people may look good now, but in the long run my investments in lug-wrench futures will pay off big time. Every man, woman and child in China will need a lug wrench."
Tell your husband or wife or partner of Warren Buffett's famous admonition.
Maybe it wasn't Buffett. Maybe Peter Lynch or Lou Rukeyser.
Anyway, the admonition is "Count not what you chose to buy, but what you chose not to buy."
Recall all the stuff you didn't buy that saved your family from disaster: Long-Term Capital Management. Iridium. The baht. The ruble. Mars probe derivatives.
And speaking of Warren Buffett, his Berkshire Hathaway stock is down about 18 percent for the year. Nobody would dare question Warren Buffett, right?
Should your spouse focus on large caps, go to small-caps. "I'm into small-caps. You've got to wait 40 years to reap the rewards. But believe me, over time, the wait will be well worth it."
Should your spouse get personal--and frankly, being accused of underperforming is personal--get personal back.
"I saved the family from the bubble. And this is the thanks I get. You should be grateful. It would have been wrong to pour our hard-earned money into these high-flying Internet stocks. Not just wrong, dangerous. That stuff is for day traders. Is that what you want for our family? Well . . . I never. . . ."
Confess, finally, if you must, that you actually are Warren Buffett. You've never told her because you wanted her to love you for who you are.
Fred Barbash (barbashf@ washpost.com) is business editor of The Post.