Just as I was preparing to report that the markets, freed of Y2K fears, opened with a blaze of buying, I glanced again at my Bloomberg terminal to see that the Nasdaq's 122-point gain after the opening had been wiped out in later trading by interest rate fears.

Fear? Never mind that every year-end forecast I read said the coming year would be rosy.

Fear? It just goes to show that the only thing the markets fear more than fear itself is the absence of fear.

It also goes to show that we're headed for a very confusing period.

Last year, everything we'd been taught about the markets proved wrong. We broke all the rules.

Companies with no earnings creamed companies with earnings.

Index funds, the darlings of all sorts of experts last January, looked pathetic by the end of the year compared with the tech funds.

The phrase "overvalued" became utterly meaningless. If you had avoided all those overvalued stocks, the only thing undervalued today would be your own portfolio.

The losers were those who said the bubble would burst. The winners those who said go with the Mo -- with the momentum.

Our brains told us this was surely wrong.

But let's face it, had we all bought Qualcomm when the Big Mo took it over a few weeks ago, we'd still be celebrating instead of nursing a bad case of equity envy.

If the growth rate in the number of online traders continues apace, there will be at least 20 million by the end of 2000 and it'll be more congested.

The markets are now worse than the Washington Beltway.

I've got no problem with that. They're in the driver's seat.

But have you looked at the way some of these folks drive?

Before they go to bed, they look at the stocks that had "mo" in late trading and buy a bunch of them. They don't even know what they're buying.

They brag about it. A ticker symbol is a ticker symbol. It's not what it does that counts, it's where it's going over the next 24 hours.

Will they respect it in the morning? Who cares? You got a problem with that, pal?

Personally, I've tried this. I don't recommend it.

But if you can make money this way, great.

Being on the same road with these folks makes me nervous, however. And when the number of them doubles, watch out.

The old rules have been shattered, for sure. But as yet, they've not been replaced.

Call it a "New Paradigm" if you like.

I call it Anarchy.

Good Luck in 2000.

Fred Barbash (barbashf@washpost.com) is The Post's business editor.