Packet Rat: The smart money goes to bed

The smart money goes to bed

The recent rash of financial improprieties has renewed the Rat's interest in his favorite investment vehicle: the mattress fund. With billions in shareholder value disappearing faster than you can say, 'What surplus?' the paranoid rodent prefers to keep his assets where he can sit on them.

'All this scandal makes federal accounting practices look good,' sighed the Rat as the rest of the family watched the winter Olympics. He, on the other hand, viewed the financial Olympics on C-Span.

First there was the Enron fiasco, vaporizing billions with the wave of an accountant's pen and sending executives scurrying to hide behind the Fifth Amendment. 'Have you noticed how many of them are named Dick?' he asked his better half while munching popcorn.

Then came the mysterious disappearance of $750 million in the Allfirst Financial Inc. currency trading fiasco in Baltimore. The Rat was sucked into the media frenzy while driving the ratlings to a swim meet'they're part swamp rat, after all. He got stuck in a traffic jam near trader John Rusnak's house as TV trucks and British tabloid reporters swarmed over the scene.

'You'd think he was involved with the Duchess of York or something,' the Rat sighed, leaning on the horn.

Most recently came news of the rogue Lehman Brothers broker who gave new meaning to 'bringing home the gold.' He vanished with a half-billion dollars from client accounts, then turned himself in to the FBI this month, sans cash. 'That beats a gold in the Nordic Combined events any day,' the whiskered one whistled.

To top it off, the networking world hasn't held up any better. Global Crossing Holdings Ltd.'s bankruptcy and the financial plight of WorldCom Inc.'piled on the woes of Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks'rendered the Rat's favorite sector toxic to investors. Only the Baby Bells, which aren't exactly babies any more, have done well'mostly at everyone else's expense.

The real medal winners in the latest winter economic-sports festival are the investment bankers, who turned the value of their assets into a veritable downhill grand slalom. These financial athletes were matched closely against the corporate financial alchemists who turned lead into gold and debt into equity by trading worthless bonds for worthless stock.

Such wild winter sports might have made civil service jobs hip again, but even the shelter of bureaucracy can't protect people who put their retirement nest eggs into flaky Thrift Savings Plan flexible spending accounts.

So, as a public service to his faithful readers, the Rat has condensed his financial strategy into a simple, two-step program:

1. Invest in transparent vehicles. Shady ventures such as banks and Fortune 50 companies will pool your assets with those of thousands of other patsies, masking where your money goes and putting it potentially out of reach. The Rat prefers mason jars.

2. Two words: savings bonds.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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