Sunstruck

“God save our gracious Sovereign, and all the Companions, living and departed, of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter.” At the Garter Day service,

Chapel of Saint GeorgeA single sunny day does not a summer make.

Maybe you’ve never heard that expression. It wouldn’t surprise me. I just minted it.

But here in England, like the rules of English grammar, it may not apply. The English know that when the sun comes out, you have to take advantage of it. A day or two of hot, sunny weather may be all there is for an entire summer.

Yesterday was very hot in London. Everyone whom decency permitted removed his shirt. Carpenters hammered their nails, people read books or dozed in the parks, truck drivers shifted their gears – all torso nu. I felt like taking off my shirt too – but I was in polite society. My host had advised me to “wear a smart suit.” I was not sure what he meant, so I put a silicon chip in my old gray suit and hoped it got some sense before the event.

Among the people in our group was an extremely attractive young woman of French origin. I was secretly hoping she would remove her shirt too, perhaps in the spirit of Gallic contrariness. Alas, that wasn’t on the menu.

The sun beat down on Windsor Castle at the occasion of Garter Day…a procession whose roots date back to King Edward III in 1348. There, only a short walk from Runnymede, where King John Lackland signed the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, Edward assembled his military leaders. One story, perhaps apocryphal, has it that one of his mistresses lost a garter at a ball. Edward, gallantly distracting attention from its owner, held it aloft and proclaimed it as the emblem of his highest order of knights. Thus, the order’s motto: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (shame on he who thinks evil).

The custom of choosing and assembling the knights mutated over the years. Today, being a Knight of the Garter is one of the highest honors the monarch can bestow. There are only a handful of them. It cannot be bought with campaign contributions, we were told.

While hundreds of people camped out on the lawn, enduring the hot sun for hours for the privilege of viewing celebrities close up, our small group of about a dozen enjoyed an elegant lunch in a room almost directly over the parade route. Looking out the window, we noticed a large pink woman fall backwards onto the lawn. Several people rushed to her administering aid. They fanned her and held umbrellas to protect her from the sun. And after a while she must have revived, because I saw her sitting upright later on.

Finally, as were finishing our summer pudding, the procession began.

“England is different from France,” one of my companions remarked. “Rather than chop their heads off, we’ve turned our aristos into a tourist industry.”

The household guards marched down the hill in bright red, wool tunics, leather boots that reached their knees, leather gloves up to their elbows and what looked like burnished brass helmets with straw-colored plumes. There were also a few soldiers in those huge beaver hats. They took their places along the parade route to protect the processioners, decoratively at least. A metal detector had been set up at the entrance to the castle grounds. I saw no one in the area with an IRA Forever tee-shirt.

After the guards were in place, there was a long wait. The sun seemed to get even hotter and we began to notice that one of the guards was starting to sway.

“I’ve got thirty pounds that says he goes down before the show is over,” said David, one of the small group.

It did look as though he would never make it. Others, too, looked a little wobbly. And there, on the grass, another large female had conked out. This one was loaded on a stretcher and taken out. Another casualty.

But then, the band started up. And what a fine group they were. Bedecked in heavy velvet, they carried their tubas and clarinets and played everything from the Imperial March to the St. Louis Blues.

They were followed by various groups, each one more splendiferous than the last. There were the military knights, the Officers of Arms, (with titles such as the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant) and then the Knights of the Garter themselves – walking at a pace so slow they threatened to topple over with every step. The Knights of the Garter are all men – with one exception, Lady Margaret Thatcher. And they are all very old. Medics stood by with oxygen as they tortured themselves down the hill.

Then came the nobles — the Duke of Norfolk, the Viscount Ridley, and the Black Rod, Sir Edward Jones, whatever or whoever that is.

And finally, the Prince of Wales and his sister Anne, and the Queen and her husband. All magnificent in huge velvet robes. And all very much as advertised.

And when the last of the royals had vanished into the church, I looked again at the crowd. Several more women seemed to be down – sun struck, or maybe star struck. Stretcher bearers attended them.

But the guard still stood.

Your sunstruck correspondent at Windsor Castle,

Bill Bonner

London, England June 20, 2000

P.S. Today – we’re off to the races. Ascot, that is.

*** Again, not much time, so chronically afflicted Daily Reckoning readers get another day of relief.

*** I’m staying at Claridges on Brook Street. Nice hotel. I usually stay at Berner’s, which is nice, but not as luxurious and not nearly as expensive. But events drew me here yesterday…about which, more below.

*** I am socializing with stockbrokers, fund managers and very rich people – so I’m getting different, probably more mainstream, opinions about what is going on in the markets, and what it means. The young, up-and-coming moneymen seem pretty sure that the worst is behind us. The correction was healthy, in their opinion, and now the market is ready for another growth spurt.

*** Some of these young guys have made a lot of money in the market’s growth spurts. They cannot believe that the proximate future will differ greatly from the recent past. (See: Detour on Easy Street.)

*** “Stocks are pretty much trading on fundamentals,” said a portfolio manager with Unity Management, reported by Reuters, “and the big rally in techs kind of shows that tech earnings are going to be very strong.”

*** Huh? What fundamentals? The Nasdaq rose 129 points – bringing it within 2% of where it began the year. The leaders were the big techs – Cisco, Intel, Oracle – which are probably the worst investments you can make, for reasons I’ve explained. But no will be charged with mismanagement for buying these stocks. No one will be disgraced for having them in his portfolio. They are stocks you can lose money on respectably…and almost certainly.

*** Intel, for example, is selling at 54 times earnings. During the dark phase…when the New Era sun ceases to light up the occidental world…Intel’s P/E will fall to less than half that number.

*** Tech buyers seem to think that Greenspan is finished his work. They are betting that there will be no rate hike this month.

*** Amazon keeps drifting down river. The stock is at $45 and falling. While Amazon still has a long way to go, my host here in London, whose company launched many of these IPOs, thinks some of them are reaching bargain levels. Some have been given up for dead by investors – even though they still have cash and other assets. The assets of Boo.com, for example, recently worth hundreds of millions were sold for $1.5 million.

*** Honeywell has fallen a third in less than a month. When these big blue-chips fall that much it shows that the entire market is held up by a lot of very fickle, amateurs. Buffett doesn’t dump stock when an ‘earnings warning’ comes out.

*** Gold, that heartbreaker, is back at $288…after falling $3.20 yesterday. What happened to the bull market?

*** Oil fell…so did the euro – but I doubt that these are developing trends.

*** The yen rose against the dollar on new hopes of a Japanese recovery. This must be the recovery that I warned you about 9 months ago. Better late than never.

*** We were momentum players as we dined last night – at a restaurant named ‘Nobo,’ where the waiters are all stylishly dressed in black and the customers eat raw fish. Typical of trendy London restaurants, the decor is minimalist, stark and cold. Sound echoes off marble and metal surfaces so it can be hard to hear the person next to you.

*** But after dinner, we became contrarians again. We stopped by the very fashionable Annabel’s for a drink. Annabel’s was the hottest club in London a few years ago…but it was mostly empty last night.

*** A front page article in The Daily Telegraph tells, once again, of the terrible pain and travails of an Anglican clergyman. “The whole thing is full of agony,” said the poor vicar, whose feminine spirit has been trapped in a man’s body for 46 years. But at least he seems to have gotten good service from it. He’s been married and divorced twice and sired a child once.

*** On page 3 we discover that a group of Brits is trying to recreate the building of Stonehenge. They dug up a rock of the sort used to build the monoliths (though rather small in comparison to those at Stonehenge) and were transporting it by raft. Alas, their raft-building skills need some work. The $150,000 project suffered a setback, possibly fatal, when the raft sunk.