Fox's proprietary stock index

Fox Business Network launched yesterday to a publicity blitz I tuned out largely because I can’t tune in; it’s on my cable system, but for some reason not accessible to me.  There were the expected big “gets” for its launch-day interviews, such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Richard Branson.  They also interviewed some dude who hangs out in Times Square called “The Naked Cowboy.”  Now we know what Rupert Murdoch really meant when he defined his stated mission for the channel as focusing on “innovation, successes and people who are making money.”  The Naked Cowboy is the picture of true entrepreneurship in Fox Nation.

Fox Business Channel

Along with the new channel comes a new proprietary stock index.

The stocks that make up the “Fox 50” were a big secret up until launch, as was most of the channel’s schedule.  But now it’s all laid out on the Fox Business website, and on first reading it’s designed to reinforce the channel’s “Main Street” focus that aims to distinguish itself from CNBC’s “Wall Street” focus (along with the Naked Cowboy):

You are a part of the financial markets, even if you’ve never bought a stock.

Just think about how you spent your morning: you put on your Nikes, thumbed through some tunes on your iPod, and walked around the corner for a Starbucks coffee. You brushed your teeth with Crest toothpaste after wolfing down a bowl of Lucky Charms.

At lunch you might fill up your car with gas from an Exxon station, head to the McDonald’s drive-through and order a hamburger and Diet Coke.

It goes on like this for a while, but you get the idea.  Then we get to the core of it:

Think of it as the stock index of your life. It may not be a perfect snapshot of industrial America like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or be as broad as the S&P 500, but it’s yours.

There’s an advantage in focusing on companies and brands you know. We’re not saying you must own these stocks. In fact, the only judgment we make with the FOX 50 is that they represent the stocks you should watch if you’re interested in knowing the health of the American consumer market.

And we want you to watch them, if for no other reason than because these are the best stocks to illustrate how the market is reliant on your behavior, how the decisions you make with your wallet affect the folks on stock-trading floors and in corporate boardrooms.

I don’t doubt Fox’s stated motives in constructing this index; as I said, it’s totally consistent with its “Main Street” positioning.  But Fox News Channel has a history of playing up stock indices and key economic indicators when they’re positive, and playing them down when they’re not.  Constructing an index of consumer staples — things people buy day-in and day-out regardless of how the economy is doing — would be a nifty way of making the Bush economy look healthier than it really is.  And while one day doesn’t tell the whole story, the Fox 50 on its maiden outing fell .66% — while the Dow slipped .77%, the S&P .84%, and the Nasdaq .91%.

But after examining the list of the 50 stocks up close, I’m inclined to think that if this was Fox’s objective, they blew it.  Putting both Home Depot and Lowe’s in the index is bound to drag it down at a time the housing market is in trouble and people are doing fewer home improvements.  Merrill Lynch seems simply out of place in this “everyman” index — and anything from the financial sector (Prudential is also there, along with Citi and Bank of America) is bound to drag the index further down.

Oh well.  A branded stock index is a lot more pleasant to talk about on your new channel than $85$86$87 $88 oil.