Relief from the Fed Boosts Media

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Everyone's hero these days, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, again cut interest rates last Wednesday — the fourth time since Jan. 3 — to stimulate an economy much in need of a jolt of Java.

So last Wednesday the bulls stampeded and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared almost 400 points and an anemic NASDAQ enjoyed a heart thumping 156 point uptick.

On that sunshine-flooded day in New York, media stocks were mostly basking, but it's going to be a long and slow climb back to the halcyon days of a year ago when stocks like Cisco were trading for $80 a share.

Meanwhile, cable stocks, which have not been as volatile as media or tech issues, showed mostly modest gains. However, there were a couple of losers last Wednesday, such as Adelphia Communications Corp, which was hit by a 6-percent drop. Less maimed, but still down, Insight Communications Co., Charter Communications Inc. and Classic Communications Inc. also took a little slide down the chute.

But elsewhere in the cable sector were modest gainers like Cablevision Systems Corp., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and, yes, even the battered AT&T Corp.

Those gains, however, were chicken feed when compared to what the big cheese of the media world — AOL Time Warner Inc. — enjoyed: an 11.62-percent jump, taking the stock to $49 a share. Other big winners among the giant entertainment companies were Viacom Inc., USA Networks Inc., The Walt Disney Co and Crown Media Holdings Inc.

But the action on Wall Street last week was only one indication of what lies ahead. Future corporate announcements about layoffs, sputtering new home starts and sales, limping retail sales and a decline in shipment of industrial goods are all signs that the economy is not yet running on all eight cylinders.

Perhaps the best barometer right now is Madison Avenue, which is a truer reflection of human psychology and one that impacts an economy more than any other single factor.

These days you can't sit on a plane or train and not overhear conversations among your fellow passengers about the state of the economy. Juxtapose that noisy chatter, against an article you're trying to read on why the trendy Restoration Hardware store in New York's artsy Soho district is closing down, and it's cause for pause.

Given the worried psyche of the average American, I would have to imagine that financial programming, like CNBC's offerings, should be soaring. In fact, as I'm writing this now, I'm kind of distracted by CNBC's cheeky personal finance editor Suze Orman. She's taking calls on "Business Center," from residents in Piermont, N.Y., a lovely Bohemian community of entrepreneurs just over the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Those callers all had big questions about the state of the economy, which Orman answered with chutzpah. Many of the calls were from aging boomers who were just trying to plan for retirement, without losing their nest eggs by making some boneheaded investment in the market.

Speaking of aging baby boomers, we hope you like the design update for Multichannel News, which debuts with this issue. Under the tutelage of Cahners Television Group creative director Bill Knight, we hope you find some of the bad news you're reading each week at least a little easier to read.

Knight has bumped up the type size and tweaked the white space to give aging eyes a well-earned break. He's also provided visual mileposts to let you more easily navigate throughout the paper.

But sorry to say, unlike Greenspan, we can't do much about the economy, but we can take some of the pain out of reading about some pretty depressing stuff.

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