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“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happy Hour.” – Hawkeye Pierce
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After yesterday’s rally that lost momentum throughout the trading day, futures are looking to start the day higher again today as positive and not as bad as feared earnings have lifted the mood in early trading. Treasury yields are modestly higher but mostly behaving while crude oil is up close to 2%. European stocks are modestly higher and well off their lows of the morning as investors shake off stronger-than-expected inflation data out of France and Spain. On the economic calendar in the US, Wholesale Inventories were just released (weaker than expected; down 0.4% versus +0.1% consensus), and later this morning we’ll get Case Shiller data, Chicago PMI, Consumer Confidence, and Richmond Fed.
40 years ago, tonight, nearly half of all Americans and three-quarters of all TVs in the United States were tuned into the same channel. Never had such a large number of Americans watched the same event at the same time. What were they watching? It wasn’t the Super Bowl. The Redskins had already beaten the Dolphins a month earlier after the strike-shortened season. No, on this Monday night, they were watching Hawkeye Pierce leave the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital for the last time on the series finale of M.A.S.H. Outside of its first season in 1972, when the show was almost canceled, M.A.S.H. was one of the top-rated shows on TV in every other season of its eleven-year run. M.A.S.H. fans watched the series finale and were sad to see it go, but subconsciously many of them were probably saying good riddance.
M.A.S.H. coincided with a dark period in the American economy, and its end can be looked back on as being symbolic of throwing some of the last vestiges of the 1970s behind us. The fact that the most popular comedy of the 1970s and early 1980s was set on a hospital base in a war zone where the plot of nearly every episode was interrupted by an incoming influx of war casualties says all you need to know about the psyche of Americans in the 1970s.
The chart below shows the performance of the S&P 500 from the first episode of M.A.S.H in September 1972 to the series finale in February 1983. Less than four months after the show first aired, the S&P 500 peaked and went on to lose nearly half of its value over the next 18 months before bottoming out and slowly reclaiming the declines of the bear market over the next several years. In fact, it took three-quarters of a decade before stocks finally made new highs again, and the real breakout of the 1980s bull market wasn’t for another two years after that in August 1982, six months before the show ended.
The performance of the S&P 500 during M.A.S.H. was bad enough in nominal terms, but when you factor in the crushing inflation of that period into the equation, performance was even weaker. After deflating the S&P 500 by headline CPI during the 1970s and early 1980s (gray line), you can see why M.A.S.H was a period of American history many were happy to forget. Is it any surprise that after a decade of high inflation, war, and general economic malaise, that as M.A.S.H. was getting ready to sign off, Americans were now turning the channel to a washed-up baseball player running a bar in Boston? Americans were ready for a drink. Cheers!
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