I'll Tell You Where to Put It Even after the crash of the new economy, there are plenty of good investments.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Throwing Microsoft into the wheels of an economic machine that seemed to be functioning to the benefit of a great number of people, the Feds are on their way to Mr. Greenspan's goal of destroying prosperity. With confidence drooping, great companies being broken up for kindling, and the upside taken out of the market, new investment strategies may be advisable for those seeking to build and maintain wealth.

What, no Internet? That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Get over it. We had it for a while. Now it's gone, the careening vehicle that was taking us to the top of the mountain, replaced by a rational market brimming with responsible competitors, each worthy of our consideration. But can they stir our hearts, boil our blood? Of course they can, as soon as we back away from the promise of a bright new future fueled by imagination and technology, and get back to the basics.

What are these basics of which we speak? Well, the good news is that they're what they always have been: products and services that you can touch, see, feel, and smell--the concrete entities that formed the backbone of our economy before society tried to move to the next level. Thank goodness we woke up before it was too late!

I'd start with metals. Metals were here long before we were, and they will certainly outlive us. As far back as Rome, and even before, people were brandishing all kinds of metals for use in war, peace, and with the advent of the Middle Ages, hats and pants. Today we rely on metals more than ever. Excellent metals include aluminum, steel, and copper, which is used in the telephone wires that will be so necessary now that the base has been snatched away from speculative wireless communications; nickel; and even chrome, come to think of it, which can be shined up nicely to look very valuable. Brass is often overlooked too, since its Age is now clearly over, but don't be fooled. Brass is here to stay.

People have to eat, and if you've been anywhere recently where people are eating, you'll see that most people eat too much of one basic commodity: fat. They eat it in cheese melted over corn chips. They eat it in meats stuffed between rolls and slathered with secret sauce that is basically nothing more than mayonnaise with perhaps a little relish. They take perfectly good salads and douse them with oil-rich emollients. Anybody with an investment in this great, ubiquitous foodstuff is guaranteed a piece of whatever's likely to come down for humanity in the next several years. So you heard it here first: fat. Don't sell it short.

Then there are chickens. Did you notice how many chickens people are eating? I went to lunch today, and almost everybody had chicken in some form--chicken in salads, chicken with French fries, chicken in a sandwich--and those who didn't, had tuna. So I'd say chicken promises to be a very good investment, certainly better than anything the Internet can offer at this time. Tuna too. And macaroni, come to think of it.

Beyond food, if such a thing is possible at this late date, there is also electrical equipment. I used to work for a company that made it, and it's very cool stuff. We had a division totally dedicated to Large Rotating Objects. I'd like to go back to that kind of world, where huge machines with big gears brought in revenue that was guaranteed to grow at three or four percentage points per year. Recently we came to sneeze at numbers like those, but now we've learned to thank goodness for small increases that arrive as regularly as my cousin Bob on Super Bowl Sunday. Actually, it won't do to make fun of poor Bob, because he just lost a ton of money in a couple of previously excellent Web stocks that would have paid off handsomely if Janet Reno's friends hadn't driven the new economy into a wall. The bottom line is, people are going to need electricity pretty much no matter what, so why not invest in slow-growth industrial businesses that are basically as safe as putting your money in a bank? Safer, probably, since your bank is almost certainly tied up in the stupid Internet in some way.

Finally, there's real estate. But is there? It remains a plausible investment in the new, diminished landscape, but it's still a very scary enterprise. You know it's going to appreciate, sure, but at what pace? We're used to quick returns now, something this form of speculation cannot promise. The wacky speed with which things were recently going before the guys in Washington brought our entire jolly party to an end created a bunch of people who could afford new residences, sometimes more than one. Now those people are gone out the window, as are the folks who wanted to build those structures for them. The smart money, however, doesn't care. We have something better--a material without which there would be no real estate. Yes, my friends, we're talking about dirt.

Now, at first blush, dirt would seem to be quite common and available in many places for free. But not really good dirt. Really good dirt is to regular dirt as a diamond is to a lump of creosote. And when you invest in dirt, you get something else very important--the space around the dirt. If that's in a good location, it may become valuable when somebody wants to build something on it or even above it. Those who don't have big capital and want to get into dirt can simply ignore the whole subject of location and get a very good price indeed. No, it's not a glamorous investment, but it's portable, and if you add water, it turns into something else entirely: mud.

Real things, fellow investors, that's the ticket now. Hurrah for them. Forget about sticky interfaces and top-down integrated platform-agnostic virtual communities. Give me cars and carpeting and rubber baby-buggy bumpers and coins and straw and good old-fashioned American shoe leather. Let me put my hands on the things I use every day, and those, ladies and gentlemen, those will be my investments, because I know those things will be there and I'll be there with them, and my money with me too.

And to all those dedicated to protecting us little guys from the evil monopolists and rampant speculators, we say, Thanks! Thanks a lot! And while we're at it...

Can you guys leave Microsoft alone, or what?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.