Down the shore everything’s all right?

Bernie McSherry Contributor
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The “reality” show megahit “Jersey Shore” returns to the airwaves Thursday evening and the media hype machine is in full swing. As part of the promotional buildup, the cast of the show rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange this morning and they drew the biggest trading floor crowd since Abbie Hoffman rained dollar bills down from the visitor’s gallery in 1967. This season the cast members, almost exclusively comprised of New Yorkers (only Sammi Sweetheart actually hails from the Garden State), will be shown adjusting to a new scene while they spend an extended sojourn in Miami’s swanky South Beach district. The “fish out of water” scenario should make for compelling television. Sort of the “Masterpiece Theatre” of bad taste.

Not all of this morning’s trading floor hoopla was related to the bell ringing ceremony, however. The situation in the stock market has improved, largely due to a series of corporate earnings reports that have not only beat expectations, but that have also raised future guidance. Stocks have also been boosted by economic data that has moderated fears of a double-dip recession and investor sentiment that has shifted decisively towards the bearish side of the equation. Yes, that’s right. Surveys on consumer confidence and investor outlook show a significant rise in pessimism and that can be good for the market. As retail investors have increasingly come to expect a decline in the market, institutional investors (mutual funds, pension funds, and the like) have upped the equity portion of their portfolios to 68%, a 15 month high. This divergence suggests a potential for further market gains and retail investors who are excessively parked in cash could get snookered.  I’m betting that the professionals are sniffing out an improving economic environment and it looks like they bought on the late spring dip. If the rally plays out as expected, institutional traders will be breaking out the Ron Ron Juice to celebrate.

Perhaps the Jersey Shore can offer astute traders a glimpse of some emerging investment trends. JWOWW appears to be heavily invested in Silicon Valley (thanks to CNBC’s Mark Haines for that one) and sales of hair gel, cologne and lip balm should see an increase. Even tanning bed sales should get a lift, despite the recent tax levied on them by the health care bill. Who could resist trying to emulate DJ Pauly D? Well, maybe the actual residents of the shore for starters.

As many of readers may know, I live “down the shore” and where I come from, the type of folks who populate MTV’s hit “reality” show are known as “Bennys” (an acronym for Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York), and it’s generally not a term of endearment. Most of the folks in my neck of the woods have dealt with more than a few Bennys in our time, and one of the true benefits of summer’s end is that the interlopers always head back north to their non-littoral abodes. Unfortunately, “Jersey Shore’ may have shifted that dynamic. Officials in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, initially disdainful of the attention that the show brought to their seedy boardwalk, have clamored for its return and MTV is now filming season three back at the original location. As day-trippers flood the town, angling to get a glimpse of The Situation, you can bet that the local business community wishes it could persuade Angelina, Ronnie, Vinny and the rest to take up year-round residence.

MTV may wish to consider such a proposition carefully. A series of shows set in the off-season would ultimately yield an “A Jersey Shore Christmas” episode and give the show’s producers the opportunity to dress Snooki in the inevitable elf costume. Based upon the excitement that the new season seems to be generating, I’m willing to wager that such an episode would set new records for basic cable programming.

Bernie McSherry is senior vice president for strategic initiatives at Cuttone & Company.