Don't blame bird flu. Whatever jittery thoughts have soured the stock market this month, the most jittery prospect of all - the pandemic we are told is inevitable, but not, perhaps, quite yet - is an improbable culprit.
A global plague would hurt everybody's economic wellbeing along with our health. If tens of millions of people go sick round the world, the value of their work is lost. So is the spending power of the earnings they don't earn.
Add the cost of treating them and you very probably have an economic, as well as personal, catastrophe - but not the sort that bugs financial markets months or years in advance.
Markets respond most readily to a high probability of something relatively minor. The slight probability of something colossal is neither here nor there - for the very good reason that it probably won't happen.
Even the Government scientist who claimed a bird flu plague was "inevitable" was thinking way beyond the time horizon of any market. It is not only in politics that a week is a long time.
So chickens are not the bogey. Not yet. What about inflation? It is going up all right, too fast for the comfort of Messrs Greenspan and King. If they are uncomfortable, the rest of us have cause to be uneasy, too.
But equities are the traditional safeguard against inflation. Over time, companies raise their prices, profits and dividends to offset the loss in the value of money. Shareholders come out all right. The losers are investors in fixed-interest bonds. The prospect of inflation should drive equity prices up and bonds down. This month, though, equities have gone down and bonds have more or less stood still. Forget inflation.
What about oil prices? They have come back $10 a barrel from their peak. So is the great oil share bonanza over? Well, the stockbroker Christows calculates that only a third of the loss across the FTSE-350 index can be attributed to the energy bighitters, BP, Shell and BG. There is something out there besides oil niggling the market.
A more parochial suggestion is that the fraud that bankrupted the American derivatives broker Refco has unsettled the financial community on both sides of the Pond. Who knows?
So far the only identified victim is the Austrian bank Bawag, which inexplicably lent $418 million to Philip Bennett, Refco's former chief executive, 24 hours before he put his hands up. Bawag is owned by Austrian trades unions, whose misfortune is unlikely to hurt anybody else.
Last week I suggested it was probably just a bout of old-fashioned profit-taking. It still looks like that. n n n
Royal Mail wants thousands of its managers to get out of their offices in December to help sort and deliver our Christmas cards. That could save some of the £15 million Royal Mail paid last year to 22,000 students and other part-timers.
Fine. But if all these managers can be spared from their real jobs for the critical month of December, what on earth are they managing for the other eleven months of the year?