With financial pundits repeatedly talking about a return to the Great Depression, how to find a sound bank with FDIC backing and now, even, how to stretch food budgets, national news media, advertisers and entertainment programs, are coming up just short of instilling wholesale investor hysteria.

Luckily, the American public is still laughing with the jokes and exercising prudent investing decisions when it comes to their banking and retirement savings.

Last week on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," for instance, most of the opening prologue and the skits were about the market meltdown.

One of the show's macabre "TV commercials," by "First Mattress Bank," offered "a supercompetitive 0.0% return." "At First Mattress, we don't put your money to work, we put it to sleep," the voiceover said.

"Wall Street had an unbelievable day with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting 777 points, which wiped out $1.2 trillion in the stock market," O'Brien deadpanned. "Financial experts say the last time that much money disappeared in one day was when Oprah left her purse in a cab. Gone, just gone.

"Of course, the big bailout plan that was supposed to save everything failed," he continued. "Political experts say if a new version of the economic bailout plan is going to pass, significant changes are going to have to be made. For instance, Congress is going to have to remove the section of the plan, 'Sweet Jesus, please let this work.'"

Luckily, the doomsayers are tempered by the continued sound advice by TV talking heads and financial columnists to stick with the market, 401(k)s and mutual funds.

Mutual fund companies have also continued to do an excellent job of calming investors' fears by making a convincing case of sticking with one's retirement savings plan; by purchasing bad debt from their money funds, whether publicly or behind-the-scenes, as an estimated 20 companies may have done over the past year to prop up their NAVs; and by signing up for the Department of the Treasury's $50 billion money market guarantee insurance program.

Restoring investor sentiment is as important for repairing the credit markets as absorbing the weakened debt in those markets is. We can laugh along with Conan's gallows humor, but not too loud.

(c) 2008 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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