Posts tagged ‘bubbles’
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Markets are efficient. Individuals behave rationally. All information is reflected in prices. Huh…are you kidding me? These are the beliefs held by traditional free market economists (“rationalists”) like Eugene Fama (Economist at the University of Chicago and a.k.a. the “Father of the Efficient Market Hypothesis”). Striking blows to the rationalists are being thrown by “behavioralists” like Richard Thaler (Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago), who believes emotions often lead to suboptimal decisions and also thinks efficient market economics is a bunch of hogwash.
Individual investors, pensions, endowments, institutional investors, governments, are still sifting through the rubble in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Experts and non-experts are still attempting to figure out how this mass destruction occurred and how it can be prevented in the future. Economists, as always, are happy to throw in their two cents. Right now traditional free market economists like Fama have received a black eye and are on the defensive – forced to explain to the behavioral finance economists (Thaler et. al.) how efficient markets could lead to such a disastrous outcome.
Religion and Economics
Like religious debates, economic rhetoric can get heated too. Religion can be divided up in into various categories (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other), or more simply religion can be divided into those who believe in a god (theism) and those who do not (atheism). There are multiple economic categorizations or schools as well (e.g., Keynsians, monetarism, libertarian, behavioral finance, etc.). Debates and disagreements across the rainbow of religions and economic schools have been going on for centuries, and the completion of the 2008-09 financial crisis has further ignited the battle between the “behavioralists” (behavioral finance economists) and the “rationalists” (traditional free market economists).
Behavioral Finance on the Offensive
In the efficient market world of the “rationalists,” market prices reflect all available information and cannot be wrong at any moment in time. Effectively, individuals are considered human calculators that optimize everything from interest rates and costs to benefits and inflation expectations in every decision. What classic economics does not include is emotions or behavioral flaws.
Purporting that financial market decisions are not impacted by emotions becomes more difficult to defend if you consider the countless irrational anomalies considered throughout history. Consider the following:
- Tulip Mania: Bubbles are nothing new – they have persisted for hundreds of years. Let’s reflect on the tulip bulb mania of the 1600s. For starters, I’m not sure how classic economists can explain the irrational exchanging of homes or a thousand pounds of cheese for a tulip bulb? Or how peak prices of $60,000+ in inflation-adjusted dollars were paid for a bulb at the time (C-Cynical)? These are tough questions to answer for the rationalists.
- Flash Crash: Seeing multiple stocks (i.e., ACN and EXC) and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) temporarily trade down -99% in minutes is not exactly efficient. Stalwarts like Procter & Gamble also collapsed -37%, only to rebound minutes later near pre-collapse levels. All this volatility doesn’t exactly ooze with efficiency (see Making Millions in Minutes).
- Negative T-Bill Rates: For certain periods of 2008 and 2009, investors earned negative yields on Treasury Bills. In essence, investors were paying the government to hold their money. Hmmm?
- Technology and Real Estate Bubbles: Both of these asset classes were considered “can’t lose” investments in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, respectively. Many tech stocks were trading at unfathomable values (more than 100 x’s annual profits) and homebuyers were inflating real estate prices because little to no money was required for the purchases.
- ’87 Crash: October 19, 1987 became infamously known as “Black Monday” since the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged over -22% in one day (-508 points), the largest one-day percentage decline ever.
The list has the potential of going on forever, and the recent 2008-09 financial crisis only makes rationalists’ jobs tougher in refuting all this irrational behavior. Maybe the rationalists can use the same efficient market framework to help explain to my wife why I ate a whole box of Twinkies in one sitting?
The rationalists may have gotten a black eye, but they are not going down without a fight. Here are some quotes from Fama and fellow Chicago rationalist pals:
On the Crash-Related Attacks from Behavioralists: Behavioralists say traditional economics has failed in explaining the irrational decisions and actions leading up to the 2008-09 crash. Fama states, “I don’t see this as a failure of economics, but we need a whipping boy, and economists have always, kind of, been whipping boys, so they’re used to it. It’s fine.”
Rationalist Explanation of Behavioral Finance: Fama doesn’t deny the existence of irrational behavior, but rather believes rational and irrational behaviors can coexist. “Efficient markets can exist side by side with irrational behavior, as long as you have enough rational people to keep prices in line,” notes Fama. John Cochrane treats behavioral finance as a pseudo-science by replying, “The observation that people feel emotions means nothing. And if you’re going to just say markets went up because there was a wave of emotion, you’ve got nothing. That doesn’t tell us what circumstances are likely to make markets go up or down. That would not be a scientific theory.”
Description of Panics: “Panic” is not a term included in the dictionary of traditional economists. Fama retorts, “You can give it the charged word ‘panic,’ if you’d like, but in my view it’s just a change in tastes.” Calling these anomalous historic collapses a “change in tastes” is like calling Simon Cowell, formerly a judge on American Idol, “diplomatic.” More likely what’s really happening is these severe panics are driving investors’ changes in preferences.
Throwing in White Towel Regarding Crash: Not all classic economists are completely digging in their heels like Fama and Cochrane. Gary Becker, a rationalist disciple, acknowledges “Economists as a whole didn’t see it coming. So that’s a black mark on economics, and it’s not a very good mark for markets.”
Settling Dispute with Lab Rats
The boxing match continues, and the way the behavioralists would like to settle the score is through laboratory tests. In the documentary Mind Over Money, numerous laboratory experiments are run using human subjects to tease out emotional behaviors. Here are a few examples used by behavioralists to bolster their arguments:
- The $20 Bill Auction: Zach Burns, a professor at the University of Chicago, conducted an auction among his students for a $20 bill. Under the rules of the game, as expected, the highest bidder wins the $20 bill, but as an added wrinkle, Burns added the stipulation that the second highest bidder receives nothing but must still pay the amount of the losing bid. Traditional economists would conclude nobody would bid higher than $20. See the not-so rational auction results here at minute 1:45.
- $100 Today or $102 Tomorrow? This was the question posed to a group of shoppers in Chicago, but under two different scenarios. Under the first scenario, the individuals were asked whether they would prefer receiving $100 in a year from now (day 366) or $102 in a year and one additional day (day 367)? Under the second scenario, the individuals were asked whether they would prefer receiving $100 today or $102 tomorrow? The rational response to both scenarios would be to select $102 under both scenarios. See how the participants responded to the questions here at minute 4:30.
Rationalist John Cochrane is not fully convinced. “These experiments are very interesting, and I find them interesting, too. The next question is, to what extent does what we find in the lab translate into how people…understanding how people behave in the real world…and then make that transition to, ‘Does this explain market-wide phenomenon?,’” he asks.
As alluded to earlier, religion, politics, and economics will never fall under one universal consensus view. The classic rationalist economists, like Eugene Fama, have in aggregate been on the defensive and taken a left-hook in the eye for failing to predict and cohesively explain the financial crash of 2008-09. On the other hand, Richard Thaler and his behavioral finance buds will continue on the offensive, consistently swinging at the classic economists over this key economic mind versus money dispute.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in ACN, EXC, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, unless it’s a habit of betting, in which case that habit will follow you back to Wall Street. Just as there are a million ways to make or lose money by investing or speculating in the market, the same principles apply to sports betting as well. Anybody who has been to Las Vegas and gone to the sportsbook knows how incredibly and insanely accurate the oddsmakers are – I speak from immature experience having traveled there for a healthy number of investment conferences and vacations. The oddsmakers are so accurate; you could say they are almost “efficient” at what they do.
But like the market, in the sports world too, efficiency has a tendency to breakdown occasionally and form bubbles. This dynamic leaves both a huge threat of substantial losses and a potential for windfall gains. Where there are bubbles forming, you are bound to find a large number of excited individuals jumping on a bandwagon. Now, let’s take a look at how the worlds of Wall Street and wagers collide and see if any lessons can be learned.
Jumping on the Stock Bandwagon
band·wag·on [band-wag-uhn]: a party, cause, movement, etc., that by its mass appeal or strength readily attracts many followers.
Everybody loves a winner and no one more so than a fresh fan jumping on the bandwagon. Living in Southern California, the bandwagon is presently fully-loaded with proclaimed Los Angeles Laker fans and USC fans, although the Trojan wagon is currently undergoing repair. It’s easy to identify bandwagoners in sports – just find the face painter, guy with a rainbow afro, Boston native sporting a Kobe Bryant jersey, or the fanatic betting on the team favored by three touchdowns. In the game of stocks, identifying the fickle but passionate followers is a little more subtle. Bandwagon status is not measured by the extent of point spreads (predicted scoring differential between two opponents), but rather by level of P/E ratios (Price-Earnings ratio) or other valuation metric of choice.
While it is clear sports bandwagoners root for the “favorites,” in the realm of investing this translates into piling onto the “growth or momentum” stocks (see Momentum Investing article) – I hate generalizing terms but that’s what we bloggers do. Value investors, on the other hand, root for (buy) the “underdogs.”
To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at a few past bandwagon momentum stocks:
- JDS Uniphase Corp. (JDSU): In 2000 we saw these bandwagoners valuing investor favorites like JDS Uniphase at a whopping $99 billion – meaning investors were willingly paying over 100x’s revenues and 600 x’s trailing earnings to own the stock. At the time, JDSU was a “New Economy” stock that was going to revolutionize the proliferation of bandwidth around the globe with their proprietary optical laser components. For those of you keeping score at home, today JDSU’s stock is valued at approximately $2 billion ($9.97), or -98% less than the market value in March 2000 (split-adjusted peak share price of $1,227.38 per share). If it wasn’t for a 1-for-8 reverse stock split in 2006, then a share of JDSU would fetch you $1.25 today, or less than the amount needed to cover an out of network ATM penalty fee.
- Crocs Inc. (CROX): Crox is another one of my favorite bandwagon stocks, because this loud plastic eyesore footwear was clearly a fad that couldn’t sustain its growth once popularity waned, despite my wife being a bandwagon-ee. Like other fad product-related stocks, the company could no longer maintain its growth once they completed stuffing the channel and their customers cried uncle from choking on inventory. Making matters worse for CROX, knockoff versions were offered for a fraction of the cost at local grocery stores and mall kiosks. After about 20 months post its IPO (Initial Public Offering), the music stopped and within 13 months the stock cratered from a $75 per share peak to $0.79 in 2008. The stock never traded at the absurd dot-com levels, but the lofty 37x P/E in 2007 quickly turned negative after close to $200 million in losses were realized in 2008 and 2009. The stock has since rebounded to $12 and change, and maybe their new Crocs high-heel line of $99.00 shoes (see here) will propel the stock higher…cough, cough.
Point Spread, Point Spread, Point Spread
In sports betting the three most important factors in making a winning bet are point spread, point spread, and point spread. Unlike the March Madness college basketball pool in which you may have participated, in the real world the participant needs to do more than just pick the winning teams – the participant must determine by how much a team will win by. Let’s take a gander at a few actual examples.
- Florida Gators vs. Charleston Southern Buccaneers (9/5/09): Without knowing a lot about the powerhouse squad from South Carolina, 99% of respondents, when asked before the game who would win, would select Florida – a consistently dominant national-powerhouse program. The question gets a little trickier when asked the question: “Will the Florida Gators win by more than 63 points?” That’s exactly the point spread sports bettors faced when deciding whether or not to place the bet – somewhat analogous to the question whether JDSU was a prudent investment at 600x’s earnings? Needless to say, although the Buccs kept it close in the first half, and only trailed by 42-3 at halftime, the Gators still managed to squeak by with a 62-3 victory. Worth noting, the 59 point margin of victory resulted in a losing wager for anyone picking the Gators.
- USC Trojans vs. Stanford Cardinal (10/6/2007): Ranked as the presumptive #1 team of the country pre-season, and entering the game with a 35-0 home-game winning streak, USC was a whopping 41 point favorite over Stanford. On the flip side, the Cardinal came into the game fresh off of a 1-11 losing season the prior year, and in the previous year the Cardinal lost to the Trojans 42-0. Stanford ended up winning the 2007 match-up by a score of 24-23, not only pulling off one of the greatest upsets of all-time, but also spoiling USC’s chances of winning the national championship.
Beyond the Point Spread
As you can surmise from our discussion, the same point spread standards apply to investing, but when discussing stocks the spread is measured by various valuation metrics based on earnings, cash flows, book value, EBITDA, sales, and other fundamental growth factors.
Of course, in Las Vegas and on Wall Street not everyone follows traditional fundamental analysis. Some gamblers and speculators will transact solely based on less conventional methods, for example quantitative models, technical analysis and trend review (read Technical Analysis: Astrology or Lob Wedge). For example in sports, handicappers may only wager on teams with five-game winning streaks and winning home records. Whereas on Wall Street, speculators may only trade stocks with positive earnings surprises or “head-and-shoulder” patterns. Hot technicians come and go, but very few real investors survive the long haul without using fundamental analysis and valuation as key components of their winning strategies.
As I have argued, there are many ways to make (and lose) money on Wall Street or in Las Vegas, and consistently jumping on the bandwagon is a sure way to lose. For the successful minority whose performance has endured the test of time, a common thread connecting the two disciplines is the ability to determine and profit from a prudently calculated point spread/valuation. History teaches us that the same effective handicapping skills happening in Las Vegas are the same abilities needed to stay on Wall Street and win.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
*DISCLOSURE: The undergraduate alma mater of Sidoxia Capital Management’s (SCM) President happens to be UCLA, so although I believe any reference to rival school USC is not provided with any malicious agenda, nonetheless there may exist an inherent conflict of interest. SCM and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in JDSU, CROX, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
The words “risk tolerance” are often used loosely, but unfortunately many investors and advisors look at these terms as an objectively definable statistic, like your blood pressure or cholesterol level. Not only is risk tolerance not a definable statistic, but for most people it is also constantly changing.
Given that investment advisors themselves have a great deal of difficulty maintaining an even emotional keel, it should come as no surprise that most invidual investors have even more volatile risk appetites. Because of the nature surrounding the markets – 24/7 news coverage and non-stop tick by tick price scorekeeping –emotions continually tug at investors’ risk tolerances.
Average Investor NOT on Best Behavior
Certainly in my practice, I’ve seen the direct psychological (and physical) impacts volatile financial markets can have on people’s investment decisions. What makes deciphering risk tolerance even more difficult is the absence of any substantive profile definitions (except for vague categories like conservative, moderate, and aggressive). The foggy risk categorizations are compounded by the aforementioned fluctuating risk tolerances, which usually switch in the wrong direction, at the wrong time. Case in point: the technology bubble bursting. In the late 1990s, risk aversion completely disappeared – everyone and their mother wanted to invest in technology stocks. If you fast-forward to the mid-2000s, you will also recall Bessie the hair salonist and Jimmy the cab-driver taking excessive risk at the peak of the housing bubble.
In a recent Simoleon Sense post, an astute guest contributor (Tim Richards) points to research developed by Carrie Pan and Meir Statman (Santa Clara University – Department of Finance) showing the shortcomings implicit in investor behavior:
“… investors’ risk tolerance varies by circumstances and associated emotions. High past stock returns endow stocks with positive affect and inflate investors’ exuberance, misleading them into the belief that the future holds high stock returns coupled with low risk. Risk tolerance questions asked after periods of high stock returns are likely to elicit answers exaggerating investors’ risk tolerance. Conversely, low past stock returns burden stocks with negative affect and inflate investors’ fear, misleading them into the belief that the future holds low stock returns coupled with high risk. Risk tolerance questions asked following periods of low stock returns are likely to elicit answers underestimating investors’ risk tolerance.”
In addition to ill-advised investor timing, Richards correctly highlights the lack of comparability across various investor types, even if you apply acceptable definitions or numeric levels of risk. Simple allocation to various stock/bond exposure does not adequately capture a client’s risk tolerance. A portfolio with 60% invested in Blue Chip dividend paying companies is a tad different than a portfolio invested 60% in Russian stocks. What an 82-year old retiree in Florida thinks is “aggressive” may differ 180 degrees from what a 32-year old trader on Wall Street may think is “aggressive.”
The Failure of Risk Equations
Academics have attempted to boil the market into elegant mathematical equations, but with the acknowledgement that investing mixes science with behavior, it becomes apparent that the mathematical equations must also incorporate art. However, it can become quite difficult to create an ever changing artistic equation. A perfect example of an equation gone awry is the debacle that unfolded at Long Term Capital Management. Robert Merton and Myron Scholes were world renowned Nobel Prize winners who single handedly brought the global financial markets to its knees in 1998 when it lost $500 million in one day and required a $3.6 billion bailout from a consortium of banks (see also why investors get hurt and Butter in Bangladesh articles).
Even if you are a smart economist who can artistically mix quantitative numbers with investing, the problem becomes people’s preferences and decisions change as the infinite number of variables adjust in the marketplace over time. There certainly are some rules of thumb investors tend to gravitate towards (such as cheap companies with sustainable growth in profits and cash flows), but even for those companies successful at generating income, nobody can unequivocally predict exactly how and when investors will react by pushing prices higher.
Here is what Tim Richardshad to add on the subjects of mathematical models and market efficiency in his Simoleon Sense post:
“So, in recent decades the industry’s approach has been to develop mathematical models which can relegate human behaviour to a set of probability equations, thus allowing profitability and risk to be actuarially managed: fraud is no longer unacceptable – it’s now just a number to be factored into earnings forecasts. This is simply the latest in a long line of industry fads, using the ideas of efficient market theories to design approaches which are right quite a lot of the time and then very, very wrong all at once.”
“[Markets] are not remotely efficient and it’s just a shame the world had to be brought to the edge of financial meltdown before anyone started listening.”
“When everyone thinks that markets can’t fail is the time to be very risk adverse, when no-one wants to invest is the time to be greedy. Yet what’s an advisor to do when the know-your-customer questionnaire tells them to do exactly the opposite of what’s in the customer’s best interests?”
Equations can produce detrimental results, so a healthy dosage of skepticism is prescribed.
The Solution: Education, Liquidity, and Income Can Allow More Beauty Sleep
Education about logic pitfalls and the integration of liquidity-based needs into clients’ investment plans is key. Controlling and understanding one’s personal biases can reduce or eliminate common repeated investment mistakes. Covering the investors’ income needs is another essential and practical aspect to investing, especially when it can prevent forced position sales at inopportune times. Extending oneself along the riskier end of the spectrum may have felt comfortable in the mid 2000s, but losses and sleepless nights overwhelmed many investors in 2008 and early 2009. In a bull market, adding too much equity and other risky assets to a portfolio is like pimping heroine to a drug addict – it behooves the advisor to point out the potential dangers of positioning a portfolio too aggressively. Rebalancing your investment portfolio can also act as a natural hedge to prevent exposures from exploding in size or evapaporating away. On the other hand, pitching Armageddon and piling into overpriced risk-free assets during the tail end of a bear market can be just as negligent.
Risk tolerance is an amorphous concept that can lead to suboptimal, knee-jerk investment actions. If you want to earn higher returns, I strongly urge you to pick up a behavioral finance book to sharpen your investment decision-making skills and firm up your wobbling risk tolerance foundation.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing had no direct positions in any security mentioned in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Like a bubble formed from chewing gum, the gradual expansion of the spherical formation occurs much slower than the immediacy of the pop. A minority of investors identified the treacherous, credit-induced bubble of 2008 before it burst, however not included in that group are financial regulators. Now we’re left with the task of cleaning up the sticky mess on our faces and establishing measures to prevent future blow-ups.
George Soros, Chairman of Soros Fund Management and author of The Crash of 2008, has been around the financial market block a few times, so I think it pays to heed the regulatory reform recommendations as it relates to the “Super bubble” of 2008. As you probably know, financial bubbles are not a new concept. Beyond the oft-mentioned technology and real estate bubbles of this decade, bubbles such as the “Tulip-mania” of the 1630s serve as a gentle reminder of the everlasting existence of irrational economic behavior. If the Dutch were willing to pay $76,000 for a tulip bulb (inflation-adjusted) almost 400 years ago, then virtually any mania is possible.
Bubbles and Efficiency
Efficient markets are somewhat like UFOs. Some people believe in them, but many do not. In order to believe in the existence of bubbles, one needs to question the validity of the pure form of efficient markets (read more about market efficiency). Here’s how Soros feels about market efficiency:
“I contend that financial markets always present a distorted picture of reality.”
I believe we will be in a hyper-sensitive period of bubble witch-hunting for a while, as the fresh wounds of 2008-09 heal themselves. If you get in early enough, bubbles can be profitable. Unfortunately, like a distracted teen fixated on the sunbathers at a nude beach, the excitement can lead to a painful burn if preventative sunscreen measures are not taken. Most bubble participants are too exhilarated to carry out a thoughtful exit strategy – the news can just be too tempting to jump off the top.
In his analysis of market regulation, Soros lays some of the “Great Recession” blame on the Federal Reserve and Alan Greenspan (Chairman of Fed):
“Instead of a tendency towards equilibrium, financial markets have a tendency to develop bubbles. Bubbles are not irrational: it pays to join the crowd, at least for a while. So regulators cannot count on the market to correct its excesses…The crash of 2008 was caused by the collapse of a super-bubble that has been growing since 1980. This was composed of smaller bubbles. Each time a financial crisis occurred the authorities intervened, took care of the failing institutions, and applied monetary and fiscal stimulus, inflating the super-bubble even further.”
Soros’ Recipe for Reform
What is Soros’ solution for the “Super bubble?” Here are some recommendations from his Op-Ed in the Financial Times:
- Regulator Accountability: First of all, financial authorities need to accept responsibility for preventing excesses – excuses are not an acceptable response.
- Control Credit: Rather than having static monetary targets such as margin requirements, capital reserve requirements, and loan-to-value ratios, Soros argues these metrics can be adjusted in accordance with the swinging moods of economic cycles. He punctuates the point by saying, “To control asset bubbles it is not enough to control the money supply; you must also control credit.”
- Limit Overheating in Specific Sectors: Had regulators limited lending during the real estate explosion or had the SEC limited technology IPOs in the late 1990s, perhaps our country would be in better financial health today.
- Manage Derivatives and Systemic Risk: Basically what Soros is saying here is that many market participants can become overwhelmed by certain exposures or exotic instruments, therefore it behooves regulators to proactively step in and regulate.
- Manage Too Big to Fail (read related Graham IC article): According to Soros a big reason we got into this trouble relates to the irresponsible proprietary trading departments at some of the larger banks. Responsibly separating these departments and limiting the amount of risk undertaken is an important element to the safety of our financial system.
- Reformulate Asset Holding Rules: Underestimating the risk profile of a certain security can lead to concentration issues, which can potentially generate systemic risk. Soros highlights the European Basel Accord rules as an area that can use some improvement.
Soros admits most, if not all, the measures he proposes will choke off the profitability of banks. For this reason, regulators must be very careful with the implementation and timing of these financial strategies. If employed too aggressively, the economy could find itself in a deflationary spiral. Move too slowly, and the loose monetary measures instituted by the Fed could fan the flames of inflation.
Bubbles will never go away. Eventually, the recent panic-induced fear will fade away and the entrepreneurial seeds of greed will germinate into new budding flowers of optimism. As investors nervously chomp away at their chewing gum, I will patiently await for the next financial bubble to form. I echo George Soros’s hope that regulators prick future “mini-bubbles” before they become “super-bubbles.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in an security referenced. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
“Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who are trying to find it.”
–Tongue-in-cheek quote from motivational poster.
There’s nothing like a little destructive global financial crisis to boost viewership ratings. CNBC benefitted last fall from all the gloom and doom permeating the media outlets, but unfortunately for the cable business channel, a more constructive market environment over the last six months doesn’t sell as well as what New York Magazine called, “pessimism porn.” Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge recently provided statistics showing the impact of more optimistic financial markets. CNBC experienced total viewer year-over-year declines of -37% as measured in mid-September – worse than Mr. Durden’s late July statistics that illustrated a -28% decline.
Small wonder that we now see discussions developing between Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) and General Electric (GE) over a potential partnership with the NBC-Universal assets. Other potential parties may enter the fray, but GE’s shopping of the traditional media unit is evidence ofthe station’s pessimism over a secularly declining business.
Businesses are not the only ones influenced by pessimism – so are individuals. Behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have provided support to the impact pessimism has on peoples’ psyches. Emotional fears of loss can have a crippling effect in the decision making process. Through their research, Kahneman and Tversky showed the pain of loss is more than twice as painful as the pleasure from gain. How do they prove this? Through various hypothetical gambling scenarios, they highlight how irrational decisions are made. For example, more people choose the scenario of an initial $600 nest egg that grows by $200, rather than starting with $1,000 and losing $200 (despite ending up at the same exact point under either scenario).
Of course investors have short memories from a historical perspective. Whether it’s the 17th century tulip mania (people paying tens of thousands for tulips – inflation adjusted), the technology bubble of the late 1990s, or the more recent real estate/credit craze, eventually a new bubble forms.
If you are one of those people that get sucked into “pessimism porn” or big bubbles, then I suggest you grab the remote control, turn off CNBC, and then switch over to The History Channel. You may just learn from the repeated emotional mistakes made by those of our past.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in CMCSA, GE, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.