Back to the Future: Mag Covers (Part III)
Congratulations to those who have graduated through my first two articles (Part I and Part II) regarding the use of media magazine covers as contrarian investment indicator tools. We’ve reviewed magazine’s horrendous ability of predicting market shifts during the 1970s and Tech Bubble of 2000, and now we will take a peek at the “Great Recession” of 2008 and 2009. If you have the stamina to complete this final article, your diploma and selfless glory will be waiting for you at the end.
This magazine cover series was not designed to be utilized as an exploitable investment strategy, but rather to increase awareness and raise skepticism surrounding investment content. Just because something is written or said by journalist or blogger does not mean it is a fact (although I fancy facts). In the field of investing, along with other behavioral disciplines, there are significant gray areas left open to interpretation. A more educated, critical eye exercised by the general public will perhaps release us from the repetitive boom-bust cycles we’ve become accustomed to. Perhaps my goal is naïve and idealistic, nonetheless I dare to dream.
The wounds from a year ago are still fresh, and we have not fully escaped from the problems that originally got us into this mess, but it is amazing what a 60%+ market move since March can do to the number of “Great Depression” references. Let’s walk down calamity memory lane over the last year:
Great Depression Redux?
Months ago we were in the midst of a severe recession, and the media was not shy about jumping on the “pessimism porn” bandwagon for the sake of ratings. Like a Friday the 13th sequel (nice tie in!), CNBC just weeks ago was plugging the crisis anniversary of the Lehman Brothers failure. Time magazine’s portrayal of the financial crisis as the next Great Depression, including the soup kitchen lines, mass unemployment, and collapse of thousands of banks, was used like chum to feed the frenzy of shocked investing onlookers. Unemployment rates are still creeping up, albeit at a slower rate, but we are nowhere near the 25% levels seen in the Great Depression.
One of my favorite articles (read here) of the global crisis was written by The Wall Street Journal late last year about a Russian Professor, Igor Panarin (also a former KGB analyst). I find it absurdly amusing that the WSJ would even give credence to this story, but perhaps now I can look forward to an Op-Ed in their newspaper from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or North Korean Leader Kim Jong Ill. Not only did Professor Panarin pronounce the complete evaporation of the United States, but he also provided a specific timeframe. In late June or early July 2010, he expects the U.S. to fall into civil war and subsequently get carved up into six pieces by particular foreign regions, including China, Mexico, E.U., Japan, Canada, and Russia (which will control Alaska of course). I guess Sarah Palin will not be a happy camper?
Other Crisis Souvenirs
Contrarianism for the sake of contrarianism is not necessarily a good thing. Trend can be your friend too. Bubbles take much longer to inflate than they burst, so it may be in your best interest to ride the wave of ecstasy for longer than the early alarm ringers. Take for example Alan Greenspan’s infamous irrational exuberance speech in 1996, when the NASDAQ index was trading around 1300. As we all know, the NASDAQ went on to pierce the 5000 mark, four years later. Sorry Al…right idea, but a tad early. Although he may have been correct directionally, his timing and degree were way off. Pundits like Nouriel Roubini and Peter Schiff are other examples of prognosticators who identified the financial crisis many years before the catastrophe actually hit. As I noted previously, trading based on magazine covers was not conceived as a legitimate investable strategy, but as I’ve shown they can be indicators of sentiment. And these sentiment indicators can be used as a valuable apparatus in your toolbox to prevent harmful decisions at the worst possible times.
Thanks for coming Back to the Future on this historical tour of cover stories. Now that you have graduated with honors, next time you are in line at the grocery store, feel free to flash your diploma to receive a discount on a magazine purchase.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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Entry filed under: Education, Financial Markets. Tags: Back to the Future, financial crisis, George Soros, Great Depression, magazine covers, market history, Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff, stock market.