Posts tagged ‘economists’

Where are the Economists’ Yachts?

Yachts istock II

“Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?” was a book first published about 75 years ago in 1940 by Fred Schwed, Jr. Before he became an author, Schwed was a professional trader who eventually left Wall Street after losing a significant amount of money during the 1929 stock market crash. The title of Schwed’s book refers to a story about a visitor to New York who admired the yachts of the bankers and brokers. Naively, the visitor asked where all the customers’ yachts were? Of course, none of the customers could afford yachts, even though they obediently followed the advice of their bankers and brokers.

The same principle applies to economists. The broad investing public, including many professionals, blindly hang on to every economist’s word. And why not? Often these renowned economists are quite articulate – they use big words, crafty jargon, and wear fancy clothes. Unfortunately in many (most) cases the predictions are way off base. What’s more, if these economists/strategists/analysts/etc. were so clairvoyant, then how come we do not find any of them on the Forbes 400 list or see them captaining massive yachts?

Recently, the Washington Post highlighted the spotty forecasting track record of the Federal Reserve, as it related to past projections of economic growth. As you can see from the chart below, the Board of Governors were consistently too optimistic about future economic growth prospects.

Source: Washington Post

Source: Washington Post

The Federal Reserve has repeatedly proved it is no slouch when it comes to poor forecasting. The example I often point to is the infamous 1996 “irrational exuberance” speech (see also NASDAQ 5,000 Déjà Vu?) given by then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. In the talk, Greenspan warned of escalated asset values and cautioned about a potential decade-long malaise similar to the one experienced by Japan. At the time, the NASDAQ index stood at 1,300, but despite Greenspan screaming about an overvalued market, three years later, the tech-laden index almost quadrupled in value to 5,132.

There are plenty more errant economist forecasts to reference, but despite the economists’ poor batting averages, there is virtually no accountability of the pathetic predictions by the media outlets. Month after month, and year after year, I see the same buffoons on cable TV making the same faulty predictions with zero culpability.

While I have attempted to keep some of the economists/strategists honest (see The Fed Ate My Homework), credit must be given where credit is due. Barry Ritholtz, the lead Editor of The Big Picture, last year wrote a smart piece on the accountability (or lack therof) in the prediction industry.

In the article Ritholtz described some of the shenanigans going on in the loosely regulated prediction industry. Here’s part of what he had to say:

Pundits are highly incentivized to adhere to the following playbook:

  1. make a brash prediction
  2. if wrong, don’t worry…. no one will remember
  3. if right, selectively tout for self-promotion
  4. repeat cycle

Ritholtz also describes another time-tested strategy I love…The 40% Rule:

“The 40% rule is the perfect way to make a splashy headline and cover your butt at the same time. Forecast that there’s a 40% chance that the Dow Jones Industrial Average clears 12,000 by year end: If it does, you’ll look like a sage, and if it doesn’t, well, you didn’t say it’s the most likely outcome.”

 

Whatever your views are of predictions made by high profile economists and pundits, the media archives are littered with faulty forecasts. It is difficult to dispute that the projection game is a very tough business, and if you don’t share the same opinion, please explain to me…where are the all the economists’ yachts?

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www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in 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.

December 6, 2014 at 11:21 am 3 comments

Professional Double-Dip Guesses are “Probably” Wrong

As you may have noticed from previous articles, I take a significant grain (or pound) of salt when listening to economists and strategists like Peter Schiff, Nouriel Roubini, Meredith Whitney, John Mauldin, et.al. Typically, these financial astrologists weave together convincing, elaborate, grand guesses that extrapolate every short-term, fleeting economic data point into an imposing (or magnificent) long-term secular trend.

With all this talk of “double-dip” recession, I cannot help but notice the latest verbal tool implemented by every Tom, Dick, and Harry economist when discussing this topic… the word probability. Rather than honestly saying I have no clue on what the economy will do, many strategists place a squishy numericalprobability around the possibility of a “double-dip” recession consistent with the news du jour. Over recent weeks, unstable U.S. economic data have been coming in softer than expectations. So, guess what? Economists have become more pessimistic about the economy and raised the “probability” of a double dip recession. Thanks Mr. Professor “Obvious!” I’m going to go out on a limb, and say the probability of a double-dip recession will likely go down if economic data improves. Geez…thanks.

Here is a partial list of double-dip “probabilities” spouted out by some well-known and relatively unknown economists:

  • Robert Shiller (Professor at Yale University): “The probability of that kind of double-dip is more than 50 percent.”
  • Bill Gross (Founder/Managing Director at PIMCO): The New York Times described Gross’s double-dip radar with the following, “He put the probability of a recession — and of an accompanying bout of deflation — at 25 to 35 percent.”
  • Mohamed El-Erian (CEO of PIMCO):  “If you wonder how meaningful 25 per cent is, ask yourself the following question: if I offered you that I drive you back to work, but there’s a one in four chance that I get into a big accident, would you come with me?”
  • David Rosenberg (Chief Economist at Gluskin Chef): In a recent newsletter, Rosenberg has raised the odds of a double-dip recession from 45 per cent a month ago to 67 per cent currently.
  • Nouriel Roubini (Professor at New York University): “As early as August 2009 I expressed concern in a Financial Times op-ed about the risk of a double-dip recession, even if my benchmark scenario characterizes the risk of a W as still a low probability event (20% probability) as opposed to a 60% probability for a U-shaped recovery.”
  • Robert Reich (Former Secretary of Labor): According to Martin Fridson, Global Credit Strategist at BNP Paribas, Robert Reich has assigned a 50% probability of a double dip, even if Reich believes we are actually in one “Long Dipper.”
  • Graeme Leach (Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors): “I would give a 40 per cent probability to what I call ‘one L of a recovery’, in other words a fairly weak flattish cycle over the next 12 months. A double-dip recession would get a 40 per cent probability as well.”
  • Ed McKelvey (Sr. U.S. Economist at Goldman Sachs): “We think the probability is unusually high — between 25 percent and 30 percent — but we do not see double dip as the base case.”
  • Avery Shenfeld (Chief Economist at CIBC): “The probability estimate is likely more consistent with a slowdown rather than a true double-dip recession but, given the uncertainties, fiscal tightening ahead and the potential for a slow economy to be vulnerable to shocks, we will keep an eye on our new indicator nevertheless.” This guy can’t even be pinned down for a number!
  • National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) : “The probability of seeing a contraction of output in 2011 as compared to 2010 has risen from 14 per cent to 19 per cent.”
  • New York Fed Treasury Spread Model (see chart below): Professor Mark J. Perry notes, “For July 2010, the recession probability is only 0.06% and by a year from now in June of next year the recession probability is only slightly higher, at only 0.3137% (less than 1/3 of 1%).”

Listening to these economic armchair quarterbacks predict the direction of the financial markets is as painful as watching Jim Gray’s agonizing hour-long interview of Lebron James’s NBA contract decision (see also Lebron: Buy, Sell, or Hold?). Just what I want to hear – a journalist that probably has never dribbled a ball in his life, inquiring about cutting edge questions like whether Lebron is still biting his nails? Most of these economists are no better than Jim Gray. In many instances these professionals don’t invest in accordance with their recommendations and their probability estimates are about as reliable as an estimate of the volatility index (see chart below)  or a prediction about Lindsay Lohan’s legal system status.

I can virtually guarantee you at least one of the previously mentioned economists will be correct on their forecasts. That isn’t much of an achievement, if you consider all the strategists’ guesses effectively cover every and any economic scenario possible. If enough guesses are thrown out there, one is bound to stick. And if they’re wrong, no problem, the economists can simply blame randomness of the lower probability event as the cause of the miscue.

Unlike Wayne Gretzky, who said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,” economists skate right next to the puck. Because the economic data is constantly changing, this strategy allows every forecaster to constantly change their outlook in lock-step with the current conditions. This phenomenon is like me looking at the dark clouds outside my morning window and predicting a higher probability of rain, or conversely, like me looking at the blue skies outside and predicting a higher chance of sunshine.

Using this “probability” framework is a convenient B.S. means of saving face if a directional guess is wrong. By continually adjusting probability scenarios with the always transforming economic data, the strategist can persistently waffle with the market sentiment vicissitudes.

What would be very refreshing to see is a strategist on CNBC who declares he was dead wrong on his prediction, but acknowledges the world is inherently uncertain and confesses that nobody can predict the market with certainty. Instead, the rent-o-strategists consistently change their predictions in such a manner that it is difficult to measure their accuracy – especially when there is rarely hard numbers to hold these professional guessers accountable for.

Economists and strategists may be well-intentioned people, just as is the schizophrenic trading advice of Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money, but the “probability” of them being right over relevant investing  time horizons is best left to an experienced long-term investor that understands the pitfalls of professional guessing.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

*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 GS, NYT or any 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.

August 17, 2010 at 11:42 pm 15 comments


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