Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

The stock market is the ultimate game of chicken. You try to hold onto stocks as long as they're going forward, and jump out just before they crash.

Because of this, stock market forecasts tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. If enough people believe the market is going up, they start buying more stock and guess what! Likewise, if people fear a downward trend, they jump ship, which, of course, pushes things down. That's why the classic advice "buy low, sell high" is something of a joke. You try to buy at rock bottom (though of course no one knows when this is until things start going up), and sell at the peak (again, best guess.) Most people, however buy high ("Gee, everything looks great!") and sell low ("Ouch. Things really tanked.")

So basically, if the pretty much all political leaders say the market will crash if X doesn't happen, and X doesn't happen ... guess what! Investors assume the threatened crisis will occur, and try to get out while the getting's good.

So is the real problem the fact X (the bailout bill) didn't happen, or the fact that everyone said X has to happen to avert disaster?

The other factor is the yo-yo effect. After a crash, some people who actually follow the "buy low, sell high" advice go bargain shopping. This pushes things up until the next round of fear sets in, so the market bounces up and down like daily. You have to look longer term to see the trends.

What does all this have to do with being a tech curmudgeon? Nothing. I just felt like ranting.

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