I’ve been asked to comment on the most recent market decline. My initial reaction was, markets go up and they go down. America is a great country but the US Constitution doesn’t guarantee always-rising markets. I sat down and I wanted to write a reassuring message. I wanted to express my empathy. Somehow, I found that my reservoir of empathy was empty: After recent decline the market is still up twenty-something percent from the beginning of 2017.
And then I stumbled on Dalio and Wilson predicting what the market will do next, and I have to confess, I started writing and could not stop. (I apologize ahead of time for the rantiness of this message.)
“Ray Dalio: Cash on the sidelines will pour in to stem the bleeding in this market.”
“Morgan Stanley’s Wilson warns investors not to buy the dip.”
“Big type, even huge type, can be beautiful and useful. But poise is usually far more important than size – and poise consists primarily of emptiness. Typographically, poise is made of white space.”
Two contradictory headlines on the MarketWatch home page, right next to each other.
Do you listen to Dalio or Wilson? I want to let you in on a small Wall Street secret: Neither Dalio nor Wilson knows what the stock market will do next. Don’t be fooled by their fancy pedigrees, the gazillions of dollars they manage, the eloquence of their logic, the myriad of data points they marshall. Nobody but nobody knows what the stock market will do tomorrow, next week or next year. Stock market behavior in the short term is completely random. Completely! You’ll have a better luck predicting the next card at a black jack table than guessing what the stock market will do next.
The media of course needs to fill pages and rack up views, and so there are gazillions of explanations (I’m trying to use the word gazillion at least three times in this article) for why the stock market does this or that. The explanations always sound rational, but for the most part they are worthless because they have zero forecasting power. A strong jobs report sent stocks up. Explanation: The economy is doing great. A strong jobs report sent stocks down. Explanation: Investors are worried about higher interest rates. I can give dual spin to any news, maybe only short of nuclear war.
My biggest problem with “The stock market will do this” headlines is that they turn investors into degenerate gamblers. I see people trying to treat the stock market like a casino. They get lucky at times and catch the wave of randomness (especially if the market marches higher every single day). Success goes to their heads, they feel like they’ve got this whole stock market thing figured out. Stocks are just bits of data that are priced on the exchanges gazillions of times a day. This is not investing – I don’t even want to insult gambling by calling it gambling. At least gamblers don’t gamble with their life savings and 401k’s (unless they are degenerate gamblers).
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I am the CEO at IMA, which is anything but your average investment firm. (Why? Get our company brochure here, or simply visit our website).
In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.”
I’ve written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (I’m working on a third - you can read a chapter from it, titled “The 6 Commandments of Value Investing” here).
And if you prefer listening, audio versions of my articles are published weekly at investor.fm.