Predicting is Tough Business


One thing that I don’t like about my internist is that he brings patients back to the examination rooms on time.

Normally, that would be the kind of criterion used when handing out high grades for healthcare providers, but I like sitting in the waiting room. So much so, that when I have appointments with him, I just show up extra early so that I can spend quality time in the waiting room.

No, it doesn’t have anything to do with a nurse or receptionist wearing unusually clingy or low cut blouses, it all has to do with the waiting room reading material.

I just love reading old issues of TIME magazine. Even though we have a subscription and I have the telephone app, there’s nothing like a badly dated issue to get my interest. Sometimes, if I  feel a need to have the issues on the end table all to myself, I’ll feign a real dry hacking cough so that others will keep their distance.

Nothing of a literary nature gets me as enthused as reading the bold predictions made by the world’s experts. Whether politics, the economy, social trends or technology, I just love seeing how often and consistently they’re wrong.

NostradamusReading the predictions of modern day futurists gives you a real respect and appreciation for Nostradamus.

It’s been more than 500 years since his death, yet nothing can come close to the gold standard, especially for the ability to choose just the right kick-ass hat for any occasion.

After all, predicting, whether the great financial wizards of our time really want to admit it, is what it’s all about. For all of their great insights and interpretations of propietary data, they’re just predicting and then hoping that our attention is diverted elsewhere when they end up missing the mark.

Take that gold standard, for instance.

Of those predicting that gold would go to $2000 per ounce see if you can come up with a single one that hasn’t been predicting that since 1980. No one in the last 30 years has developed any kind of following by predicting that gold would drop in price.

But who’s going to rain on the party. Right now, no one really wants to hear about all of the missed predictons, because we’re all in such awe of how they could have gotten it so right.

This time.

As any marketing genius will tell you, it’s not about the quality of your content, it’s all about making that content memorable. You’ll be much more likely to remember Reverend Camping for his recent prediction of the coming end to the world that you would be to remember the guy who predicted that it will be 74 and sunny in San Diego for the next eternity.

Obviously, being right is irrelevant in the long term, as long as you’re right, right now.

When I was younger, there was an obscure television show on Saturday evenings that would glue us to our sets. The clairvoyant was Maurice Woodruff and his show was entitled “Maurice Woodruff Predicts. Maybe it was his British accent, maybe it was the public acknowledgment of his homosexuality, long before it was fashionable, but everyone loved an entertaining predictor. This was also the era when Saturday evenings were filled with the likes of Vidal Sassoon and Alan Burke, so the pickings were pretty paltry.

But Woodruff was a good one, in that he would predict really outlandish things and often far ahead into the future that there was never going to be a likelihood of his predictions being remembered, much less proven wrong.

Somneone was bound to die before judgement day.

So just to be on the safe side and to protect himself from all of those who spitefully waited years to prove him wrong, Woodruff died, a relatively young man, from the heart attack he should have predicted, just a few short years after the demise of his US show.

I on the other hand, now older than Woodruff at the time of his demise, am ready to go on record and make a prediction about this Friday’s much anticipated speech by Ben Barnanke at the Kansas City Fed’s meeting in Jackson Hole.

A a reminder, last year, at the same venue, the market had just recently suffered a 16% drop, as we have just endured. It was at that time that Bernanke laid the framework for what came to be known as QE, or qualitative easing. Maybe it was quantiative easing. Does it matter? That set the market back on the right track.

Quantitative easing was much maligned, as was QE2 as the second round came to be called, but you could have predicted that one, as the cat calls came from the usual gang of reflex slingers.

Now everyone is waiting to see whether Bernanke will set the seeds for QE3.

Now the naysayers are saying that QE3 won’t be enough. In the past that didn’t want he fed buying American debt, now apparantly they want it, but more of it.

Who would have predicted?

Well what will it be?

So wait no more, because my bold prediction for that day is that Chairman Bernanke will stand by the podium dressed in a blue blazer, sporting a button down Oxford shirt and will be tieless. I am also getting a strong image that instead of a podium, the Chairman may deliver his message from the conference table.

I stake my predicting career on this one.

And I plan to put my money wehre my mouth is by stringing myself up with his unworn tie if something doesn’t give soon.

Too bad it didn’t occur to me to use my predictive talents for good during recent market sessins.

On this past Friday in the early trading I commented on Twitter that I had learned from Physics lab that even concrete bounced. That was an obtuse way of saying the market climb of the morning, as substantial as it was, wasn’t very meaningful.

But did I do anything about it? Did I sell into the strength in anticipation  of buying shares back at cheaper prices later in the session.

Of course not.

How about today. Same deal. 200 points up and then ending the day up just 37.

You could probably predict that the answer to that one is “No”.

And you’d be right, but granted, I had one of those rare days that I had to work, so I couldn’t avail myself of the trading screen without interruption. This time the call came early this morning. Since the person that I covered for reads this blog on occasion, I’ll not refer to him as a friend, but he suffered an unexpected back injury and I had to leave my perch for the day and tend the family business, since by comparison, I was able bodied.

By the way, I predicted that injury approximately 4 years ago.

As it turned out, the only trade I made all day was to sell August 26, ’11 calls on Mosaic into the early strength. I had planned on doing the same with others that had weekly options, but never got the chance, because by the time the ability to sit and trade arrived, the market had given it all away.

I could have predicted that would happen, but I couldn’t predict that it would happen so quickly, yet again.

But physics being what it is, hight predictable, each successive bounce of a piece of concrete should get smaller and smaller.

Who needs predictions when you have science?

For today, I’m searching our basement for just the right headgear to give me a leg up on this predictably unpredictable market.  Anything to bring me more into line with and perhaps channel my mentor Nostradamus.

I further predict that by tomorrow I’ll have absolutely no recollection of predicting anything for today and will just keep right on going in total ignoance of all of my past mis-steps.

Just like the experts.


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