Making bold predictions is a fool’s errand. I think Yogi Berra summed it up best when he spoke about the challenges of making predictions:
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
While making predictions might seem like a pleasurable endeavor, the reality is nobody has been able to consistently predict the future (remember the 2012 Mayan Doomsday?), besides perhaps palm readers and Nostradamus. The typical observed pattern consists of a group of well-known forecasters bunched in a herd coupled with a few extreme outliers who try to make a big splash and draw attention to themselves. Due to the law of large numbers, a few of these extreme outlier forecasters eventually strike gold and become Wall Street darlings…until their next forecasts fail miserably.
Like a broken clock, these radical forecasters can be right twice per day but are wrong most of the time. Here are a few examples:
Peter Schiff: The former stockbroker and President of Euro Pacific Capital has been peddling doom for decades (see Emperor Schiff Has No Clothes). You can get a sense of his impartial perspective via Schiff’s reading list (The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy, Financial Armageddon, Conquer the Crash, Crash Proof – America’s Great Depression, The Biggest Con: How the Government is Fleecing You, Manias Panics and Crashes, Meltdown, Greenspan’s Bubbles, The Dollar Crisis, America’s Bubble Economy, and other doom-instilled titles.
Meredith Whitney: She made an incredible bearish call on Citigroup Inc. (C) during the fall of 2007, alongside her accurate call of Citi’s dividend suspension. Unfortunately, her subsequent bearish calls on the municipal market and the stock market were completely wrong (see also Meredith Whitney’s Cloudy Crystal Ball).
John Mauldin: This former print shop professional turned perma-bear investment strategist has built a living incorrectly calling for a stock market crash. Like perma-bears before him, he will eventually be right when the next recession hits, but unfortunately, the massive appreciation will have been missed. Any eventual temporary setback will likely pale in comparison to the lost gains from being out of the market. I profiled the false forecaster in my article, The Man Who Cries Bear.
Nouriel Roubini: This renowned New York University economist and professor is better known as “Dr. Doom” and as one of the people who predicted the housing bubble and 2008-2009 financial crisis. Like most of the perma-bears who preceded him, Dr. Doom remained too doom-ful as the stock market more than tripled from the 2009 lows (see also Pinning Down Roubini).
Alan Greenspan: The graveyard of erroneous forecasters is so large that a proper summary would require multiple books. However, a few more of my favorites include Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s infamous “Irrational Exuberance” speech in 1996 when he warned of a technology bubble. Although directionally correct, the NASDAQ index proceeded to more than triple in value (from about 1,300 to over 5,000) over the next three years. – today the NASDAQ is hovering around 6,100.
Robert Merton & Myron Scholes: As I chronicled in Investing Caffeine (see When Genius Failed), another doozy is the story of the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, which was run in tandem with Nobel Prize winning economists, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes. What started as $1.3 billion fund in early 1994 managed to peak at around $140 billion before eventually crumbling to a capital level of less than $1 billion. Regrettably, becoming a Nobel Prize winner doesn’t make you a great predictor.
Words From the Wise
Rather than paying attention to crazy predictions by academics, economists, and strategists who in many cases have never invested a penny of outside investor money, ordinary investors would be better served by listening to steely investment veterans or proven prediction practitioners like Billy Beane (minority owner of the Oakland Athletics and subject of Michael Lewis’s book, Moneyball), who stated the following:
“The crime is not being unable to predict something. The crime is thinking that you are able to predict something.”
Other great quotes regarding the art of predictions, include these ones:
“I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”
“Many more investors claim the ability to foresee the market’s direction than actually possess the ability. (I myself have not met a single one.) Those of us who know that we cannot accurately forecast security prices are well advised to consider value investing, a safe and successful strategy in all investment environments.”
“No matter how much research you do, you can neither predict nor control the future.”
“Stop trying to predict the direction of the stock market, the economy or the elections.”
“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”
In the global financial markets, Wall Street is littered with strategists and economists who have flamed out after brief bouts of fame. Celebrated author Mark Twain captured the essence of speculation when he properly identified, “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can.” Instead of attempting to predict the future, investors will avoid a fool’s errand by simply seizing opportunities as they present themselves in an ever-changing world.