Thursday, December 17, 2009


My home page is the Yahoo! Finance page. There are two reasons I chose it: 1) If I want to check a stock price, or market action, I can do so with just one click; 2) The pre-market headlines crack me up.

Go ahead, check them out yourself one day. You will find that they are generally rendered moot/outdated/incorrect within the first hour of trading.

Look, I'm trained as a psychologist. I look at things differently. It probably makes me a "bit of an odd duck", to borrow a phrase from my father. (It's true. Ask any of my remaining friends.)

But you don't need to be the quirky type to see why this (lead) sentence from the pre-market headline article is just silly.

"The number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week as the recovery of the nation's battered labor market proceeds in fits and starts."

What's wrong with this sentence? Well for starters it notes that unemployment claims rose "unexpectedly" last week. Later on in the same sentence, it notes that the labor market "proceeds in fits and starts."

First of all, all economic forecasting is incredibly complex. Why a rise of 1% rather than a decline of 1% for one lousy week's worth of data rates as a "surprise" is beyond me. It's like standing in a rain shower and saying you got hit by a particularly unexpected raindrop. (Really? Didn't see that one coming??)

But the second clause of the sentence says the market proceeds in "fits and starts". Yes, it does. Truly. It is a point that is universally acknowledged. So how can you be suprised by a slight decrease while simultaneously noting the market proceeds in a herky jerky fashion?

For crying out loud, pick a side and stick with it!

Behavioral finance research has taught us how rarely data conform to our pre-supposed parameters. We know a coin will come up heads 50% of the time. Yet somehow we find ourselves wanting results to alternate heads/tails when we flip it. We see a run of 3 or more heads in a row, our pattern-seeking brains screams, "anomaly!"

It's not an anomaly. It is the essence of randomness.

Back to the article; if you read it in its entirety, you will see just how complex the jobs data are. You will find yourself wondering if the first paragraph still makes sense by the end of it.

The skinny: When it comes to a week's worth of economic data, market movements... the weather, don't "expect" anything.

It is sillyness that calls to mind this famous bit of sillyness .

I'm going to have my coffee now.

(Entirely too much sillyness.)

-Frank Murtha

1 comment:

Greg Tevis said...

Great piece. I will mention your blog in mine.