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How to be a stock markets expert (or sound like you are)

Investment analysis, specially of stocks, often seems to be composed of a stream of zero-meaning cliches


How to be a stock markets expert (or sound like you are)

On social media, there is an entire subgenre of jokes about the cliche-heavy commentary that a certain well-known cricket commentator delivers. There are lists of some ten to fifteen phrases, which are said to make up almost everything that he says. There is even a downloadable sheet of the Bingo game, with each of his favourite phrases in a square. Presumably, his fans print these out and as he says something like 'that went like a tracer bullet' or 'all three results are possible', they cross out the square of that phrase.

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However, cricket and cricket commentators are far from being the only guilty parties when it comes to creating commentary out of a stream of cliched phrases. When a cricket commentator says something like 'the batting side will be looking to make runs and the opposition will be looking to take wickets', then the statement is at least factually correct.

However, no such limitation appears to hold back the stream of cliches that makes up news and views about the financial markets. The other day, I came across a list of such cliches that are incessantly used by everyone who talks or writes in the media about stocks in the US. I realised that while some of those were universal and also used in India, there was some more that were unique to India.

So here's my list of meaningless cliches that are used by investment analysts when they are talking about the equities. But first, an obvious mea culpa--I find that I have either used, or accepted as meaningful almost all of them.

There's a x per cent probability of the markets rising: Generally, x is equal to 50 per cent. This is an extremely useful phrase for analysts who have no clue about what the markets are going to do (which is generally all of them, all the time) because it is guaranteed to be correct under all possible circumstances. If it does rise, then your 50 per cent prediction is right. But if it falls or stays flat, then the other 50 per cent comes into play and you are still right. You can actually set the percentage at 99 and still be always right.

The easy money has been made: This can be used to sound intelligent and knowledgeable whenever the markets have gone up. However, it doesn't mean much because it's just a different way of saying that the markets have gone up. Your audience may think it implies that making money will be more difficult from now on. However, since you haven't actually said anything about what is likely to happen in the future, you're in the clear no matter what happens.

I'm a bottom up investor / I'm a stock picker: Since investing is finally being about buying stocks, it's hard to figure out why any investor would be anything but a stock picker. The truth is that finally, everyone is a stock picker. However, this sounds like a fine principle when you have to explain why your earlier predictions didn't work out.

Markets are down because of profit taking: This is the opposite of 'easy money' and can be used to explain any fall in the markets after a period when it has been rising. Again, it sounds intelligent and knowledgeable while holding no actual information and having no sense of what is going to happen. I always wonder about those on the other side of these transactions, the ones who are buying. Why aren't they listening to the expert who is talking about profit-taking on TV? Don't they care? Perhaps not, perhaps they are too busy buying stocks that are now good value.

More buyers than sellers: Or the opposite, when stocks are falling. This one is so obviously ridiculous that when an expert says it on TV, it's always a surprise that no one starts laughing out loudly. Saying this is a pure confidence trick--it works because the audience is so in awe of the experts' expertise that they have suspended their own power of thinking.



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