Paper Tigers

From a new post by Adam M. Grossman:

“Economist Prakash Loungani has spent the better part of two decades researching the issue. In a 2001 study, Loungani evaluated experts’ ability to forecast recessions. His conclusion was blunt: “The record of failure to predict recessions is virtually unblemished.” In a follow-up study, looking at the 2008 financial crisis, Loungani’s findings were nearly identical. Economists uniformly failed to predict that global recession.

Perhaps Loungani’s study wasn’t comprehensive enough. What about all-star forecasters? Here the evidence is inevitably more anecdotal, but no more encouraging. Consider Abby Joseph Cohen, the recently-retired Goldman Sachs strategist. Her forecasts during the 1990s earned her the nickname “the Prophet of Wall Street.” But she later missed the two biggest meltdowns of her career: In 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, Cohen predicted the market would rise. And she, along with virtually everybody else, missed the 2008 collapse.

A more recent example: Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, proclaimed in January of this year: “If you’re holding cash, you’re going to feel pretty stupid.” The year’s not over yet. But so far, cash has done materially better than the stock market, which is in negative territory.

The reality is that forecasting has always been difficult—and not just in the world of economics. Decca Records told the Beatles they have “no future in show business.” Walt Disney was once fired for “lacking imagination.” The list of incorrect predictions is long.

If forecasts are so error-prone, why do sensible organizations like Vanguard continue issuing them? In part, I believe it’s in response to investor demand: People want to know what’s going to happen and they believe experts can tell them. It’s just human nature. But now that you’ve seen the data, here’s my recommendation: Tune out anyone who approaches you with a crystal ball. Instead, situate yourself so the market’s short-term ups and downs don’t impact your ability to meet your financial goals—or to sleep at night.”

Posted by at 8:27 PM

Labels: Forecasting Forum


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