June 7, 2010

The Irregular Blather June 7, 1931

No Journal was published Sunday, June 7, 1931.

Yes, it's another Larry King-style stream of consciousness column. (Note: That link is not an actual Larry King column but an Onion homage that I think captures the flavor even better than the original - contains some bad language).

One of the more uncanny coincidences that I've come across writing this blog is the almost-to-the-day timing of all hell breaking loose in the banking world thanks to a crisis in a small European country (Greece now, Austria then - see the Creditanstalt stories starting May 15). Even more eerie is the strangely familiar way the Creditanstalt affair was reported at the time. I had previously heard of the episode, but only as a straightforward bank failure that turned out to be one of the Depression's turning points. However, as you can see from the blog, the initial set of stories is more along the lines of what we're hearing today - government and central bank bailouts, all is well, wait a minute, maybe it's not ... These credit crises really do seem to be like mattress fires. I mean, you fall asleep smoking, the bed catches fire, you wake up and douse the flames and all seems well - but just as you lie back and light up another cigarette the darn thing flares up again ...

And another thing ... about those uncanny bank trading results last quarter - all those banks that pitched a perfect quarter, making trading profits every single day. Am I the only one who thought of Madoff's uncanny succession of positive months when I read about that? Or Long Term Capital's? Or Bill Miller's streak of years beating the S&P 500, after which he promptly gave it all back and them some in the past few years? I guess what I'm saying is, a preternaturally consistent investment record, if not a red flag, is at least a blinking yellow light. For some reason, this quality of consistency is very attractive to people (probably why Madoff chose to fake it), but almost all great investors I know of have bad months and bad years, and a conversely a curiously large proportion of the investors that report few or no bad periods eventually, if not they don't turn out to be frauds, at least experience some major trouble.

And one more thing ... about those occasional big up days we've been having in the past few weeks - you've probably seen some cautionary commentary like this, but here's one with a very nice chart to boot. Moral of the story being, I don't think big up days are very strong evidence one way or another, but if anything they seem to be more typical of bear swings than bull ones - you can see another example in the daily Dow industrial quote in the blog, which during during the recent severe decline showed quite a few explosive up days (+3.3% on June 5, +7.1% on June 4, +3.7% on May 9, +5.3% on May 1).


  1. I'm not sure if it is your problem or mine, but my RSS feed from this blog went dead on Apr 22nd. I've tried refreshing it, but still it's stuck.

  2. Having perfect quarters certainly is a bit Twilight Zoney, raking in the cash like there's no tomorrow (which could possibly be true next time things turn against Them in a big way).

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