Cassandra

Greek Mythology’s popularity spread through Homers’ works, the Iliad and the Odyssey. (1) However, Hesiod deserves credit for establishing the original structure in his poem, Theogony, written around 700 BC. (2) Think of this as an early version of 23 and Me, documenting the ancestry of all Greek characters. Despite being both fictitious and ancient, many aspects of Greek Mythology continue to be referenced today.

One such story involves Cassandra, daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Smitten by her beauty, Apollo, the son of Zeus, bestowed upon her the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra rejected Apollo romantically, he placed a curse on her that would make her predictions non-believable to others. Cassandra could see the future, but nobody would heed her warnings. In 1949 a French philosopher coined the phrase, “Cassandra Complex” to capture the idea of ignoring cautionary signs.

Today the bond and stock markets are flashing conflicting signals. Could one of them be a Cassandra?

Boomerang

It’s neither bird nor plane. Baby Boomers, it’s not Underdog. Millennials, it’s not a drone. It is a boomerang. Dating back to Prehistoric times, these devices have served many purposes including musical instrument, fire starter, recreational object, and weapon. Mechanically, a flying boomerang behaves according to Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Additionally, a boomerang serves as a useful metaphor. The focus of this note will be two boomerangs impacting the financial markets today, one originating a decade ago, the other more recently, and their relationship.

 

 

Snow globe

Snow globes have an uncertain origin, but were on display at the International Expo in Paris of 1878. (1) Below, one can see a clear depiction of a wintery scene: house with a fireplace, three trees and a snowman. Once shaken, the small snowflakes fill the globe and blur the view. Critically, the perceptions generated from shaking prove ephemeral and, once the snow settles, the original image is restored.

The New York Stock Exchange, celebrating its 61st birthday when the snow globe debuted, reminded everyone during the 4th quarter that it too is all about perspective. (2) Howard S. Marks, the highly respected manager of distressed debt, and author recently wrote:

“You just can’t think of the market as this machine. There is no schematic for how it works. It just picks funny things to obsess about on the positive side for a while and then the negative side.” (3)

It’s almost as if the stock market exists inside a snow globe that periodically gets shaken. This note will examine the genesis of the recent storm and to provide historical context.

How would you like to be locked into a room without windows?  Your friends can join, but nobody gets out until you solve several mental puzzles.  Oh, and you have to pay to play.  In 2014 there were 22 such “escape rooms” in the U.S.  By the summer of 2017, there were 2,000. (1) Crossword Puzzle recently celebrated its 100th birthday.  Modern Sudoku debuted in 1979.  Last year’s world championship attracted contestants from 34 different countries.  This begs the question:  Are we obsessed with problem solving?  Anthropologist Peter Stromberg comments that although humans don’t innately like uncertainty, we do like figuring things out. (2)  Mystery novels are the second most popular genre for books. (3)  Meanwhile, estimates for the size of the sports betting industry reach as high as $150 billion. (4) 

Our penchant for soothsaying transcends books, movies and sporting events.  Historically the subject of considerable speculation, the stock market has garnered extra scrutiny recently, owing to the extended duration of the current bull market.  The purpose of this note is to provide historical context to market cycles, profile the diviners of bold predictions and assess their accuracy.  We will save our forecast for the market’s demise toward the end, just to build suspense.