Nostradamus and the Perils of Forecasting.

November 26, 2012

Every human being reflects back on childhood moments. Certain memories bring a smile. Others, not so much. On occasion, we bore witness to something not meant for tender, eyes.
Like when a bus driver announced to a load of third and fourth graders that Santa was not real. Still painful. Though, not nearly as painful as the caustic earful the bus driver got from my mom.
My cousin was once allowed to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacrewith his father. He was six. Nearly three decades later, he is still not right.
Perhaps my seminal "What The?!" moment was when the seventh grade social studies teacher at my catholic grade school decided to show us a documentary entitled The Man Who Saw Tomorrow.
Narrated by Orson Welles, the movie details the life and work of Michel de Nostredame (AKA Nostradamus). Nostradamus was a sixteenth century Frenchman who, reportedly, had the power to see into the future. The guy was an oracle. He wrote a book entitled The Prophecies in which he compiled all of his long-term predictions.
Throughout his life, Nostradamus made lots of forecasts. Over the centuries, his supporters have celebrated their accuracy, claiming that these broad, often open-ended suggestions had accurately predicted many of history's most compelling events. The Crusades. The Ottoman Empire. Christopher Columbus and the New World. Napoleon. Hitler. The Kennedys. 9/11. Among others.
To his critics, Nostradamus was an astrological quack who leveraged the notion that while history may not repeat, it certainly rhymes.
So anyways, back to 1982.
There we sat, a bunch of catholic seventh graders in Cincinnati, Ohio (translation: very sheltered), watching this movie narrated by one of the most imposing voices of all time.
Most of the forecasts could have made the cover of the sixteenth century's People magazine. Affairs. Political intrigue. Power couples and religious wranglings. However, it was the movie's conclusion that forever seared its ghastly impression upon my 12-year old, catholic, not-yet-tainted cerebrum.
That was the scene in which Orson, bellowing in his most intimidating baritone, describes how Nostradamus essentially forecast The End of the World. Which was tweaked to play off the the geopolitical headlines of the day. Remember, it's the early eighties, people.
Anyway, according the Orson, Nostradamus saw the end of the world presided over by a cackling madman in a blue turban somewhere in the Middle East. Welles called him "The King of Terror." Seriously.
So, The King of Terror is portrayed standing (and crazy) before a bank of computers. He is rejoicing as volleys of missiles fall upon New York like the first snowflakes of my idyllic Midwestern upbringing. Except, instead of snowflakes, it was a nuclear hellstorm. And Welles is calmly discussing how "fire would rain down from the heavens." That, the sky in New York City "will burn at 45 degrees, as fire approaches the great new city."
Nostradamus predicted that WWIII would last for 27 years, at which point the United States and its allies would overcome The King of Terror (translation: Islamic fundamentalism). The imagery showed cities burning. Mushroom clouds. Like Happy Days. But with Zombies.
Suddenly, it was over. Lights on.
There we sat. 25 seventh graders. All of whom now knew when, more or less, the world (as we knew it) would end.
"Alright kids. Quiz tomorrow. Then we'll watch a movie in religion class about the lives of priests. It's called The Exorcist. Enjoy!"
With that, 25 little lambs shuffled silently forth, stunned by what we'd learned. Do I tell mom? My brother? Can they handle the truth?
Still, on occasion, I recall with dread the silent hysteria that swept through that little classroom as the King of Terror fired missiles like water balloons at cities across the world.
Nostradamus was an analyst. A forecaster of historical events. Plenty of analysts make livings by attempting to forecast the future. Politicians. Economists. Stock analysts. Odds makers. Gamblers. Pollsters. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're wrong. Some are more effective than others.
John Paulson made $16 billion forecasting the crash of the housing market. Lehman Brothers missed it and went bust.
Recently, The New York Times' Nate Silver, who writes their FiveThirtyEight blog, accurately forecast the outcome of the election. Leading up to election day, Silver was oft mocked for his pronouncements and ill-seeming confidence.
Yet, when the fog cleared, Silver had been right. Precisely so. Why? Because he applied a strict methodology steeped in empirical evidence, facts and figures. Leaving his confirmation bias at home, Silver sought to determine the probably outcome. Not to simply dig up data that bolstered his own opinions.
Facts and process trumped bias and hope. They always do.
Which is why, in the game of investing, it is incumbent upon every investor to have a well-conceived game plan when allocating capital. A game plan that seeks to benefit by market upside. And seeks to preserve capital when markets fall.
Investors need consider a more defensive posture for the time being. Too many shifting tectonic plates. To do otherwise is to expose one's self to inordinate amounts of risk.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff, U.S. budget and European debt issues, we would espouse the following 10-point plan as you look to solidify your year-end financial planning:
1. Refinance mortgages at the current record-low interest rates.
2. Limit exposure to overly concentrated stock positions, especially within corporate retirement and profit sharing plans.
3. Seek out stable, dividend yielding investments like blue chip stocks and dividend-oriented indexes. This will provide continuing income streams as well as a buffer against volatility.
4. Keep bond durations short, which will protect against future interest rate increases and the corresponding volatility.
5. Set trailing stops in order to avoid precipitous declines and lock in available profits should such declines occur.
6. Befriend volatility, by consulting with a trusted advisor on how to play the volatility index, hedge against rising volatility, or seeking out vehicles that perform well in such circumstances.
7. Diversify by investment styles and methodologies by averaging into vehicles meant to perform well over the long run, while trading in specific vehicles with more positive short-term prospects. And have a methodology designed to get into, and out of, every position.
8. Defer to cash. Allow trailing stops to get you out of rapidly falling investments. Patiently identify positions you'd like to own should they achieve certain entry points. True, the dollar may be the prettiest horse in the glue factory, but in the short run, it could appreciate over the next six to twelve months as the euro and the yen continue to navigate their own difficulties and global investors continue to seek a safe haven.
9. Seek out real growth. That is, find those areas around the globe that offer solid growth with lower debt. These areas can include many of the world's emerging markets, which (like their developed market counterparts) currently provide 40% of the world's economic growth, but hold only 10% of global debt (while their developed market brethren currently hold over 70%). This might include an allocation to EM stocks and bonds, among other asset classes.
10. Don't panic. While no rational observer will argue the ineptitude of both political parties, there is simply too much at stake for them to avoid diplomacy. Leadership of both parties fears the fallout of not achieving a compromise. Mid-term elections have already begun. Neither party wants to have a trip over the cliff pinned to its resume.
Not as dramatic as Orson Welles preaching Nostradamus's doomsday forecasts to a class of 12 year olds. But, we prefer to hedge against the worst case scenarios instead of dwelling upon them. Not as sexy as a doomsday prognostication. But, it lets you sleep at night.

Securities offered through Dempsey Lord Smith LLC – Dempsey Lord Smith LLC, Rome, GA Member FINRA / SIPC / MSRB.

Advisory Services offered through Dempsey Lord Smith, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Clearing through and accounts held at Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.

Dempsey Lord Smith, LLC nor Hyde Park Wealth Advisors LLC provides tax or legal advice and you should consult your accountant and/or attorney if considering an investment of this type. Hyde Park Wealth Advisors LLC is not controlled by or a subsidiary of Dempsey Lord Smith LLC. Investing in Alternative Investments come with a variety of risks that could result in a complete loss of principal investment.

Alternative Investments offered as private placement securities are offered only to qualified accredited investors via confidential private placement memorandum. Income and returns are not guaranteed and there are no assurances investments will meet their stated objectives.

© 2024 Hyde Park Wealth Advisors. All Rights Reserved