Stock market predictions: Don't believe a sure thing

The stock market can't be predicted with any certainty, no matter how confident the predictors sound. The more honest answers are qualified and uncertain.

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    Trader Frederick Reimer works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. Brown argues that resolute predictions about the stock market shouldn't be trusted.
    Richard Drew/AP
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I was talking to a TV producer yesterday from a mainstream news network about the general stock market outlook.  I astonished her by not having a price target or a directional call for year-end.  Maybe "astonished" is the wrong word.  Probably I annoyed her.

Because regular people like it when a professional speaks with certainty about future events, even when the regular people themselves realize that they are listening to a guess.  It's why the most confident people in this world are the most successful, even if they are not always the most able.

The guests this producer is accustomed to booking from our world are either stock analysts from big brokerage firms or Chief Market Strategists.  The language these people speak is a language of conviction and of predictions.  It's not a character trait they happen to share, it is literally their job.  Price targets are their stock in trade.

But I had something different to say by way of general stock market outlook. Something probabilistic and vaguely vague.

I took her through the secular bear market of 2000 - ? and laid out the historical facts about what we should expect, based on the three previous examples of the past 115 years.  And then I explained how 115 years and three prior secular bear markets is actually a terribly unhelpful sample size of data, but it's the only data set we've got.

I am the anti-price target on this phone call, I am certain of my uncertainty, I deal in qualified answers as opposed to resolute responses.

I am completely unhelpful to a news producer who wants to develop a stock market segment.  But I know I'll be extremely helpful to her show's viewers.  They will expect answers from me and conviction and certainty.  It's what the man on TV has always given them.

I will give them something better.

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