What Kinds of Errors Are You Making (and what are you doing to fix them?)

It is an annual event that comes with the regularity of Thanksgiving and holiday shopping. I am referring to the Black Friday survey that the National Retail Federation conducts every year, in their misguided attempt to forecast holiday sales.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, the National Retail Federation Black Friday survey is nonsense. Money in the bank, a sure thing, a can’t miss bet, it has been wildly wrong each and every year.

Once again, in 2013, they did not disappoint. As the most recent data shows, they got it wrong. Again. And not only in magnitude, but in direction as well. The most charitable comment I can make is that they did not miss as wildly as they have in prior years. The mathematician in me wants to point out that the merely poor – as opposed to awful – results could have been the result of randomness. Given the NRF’s past track record, even if they nailed to the second decimal place, I would be compelled to chalk it up to dumb luck.

But this column is not about me beating my chest, telling you I was right. Hell, who really cares that the National Retail Federation got Black Friday wrong for the 10th consecutive year. For anyone on the opposite side of the trade with the NRF, that has become a given.

Since its Friday, I’d rather wax philosophical about headspace and intellectual approach rather than focus on the details of any one monthly retail sales report. Let us discuss information sources, methodologies, and precisely the choices we choose to make when we select what to believe.

This is a much more significant point than many investors and traders realize.


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