Epipihanies Don’t Grow on Buttonwood Trees

Few people can make words sing as well as Alan Abelson can when he takes quill in hand to wax eloquent on our state of financial being. More poet than economist, his weekly take on Mr. Market’s gyrations is the top of my DO NOT MISS list. Abelson remains the standard against which all other American financial writing is to be judged.

This week’s column is a brief reminder why:

“Epipihanies don’t grow on trees, at least not on buttonwood trees. Which explains, we suppose, why, while mulling the unpredictability of the market from one day to the next, we were totally unprepared for the extraordinary flash of insight when, out of the blue, it struck us: The fault lies not in ourselves but in the quixotic nature of the market gods. Like those worshiped by the ancient Romans, they can be sadistic, mean and cruel to us mere mortals and then, in a wink, turn into kind, compassionate and just plain nice deities.

And so it was last week. On the eve of Thanksgiving (no accident that), they discarded their loathsome personas, donned a few days earlier when they gave the markets a ferocious pasting, and conspired to provide balm for the bruised investor. Wise in the ways of everything, they decided that what could most effectively change the investing mood from sad to glad was to whistle up a wall of worry.

The building blocks were all there and any that weren’t could be summoned up with the snap of the fingers. And, by Jove (or whoever the top dude is among the market gods), it worked! The wall magically sprang up—North Korea giving South Korea a taste of the grape, Ireland and its banks in deep doo-doo, and Portugal and Spain getting their tin cups ready, the swelling probe of Wall Street doing evil things, unbelievably bad housing numbers (it makes us grimace even to rattle off all this worrisome stuff)—and triggered a rousing rally.

Frankly, the notion that trouble makes the market go up seems more than a bit off-the-wall, except that the occasional spot of woe purportedly keeps animal spirits in check and cools speculative fever, thus assuring the rally’s durability. Elegant theory, we agree, but far from a sure thing in practice, as 1973-’74, October 1987, the dot.com boom or (it may seem like a distant memory to you) 2008-’09 painfully demonstrated.”

As someone who dabbles in putting thoughts on page, I very much appreciate his ability to convey, in a few short paragraphs, so much so eloquently.

He is the American Shakespeare of economic commentary . . .


A Surfeit of Worries
Barrron’s Up and Down Wall Street, November 27, 2010

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