Monday, February 26, 2018

Are Conservatives More Gullible Than Liberals?

A recently released study from researchers at the University of Southern California found that, during the 2016 Presidential election, conservatives were about 31 times more likely to retweet Russian trolls than liberals.  See  Thus, Russian tweets favoring Donald Trump were far more likely to be amplified by retweeting than Russian tweets favor Hillary Clinton.  Conservatives, the data shows, were more likely to be taken in by Russian fake news than liberals.

It's unclear why.  Perhaps conservatives are more likely to be alarmed by the fear-inducing messages that the trolls tended to send.  Or, liberals may tend to think more critically of what they read before accepting it.  Perhaps both tendencies are factors, or maybe something else is operative.  Whatever the case, anyone who participates in social media (i.e., all two billion or so of you) need to be cautious about accepting what you read.  Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media websites don't ensure you're reading the truth or anything even remotely close to the truth.  They're starting to understand that acting as conduits for messages, however false, isn't a great business strategy because people will eventually tire of being fed falsehoods.  And social media today is way too heavily laden with falsehoods.  People will eventually go to other websites that more rigorously screen the information they display.  Traditional news services may win in the end.

 By all indications, the measures being taken by Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media websites to combat fake news are inadequate.  Russian bots flooded Twitter with pro-gun messages after the recent shootings at Marjorie Douglas Stoneham High School in Broward County, Florida.  See  No doubt they tried similar measures in other social media sites.  Don't rely on social media for the truth.  Be cautious.  Be skeptical.  You won't win a political debate by pushing messages from Russian trolls.  Truth will prevail in the end---and that means if you buy into messages from Russian trolls, you'll lose.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Where Is the Stock Market Headed?

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average having dropped over 2,000 points since its peak a week and a half ago, this is the $64,000 (or more) question.  The recent market surge resulted to a large degree from too much optimism.  Market players have selectively focused on the good news (strengthening economy, big corporate tax cut, rising employment levels), while shrugging off the bad news (growing signs of inflation, rising interest rates, and increasing political discord).  Life is like a rose--pretty petals, but thorns as well.  If you ignore the thorns, you'll get an ouchie sooner or later.

So what happens after today's ouchie (1175 points off the Dow)?  The recent market surge seems similar to the valuation-driven bull markets of 1987 and 2000, which resulted in sizable drops of 25% to 30% in the Dow followed by gradual recoveries that took two to three years.  But we should bear in mind an earlier drop off. In 1973, the stock market (measured by the S&P 500) peaked after a long run up, not unlike the one we've had since 2009.  Then, it declined some 40% or more and didn't recover until some seven years later.  The 1970s were also a time of rising inflation and political scandal (Watergate), with the only resignation of a President.  Political turmoil affects economies and stock markets (look at Venezuela, where a lot of folks can't even get a square meal because of political strife).

Expect more market turmoil tomorrow, the next week, the next month, and maybe the next year.  The market could easily drop some more.  We're running out of good news.  There may be little major legislation coming out of Washington, given the political quagmire.  The Fed may go easy on the tightening, but it's not going to cut interest rates simply to support stock prices.  It's already done that, perhaps too much--and today's drop was likely a consequence.  The economy seems to be slowly gaining altitude.  But there's nothing going on that will provide it a quick major boost.  The federal government can't increase the deficit, given its recent deficit-funded splurge with the tax cut bill.  Corporations seem not to be rushing to increase reinvestment of their tax savings.  The Trump administration may spark a trade war with China and other nations.  And the stability of the federal government cannot, in these times that try our souls, be taken for granted.

History teaches that it's not a great idea to sell your stocks in an effort to staunch losses.  People who try to time the market generally fail to get back in and enjoy the resurge that will likely come (although the resurge could be a long time coming). Instead, try to spend less and save more.  Keep your investments diversified.  And don't stop knocking on wood.