What if you saw a headline that said that a brilliant billionaire investor, whose every move is closely watched, had put on a trade that wasn't widely known -- and if it were, it might rumble through the markets?
Would you click on that link?
Now what if you were told that the media reported this same trade by this same investor for five years running, and mentioned that there was no proof it was true -- and that even if it was true, the bet seemed to be wrong and had had no impact on markets? I assume you would skip that post, right?
Let’s call it adventures in confirmation bias.
The scenario above describes just how overhyped and misleading headlines have become as a staple of web-published market commentary.
I recently was reminded of how many empty news calories many readers consume, courtesy of Michael Harris of Price Action Lab Blog. Harris is an engineer and systems developer who has put his graduate engineering degrees to use analyzing markets and developing trading systems. His critical thinking about back-testing and data-mining often has proven wonderfully insightful.
Harris highlighted a classic example of the click-bait approach with a simple chart of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, annotated to show every time a news story reported that George Soros’ investment fund was buying puts on the index, or making a bet that the market would fall. Below I've reproduced Harris' chart on the Bloomberg:
There are some lessons here, including but not limited to:
1. Your financial plans, and the investing goals of most people, are very different from those of a billionaire;
2. Soros' puts might be a hedge against another and opposite position, meaning that he actually is betting the market will rise -- but just in case it doesn't, he's taken out a bit of insurance;