I've been reading and writing about the business world for about a decade now, so it's not too easy to surprise me anymore. I've long been aware that there are people out there who invest according to the stars, or according to patterns they see in stock prices, and sometimes even simply according to the calendar.
That's right -- some folks used to load up on stocks at the end of December, anticipating "the January effect." The effect was based on an observation that the stock market often did well in January, presumably because many investors sold various holdings for tax purposes in December, to establish taxable gains and losses before the year ran out, and then snapped up stocks again in January, sending prices up. The effect has largely disappeared in recent years, though, perhaps partly because more people are investing in tax-deferred accounts.
But back to the stars. I recently ran across a website offering a combination of astrological commentary and investment advice. Permit me to share some of it with you. Here's what I saw for the "Week of December 12," and what I thought:
"Review and Preview: . On Monday and Tuesday of next week (December 5-6), the Moon will transit through Aquarius, ruled by Uranus, which is still part of that Jupiter-Uranus trine signature, and within that 8-day time window. And finally, Mars will turn stationary direct in one week, on December 10, which is part of that Mars-Jupiter opposition dynamic. So, to summarize, the Jupiter part of these transits ends this weekend. The Uranus part of this transit ends Tuesday, December 6. The Mars part of this cluster ends December 10."
Jeepers. If you think there's a lot to learn in the investing world, what with price-to-earnings ratios, balance sheets, and dividend yields, there's apparently a lot of jargon in the astrology world to master, too.
The report then detailed some of the financial markets' doings, before commencing some speculation:
".Jupiter-Saturn in waxing square is the first phase (quarter cycle) of this 20-year planetary pair combination. It last happened in April 1985, and before that, in 1965. Some readers might remember 1985 as leading to the height of the 'Savings and Loan' debacle (scandal) in the United States, when many banks (and real estate ventures) went bust supporting many bogus and/or inflated land deals, like Whitewater. Could it happen again? Are land values soon to be seen as inflated? Could many secondary banks (and mortgage companies) be vulnerable to the outstanding and inflated real estate paper they carry on their books? With Jupiter (inflated) in Scorpio (sign of debt), the potential is there. In fact, bankruptcies in many industries could soar during this period, just as they did in 1985 and 1986."
Hmm . well, banks may or may not experience trouble ahead, and land values may or may not slump (though land values are often bolstered by the fact that "they're not making land anymore"). But will it really be due to or related to the waxing of Jupiter and Saturn, or to other things going on in the economy, such as the is-it-or-is-it-not-there real-estate bubble?
Note that many bank stocks are currently trading at attractive levels. Nathan Parmelee addressed this topic recently, in his article, "Bank on this Yield," touching on Fifth Third Bancorp
The website offered some predictions: "Look for the U.S. stock market to end its current rally by the first quarter of 2006, followed by a 20% decline to the 4-year cycle trough by the end of the year. Look for interest rates to continue to rise into the middle of 2006, at which time it may be an excellent opportunity to lock in higher yields on Treasuries. Look for crude oil to form its 4-year cycle low in mid-2006, followed by another surge up that could see $100.00/barrel. With so many long-term planetary cycles unfolding over the next several months, there will likely be excellent investment opportunities arising in 2006."
This is an odd mix of hard-to-believe specifics (a 20% decline? Not 15%? Not 21%? Not a 10% gain?) and vague statements. (There will be excellent investment opportunities? Aren't there usually at least some such things, even in bad markets?)
Is the fellow who runs this website getting rich via his investments? You might think he would. But maybe he's not, since he's busy putting out books on the stars. He also offers access to discussions for $45, and subscriptions to market-timing newsletters for anywhere from $175 to $2,500 -- and software, too, also going for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
If you're interested in subscribing to an investing newsletter that can help boost your portfolio's performance, you can and should do better than to opt for an expensive market-timing one. As Mark Hebner noted in Index Funds: The 12-Step Program for Active Investors, "When 32 market-timing newsletters were compared to the S&P 500 Index over a 10-year period, not one of them beat the broad market index. The primary reason. is the high concentration of returns and losses that occur in a time period of a few days. In a 10-year period, about 88% the total gain was highly concentrated in just 40 days. It is impossible to pick those 40 days in advance."
I invite you to check out The Motley Fool's investing newsletters. We've got a suite of them, covering everything from retirement planning to outstanding mutual funds to undervalued companies to small-cap stocks to hefty dividend payers. You can try them for free, and if you decide to stick with one, know that we'll be working very hard to deliver investment ideas that more than pay for themselves. (We're already succeeding -- read about how well our newsletters have been doing.)
Finally, I was intrigued by the astrology website's disclaimer, in small print at the bottom of the page. Among other things, it sort of contradicted itself:
"The purpose of this column is not to predict the future movement of various financial markets. However, that is the purpose of the MMA (Merriman Market Analyst) subscription services. This column is not a subscription service. It is a free service, except in those cases where a fee may be assessed to cover the cost of translating this column from English into a non-English language. This weekly report is written with the intent to educate the reader on the relationship between astrological factors and collective human activities as they are happening. In this regard, this report will oftentimes report what happened in various stock and financial markets throughout the world in the past week, and discuss that movement in light of the geocosmic signatures that were in effect. It will then identify the geocosmic factors that will be in effect in the next week, or even month, or even years, and the author's understanding of how these signatures will likely affect human activity in the times to come. ... The hope is that it will help the reader understand these psychological dynamics that underlie (or coincide with) the news events and hence financial markets of the day."
Consider astronomy instead
With apologies to any ardent astrology fans out there, I'm afraid I have more interest and faith in astronomy than in astrology. If you do, too, know that we have an active Astronomy discussion board in Fooldom -- pop in to join the conversation, or just to see what folks are talking about. If you're interested in investing in astronomy, you might look at Meade Instruments
Be a star yourself, by helping others
And finally, know that we're in the midst of our ninth annual charity drive, Foolanthropy. As we've done for years now, we're raising money together to support five impressive organizations. Please take a few minutes to at least learn about this year's featured organizations. (They'll truly be delighted just to have more people familiar with them and their work.) And then consider joining us in contributing a little something to them. Together we've raised more than $2 million in our past campaigns -- thanks to the participation of many Fools.
Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club , The Eclectic Library, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. Formore about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.