You know you can learn a lot by reading. But did you know that you can learn a lot from magazines just by glancing at the headlines?

At the University of Richmond, professors Tom Arnold, John Earl, and David North studied headlines from 20 years of Forbes, Fortune, and BusinessWeek magazines, to see how they related to the stock market's performance. They found that when there are a lot of positive stories about the stock market, a period of good performance was typically about to end, and when negative stories abounded, a period of poor performance was nearing a close.

Now, look at these recent performances for some well-known names:


1-Year Return

Halliburton (NYSE:HAL)


Corning (NYSE:GLW)


Stryker (NYSE:SYK)




Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE:FCX)


Coach (NYSE:COH)


McGraw-Hill (NYSE:MHP)


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Maybe we should be encouraged, then, by these recent headlines from

  • Dark Signs in the Jobless Numbers
  • Plan for the Worst

Or these, from

  • Global Economic Crisis Lacks Precedent
  • Euro Carmakers Hang Off a Cliff

Or even these, from BusinessWeek:

  • Vital Signs: Economy Slides Into Deeper Slump
  • November's Grim Economic Reports

But you know what? It's not working for me. Along with those headlines, I also see some less negative ones. Heck, I've written plenty of them myself, as I've joined many of my colleagues in pointing out that this depressed economy is offering us investors what might be the best opportunity in 35 years, if not the opportunity of a lifetime.

And yes, I still believe in what I've said. It's just that I'm not convinced of an imminent recovery. Is it a good time to buy? It sure seems like it. But the payoff might not arrive for a year, or even longer.

Part of my short-term pessimism comes from some other indicators, such as this magazine-related one: their thickness. If big, glossy magazines such as Vogue, Architectural Digest, and Vanity Fair are fat, with countless pages of ads, that suggests that the economy is doing well. But these days, those titles are looking a little thin. 

So I think I'll dispense with short-term predictions and just stick with my long-term optimism.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.