Warren Buffett this month released another chapter of his investing gospel, the annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)(NYSE:BRK-B) shareholders. He managed to make two sex jokes. However, as he does every year, he also aimed to fill his letter with wisdom to improve readers' fortunes. And one of those pieces of wisdom was to ignore others' opinions on the market.
Simply put, don't read, listen to, or otherwise ingest most financial media related to market predictions.
Specifically, Buffett wrote:
Forming macro opinions or listening to the macro or market predictions of others is a waste of time. Indeed, it is dangerous because it may blur your vision of the facts that are truly important. (When I hear TV commentators glibly opine on what the market will do next, I am reminded of Mickey Mantle's scathing comment: "You don't know how easy this game is until you get into that broadcasting booth.")
What Buffett means is that much of financial news is fluff. This doesn't include "hard" news like profit reports, new ventures, or mergers and acquisitions, but rather those talking heads who call market tops, bottoms, and anything in between. There are a few things that back up this thinking.
It's not valuable
The analyst findings that the media reports on are rarely accurate. Analysts have a hard time predicting the future of a single company, let alone a market made up of thousands of companies. According to a study out of Notre Dame on analysts' target prices, over 12 months, "63% of the time the target price remains above the market price, and 27% of the time the target price is never met."
Analysts also have a greater incentive to forecast a positive price change. As The Wall Street Journal quoted Citigroup chief U.S. equity analyst Tobias Levkovich:
If you're a bull and you're wrong, you're forgiven. If you're a bull and you're right, they love you. If you're a bear and you're right, you're respected. If you're a bear and you're wrong, you're fired.
With a more scientific approach, consulting company McKinsey found, "On average, analysts' forecasts have been almost 100 percent too high." And these are the analysts who have made a career in figuring out where stocks and the market are headed -- not the media that reports it or, even worse, makes a best guess.
It may not have your interests in mind
Just as investors investigate the incentives in place for a company's management, they should review the incentives of most financial media outlets. Playing up fear, uncertainty, and doubt works well to gain readers, viewers, and listeners. This helps ensure that the organization's business model can succeed. This can be especially true of advertising-based models.
On the other hand, if incentives align, financial media can be a boon.
At The Motley Fool, we writers disclose any of our potential conflicts of interest at the end of each article. The business model is also clear -- The Motley Fool offers newsletters focused on delivering market-beating stock and fund recommendations, among other products and services. The Motley Fool is motivated to select outperforming stocks in order to keep and gain members -- if it didn't, it wouldn't be a sustainable business.
What you should do
If you're wondering what to do with all the time you used to spend watching or reading the latest market predictions, just follow Buffett's example: Research companies on your own. Read through annual reports, make your own predictions, and track your thoughts to improve as an investor.
Of Berkshire Hathaway's purchases, Buffett writes, "we have never foregone an attractive purchase because of the macro or political environment, or the views of other people." For example, Berkshire's purchase of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) in 1988 might have seemed unreasonable, given that the stock price increased over 120% in the previous five years and had a P/E ratio above 14. By 1998, the value of Berkshire's stake in Coke had increased by more than 1,000%. How many calls of market tops were made during that time? It didn't matter to Buffett, and it shouldn't matter to you.