In the past, I have discussed the many ways the media deceives, spins and even lies about financial information as a way to please its financial sponsors, all while creating drama so as to captivate its sheep audience.
The goal of the media is two-fold. First, the media has to establish a large audience because the size of the audience determines the amount they charge companies that pay for sponsorships and advertisements. Second, the media has to make sure to keep its corporate sponsors happy. This goes well-beyond airing the ads companies have paid for.
Since corporate America and Wall Street buy the vast majority of ads and sponsor all sorts of shows, events and programming segments, the media always slants things in the favor of corporate America and the financial industry. For drug companies, this means the media will downplay the dangers of prescription drugs or air news on harmful side effects in ways that are deemphasized. The delivery of the propaganda is finessed so as to not alert the audience that the media sleeps in the same bed as those who buy the ads.
When it comes to the financial media, the agendas are less conspicuous for those who have not been induced into a mild hypnotic trance. Unfortunately, the media uses countless tactics to induce this mild state of consciousness in its unsuspecting audience. The unique thing about the financial media is that it extends throughout the entire media monopoly. For instance, when CBS or ABC reports on the stock market, the economy and other issues they draw upon reports or even journalists from CNBC or the Wall Street Journal. As well, all major television networks, radio stations, newspapers, periodicals and websites have formed partnerships with financial media programs.
The game is simple. The financial media creates the perception of valuable programming so as to attract its audience. Financial and economic news is reported in variable degrees in order to ensure the goals of the sponsors have been met. Sometimes this results in reporting knee-jerk events, exaggerations, distractions, and other techniques. Other times the reporting is more focused but highly deceptive. Among some of the more common strategies used are flooding, censorship, stacked decks. The media is controlled both by corporate America and Washington. Thus, the media provides much more detriment than value.
The financial media seeks to create panic and fear, mania and confusion, all while spinning, lying and censoring so that its sponsors feel like their money has been well-spent. As a result, Main Street tends to act on impulse so as to trade more frequently, most often with confusion and misdirection. This benefits E-Trade, Charles Schwab, Ameritrade and other online brokerage firms. And because these investors are acting out of emotion, misinformation and deception, Wall Street is pleased because it allows them to more easily take the money of Main Street.
Other times, mutual funds and insurance companies are propped up by the slanted opinions of the financial commentators or fund analysts. This provides the opportunity for front running by both Wall Street and individuals connected to the media, whether through their friend, relatives or others within their syndicate. These acts of securities fraud occur on a daily basis and add a sizable portion to the massive skimming and other fraudulent activities that steal billions of dollars from Main Street daily. The media will never discuss how fund companies stick their customers with exorbitant fees, nor will you hear how many of the fees are hidden.
Finally, the media will never point out the fact that equity mutual funds are the absolute worst investment to have during a bear market, as this would upset the companies that spend billions of dollars advertising on these networks.
When the media interviews professionals from the financial industry, more often than not these individuals serve as marketers with terrible track records. You certainly wouldn’t come to that conclusion based on their introduction. TV journalists hype up each of their pitch men to ensure they are perceived as credible experts so you will see value in tuning in.
It is a very rare event when the media bothers to independently verify the track record of its guests. Instead, the TV journalist reads their bios as if everything that has been written is true. After all, it’s not in the best interest of journalists to uncover lies and exaggerations made by those selected to serve as members of the financial media club.
Over the past couple of years I have exposed the reality behind several individuals who have been positioned by the financial media as experts. If the media claims some guy predicted the financial crisis, then by God they must have according to the sheep. Main Street acts inherently naïve as they automatically associate media exposure with credibility instead of spending adequate time to verify track records and look for bias and agendas.
The reputation of these hacks spreads like a virus. The more they are seen and heard, the more Main Street attaches credibility to their views. Before you know it, everyone thinks Meredith Whitney, Nouriel Roubini, Marc Faber, Robert Shiller, Peter Schiff, Harry Dent, Robert Prechter, Martin Weiss and countless others predicted the financial crisis.
More Ridiculous Market Predictions from Dent
Today I wanted to mention another individual who has been positioned by the media as a credible expert despite his dreadful track record. Perhaps you have heard of Harry Dent. Like the vast majority of this crew of mass marketers, Dent serves as a much better contrarian indicator than anything else.
Like others in the media club, Dent knows how to tell a good story. Combined with media status, Dent has been successful in terms of selling his books and newsletters. However, his track record has been another story. As you will see, similar to the other so-called experts who regularly appear in the media, Dent is a professional marketer and speaker, not a credible economist or investment expert.
Remember, real experts don’t spending most of their time giving media interviews, hitting the speaking circuit, making YouTube videos, and other marketing activities. These tasks are the focus of individuals like Robert Kiyosaki and Tony Robbins. But they are also the focus of Harry Dent, Peter Schiff and the others.
A few weeks ago, Harry Dent came out in the media with warnings of a coming market collapse over the next few months. Below I summarize Dent’s “predictions.”
- The stock market could top 13,200 by late summer then collapse to 3000.
- Oil and gold have already topped out and are headed down.
- Real estate will go down by 50-60%.
Before I demonstrate how Dent is no different than the rest of the marketers who have been positioned as experts, let’s have a look at these “latest predictions.”
Dent’s Stock Market Predictions
Is Dow 13,200 possible by late summer?
Yes, but not likely. I would say that Dow 13,000 is a better (although very optimistic) top. But this represents the absolute best situation. However, it is not likely with oil over $100.
Okay, so Dent’s market top isn’t such a ridiculous prediction. But this isn’t the real punch line. You see, Dent is trying to demonstrate credibility by delivering a sane (although very optimistic) forecast. As well, he wants to go on record as one who rode the upward market momentum, knowing that it will eventually fade. However, Dent did not ride the market all the way up. As the market continued to soar past his expectations, like many other salesmen, Dent has insisted that it will come tumbling down. And when it does, Dent seems to think that the Dow will head to 3000. This is truly laughable. The only thing funnier is Robert Prechter’s Dow 1000 prediction. Interestingly, both Dent and Prechter follow some type of hocus pocus wave theory bologna.
If one attempts to forecast stock market movements using waves as their only or primary tool, they will be wrong many more times than right. Market forecasting is an extremely difficult task to achieve. One must look at a very large number of variables, each of which can change on a daily basis. It’s always easier to know what will happen rather than when. These markers know this. That is why they keep making the same predictions for twenty or more years.
Dent knows that bear markets come about every 12-15 years. This might explain why he has been flip-flopping so much. Dent uses demographics as the basis of his forecasts. This is a good strategy for a salesman or marketer because it keeps things so simply that even kids can understand the rationale. And if you can present something that is easy to understand in a convincing way, you will sell lots of books, you will hook lots of sheep to launch a mutual fund and you will put your money where their mouth is. In the end, if you pay the slightest attention to snake oils salesmen, you will transfer money from your pocket into theirs and that of Wall Street and the media.
In order to sell lots of books you need media exposure. Selling lots of books gets you speaking gigs and more media coverage. So if you are not viewed as a team player by the media (according to its interests and that of its sponsors) you won’t get exposure, you won’t sell books, you won’t do any business. For most people, money is the focus. Similar to the other members of the media club, this is the only thing that’s important to Dent. He doesn’t have to be right. As a good salesman he can always talk his way out of a poor track record.
Dent: Clueless on Real Estate
What about Dent’s prediction for real estate prices. If Dent had a clue what was going on, he would have come out with this prediction of real estate prices falling by 50-60% a few years ago prior to the real estate collapse. It’s easy to keep riding the downward real estate trend. That’s the safe bet. Those who take that approach do so in order to create the perception of credibility. Recently, I discussed how Meredith Whitney has used this same strategy.
In the article I wrote featuring Whitney, I highlighted this common tactic under the section titled “The Deviant Psychology Underlying Media Experts.” Let’s have a look at an excerpt.
“When you spot a relentless trend, you extrapolate the trend when making predictions. Through this approach you are playing better odds. For instance, when a region experiences a period of harsh weather, an opportunist looking to position himself as a prophet will predict more bad weather to come.
We saw how this tactic was used a couple of years ago when several extremists began to predict that all banks would fail only after Bear Stearns, Fannie, Freddie, Washington Mutual, AIG and Lehman failed (although Washington Mutual did not really fail, as I have shown previously). Of course other banks did not fail because TARP was passed.
I liken this approach to jumping on the extremist band wagon. As a twist, you also throw in a bit of contrarian thinking when you see excessive cheerleading from Washington and Wall Street.
The key behind this approach is to never make specific forecasts. You keep things general and open-ended so you can later fill in the blanks and wiggle your way out of the corner if you are scrutinized.
Unfortunately, the results of this deceptive strategy are frequently inaccurate because the forecasts are not based on extensive research and analysis. Moreover, extreme extrapolation and irrational contrarian thinking often fails to consider intangible variables which often come into play and alter the course or severity of the trend that has been extrapolated.
In the end, individuals utilizing this manipulative strategy are doing nothing other than spewing hot air and having their hands. Not everyone is capable of executing this strategy because it requires a person to be inherently dishonest and deceitful.”
It’s really remarkable to me how a man like Dent could be so far off on his grim real estate prediction. After all, he loves to remind everyone of his Harvard MBA. Perhaps this explains why he has no idea what he is talking about.
Keep in mind that this is the man who felt there would be a problem in real estate in 2010 due to demographics; the retirement of baby boomers. At the same time, just a few years ago Dent stated that retirement havens like Florida would represent great real estate investment opportunities due to the baby boomer retirement wave.
Nowhere in any of Dent’s countless books or their seemingly annual revisions will you see Dent discuss real estate fraud, Wall Street fraud, the implosion of the MBS or any of the other causes of the real estate meltdown. Dent has stuck with his simplistic and inaccurate demographics approach for more than thirty years. And it has been shown to be wrong more times than right. As a result of his tunnel vision, Dent is unable to see clearly.
Dent puts out so many books and revisions that he covers all scenarios. Other times, he keeps forecasting the same thing a decade later after it failed to materialize in the previous decade. For instance, in the early 1990s, Dent predicted a real estate market crash that would send home prices down by 30%-50% in the U.S. expected in 1994-95, based on his demographic analysis. This was a huge blunder.
Real Estate Forecasting 101
It’s quite simple Harry. Let me show you it’s done. You take the historical house pricing slope and you regress current prices to the slope. Now, if housing would have collapsed completely in 2008 down to this slope, it might have gone down by around 40%. This would have represented an undershoot of the price slope. That is, real estate prices would have become considerably undervalued from a historical standpoint.
Asset price “undershoots” are commonly observed only after a rapid and full correction in the same manner as overshoots are observed prior to the implosion of an asset bubble. However, the real estate bubble has taken several years to deflate. This has all but removed the possibility of an undershoot or exaggerated price correction.
Moreover, because it typically takes time for large asset bubbles to deflate, the slope of the price curve extends outward. This means the median price will gradually rise along with the long-term historical price trend. So as time passes, the actual price decline will be less than this 40% for these two reasons (failure of prices to correct quickly and a gradual increase in the price trend with time).
Let me give you an example. Below is a chart from America’s Financial Apocalypse (2006 extended version, p. 200). I have drawn a rough trend line from the initial stages of the real estate bubble. That’s right. The real estate bubble actually began in the late 1990s. However, it was sustainable in the early years because the excess appreciation could be absorbed into the economy. As you can see, it didn’t really become a huge problem (in other words, it became unsustainable) until 2005. By mid-2006 it was evident the bubble would be unable to swell for much longer.
Notice that the blue trend line representing existing median home prices lies slightly above the CPI. This is due to the fact that from an historical basis, home prices have appreciated just a tad higher than inflation. This is something many investors were unaware of. I discussed this in AFA.
Now if you were to extrapolate the blue trend line from this chart to 2008 when the real estate bubble was in the collapse mode, the median home price would have come in at around $162,000, representing a drop from the peak (as shown by the $240,000 mark in November 2005) of 32.5%.
But median real estate prices actually peaked around mid-2006 at around $260,000. Therefore, if we calculate the magnitude of excessive real estate pricing based on the trend line in 2008 (when the collapse had been confirmed), and then compare it to the 2006 peak we come up with $260,000 - $162,000, or a decline of nearly 38%.
However, more than three years have passed since 2008 and real estate pricing still has not bottomed. If we extrapolate this blue trend line to early 2011, it comes to around $178,000. So, if we look at the decline in prices since the 2006 peak, this represents a decline of 31.5%.
Remember, this is only a rough analysis. You will get different results depending on the data used, but I think you get the point. There has been no undershoot in median real estate pricing relative to the long-term price trend (represented by the blue line) because the bubble deflation has been extended over time. This is the assumption I made when I wrote AFA.
I knew there would be several programs by Washington to attempt to slow this deflation. I also knew that there would be no way to cheat the system. Pay back was on the way. At best, Washington would only be able to spread the devastation out over many years. Currently, existing median home prices stand at around $175,000. This is very close to the rough approximation I have made by extrapolating the blue trend line to 2011.
Thus, with median real estate prices down by around 32-33% (depending on the source and the data used) from the peak in 2006, we are close to the bottom. Keep in mind that this analysis is based on much more than the simple presentation I have discussed. Furthermore, there are numerous unknowns that remain; unknowns that no one can predict. Therefore, anyone who substantially deviates from this approximation is going on a flawed analysis, or they are making wild assumptions of variables that no one can possibility determine.
Okay so if we are close to the bottom, does that mean it’s a good time to buy real estate? Not if your decision is based on the prospect of nice price appreciation over the next few years. For many reasons, the climb back up for real estate will be slow and steady (if we are lucky). I have detailed this analysis numerous times in several previous publications including the Intelligent Investors newsletter.
The fact is that real estate pricing will experience a very slow climb back up. And if you think you’re going to profit, I suggest you sit down and calculate your expenses over the next several years (property taxes, HOA dues, home owner’s insurance, maintenance, etc.). The fact is that with rare exception, real estate has never represented a real investment. I detailed this argument in AFA.
So with no real signs of recovery and median real estate prices down by around 32%, Dent is going with the odds by calling for a total price decline of 50-60%. What’s funny is that just a few years ago Dent stated that investments in second homes and properties in retirement areas like Florida would do very well due to the retiring baby boomers. We all know how that turned out.
While it is impossible to know what Dent was thinking, I would narrow it down to two possibilities. Either his methods are flawed, or else he wants people to think there is much more devastation to come as a way to lure in the sheep who are panicking. Most likely, his motives are the consequence of both possibilities. After all, he is a marketer and he is obsessed with demographics as the source of economic trends.
As many of you already know, I devoted more than 40 pages to the real estate bubble in America’s Financial Apocalypse (2006 extended version). In fact, based on all the other books I have examined this single chapter was more detailed, accurate and predictive than any single book written on the real estate bubble. This was just one of eighteen chapters of my thesis that made a case for America’s Second Great Depression.
I also advised readers to short Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, several other mortgage stocks (all of which went bankrupt) in Cashing in on the Real Estate Bubble. This book was released in early 2007 before the collapse began.
See here for excerpts regarding the real estate bubble material from these two books.
Of course, the real estate bubble was just the tip of the iceberg, as I clearly pointed out in these two books. I also focused on the healthcare crisis (which remains), the entitlement catastrophe, the pension crisis, the destructive trade policy of the U.S., wealth and income disparity, how the wealth effect would turn into the poor effect, causing Americans to boost savings, the correction of the commodity bubble, and much more.
Meanwhile, virtually no one else had an idea these things would become huge issues. Many thought commodities had no ceiling. These are salesmen, not experts. Good salesmen always stick to the same simple pitch. And they repeat it over and over, modifying it when they have been proven to be wrong and when they try to weasel out of the corner of shame when they blow their predictions.
Dent on Commodities
Next let’s get to Dent’s forecast on commodities. While I agree that commodities may have topped out, there is currently no definitive evidence of this. Anyone who states otherwise is merely making guesses. Keep in mind that Dent was saying commodities had topped out in late 2009.
Furthermore, even if the commodities bubble corrects over the next few months, the commodities bull market is likely to remain intact for quite a few more years. So the key is to understand the intermediate- and longer-term trends and act accordingly. I discuss my own observations of early warning signs that commodities may be in the process of topping out in the April issue of the Intelligent Investor newsletter.
Next, I examine Dent's track record. Have a look here.
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