Absurd, isn't it? Allocating hard-earned assets based on how the planets and stars line up from an arbitrary spot in the universe called Earth. Or forecasting the direction of the markets based on -- what else -- the New York Stock Exchange's birthdates?
Or is it? Financial astrology may still reside on the fringes of Wall Street, but its slowly fighting its way into mainstream credibility. Today, its adherents claim that even some high-powered investors are turning to astrology as one of several tools to plot their strategies by. "If I take information about astrology to the scientific community, they don't want to know anything about it," said Arch Crawford, who offers technical and astrological advice in his newsletter
. "But if I take it to Wall Street, they'll use it."
But before you snicker, consider that
, the most visible forum for financial astrology, boasts 2,000 subscribers, fairly impressive by the standards of stock newsletters. (Crawford says his readers include many fund managers, some of which handle as much as $50 billion -- but who are as yet reluctant to come out of the astrological closet.) And the market-timing crowd that makes up the
Market Technicians Association
-- something of a fringe group itself -- started inviting astrologers last year to speak and present research to its members.
"It doesn't work like technical analysis, which takes a supply and demand approach," said Paul Desmond, president of the MTA. "More than anything else, it's an area where we don't know anything about
it. But a lot of people are curious about it and think it deserves to be studied."
If nothing else, technical analysts can sympathize with the astrologers' struggle for credibility. After decades of charting trends in the face of doubters, technicians finally found their way onto the research staff of the biggest banks and brokerages. But even today, skeptics --
among them -- still
voice their doubts.
For their part, the astrologers say it's their critics who are in the dark. The problem isn't that astrology isn't unscientific, but that modern scientists don't understand it. After all, scientists from Athens to the Enlightenment have been steeped in astrology. "The problem with skeptics in general is always the same, and that is that they do not know about astrology at all," said Karen Boesen, chair of the
International Society of Business Astrologers
, a 65-member group formed last year to generate a broader acceptance of astrology in business and finance.
Consider the case of W.D. Gann, the early 20th-century trader and pioneer chartist who -- so the legend goes -- reportedly made $50 million from investments with a batting average above .800. Gann wrote several books on his methods, but it wasn't until his notebooks were discovered after his death that it was revealed that he used astrology as part of his strategy.
The trends converging to bring astrology into the financial toolbox of more and more investors are certainly understandable. As the market becomes increasingly decoupled from conventional measurements of value, investors are grasping at new theories that attempt to explain the phenomena. People who grew up in the '60s, when horoscopes became a daily staple, are rising to power on Wall Street and the media. And the practitioners of astrology satisfy their craving for "certainty in an uncertain world."
Over the past few years, not only have media profiles of financial astrologers grown more common, but also their tone has shifted from one of contempt to sometimes fawning. "We don't see so much skepticism about financial astrology in the newspapers today," said Henry Weingarten, who manages the
fund (Its motto? "Naturally a Stellar Performance.").
At the same time, the new generation of individual investors, indifferent to the taboos of Wall Street, are taking a more open-minded approach to financial astrology. Just last week,
started giving prominent placement to Weingarten on
, a personal-finance site geared toward women.
"More and more people are looking at markets and using different approaches," said Joanna Krotz, executive editor of the MoneyMinded site. "So even as investors are getting more sophisticated, investing is getting more populist."
Helping the astrologers' case are some surprisingly accurate calls -- particularly when compared with more traditional methods. When Mark Hulbert of the Alexandria, Va.-based
Hulbert Financial Digest
applied his truth serum to the recommendations made by market-timing newsletters, Crawford's ended up ranking as one of the best performers over the past five years -- so much for market-timers. And it turns out that Weingarten forecast the October 1987 crash, the end of the Japanese rally in 1989, the 1997 Asian meltdown and others -- often to the day.
If they are to be believed, Weingarten, Crawford and others are expecting a grim few months for the market that, if it doesn't spell the end of the great bull rally of the 1990s, will put a serious dent into it.
No, its not asteroids, but two lunar eclipses on Aug. 8 and Sept. 6, and a solar eclipse on Aug. 21. For the uninitiated, eclipses bring on both short-term volatility and longer-term gloom. And it just so happens that the solar event comes just three days before
birthday, close enough to bode ill for his own fortunes. Interestingly, the two also think the turmoil should ease up right around Election Day.
That, coupled with an ominous alignment of Saturn and Neptune that can lead to widespread disappointment, means the outlook is for a turbulent ride down for the
. Weingarten expects the strongest stocks to drop 15% and the most overvalued to fall as much as 90%. The Dow, he says, will fall below 8000 and trade between 6000 and 8000 for most of 1999. Crawford largely concurs, saying, "I see a drop in the Dow between 35% and 50% by the fall of 1998 from whatever high is created." Right now that looks like the July 20 top, just above 9400.
Robert Hitt, a financial astrologer who claims 20 years of experience, gives an even gloomier read on his
, based on the positions of Saturn, Neptune and Pluto: "The time period from 1997 into the early part of the next century will be a worldwide bear market. Asia is due to experience the greatest brunt of this down economic cycle and will probably go through a depression similar in scope to the US Great Depression of the early 1930's," with the U.S. suffering "a longer term erosion of economic and military might."
Easing the pain of this
-like forecast is the knowledge that the body of work done by most stock-market astrologers has always exhibited a long-standing tilt to the doomed. A search of news archives proves their frequently bearish calls often accurate for a few days or even weeks, only to be rendered irrelevant by the undiminished flow of new money and investor enthusiasm pouring into the market.
Undaunted, some astrological bears have been forecasting the expected apocalypse since last spring, a call vindicated only by the last two weeks' market activity. If the bull market does goes on, then surely the astrologers will have to recheck their history books.
Perhaps the New York Stock Exchange wasn't born under the Buttonwood Tree in 1792, after all.
Kevin Kelleher covers the Internet and other technology issues from San Francisco.