"I don't know." -- Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), Fast Times at Ridgemont HighLate yesterday I asked, Why aren't there more talking heads like Fast Times' Jeff Spicoli, who is brutally honest (with Mr. Hand) when he says "I don't know" in response to why he is constantly late to Mr. Hand's history class? I got quite a response from my brief post on the know-it-all people that trot out their self-confident views (bullish and bearish).
"I've been thinking about this, Biz TV Talking Heads. If I am here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time?" -- Jeff Spicoli watching Biz TVThe fact is that snark (a combination of snide and remark) and opinion far too often envelop the business media instead of facts and figures. Equally infuriating is the confidence of view in the delivery of the snark. Sometimes the reason for this is out of necessity, as the media appearances are typically brief and expected to be on point. Nevertheless, in a world characterized by an absence of certainty and an interrelated and a complicated market mosaic (and complexity of issues) without memory from day to day, too many attach self-confident reasons to randomness. I would characterize a lot of the pabulum in the business media as instantaneous entertainment and not as rigorous analysis. Of course, there are exceptions. Consider as an example, the preparation that Jim "El Capitan" Cramer goes through when he interviews a corporate executive on "Mad Money." Another example is CNBC's "Squawk Box" with Joe Kernen, Becky Quick and Andrew Sorkin, which provides a guest host with one to three hours to do a deeper dive in analysis (e.g., just watch Jim Grant's appearance yesterday, which was solid and thoughtful in analysis). Or Bloomberg's "Market Surveillance" in which Tom Keene shares the spotlight with an interviewee for almost a half an hour, digging into the analysis that forms the foundation of view. Not every move in the markets is explainable, though far too many observers attach a reason for every wiggle and move. (Consider the 5% correction that was recently erased. Why? I have no clue, though many express a strong understanding in the moves.) To some, the projection of confidence of view is seen as a validation of an intense and rigorous decision-making process. Increasingly, however, many are fooled by the abbreviated, simplistic, staccato- like explanations and conclusions, because, more often than not, the snark is shown to be wrong in short order as the curtain disclosing a mere human (not the Wizard of Oz) is revealed.
Genius Is a Rising MarketIn a market that has many feeling uber smart, there are too many Good Will Huntings (i.e., geniuses) and not enough Jeff Spicolis out there these days who say "I don't know." My experience is that the most valuable views are based on intensity of hard-hitting and time-consumptive analysis less valuable (though self-confident) views that are three miles long but only a few inches deep in knowledge can get viewers/listeners in a lot of investment "hot water" and are not healthy for your financial well-being. Accordingly, to make my point, in the future, I will simply solicit Spicoli's famous phrase when "I don't know" and when I have not the answer to the question (of the day or the week). Again, such was the case in the media's discussion of yesterday's rise and fall (of half the gain late in the day) in which all knowing talking heads explained the causality. (Note: With futures down another 4 handles in premarket trading, the overall S&P futures gain, including yesterday's 10-handle rally, is only 6 points.) I simply don't know why the market behaved as it did yesterday.
"Aloha, Mr. Hand." -- Jeff Spicoli
This column originally appeared on Real Money Pro at 7:49 a.m. EST on Feb. 25.