How To Tell a Good Forecast from a Bad One
Here’s a forecast for you. Clear and direct. As quoted by a Reuters reporter in his January 15, 2009, article, entitled, “Global Lending Thaw May Yet Return to Deep Freeze.”
“‘This is a temporary respite and when it’s over, the stock market will make new lows…,’ says Robert Prechter, chief executive officer at research company Elliott Wave International in Gainesville, Georgia.” [Reuters, 1/15/09]
But there are lots of forecasts out there – for the economy, for the Dow, for the price of oil, for the chances of the Boston Celtics repeating as NBA champions – so the question arises, how can you tell a good forecast from a bad one?
Bob Prechter addressed that very question with another reporter in a Q&A originally published in the book, Prechter’s Perspective.
Editor’s Note: For more market insights from Bob Prechter, visit Elliott Wave International to download Prechter’s FREE 60-page Deflation Survival eBook, part of Prechter’s NEW Deflation Survival Guide.
The following text was originally published in Robert Prechter’s 2004 best selling book, Prechter’s Perspective.
By Robert Prechter, CMT
Q: In general, is there any way for a person to tell a good forecast from a bad one?
Bob Prechter: There is a subtle way to tell a potentially useful forecast from a useless one. Most published forecasts are at best descriptions of what already has happened. I never give any forecast a second thought unless it addresses the question of the point at which a change in trend may occur.
As an example outside the financial markets: a sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published his ratings (scale 1-5) for each of the players on the Atlanta Braves baseball team as a forecast of how they would perform in 1984. At the start of the season, he rated 1983’s Most Valuable Player a “5,” Atlanta’s slugger a “4,” and the right fielder a lowly “2” due to bad performance in 1983 following two excellent years. Later in 1984, the MVP was batting only .215, and the slugger was batting a dismal .179, while the lowest-rated player, the right fielder, had hit 8 home runs and led the team in batting average and RBIs.
The point is not that the sportswriter was wrong in his predictions. The point is that he didn’t make any predictions, even though he thought he did and said he did. He was merely rating the 1983 Braves in retrospect. He ignored possible bases upon which to forecast the 1984 season, things like motivation, new developments or events in a player’s life, cyclic changes in playing success, etc. As with most forecasts, these things weren’t even considered.
Read forecasts carefully. If they are mild-mannered extrapolations of a recent trend, it’s probably the best policy to toss them aside and go search for something potentially useful.
Q: Obviously, the same holds true in finance.
Bob Prechter: All the time. When economists say, as they so often do, that they see “no reason to expect anything different” from the recent past, they mean it from the bottom of their knowledge. The linear projections they typically employ result in logic such as that expressed by an economist in a national newspaper, who said, “This rising consumer confidence is good news for the economy. Rising confidence spurs the economy, and the pickup in the economy then serves to heighten confidence.” By this line of reasoning, no change of direction could ever occur. That’s why, absent other knowledge, the only forecasts even worth your time considering are those that predict a change. Not because the forecaster is certain to be right, but because it shows that he is thinking and perhaps employing a tool that can anticipate trends.
Q: So the word “prediction” doesn’t necessarily apply to the future!
Bob Prechter: Right. And it’s those predictions about the future that are the tough ones. That’s why economists stick to predicting the past, which is a crafty solution. It leads to misery among the people who follow them, but it doesn’t seem to affect economists’ jobs, so it certainly keeps them happy!
Q: Do you think that predicting the economy is possible?
Bob Prechter: It is not only possible, it is downright easy compared with predicting the stock market. One economist has gotten a lot of chuckles by saying that the stock market has predicted something like 19 of the last 13 recessions. However, that is only a reasonable statement if you believe that a certain rigid definition of a recession is the only one that is viable. In fact, if you look at the ebb and flow of economic activity and generally realize that it lags stock market activity of between 0 and 12 months, you will find that there is no better single indicator of what the economy is going to do than the stock market. Not only that, but even 19 out of 13 is infinitely better than any economist has ever done.
For more on deflation, download Prechter’s FREE 60-page Deflation Survival eBook or browse various deflation topics like those below atwww.elliottwave.com/deflation.
- What happens during deflation?
- Deflation survival
- Why is deflation bad?
- Deflation personal debt
- And much more in Prechter’s FREE Deflation Survival Guide.
Robert Prechter, Chartered Market Technician, is the founder and CEO of Elliott Wave International, author of Wall Street best-sellers Conquer the Crashand Elliott Wave Principle and editor of The Elliott Wave Theorist monthly market letter since 1979.
Now a little fun:
The Economic Crisis That No One Saw Coming: A Convenient Untruth
August 9, 2010
By Elliott Wave International
The single most convenient untruth about the 2008 (and counting) financial crisis is that it was unforeseen. For two years policymakers have insisted “There was no way to know ahead of time” that the liquidity boom would come to a screeching halt. Back in November 2008, in fact, the usually tight-lipped Queen of England herself publicly described the turmoil of international markets as “awful” and openly asked a panel of experts from the London School of Economics “Why did nobody notice?”
Her Majesty is right: Most financial authorities did NOT notice the crisis before it was too late. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” of all places provided the most poignant evidence: A March 2009 video montage shows executives and economists from the world’s leading financial firms repeatedly forecasting continued upside strength in stocks, plus renewed bull market growth in financials — right as debt markets came unhinged and the US stock market headed into a 50%-plus selloff.
Dubbed the “8-Minute Rap” (after the “18-Minute Gap” of Nixon’s Watergate tapes), the Daily Show video feature sent an equally powerful message, as the video below makes clear.
Yet even as the mainstream authorities failed to detect the economic earthquake moving below their own feet, somebody did “notice” well in advance. That person was EWI’s president Bob Prechter.
The clip below is from a 2007 Bloomberg interview. Clear as PLAY, the foreseeable nature of the crisis emerges from Bob’s October 19, 2007 interview.
As the historic trend change began to unfold, Robert Prechter issued this timely insight:
“We’ve seen the first crack in the credit structure with a huge drop in commercial paper… These are the harbingers of a change toward the downside for the stock market, commodities including oil, and the debt market itself.”
Don’t believe the convenient untruths. Get objective market analysis today. Download this free report that contains valuable market forecasts directly from the desk of Bob Prechter.
How A Bear Can Be Bullish And Still Be Right
Bob Prechter: the only good label is an Elliott wave label…
September 8, 2009
By Nico Isaac
In recent months, Elliott Wave International President Bob Prechter has become something of a household name. In the final two days of August 2009 alone, Bob was mentioned by several news outlets from MarketWatch to the New York Times. The claim to his “fame” —
EWI was one of the only technical analysis firms to anticipate a sharp rally in U.S. stocks as they circled the drain of a 12-year low this spring, a feat made ever more exceptional considering the widespread image of Bob as being the ultimate “Big, Bad Bear.”
The lesson? Believe in the facts, not in the “widespread image.”
Bob Prechter has always said that successful forecasting should look to the current wave count (and various other technical measures) for direction. He has never permanently tied himself to the mast of definition — i.e. “bull” or “bear.”
For this reason, EWI’s team of analysts have been able to stay one step ahead of the biggest turning points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, from the very start of the index’s historic 2007 reversal.
To wit: This two-year chart of the Dow incorporates several calls from our past publications as they coincided with the market’s most memorable peaks and troughs:
For more analysis from Robert Prechter, download a free 10-page July issue of Prechter’s Elliott Wave Theorist.
The chart above presents the abstract details of our past analysis. Here is the expanded version of those insights as they appeared in real-time:
July 17, 2007 TheElliott Wave Theorist:
- “Aggressive speculators should return to a fully leveraged short position now. We may be early by a couple of weeks, but the market has traced out the minimum expected rise, and that’s enough to act on.”
Soon after, as the DJIA neared its own historic Oct. 11, 2007 apex, the Oct. 9 and 10 Short Term Update amped up the urgency of its analysis and wrote:
- “Odds have increased that a market high is in place. The structure, coupled with turns in the other markets, suggests a top is in place. The potential, at the least, is four a large selloff… Watch Out! The market faces a stout correction.”
Before landing at its March 10, 2008 bottom, the March 5 Short Term Update afforded respect to a bullish alternate count and wrote: “Prices should carry above the wave a high (13165) before it ends.”
At its four-month high, the March 16 2008 Elliott Wave Theorist went on high, bearish alert and wrote: The DJIA is entering “Free Fall territory.”
One week before the U.S. stock market landed at its 12-year low of March 9, our Feb. 27, 2009 Short Term Update utilized a traditional turning pattern to outline a specific time window for the onset of a major upside reversal. In STU’s own words:
- “By all indication, this pattern is back on track… the turn will come on or near March 10, 2009. Anywhere in this time period may mark a turn, which will obviously be a market low.”
Once the bullish winds of change had turned, the March 16 Short Term Update wrote:
- “When the market speaks, it behooves us to listen. The implications of this are that the… major stock indexes are in the initial stages of a multi-month advance.”
Finally, the April 2009 Elliott Wave Financial Forecast calculated a specific target range for the Dow’s rally: the 9,000-10,000 level.
So, now that the upside objective is met, where are prices set to go next? For more analysis from Robert Prechter, download a free 10-page July issue of Prechter’s Elliott Wave Theorist.
Robert Prechter, Chartered Market Technician, is the world’s foremost expert on and proponent of the deflationary scenario. Prechter is the founder and CEO of Elliott Wave International, author of Wall Street best-sellers Conquer the Crash and Elliott Wave Principle and editor of The Elliott Wave Theorist monthly market letter since 1979.
Mainstream media brings us a wide range of views from economic experts, many of which conflict in their prediction of the future. Everybody has a fundamental reason about the future of the stock market and their earnings predictions. Everybody rationalizes their views one way or another. And most of the market forecasts end up being wrong. However, at the turning points when investors are the most vulnarable, the wrong direction of the crowd takes an acute form.
Can the Fed and the Economists Forecast the Future?
Business Talk Radio host Gabriel Wisdom recently spoke with Pete Kendall, Co-Editor of EWI’s Elliott Wave Financial Forecast. Their discussion included a crucial but rarely asked question about economists and the Federal Reserve. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
- Gabriel Wisdom: “Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, says the economy is slowing but there’s faster growth ahead. Is he wrong?”
- Pete Kendall: “Economists are extrapolationists. They tend to look at what’s happening in the economy and extrapolate that forward. So here we have a situation where not just Bernanke but economists in general are looking at… what they call the ‘soft patch’ and somehow contorting that into growth later in the year.
Pete’s startling reply flatly contradicts conventional wisdom. Most people believe that the Fed really is able to anticipate the economic future. After all, they’re the most “qualified.” But what do the facts say?
Pete’s Elliott Wave Financial Forecast Co-Editor Steve Hochberg recently included this eye-opening chart (from Societe Generale Equity Research) in his new subscriber-exclusive video, “Buy and Hold, or Sell and Fold: Where Are The Markets Headed in 2011?”
The red line in the chart is the S&P earnings, and the black line shows economists’ forecasts relative to those earnings. Here’s what James Montier, head of equity research for Societe Generale, said about it:
“The chart makes it transparently obvious that analysts lag reality. They only change their minds when there is irrefutable proof they were wrong, and then only change their minds very slowly.” (emphasis added)
That comment is spot-on. In 2002-2003, as you can see, earnings turned up despite economists’ forecasts for earning declines. It took them a while to “turn the ship around” and play catch-up with the trend.
Yet in 2007-2008, earnings turned down — despite the forecast by economists for continued increases. The devastating truth is that earnings did more than fall in the first quarter of 2008: they had their first negative quarter in the history of the S&P. As Steve said in his subscriber video, “Economists were wrong to a record degree” — and investors felt the pain.
So what’s the point? Economists do extrapolate the trend. That approach works fine, until it doesn’t — and you’re on the hook.
Elliott wave analysis never extrapolates trends — it anticipates them. The Wave Principle recognizes that markets must rise and fall — and that they unfold according to changes in investor psychology, in a way that is patterned and recognizable.
Most people believe that the Fed really is able to anticipate the economic future. Now you know the facts. Uncover other important myths and misconceptions about the economy and the markets by reading Market Myths Exposed.
EWI’s free Market Myths Exposed 33-page eBook takes the 10 most dangerous investment myths head on and exposes the truth about each in a way every investor can understand. Download your free copy now.