What the stock market is telling us

Well, the market is nearly reaching highs again. Surely the recession fears over the past months were unfounded. But, wait. What’s this?

“The stock market isn’t the economy. The economy is production and jobs, and there are shortfalls in virtually every sector of the economy,” Yellen said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Yellen… Yellen… oh, Janet Yellen, former Fed Chair. Yeah, she may be on to something.

So, where fiscally policy from Washington May be a while coming, there are those still suffering in this country. And where wealth may be accruing for those with substantial stock portfolios, the nearly 30 million people out of work (predominant low-wage workers) will just have to stick it out.


Need vs. merit

When considering funding an organization – nonprofit, arts group, etc. – there’s a question of whether fiscal solvency necessitates further individual support. Is your donation better served going to a group that may be struggling to stay in the black each year, or an organization that consistently shows surpluses?

While a surplus may indicate that your money will have less impact, a smaller nonprofit could potentially not be around next year.

It’s a question I keep hearing, and one I ask myself as I work on reviewing grants. I guess my thought is, if money is available to invest in nonprofits, it’s good practice to make that investment, large and small.

The visibility ethics

Early in the pandemic, shortly after Congress approved trillions of dollars in aid for individuals and businesses suffering from job losses and decreased revenue, companies such as Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House received millions under the Paycheck Protection Program. Of course, they were instantly lambasted, given the size of their organizations.

However, the purpose of any corporation is to increase value to stakeholders. Under that very broad understanding of the purpose – to make money – it would be counterintuitive to not apply for that additional revenue. 

This is an issue that is seen, again and again, currently playing out on Facebook, in Disneyland, and likely the nation.

Facebook has the choice of whether to do more to curb hate speech or to keep a more hands-off approach in the hopes of driving more revenue. Now that advertisers such as Starbucks are pulling out of Facebook (and other social media), the loss-of-revenue could become a very real driver for organizational change.

Similarly, Disney is pushing to reopen its parks here in the US. Now, we are arguably facing more of a health crisis now with spiking numbers than when we initially started shutting down back in March. Because, now, there’s little to no talk about shutting down again.

The company is dedicated to increasing revenue. If everyone else is open, why would a company self-censure itself? That could mean losses of revenue. Yet employees in Disneyland are striking against the reopening over health concerns. 

While there are businesses out there who will do the right thing at the cost of losing business, there are others who will do the accepted thing in the hopes of earning revenue. Sometimes, it’s expensive to do the right thing.

Reader View

The internet is insidious. There is a scene in Ready Player One, in which Nolan Sorrento panders to the board by showing how much screen space can be covered in ads:

Our internet is a lot like that. Even reading this post, you’ll likely notice ads popping up. But if your browser has a reader view (which it should; Safari’s is in the URL bar), it’s easy enough to omit most of the distracting ads that show up.

And that’s the thing about the commercialist market. There is nowhere we find ourselves that doesn’t have someone trying to sell us something. We’ve become so used to it, the only way for them to ensure that their messages are seen is to find more and more creative ways to make them prominent – pure O2, as it were.

Balance in the market

Balance. We seek balance in creativity so that, in what we are offering to the world, it is worth someone’s time to consume and provides value to us as well.

Occasionally, rarely even, the value of something created far surpasses what the price is set to. Usually, it’s fairly-priced or may be slanted in favor of the seller. (This is evident in the increasing corporate profits we see.)

But I am specifically addressing creative endeavors. Nearly all work begins as a creative endeavor. From the fast-food restaurant to the newest computer, everything begins its life as an idea.

Basic economic market theory tells us that laws of supply and demand will set the prices for these goods and services. The problem is that the creative mind will feel the pressures of creation. The questions of “is it good enough?” or “can I do it again?” will inevitably arise.

Success feels great, but failure is much more common. Seeking balance is an exercise in feeling valued yourself. Not overvalued, or undervalued. But fairly valued.


The weekend provides little relief

It’s been a crazy two weeks, hasn’t it? The health concerns, markets, price of oil, And the weekend isn’t providing much in the way of relief. Now the Fed is dropping interest rates to zero for the first time since 2008 (though that cut lasted until 2015).

The cheaper borrowing may provide an incentive for businesses to borrow or start new programs or build or expand. However, workers feeling the financial crunch that business closures will cause won’t find much hope in a lower Fed rate.

Fear is fear. That which we don’t understand keeps us fettered. While the world waits for answers and relief, each of us throwing our own matchsticks into the night, we expect that the morning will come soon. We hope for it, and we wait for it.

Why facts and figures are just facts and figures

There’s a lot to be said for statistical analysis. Aside from the obvious, “There are three kinds of lies,” statistics help interpret the real world into manageable bits that our brains can digest. Because, if all we took in was raw data all the time, it would be difficult to make sense of anything.

Once information [from sensory organs] is processed to a degree, an attention filter decides how important the signal is and which cognitive processes it should be made available to. For example, although your brain processes every blade of grass when you look down at your shoes, a healthy attention filter prevents you from noticing them individually. In contrast, you might pick out your name, even when spoken in a noisy room. There are many stages of processing, and the results of processing are modulated by attention repeatedly.


Statistics works much the same way that our brains filter out “noise”. By collecting data points from related information, we can visualize or understand more complicated systems of data that may otherwise be beyond our grasp.

When we look at a positive trend in the stock market followed by a precipitous decline of share values it can look like the world is coming to an end. But if we retrace the historical data points of the market we recognize its cyclical nature and understand that, at some point, the decline will cease and the market will rise again.

Mark Twain was attributed with the quote as saying, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

So I guess what I’m saying is while we may not have the specific facts of a situation to rely on, we can believe that there is a historical context with which we can view it. Knowing that the Spanish Influenza killed approximately 50 million people between 1918-1919 isn’t as important as recognizing that these kinds of pandemics happen, such as in 1957, 1968, and 2009. Investigating what worked and what didn’t can help us today.

And these cycles occur across all industries, geopolitical affairs, and economies. It’s just a matter of finding an applicable context to compare then to now.



Stock Market Crumbles

It’s was a week of heightened concern for investors. While I generally view downturns as an opportunity for reentering the market, I know it can be disconcerting when you watch 10% of your investment balance just disappear.

From the Wall Street Journal: “Investors are bracing for more volatility ahead. The Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, jumped to 45.67 early Friday, the highest level since at least October 2011. The VIX, which is based on options on the S&P 500, tends to rise when stocks are falling and decline as markets rise.”

Questions as to how bad the Coronavirus spread will be, or what the resulting financial ramifications may do to the economy are running through the newspapers and television networks. When health becomes a concern, it’s easy to forget rationality.

There are things to consider when it comes to selloffs. Most importantly, it’s primarily led by investment bankers who are concerned about the long-term profitability of their holdings given the health concern. It is in no way an admonition about the stability of any individual company. Some industries will face losses in this cycle, but we’ve seen time and again that cyclical losses are to be expected.

While it’s never clear how long something like this might last, it’s good to remember that it can’t last indefinitely.

Participation, not consumption

It’s easy to view the world through a consumer’s lens. We’re bombarded by nonstop marketing all day long, and we forget that it’s a two-way Street.

Choices are a form of participation. We become part of the dialogue, as long as we take control of our actions rather than following programming blindly.

Considering all choices, and why we make them, will lead us to living a more engaged life.

Last shopping weekend

Here we are, the last shopping weekend before Christmas. Are you done shopping?

Yesterday was what retailers call Super Saturday, the biggest single shopping day of the year.

“The last Saturday before Christmas has become the biggest shopping day of the year and we expect an impressive turnout.” – NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay

Nearly 150 million Americans are expected to shop this weekend. Now, I like stuff as much as the next person. I even did some shopping myself. But what’s the takeaway from all the spending and gifting?

Hopefully it’s that what’s important is family and loved ones, and not who’s the best shopper.