Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Five stages of grief

September 15, 2011

I hate to go all morose and contrarian on another “up” day in the markets, but …

Jerome Booth, research director of London-based emerging markets specialist Ashmore Investment Management, makes an interesting point in a Sept. 14 Financial Times column. He posits that global markets are moving, slogging really, through the classic five stages of grief. When we lose a loved one, we follow a pattern described by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as the five-step model of grief: denial … anger … bargaining … depression … and, finally, acceptance.

Booth applies this to global markets.

As investor relations people making our rounds with investors, we might probe what stage the patient is in, on any particular day, before launching into our story.

What has died, Booth writes, is our complacence in using debt to meet all needs:

Western Europe and the US now face years of painful deleveraging. The loss they feel is the death of the levered model enabling them to live beyond their means, plus a loss of prestige as their economic models have failed.

As an EM guy, Booth says we’ll have to adjust to kowtowing a bit to emerging markets. In the West right now, he writes, we’re in denial:

When faced with a truly awful prospect we explore and then cling to any theory or hope that reality may be different. Even where political leaders understand the immensity of their loss, the denial of their electorates constrains their action.

There are examples of anger – riots in Greece and other nations over economics. And of bargaining to delay unpleasant consequences or sweep them under the rug. Still ahead, perhaps, is the loss of hope a patient feels as depression. And we haven’t seen many signs yet that our leaders – or we the people – have moved on to acceptance of realities so we can deal with what needs to be done.

All this is very global and “macro,” but let’s think about how it applies to IR messages about the businesses we speak for:

  • Above all, are we helping our management teams to avoid living in denial?
  • In offering forward-looking views to investors, do we spell out assumptions on the economic factors that drive our particular businesses?
  • Do we explain how we plan to perform if the economy stays weak for a long time, vs. signing onto consensus hopes for recovery in H2, or H1 2012, or  … ?
  • When our stock is beaten-down, do we listen to see if the investor on the line is in the anger stage or depression – or maybe in a place to hear reality and look forward to ways out of the doldrums?
  • Do we deal with debt and balance sheet metrics, including strategies for managing the balance sheet, in a way that helps investors understand?

Just a handful of thought-starters. I’m not arguing where investors’ sentiment should be – just saying IR people need to pay attention to where it is.

Mainly, I appreciate Booth’s wry insight into the psychology of today’s happy-nervous-elated-terrified-optimistic-not so sure-ever mercurial stock market. I’d love to hear your reactions.

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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Graham & Dodd on today’s market

March 11, 2009

For perspective amid the market turmoil, I’ve been reading the classic Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd. The first edition, from our local library, takes us back 75 years to the market of 1934.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the value mavens write:

img_28511Economic events between 1927 and 1933 involved something more than a mere repetition of the familiar phenomena of business and stock-market cycles. A glance at the appended chart covering the movements of the Dow-Jones averages of industrial common stocks since 1897 will show how entirely unprecedented was the extent of both the recent advance and the ensuing collapse. They seem to differ from the series of preceding fluctuations as a tidal wave differs from ordinary billows …

Sounds a little like the rise and fall we’ve experienced recently. Graham and Dodd, while expounding quantitative approaches for hundreds of pages, also comment on the role of human nature:

One of the striking features of the past five years has been the domination of the financial scene by purely psychological elements. In previous bull markets the rise in stock prices remained in fairly close relationship with the improvement in business during the greater part of the cycle; it was only in its invariably short-lived culminating phase that quotations were forced to disproportionate heights by the unbridled optimism of the speculative contingent. But in the 1921-1933 cycle this ‘culminating phase’ lasted for years instead of months, and it drew its support not from a group of speculators but from the entire financial community.

This, too, sounds a bit like the bull-to-bear cycle from the 1990s to present. Back to Graham and Dodd, in 1934:

We suggest that this psychological phenomenon is closely related to the dominant importance assumed in recent years by intangible factors, viz., good-will, management, expected earning power, etc. Such value factors, while undoubtedly real, are not susceptible to mathematical calculation; hence the standards by which they are measured are to a great extent arbitrary and can suffer the widest variations in accordance with the prevalent psychology.

The authors say “the investing class” is more likely to be carried away with speculative values and intangibles when investors have “surplus wealth” to deploy. In hard times like the 1930s, investors will apply “the old-established acid test that the principal value be justified by the income.”

That, to me, is an application of market history to investor relations. We can expect investors in 2009 and beyond, battered by the bear market, to be much more focused on the acid test – the visibility of real earnings. And more skeptical of excitement and potential. We should communicate to investors where they are.