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When Will Financial Media Finally Understand The World Around It?

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“I know one thing: that I know nothing”

Socrates

Never before have these words been uttered by that of a high profile financial market ‘industry expert’. For good reason, of course. Imagine a Goldman Sachs or Deutsche Bank executive muttering these words. They would have their box of personal belongings packed on their behalf. However, the honest truth is that when it comes to predicting the next move in the financial markets or the outcome of various risk events, one knows nothing. One is merely guesstimating.

Financial Journalists Distort Facts

When it comes to reporting on financial markets, financial journalists know even less. The job of a financial journalist is to give background as to why events occur. Whilst many journalists have an array of expertise, they lack common understanding of some of the basic elements of the markets. This through no fault of their own.

Financial journalists are strong in the fundamental reasons as to what, how and why prices move. But, when it comes to the technical reasons, the ‘trend’ is clear: there is a sense of ‘resistance’ toward developing technical abilities. No doubt some publications do a better job than others, but even the paid for subscriptions have a knack for using bogus reasoning, due to insufficient understanding. The biggest fallacy is that prices move higher because of buyers.

Whilst this is factually correct, in essence, there is a number of reasons why people buy. They could be hedging, covering, spreading, etc. Whilst this is technical jargon it is of paramount importance to future price direction. If you wanted to have the perfect financial journalist, he would be a market trader whose job is to analyse and interpret what makes prices move up and down. Only then would one have a journalist who can decipher between a stock rally because of fundamental reasons or due to the technical landscape.

Financial journalists write as though there is always a justifiable reason a price went from A to B. Nearly all of the time, the reason given in the morning or afternoon paper will be some fundamental information that is the mainstream or that was used the previous day reason for moving the market. If you doubt this, take any financial publication and find articles on oil price movements over the past few days: according to them, oil has only gone higher over the past four sessions on an OPEC agreement. It actually even went down due to the OPEC agreement.

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History repeats itself endlessly for those who are unwilling to learn from the past. With the advent of the Brexit decision, financial journalists factually stated the obvious such as the vote count and PM resignation but where they horribly miscalculated was the driver behind price movements. For example, the FSTE 100 (the UK equity index) which reflects share prices was meant to sell off and headlines spoke of billions wiped out. Yet, the FTSE rebounded almost instantly before soaring as a result of large-scale depreciation in the pound driving the predominantly export-heavy index. Brexit was both the reason for the sell-off and rally in prices, according to journalists.

The Real Reason

In fact, the sell-off was due to uncertainty surrounding the decision and human psychology as well as a lack of protective heading into the event, with the rally being a combination of resource stocks rallying aggressively on the 10%-15% drop in the value of the pound as well as speculative short positions being unwound. These are just some of the underlying reasons why prices moved lower and higher. There is a whole host of other reasons, but the underlying factor is mainstream financial journalists merely reported price moving up and down due to Brexit.

The question remains: what sort of reporting would you choose? Do you want merely the facts or do you want a better, more specialist form of understanding?

History again repeated itself with the unexpected Trump victory. It has been over a month and yet still the reason for US equity indices being at an all time high is Trump’s infrastructure spending programme. Oh, how complacent financial journalists have become. The Italian ‘No’ vote again casts doubt over financial journalists’ ability to understand the true reason why prices move. The euro currency sold off to 1.05 (new monthly lows) and rallied to 1.0750 and yet there was so little insight given as to why. This ‘why’ is what matters. This ‘why’ is what gives one the ability to learn. This ‘why’ is the reason financial publications need to change ultimately. But won’t.

eurusd

(EURUSD FX Monday, December 5th after election results; Source: Reuters)

Exuberant Headlines Sell

Over the decades, before the advent of social media and the digital age of marketing, the papers were huge marketing agencies, from the classifieds sections to the new product line that just hit the high street. To this day, they remain elaborate marketers because nobody reads a boring headline. The euro plummets to yearly lows on shock Italian vote as fears of a fresh European break-up rise. How misleading and misguided, but it attracts the interest of the masses. Whilst the articles are mostly factual, sadly they miss the underlying point most of the time.

This begs the question: what is the purpose of a newspaper? Is it to report facts-based information or is it to educate the masses? The former would imply financial journalists are failing at their jobs whilst the latter would imply a job well done. Maybe the average ‘Joe’ on the street does not want to understand more than the basic elements of why the price has fluctuated. Or maybe, just maybe, mainstream media has failed to grasp the idea that the Millennial generation has a thirst for knowledge and understanding.

Out With The Old Stream

The ‘Freemium’ concept is gaining traction from education, music to electronics industries. It is just a matter of time until it penetrates the financial media. The idea that specialists in their field can finally express their views through mainstream media bodes well not just for the industry but also for society.

Finally, consumers will be able to decide what they want from a financial publication. If they want a basic understanding, there will be the basic mainstream papers. But if they want more accurate depictions that too will be an available option. For now, however, one is stuck with a limited choice.

Provoke Thought

The conclusion is simple. Financial journalists are very good at fulfilling a job. To report. Their reasoning is what should always be very closely evaluated. As a general rule of thumb, always be sceptical and do not be afraid to question supposed facts and opinions.

The search for answers will ultimately drive thought and understanding. Follow a journalist who provides insight to you, who provokes your thinking, who stimulates your mental juices. After all, time is at a premium, and one should rather follow he who masters little than he who proclaims to know all.

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