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What Do You Expect?

Another week, another crippling cold. It is January, after all, and numbing cold is only to be expected. But expectations are the key to surviving Winter, especially one as brutal as this one. As long as you expect it will be deadly cold, the few days spent actually above freezing turn into a blessing. And there is always the greatest expectation of all – that this can’t last forever and some day it will be Spring.

Expectations are also the key to understanding predictions and the sinking feeling of disappointment when they don’t come true. Barataria has come under some fire for insisting that predictions are the key to a worthy blog’s identity, so it’s only natural that we should deal with three stories of expectations gone horribly wrong in today’s news.

wall-street-bullAs of today the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 0.4% for the year. It’s hardly huge reversal, but earnings season has been rocky. The reason most commonly given is that many companies which exceeded the street’s expectations in 2013 are now only meeting them, which is taken as a sign that things have leveled off. If the market’s response was to merely level off it would all make sense, but Thursday saw a fall of 176 points in “profit taking”.

Consider this logic for a moment. The stock market supposedly looks out to future earnings to set expectations, given that it is supposed to be a pool of investment. Simply meeting those expectations, however, isn’t good enough, so the market falls on the news that everyone is doing about as well as expected. That implies that the previous value was higher than what everyone actually expected and was only supported by a different set of inflated expectations held by investors for other reasons.

If that doesn’t make any sense, you’re in good company. The only good thing that anyone can say about this is that greed has apparently replaced fear in the big Manhattan casino.

There's still no "dislike" button.

There’s still no “dislike” button.

If that isn’t enough of a head-scratcher, consider the expectations needed to justify facebook’s $139B market value. Against that is a very scholarly looking piece  produced by Princeton University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which is an odd place for serious facebook criticism to come from.

Nevertheless, it has some great technical-paperese, math, and great graphs which show how searches for facebook have been following a pattern very similar to the trajectory taken by myspace. It’s all evaluated with an epidemiological model, meaning that the authors believe trends in social media move through a culture something like a case of the flu in Winter. Based on what they found a prediction of a net loss of 80% of all facebook users by 2017 is predicted.

Then again, the last acknowledgement in this study is the most fun: “In addition, the authors acknowledge Professor Craig B. Arnold for fruitful golf discussion.”

Aside from what a wonderful year 2017 is shaping up to be in expectations, this fits well with a previous study which was far less scholarly looking but just as devastating. This one said that kids are staying away from facebook in droves largely because their parents have taken to using it, which is to say that it’s about as cool as big hair and polyester pants as a teenage fashion statement.

So will facebook ever live up to the expectations set for it? Personally, I always thought it was doomed to about the same fate as myspace or even AOL, so these studies meet my expectations perfectly. But I never put $139B down on them.

Davos:  Come for the skiing, stay for the economic policy.

Davos: Come for the skiing, stay for the economic policy.

But these aren’t the only expectations in the news today. The annual economic conference in Davos, Switzerland is on and nearly everyone expects … well, absolutely nothing. It’s a good set of expectations to have. But the theme of the conference is “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business”. What this means is that now that we’re not going along from one crisis to the next it’s about time we get a handle on the rapid changes in the world and what policy should be doing about them.

If that sounds like more blather, it’s generally criticized as such by most people. But there is substance to it all. The International Business Council (IBC), chaired by Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, has adopted global youth unemployment as a major concern – and IBC leaders spent four hours on the topic Tuesday. This fits with a lot more talk about the ongoing problem of youth unemployment that Barataria has focused on for the last year. For analyzing trends and setting expectations for 2014 there is at least some promise ahead.

So, overall, what can we expect? The stock market remains a bubble dominated casino, social media is over-valued, but talk is still cheap. The world is still changing, but plus ça change and all that.

5 thoughts on “What Do You Expect?

  1. Facebook is a total joke and theres no way its worth what the market says. Further evidence that there is a bubble even if you think there is a turnaround. Profits this time are not all that strong and the market should fall from here.

    • I agree, as always, on facebook. But the market seems pretty reasonably priced to me given that there is a turnaround in progress. Corporate profits are still very high and they are starting to be re-invested in growth. It’s slow, but it is coming. But yes, facebook shows us that there are bubbles here and there – I simply don’t think we can judge the whole market based on those silly things.

  2. It’s all gambling. What moves the market is totally random. Whatever happened to bad news is good news? With Bernanke tapering the quantatative easing (sp?) it was supposed to fall. I still want to hear more about the banks in Europe. That may hit us harder than people say if they have trouble.

    • Sometimes, good news is just good news. 🙂 The tapering of QE was taken as a sign of strength overall, which it should have been. Yellen is coming in soon and we may see some policy changes. I am not worried about Europe because I think it will only effect the large investment banks – and they don’t seem to have a lot of influence on the economy. I could be wrong about that, of course, but I do think we will see this year as losses are realized.

      A big write-down in bad loans is good for the whole system, after all. It’s the traditional way of shedding debt in a downturn.

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