Storm clouds on forecasters' horizon

March 11, 2001|By Douglas MacKinnon

WASHINGTON -- I don't believe I hate anybody. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I really despise weather forecasters and stock market analysts.

The more I think about both professions, the more I am convinced they are the same people running back and forth between Wall Street and your local television station, thinking of new ways to rain on our outdoor activities while draining our life savings.

Are these professions really made up of bad, evil and ultimately twisted people? I think so, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That said, the only other possible explanation for the multitude of blown target prices, surprise blizzards, initial public offerings attached to anvils and sneaky hurricanes that turn at the last second into your trailer park is that they are 100 percent incompetent.

A recent survey of the top stock market analysts proved what I knew all along -- that these people couldn't fall out of a boat and hit water. The survey examined the predictions of five top analysts with regard to one hot stock. All five not only had different recommendations ("Buy," "Sell," "Bunt" "Monkey" and "That's my final answer, Regis"), but they also had price targets that ranged from $20 to $90.

If you go to the office of anyone of these stock-picking geniuses and look in their secret drawer, underneath the copy of Mad magazine and the flask, you will find the real tools of their trade: an eight-ball, a dart board, eye of newt and wing of bat.

OK. You may have lost your child's college money in 30 seconds with an Internet broker, but at least you're going to have a nice day at the beach, on the golf course or living in the park when your wife files for divorce.

Wrong. You're not going to have a nice day, because you foolishly believed the weather person when you got the smiling seven-day incredibly sunny and mild forecast.

Do you know why they give you a seven-day forecast? Because they can. It's about ratings and nothing about accuracy. As someone who knows a little about the news business, I can tell you the general managers at local stations know that viewers tune in for weather first, sports second and news a poor third. Weather is the cash cow of the station, and they are going to milk it until it runs dry and becomes a jacket.

If you don't believe me, then just watch the seven-day forecast for tonight. Then watch it again tomorrow. The numbers and predictions will all change because they don't have the capability to predict tomorrow's weather, let alone next week's.

The bottom line is that if you continue to listen to these "professionals," your favorite stock is going to drop 75 percent in a day and you will go home to find your house floating down the street. Be smart, stay dry and get rich: Ignore pseudo-science for a change.

Douglas MacKinnon is press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole and author of the novel, "First Victim" (Evans, 1997).

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