It’s not every day that a business columnist cooks up a suspect trend and then tells his readers repeatedly he has no idea why the trend is so. But that’s exactly what the New York Post’s John Crudele did yesterday in a column titled “Snow Joke: Weather Can Make the Markets Move.”
In this singularly befuddling piece of journalism, Crudele dismisses as old hat the “traditional” end-of-the-year “Santa Claus” rally in the stock market, and then presents an argument that “will shock even the most studious Wall Street follower: the stock market does better during snowy Decembers and when Christmas falls on either a Friday or Saturday.”
Simmer down, dear reader (“Before you fall out of your seat looking for a calendar”), for Crudele hastens to add that Christmas comes on a Sunday this year — and the stock market has gained an average of only 0.76 percent during such Decembers over the past 50 years, well below the S & P 500’s average December gain of 1.48 percent during the same period. Darn! That might suggest that this isn’t the best year to be writing this column, but Crudele plows forward with what he calls his “useless exercise in statistical gibberish.”
With help from securities analyst Michael Panzner, he finds, for example, that the stock market does best when Christmas comes on a Saturday (up 3.25 percent), and in fact has gone up every single December in which that has occurred. What’s behind this phenomenon? “I have absolutely no idea,” Crudele writes.
The dynamic duo goes on to present statistics for years when Christmas falls on all the other days of the week, noting for example that Christmas Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to mean year-end market losses. But in another refreshingly honest disclaimer, Crudele writes that “neither Panzner nor I know why the heck any of this is happening.”
The Post scribe does take a stab at it, though. “If I had to speculate,” he writes, “I’d dare say that when Christmas falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday, it disrupts the year-end trading flow that tends to make the market go higher.” (We think he meant Wednesday or Thursday, but still we were catapulted from our seats.)
Christmas, however, is not the only source of statistical wonderment; the mysterious factor of cold weather must also be considered. “Over the last 50 years, Panzner found, the S&P 500 index has been up during all seven Decembers when the temperature in Central Park has averaged below freezing,” Crudele writes, adding that overall the index has increased in 38 Decembers and fallen in only 12. (Based on this broad tip, perhaps the wealthy readers of the Post could instruct their brokers to invest large sums —or what the heck, bet it all! — every Dec. 1, then pull out of the market at the end of the month.)
After repeating (in case you forgot) that the average return in December is 1.48 percent, the columnist asks, “Why does the weather affect stock performance?” His answer: “Dunno and don’t care. Oh yeah, snow!” That’s right: the market has gone up in each December that has recorded more than 11 inches of snow.
And what does all this mean? “You tell me,” says Crudele.
Of course, the column, chock full o’ numbers thrown out like so many holiday chestnuts, lacks the crucial contextual comparisons that would give them meaning. How does December’s typical increase compare to other months, or to the yearly rise of the market in the last half-century? How cold has it been so far this December? (According to AccuWeather.com, the average temperature for New York this month through yesterday has been 32.26 degrees — just above freezing.) Are we on track for more than 11 inches of snowflakes? (AccuWeather’s running total of just over 7 inches indicates that we are.)
Or is this “Snow Joke” on us? Could it be, in fact, that Crudele’s column is a brilliant example of counterintuitive philosophizing — a sort of existential, postmodern commentary on the meaninglessness of information? Has Crudele presented a compelling argument that in a society already bombarded with so much nothingness, journalists have a moral imperative to deliver stories that don’t contain explanations and don’t attempt to help readers understand the world — that the media should, in effect, just give up and admit that there are no answers.
Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.
Or is this just a bad column? Frankly, we have absolutely no idea.