Fundamentally, all market activity is a response to the interaction of personal opinion. Somebody wants to buy, somebody wants to sell, and thereby a market is made.
Either way, the impulse represents a human judgment of how business is going, how the market is reacting to the business trend, and how, under these circumstances, this stock or that one will fare. The fascinating thing is that regardless of the situation, two essentially contradictory points of view—to buy and to sell—can always be reached.
Information can move a share price or currency dramatically, even if it is not 100% correct.
The same influence may not govern each case; the man who buys Alcoa may have become convinced that aluminum has a bright future, while the man who sells may simply be taking a profit on his holding; but the fact remains that differences can be reconciled in a trade.
The motivations of buyers and sellers are not well enough understood for any very precise theory to be constructed around them, but it seems reasonable to launch this chapter, and the two which follow—all of them concerned with the hard information that presumably influences investors—with some recognition of the emotionalism that is also involved. Much of it is highly sophisticated these days; it has been a long time since the blind panic of the dreadful days that heralded the Crash and the depression; but it is emotion nevertheless.
As recently as September, 1955, when the market plummeted nearly 32 points for a loss of $14 billion in values on the news of President Eisenhower's heart attack, we had dramatic evidence that the market does not have absolute control of its nerves. And, by contrast, in December, 1957, the market recovered in a few hours the losses occasioned by momentary alarm over the President's cerebral occlusion. There are, of course, many practical—and credible —explanations for both responses: the first occurred as an election year approached, Ike's symbolic importance was still immense, the business philosophy he represented was in jeopardy, the second occurred at a point when the fact of an ill president had already been discounted, Ike's political significance, as a president who could not succeed himself, was on the wane. Etc.
Undeniably, however, all of these arguments were based on guesses as to the shape of the future, given one set of circumstances or another. And it is the unpredictability of the future which inevitably injects emotion into stock market transactions. Pondering the past and scrutinizing the present, investors—professional and non-professional alike—seek signs and portents which will predict the impact of tomorrow on their fortunes.
Since the future is largely a blank map, investors must do the best they can with whatever current information they can acquire to carry them to the frontier of tomorrow.
Much of it—make no mistake—is extremely useful. But it must also be said that in the absence of sure-fire criteria, the investment world examines every scrap of possibly relevant information for clues.
The result is that the new investor, eager to acquaint himself with business and financial news, soon finds that his problem is not obtaining information, but digging himself out from under—and discovering how to evaluate—the flood of facts and statistics that inundates him.
Do not be dismayed. In the first instance, you are reading for general information, to familiarize yourself with the field.
You will wish to know the health of the economy, the specific condition of various industries, and the activities of individual companies. And you will be attempting to relate this news to the fluctuations of the market and the performance of particular stocks. It may seem to be a great deal to absorb, but much of it will be information you normally pick up, anyway. Only now you will be applying it for its special relevance to your new interest in investment.
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