Market Analysis

Was That Cry “Wolf”?

If we extrapolate its growth forward, hyperbole is destined to crush common sense.

It’s unclear whether this truck found abandoned in northern Virginia was hit by the sequester or Winter Storm Saturn. Photo by Win McNamee, Getty Images.

On Sunday, February 24, I found myself on a plane bound for Lambert-St. Louis International Airport for a week of business-related travel. The trip involved some driving—about five hours’ in total—so I found myself a bit more attuned to the weather than usual.

During this time, the Plains were expecting snow. And lo, when I turned on the weather in my hotel room, I was quickly informed this wasn’t just any old snow—it was Winter Storm Rocky. Yes, we’ve now taken to naming snow storms.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—which isn’t exactly inside the Arctic Circle or populated by polar bears, but it is a place rather accustomed to snow. I can recall many instances in which more snow than Winter Storm Rocky’s six-to-nine inches fell. To my knowledge, none were named. (Since I’ve returned, Winter Storm Saturn struck the northeast, bringing snowquestration in its wake.)

In my view, the likely explanation for this new trend is television producers’ realization named storms conjure images of hurricanes (and reporters inexplicably standing on seawalls, getting blown nearly horizontal by gale-force winds). Hurricanes and those horizontal reporters draw viewers. It’s hyperbole marketing, and politics, finance and general news reporting illustrate the strategy seemingly works.

While I was on the same business trip, a separate channel was quick to inform me that budget “cuts” may cause severe delays or disruptions at airports. I returned the night before the “cuts” were scheduled to lop off the rate of spending growth, and my flight from Dallas was delayed almost an hour. Obviously, that’s unrelated to the “cuts.” Since then, there’s no measurable sign delaymageddon has arrived. The talk, it seems, was proven to be mere hyperbole by the lack of fallout. That’s Exhibit A. Exhibits B through E are the fungible “fiscal” cliff, all the doomsaying about how unaffordable our cheap-by-historical-standards debt is, the debt ceiling (in all its 100+ iterations) and tax hikes (either as doom-inducing or fairness-bringing). Folks, that’s just in the last three months.

A strategy session takes place outside the capital building. Photo by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images News.

It’s also similar to hyperbole marketing in finance! Near daily, thousands of emails are blasted from someone who’s shouting about a can’t-lose investment, a trillion-dollar secret, a strategy somehow impervious to failure, or more commonly, critical warning number 47. (Never mind numbers 1 to 46 were flat wrong.) There are over-the-top discussions of everything from the dollar’s future collapse and hyperinflation to the next mega-wealth-generating supercycle, the death of equities or the looming boom. There are plenty of pundits who seem to have an aversion to saying anything that isn’t extreme—it’s either -mageddon, massive up or the darkest of days. Biblical stuff—fear or greed—and all designed to get you, dear reader, to remember their name. Whether the call is right or wrong is nearly meaningless.

The level of hyperbole omnipresent in the American public vernacular today rivals a PT Barnum sideshow ad shouting, “World’s Hairiest Woman!” Or wait...maybe that’s hyperbole.

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.