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The Age of "Screw-tiny"


What heretofore had been scrutiny now feels more like something I'd call "screw-tiny." Today, mainstream journalists are turning over stones looking for worms and slugs, not buried treasure.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Since 2007, I have offered a year-end perspective on what I see ahead for the markets. Given that every year since has brought with it a further redefinition of the word "unprecedented," I am not sure there is any real value to market prognostications. As we have just witnessed in Japan, given the choice when pressed into action, policymakers will always choose to boost nominal asset prices.

Still, many of the social mood-driven themes which I have written about over the years continue to gain traction (see Years of Magical Thinking: Our World After the Banking Crisis and 2010: The Robin Hood Economy).

Over the past week, for example, zero-sum thinking and the looming battle between "faced" municipal employees and "faceless" bond investors were both topics on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. So long as social mood remains weak -- despite what nominal market prices suggest -- I expect these themes will continue to influence political, social, and economic outcomes.

As a socionomist, I watch for subtle changes in human behavior. Thanks to pioneering work done by Robert Prechter, I have discovered that what we prefer and the choices we make all tie to changes in social mood. During periods of rising mood, we exhibit a consistent set of behaviors while during periods of falling mood, we do the reverse. When mood is rising, for example, we trust more. When mood is falling, however, we are more suspicious and want greater transparency. What is "don't ask, don't tell" at the peak of mood becomes, to borrow from the CEO of Jefferies, "a strip search at gunpoint."

Over the past several years I have quipped, "Never underestimate the inverse correlation of scrutiny and prosperity" in response to various news stories as previously unknown, or at least unreported actions and information have surfaced. Nothing brings out scrutiny like falling mood. It should come as no surprise then that with greater scrutiny -- particularly following a very strong peak in social mood -- comes a long list of scandals. In fact, as this Google Trends chart of the word "scandal" suggests, we really are looking for scandals today, too.

That websites like Zerohedge and financial writers like Matt Taibbi and Michael Lewis have gained traction in our current weak social mood environment is very consistent. While they may not appreciate the term, they are the muckrakers of our generation. And one need only look at history to see how well muckraking ties to the aftermath of peaks in social mood.

As I reflect on this past year, though, I have noticed a subtle shift in the investigative reporting of mainstream media as well. Not only has word choice become more aggressive and negative, but major news organizations appear to be much more eager than they had been to expose the weaknesses of heretofore untouchables. And it is not just folks like Lance Armstrong and David Petraeus under the microscope. Leaders of all kinds are being looked at more closely and the examiners are much tougher. What had been scrutiny now feels more like something I'd call "screw-tiny." Today mainstream journalists are turning over stones looking for worms and slugs, not buried treasure.
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Position in SH and JPM
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