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Uncovering the Power of the Numbers One and Nine


My own personal math curse.

One of my kids' favorite books is The Math Curse by John Scieszka and Lane Smith.

The book begins with, "On Monday, in math class, Mrs. Fibonacci says, 'You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.' On Tuesday I start having problems."

I don't know exactly what day my problems began, but of late I feel like the lead character in The Math Curse. Over the past several weeks, I've been struck by the frequent combination of one and nine in the highs, lows, and closing prices of the S&P: 1091, 1099, 1109, 1119 -- and even 1111, which arithmetically is one-ninth of 10,000 (a number of recent significance as well for both the Dow and Nikkei.)

But what truly put me under the Math Curse were figures from the Dow Jones Industrial Average from, of all years, 1919. You see, in doing some research, on the first crisis following the formation of the Federal Reserve, I came across a report that noted that the stock market peaked in November 1919 (11/19) at none other than 119 before crashing into 1921.

This sent me on a numerical quest looking at peaks prior to other bear markets. And this is what I found:

  • In August 1929, the peak was 380 -- or two times 190.

  • After the bottom in 1932, the first major high was near 109.

  • The market peak in March 1937 was 190 to 191-ish.

  • The S&P high in December 1972/January 1973 before the crash into October 1974 was 119.

Needless to say, I was dumbstruck, particularly as the high last week for the S&P was 1119 and the high for GLD, the gold ETF, was 119.


So, just for the heck of it, I spent some time on Saturday looking through Wikipedia's yearly data and came across some other interesting one-and-nine combinations in history:

  • Standard Oil was ordered to be dissolved on November 20, 1909 (a day away from 11/19/09 and talk about being too big to…)
  • Sun-Yat-Sen overthrew the Manchu dynasty on October 18, 1911 (a day away from 10/19/11)

  • The Armistice Treaty was signed on November 11, 1918 (admittedly not 11/11/19, but numerically close enough and 91 years to the day ago from this past Veteran's Day)

  • Prohibition and The League of Nations both began in January 1919 (1/19)

  • The Spanish Flu pandemic ended in November 1919 (11/19)

  • The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 (admittedly 11/89)

  • Operation Desert Storm began on January 20, 1991 (a day away from 1/19/91)

  • The KGB ended in November 1991 (11/91)

  • The euro began circulation on January 1, 1999 (1/1/99)

  • General Musharraf took control of Pakistan on October 12, 1999 (a day away from 10/11/99)

A pretty interesting list (admittedly if only to me) in light of current events.

Needless to say, by the end of Saturday, my wife had heard enough about all the "interesting" combinations of one and nine in the markets as well as in recent history and demanded an end to my numeric quest.

Alas, I must report that I almost spit out my coffee yesterday morning when I was reading the lead article on the cover of Sunday's New York Times, only to find out that this past Veteran's Day (11/11/09) was "the turning point" in President Obama's decision regarding Afghanistan.

The Math Curse -- indeed.

But you'll be pleased to know I've moved on. With my son studying the phases of the moon, I was reminded that last week there was a full moon and learned that this December has two full moons, making this month truly a once in a blue moon moment.

Good thing Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith went on to write another book, because I now feel like I just stepped into their sequel: The Science Curse.

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