Daniel Kahneman once said, “Hindsight makes surprises vanish.” The hindsight bias can lead investors to constantly fight the last war. Since the financial crisis the last war has made top calling in the markets a cottage industry. Looking back now the peak before the prior crash looks easy. It was not. Predicting when the music will stop is not easy. This piece I wrote for Bloomberg shows why.
There’s a simple reason the future always feels uncertain but the past seems relatively orderly: No one has any idea what the future holds, while hindsight allows us to assume that the past was more predictable that it actually was.
Take the Great Financial Crisis. The majority of investors, economists, policy makers and regulators were completely blindsided by the worst economic and stock-market downturn since the Great Depression. Yet when these same people look back at that fateful 2007-2009 period, it seems many of them now believe that they knew it was coming and called it in advance.
It can be very lucrative to be right about major market events. Many who actually did see the crisis coming became household names in the finance industry and parlayed that success into book deals, keynote speeches, television appearances and “thought leader” status. Since so many people were cheerleading right up until the market crash, no one wants to get caught flat-footed again, leading to a steady increase in the number of people now calling for a market top.