Ben Stein

Consider this post from Barry Ritholtz on May 15th.

“If you’re bullish and wrong, you usually have plenty of company. But if you’re bearish and wrong, it’s almost unforgivable.”

-Bob Kargenian, TABR Capital Management, Barron’s DECEMBER 15, 2012

The above quote from Barron’s has been on my mind for a while. I thought of it again as the markets have made a series of new highs, and the bear community has been split. Some have been “forced in,” while others have doubled down.

via Habits of the Bear, Bull Markets and Agency Issues | The Big Picture.

The quote has been bugging me too. It wasn’t able to figure out exactly why I was so bothered until I read the now viral post from Josh Brown’s blog, The Reformed Broker, in which…destroys the 1999 comparison.  The post felt like I was reading a Ben Stein or a Ken Fisher article from 2008 when then they dismissed the bears and smugly detailed how preposterous it was for anyone to disagree with them.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of the quote from Ben Stein that came after the 08 crash when he said, “If you didn’t lose a lot of money during the Panic of 2008, you were probably doing something wrong.”

Then it hit me.  How different is Ben Stein’s quote from what Bob Kargenian said in Barrons or how Josh Brown is writing?  Sure Stein was a clown, but are the sentiments any different?

In the case of Josh Brown, there is an additional danger that comes with his writing talent and the conviction of his posts.  He might actually convince people that his opinions are set in stone and as any successful investor knows, the inability to change one’s opinion is deadly.  Unfortunately, people new to the market do not understand the danger and hold it against those who adjust to changing circumstances.

If those conditions do change, I hope Brown is able to change with them.  If not, he’ll end up being this cycle’s Ben Stein.

Update 05/24/13:  After writing this post it appears that Brown’s tone has become more cautious and I’m happy to see that.  He certainly isn’t a “Ben Stein” but some of those really arrogant posts started worrying me.  I also understand that he was speaking to the perma-bear audience and not to people who bought the fear on 2009.