If you’re looking for a good leading indicator of market movements, look no further than transcripts of Federal Open Market Committee meetings. As the housing bubble inflated, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and friends could not stop with the yuks! Should the Feds increase transparency, as planned, access to current transcripts could prove useful to traders — more laughs means it’s time to sell.
The Daily Stag Hunt combed the FOMC meeting transcripts for instances of laughter, and they found a surprising correlation between laughter at Fed meetings and housing prices. In 2001, before the housing bubble took off, FOMC only paused for laughter 16.5 times (only!); by 2006, when housing prices hit their peak, the FOMC was yukkin’ it up 44 times a meeting. Were Alan Greenspan a working comic, he’d have done his Comedy Central hour-long special by now.
Take a gander at the graph above. Perhaps it was gallows humor, right?
Greenspan’s FOMC knew that they were sitting on a ticking time bomb, and they used jokes to ease the tension. Wrong! No one had a clue. One quote The Economist pulled from these meeting sums up the spirit of the meetings succinctly. This is from the January 31, 2006 meeting of the FOMC, when regulators broke into laughter 45 times:
YELLEN: Needless to say, it’s fitting for Chairman Greenspan to leave office with the economy in such solid shape. And if I might torture a simile, I would say, Mr. Chairman, that the situation you’re handing off to your successor is a lot like a tennis racquet with a gigantic sweet spot. [Laughter]
Torture that simile, Yellen! And let us torture it further — what if the tennis racket were made of cat guts, and the cat you used was called subprime credit risk! Aha! Now who’s laughing?
One imagines FOMC meetings are less mirthful these days, and one hopes they remain levelheaded in the future.