Computers vs. the News: What's Behind the Stock Market Chop?

Today marked another triple-digit move for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which closed up 272 points. Of the 45 trading days over the last two months, 28 of them (including today) have seen triple-digit moves, meaning the Dow has gone up or down by 100 points (or more) 62% of the time since July 25. The average daily move for the Dow during that time has been 188 points, or 1.6%.

Here's a snapshot showing the performance of the Dow over the last two months:

Pretty choppy, right? I'm no stock market historian, but I'd imagine that you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find such a sustained period of volatility. Which brings up the question: what's causing this? Obviously, there is a lot of uncertainty (and fear) in the market right now. From Europe's sovereign debt problems, to America's toxic political climate, to the sputtering global economy, there is a lot to be anxious about. Anxiety breeds indecision, which characterizes the bumpy market pretty well.

Freakonomics Poll: When It Comes to Predictions, Whom Do You Trust?

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, "The Folly of Prediction," is built around the premise that humans love to predict the future, but are generally terrible at it. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

There are a host of professions built around predicting some future outcome: from predicting the score of a sports match, to forecasting the weather for the weekend, to being able to tell what the stock market is going to do tomorrow. But is anyone actually good at it?

Abercrombie's "Situation" Subsidy Sunk its Stock Price Right? Not Quite

So this morning, Abercrombie and Fitch reported solid earnings for the second quarter. Its revenue was up 23% off strong international sales, and its net income rose 64% to $0.35 a share, beating Wall Street estimates of $0.29. So how come its stock price closed down nearly 9% today?

If you believe the knee-jerk mythology of the Internet, the answer's simple: The Situation. Here's the story: On Tuesday, the market closed with Abercrombie stock above $70 a share. That night, the Ohio-based company released a statement (strangely dated Aug. 12) titled “A Win-Win Situation,” in which it announced that it had "offered compensation" to Michael "The Situation" Sorentino to "cease" wearing its clothes. Here's the entire statement:

We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino's association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael 'The Situation' Sorrentino and the producers of MTV's The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response."

Why the Market Meltdown is Crazy

After Thursday's massive stock market sell-off, a lot of people are talking about how we may be experiencing another year like 2008. I’m going to get right to the point: that’s impossible. Here’s what was happening in 2008:

A) Housing bust: housing prices were already down 20-40% off of their highs.
B) Financial crisis: two major banks had gone bankrupt and every other bank was at risk.
C) Mark-to-market accounting was ruining bank balance sheets.
D) The uptick rule had been abolished on short-selling.
E) We were already in a recession.

Let’s fast forward to right now and walk through those items plus a few more. But first, a reminder to follow me on Twitter.

Odds of a Double Dip: A Sampling of Opinions. Plus, Wolfers on Twitter

So by now you're hopefully aware that the stock market completely bombed today. As I type, the Dow is down more than 500 points, its worst day since December 2008. (Official day's tally is -512.76) And just like that it seems, the recovery is over. Well it was fun while it lasted; kind of.

Our resident macro economic guru Justin Wolfers has come up for air from his Twitter experiment (follow him @justinwolfers) and sent over this interesting sample of recent opinions from a handful of economically savvy folks, all giving their odds of the economy entering another recession:

Larry Summers: “at least a 1-in-3 chance.”
Marty Feldstein: “now a 50 percent chance.”
Ryan Avent: “more likely than not.”
Justin Wolfers: “40% chance and peak was 4 months ago” and “The guacamole has spoken.”
Don Kohn, Vincent Reinhart, Brian Madigan: “between 20% and 40%.”
Matt Yglesias: “precisely 31.22%.”
Brad DeLong: “the odds now are 50-50.”
Christy Romer: “The risks have gone up…compared to where we were six months ago.”
Bob Hall: “We certainly are in a more vulnerable situation now.”
Jeff Frankel: “not necessarily enough to push the probability over one half.”
Jay Carney: “we do not believe that there is a threat there of a double-dip recession.”

Justin has had a busy today on Twitter. Clearly, he flipped heads this morning. Here's a sampling of what he's been tweeting about: