The Markets

Former petty office first class John O’Toole loved to get in little digs at me. He remembered when I was ” not the sharpest tool in the kit.” In short, he remembered when I was an addled brain sailor whose sea locker and sea bag always needed a good tossing and cleanup before inspections. Just every once in a while, he’d enjoy pointing out to friends and girlfriends that there was a time when I was not so squared away, and Bristol fashioned a lad, and he – never to be a chief petty officer- O’Toole had been instrumental in squaring me away.

But, of course, he never mentioned my carrying him back to the ship from the Blue Anchor, the time he was royally drunk when I pulled him out of the harbor when his walking on water stunt did not work, or other incidents. Such events were every day on Liberty and barely rated an idle mention.

He tended to sail into my life periodically when needing a place to crash, a bit of help with a scheme, or just when the whim took him to visit. He’d eventually become a financial advisor who kept his methodology for market analysis secret.

One day O’Toole invited me along to a presentation he was giving a private club on economic trends and how to best time investments in a Bear Market. He presented his findings and an analysis of his results to an astonished gathering of peers. But beyond a few vague comments refused to outline his methodology. Instead, he merely stated that his repeated results spoke for themselves, QED. Beyond saying that his methods derived from statistical methodology he had mastered while in the Navy, he’d say nothing further.

Of course, as a sort of protege, I knew the secret. In a small locked box in a storage box were the tools of analysis: a statistical calculator, a worn old-fashioned game spinner, a Magic Eight Ball, and an Ouija board. His methods were rooted in powerful methods developed in the Navy. In the Navy, we were called upon to file repetitious, idiotic, and time-consuming reports on the mundane events of our daily work life. So, of course, we developed ways of cheating. The clever developed ways of cheating and not getting caught. The incredibly creative never were caught and garnered excellent performance reports, commendations, and promotions.

This art was called Gundecking, and its name came to the USN from our predecessors in the Royal Navy but derived almost without doubt from the Phoenicians, Greeks, and other early Navy. It was, therefore, nearly as old as sails, rudders, and scuttlebutt ( navy gossip).

While in the Navy, O’Toole, an eager consumer of correspondence school classes, had incorporated some esoteric twists from statistics into his methodology. Watching him work the Eight Ball, spinner, and Ouija board in conjunction with a spreadsheet and calculator was a dizzying affair. I asked him if his methods were any better than those of a college graduate from Babson or some other business school, and he glared at me. ” Lou, some have little statues of Fortuna on their shelves and light joss sticks; others read the fifth word in the fourth paragraph of random books found in church book sales. Others faithfully read the Wall Street journal and religiously wear their lucky socks. It’s all VooDoo, and I mean that if you are into sacrificing black cocks at midnight. My methods are based upon tried and true techniques developed during my sojourn in the US Navy. They have survived examination by petty-minded naval officers and proven to work. What more do you want.

O’Toole did, however, maintain a sort of Naval “truth in advertising” code of ethics. He preceded each lecture with a statement that this was his best possible analysis and said he’d checked his results with associates who agreed with the methodology.

Unless there were very astute former seamen in the audience, they missed the key phases that introduced and ended a classic Sea Story:
First, his best possible analysis – ” now, this is no shit…
Second, checked his results with associates – “…and I heard if from my shipmate who was there when it happened.”

I accused O’Toole of selling his client’s phony statistical methods based on Navy cheats and telling them sea stories. He smiled at me and said, “Lou, economics is a very inexact science. Look at the statistical success rate of most predictions. It’s almost as bad as random chance. I outperform the random. Call it luck; call it whatever you will. It works.

In the years that followed, I lost track of O’Toole, but I did notice that he was right. Unfortunately, market predictions were hedged about with so many caveats that they did appear to barely beat the random effects of a Magic Eightball, game spinner, and Ouija board. It’s almost enough to drive you to apathy.

But it does gives you something to think about. How many financial wizards now have Eight Balls, spinners and Ouija boards in their drawers?

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