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Why does negativity sell?

This is a rant and a question about something that really bugs me. I spend quite a bit of time reading financial news, primarily on the Internet, and I am struck by how much writers and commenters wish for bad economic news, the worse the better. It is a widely accepted belief that if you want to start a successful paid financial blog or website it is better to concentrate on a negative subject.

Many times an article with a positive slant on the economy or job statistics or the housing market will be followed with numerous comments proclaiming the sector involved is in the middle of a deep recession that will last for years, decades, forever, etc. Here are some of the more virulent topics, first, with what I see as factual, followed by some common perceptions:

  • U.S. economic recession: Although government statistics show the economy is still growing, although at a slow rate and the historical average recession lasts 6 to 9 months many Internet opinions put us well into a deep recession that will last for many years.
  • Worldwide economic recession: Economic growth is healthy in most parts of the world with strongly growing economies in most regions. Again, however, many expounding on the Internet are convinced the U.S. ‘monster’ recession will drive the rest of the globe into recession or vice-versa.
  • Sub-prime credit crisis: The failure of the sub-prime mortgage market has hit many financial institutions hard and has caused a real recession in the housing market. Reading the internet and following the financial stocks would have one believe no bank will ever make a profit again or even survive.
  • Inflation/Stagflation: Rising commodity prices, especially oil, have caused many prices to increase. Many in the Internet world do not believe any government statistic on inflation and fear U.S. monetary policy will drive us deeper into the multi-year, multi-decade recession they are all wishing for. Or so it appears if you read enough of this stuff!
  • Housing market: From about 2002 until near the end of 2006 real estate prices and new home sales shot up at unprecedented rates. Since 2006 home prices have generally fallen and home building has been severely curtailed. Now home building rates and prices are back to somewhere around the 2002-2003 levels. Internet pundits keep comparing their data to one year ago or peak rates and project the current slow down all the way to zero. Many I read will not be happy until everyone’s home is worth $1,000.

This type of stuff really bugs me. First, of all I am a positive guy and want to make money by investing in positive ideas. An investment that goes up in value is positive. I do not see the value of all of the negative prognostication, especially on finance/investment internet sites. Excepting of course, the financial sites pushing this stuff and making some serious coin! Second, I have been watching financial news a long time, and everything goes in cycles, especially herd mentality and stupidity. And the herd includes everyone from bank CEOs to Wall Street numbers geeks to your neighbor getting-rich-on-investment-real-estate-with-no-money-down until it all collapses. The long term trend of economies and markets and real estate are to grow in value, but these are not straight line trends. There are many ups and downs along the way. As an investor, I want to find the places in the trends where I can make more money than putting my cash in the bank or T-bills. Projections of impending or current doom and collapse do me no good.

So my question again is: What is the appeal of all of the negative financial scenarios in the news? Why aren’t more people interested in stories that show them where things are positive and there are money making opportunities? Or are the positive money makers happy with their lot, and leave the doom pounding to those without the ability to find positive investment stories to help them make money? I look forward to reading any comments on this subject.

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One Response to “Why does negativity sell?”

  1. Jason says:

    Negativity sells because it is the zeitgeist of the times. Up until about a year ago, it was the other way around: bears were ridiculed as chicken littles. For an extreme example of this, just look at the dot com bubble. People were able to read “Dow 36,000” without laughing hysterically.

    I think the bears make an interesting point. It seems to me that the downside risks are greater – I can’t really name a single commentator that believes the good times will return anytime soon. But at the end of the day, the best answer is nobody knows.

    I don’t understand your comment about being positive about money making opportunities. Being bearish is a money making opportunity, and there are many positions you can take if you buy that argument. The way I’ve always looked at it is it doesn’t matter how much money you can make, it matters how much money you can lose.

    The saying we use is that Bulls and Bears make money, its the sheep that get slaughtered.

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