Football, Groupthink and the Path to Profits

You know that song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”?

For many of us, it’s not about the Christmas season. It’s about a season that begins tonight.

Because tonight the NFL season kicks off (Broncos versus Panthers, 8:30 p.m. on NBC).

Look, I love baseball; its near-daily games are stitched into the fabric of my life from spring through fall.

Basketball? Sure. The NCAA Tournament and the NBA Finals can be as exciting as anything in sports.

But there’s something about football, right? When the weather turns cool and the leaves start turning, nothing’s better. That’s why pro football is America’s favorite sport by far. A Sunday NFL game is seen by about 20 million people, on average, and more than 40 million Americans play fantasy football. Those are huge numbers.

All of this gridiron passion creates demand for football analysis, available 24 hours a day on cable channels and too many websites to count. The football analyst industry must generate a higher gross domestic product than some emerging markets.

The funny thing is the football analysts are usually wrong. And once you understand why they routinely fail, you can apply that wisdom to winning in the stock market.

Go Redskins

Check out these predictions for the 2015 season, made a year ago, for example.

Let’s look only at the National Football Conference. In the NFC East, every single one of the eight (!) experts picked the Redskins to finish last. They won their division.

In the NFC North, the Gang of Eight unanimously picked the Packers to win the division. The Vikings won.

Only two of these geniuses picked the Panthers to win the NFC South; they went 15-1, with the second-place Falcons at 8-8.

Predicting the outcome of sporting events is more than just extrapolating past performance into the future, something many football analysts fail to grasp. Players and teams are rocked by unforeseen events, such as injuries, trades and the occasional indictment or grand jury inquiry. Intangible qualities such as team chemistry can be as important as easier-to-assess factors such as yards-per-pass attempt and red-zone scoring efficiency.

That’s why football analysts remind me of stock analysts.

Stocks That Don’t Play Defense

Extrapolating sales and profit trends is often the go-to methodology of stock analysts. Random events will affect a company’s fortunes.  A great analyst needs to account for how well a company can bounce back from adversity to understand intangible factors and to see problems and opportunities other analysts don’t.

When Wall Street engages in the kind of groupthink that guided those dead-wrong football predictions, we at Investing Daily see opportunity. We know that kind of consensus leads to popular stocks being overbought and unpopular stocks being oversold.

Is the crowd sometimes right?  Of course. But when we look behind the headlines, we often find a more nuanced picture that the crowd doesn’t see.

Consider Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which Personal Finance analyst Jim Pearce sold in January 2015 while everyone else was still buying it. After peaking seven months later, Valeant’s share price plunged to now less than one-fifth of what we sold it for. Jim’s reasons for selling were simple, he says: “It was trading over 100 times forward earnings and paying no dividend, so it was the equivalent of betting on a team that scores a lot of points but has no defense. Sooner or later the offense is going to fail, and when it does, the game is over.”

In future Stocks to Watch columns, I’ll be giving more examples of our analysts’ calls, and how we deliver on the promise of profitable, independent thinking. 

We also promise no pre-season predictions. Tonight, we’ll leave the football prognostication to the “experts,” crack open a beer and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.