Financial forecasters are in a race to call the bottom to the bear market. And just as on the way up, when analysts competed for attention with their forecasts of bigger and bigger gains, the financial pundit class now seems compelled to out-gloom the next guy.
"To make a crazy forecast today is not crazy," said Owen Lamont, a former professor at Yale who has studied economic forecasting. "It's not crazy to predict the Dow is going to 2,000. That's in the realm of possibility."
Indeed, in an era of 1,000-point daily swings in the Dow and 30 percent losses in the stock market, prescience is at a premium – and the dividends of a high-profile correct call can be immense.
In 1987, a little-known strategist named Elaine Garzarelli found herself a newly minted celebrity after predicting the market would crash just days before Black Monday. This time around, longtime doomsayers like Nouriel Roubini of New York University have become media staples since many of their most apocalyptic predictions started coming true.
Even in normal times, forecasters have a strong incentive to make extreme predictions, which is why those "Dow 1,000!" reports persist. "It's eye-popping. It's relevant. It seems exciting," Mr. Lamont said. Such predictions attract publicity, name recognition and a bigger client base in a business where investors pay thousands, if not millions, for stock advice and investment guidance.
And even if a forecast is off-base, there are few repercussions because they are almost always quickly forgotten. "The reason that people do these games is because no one's really tracking accuracy," said Mr. Lamont, who now works at DKR Capital, a hedge fund in Greenwich, Conn. "No one is carefully, prudently giving more business to the guy who is 2 percent more accurate than the next guy."