Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Financial Manipulation For Fun And Profit

Americans have been falling for financial scams since before America. So it’s not really a surprise that we’re…still falling for weird financial scams.

Two good examples: you’ll see penny stocks advertised on almost every AdSense list of links (or, at least, on mine)—these all, in classic con fashion, promise that you can make outrageous returns for little to no effort with an innovative, unknown strategy (which of course they are advertising on remnant, because that makes perfect sense). That’s the clear-cut one. The other one—perhaps less scammy, I suppose—is foreign currency exchange. They, too, advertise a lot on AdSense, but their efforts go deeper than that: for instance I recently tweeted the news that the euro (at that time at least) had fallen to 1.19 on the dollar; after tweeting this I was immediately followed by two ForEx-based twitter accounts.

Here’s one; here’s the other. What’s interesting here is the division: when promoting themselves, they’re promising sweetness and light (“ordinary people are earning extraordinary profits…!” and “Husband, Father, Author and Publisher - The Forex Candlestick System. Learn to Trade Forex With Extreme Profits.”)—but their twitter feed appears to be mostly aggregation of…other aggregators (who themselves aren’t aggregators of the helpful, curating kind but more of the link farmer kind.) (Though it’s not like I went around clicking on every single link here—I’m trying to avoid catching the computer equivalent of an STD, thanks much.) And the relentlessly positive tone carries over to the man with the Forex Candlestick System: note how all the graphs demonstrate a "bullish" trend.

What I think is somewhat amusing about the entire process that they’re trying to sell you on is a) how futile it is and b) how unlikely it is to yield profits even for the pros. They’re trading at 1.1911111 to the nth decimal point trying to run a profit, and it’s clear the amateurs—no matter what kind of system they have—won’t be able to keep up. But it speaks to a particularly human impulse—that a complicated system can be easily grasped and consequently summarized in pretty graph form with cutesy names like “Inverted Hammer” and what have you. So I don’t believe that the people who are falling for these kinds of tricks are some odd type from nowhere; they’re simply more gullible versions of normal people.

Anyway, what it does suggest is that financially speaking, some things are best left to the experts (or, preferably in some cases…to no one at all). I wonder if the phenomenon of the day trader back in the nineties was what caused it—you too can manipulate the market for fun and profit…Which casts you as the Gordon Gekko of your own small town. Everyone hates the villain until they get the chance to play the role.

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