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 The Zodiac Investor

by Jon Blumenfeld

The New Engalnd Journal of Skepticism Vol. 1 Issue 3(Summer '98)

 

“About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (b. 1922), U.S. novelist. Wampeters, Foma and Granfallons, “When I Was Twenty-One” (1974)

Part I

Who is Henry Weingarten?

Do the positions of the heavenly bodies have anything to tell us about our personalities, predilections, and possibilities, and can they help us to predict the future? Astrologer Henry Weingarten tells us that they can, and not just for people; companies, commodities, and markets can be charted and predictions can be made to help us beat the indexes and the experts. Weingarten wants to know – “Can you afford NOT to have a financial astrologer in your future?”

Henry Weingarten’s biographical information states that he has been a professional astrologer since 1967, becoming a financial astrologer just after the 1987 stock market crash. He founded the New York School of Astrology and the NY Astrology Center, and is a former editor of ‘The Aquarian Agent’ and ‘Astrology’ magazines. He is the author of the books ‘Investing by the Stars’,’The Study of Astrology’, and the forthcoming ‘Trading by the Stars.’ He currently directs the activities of The Astrologer’s Fund, Inc. (www.afund.com ), and writes the weekly email/fax newsletter ‘Wall Street, Next Week.’ The impetus to get into the financial game was ‘(a) reading about the 87 US market crash a year in advance, and (b) reading a story about Andy Krieger who made millions for Bankers Trust that year. [Weingarten] realized with a lightening flash of intuition that (1) [He] could do at least that well or better using astrology and (2) astrology would get its mainstream acceptance through the markets.’

Weingarten’s company was incorporated on May 2, 1988, to take advantage of his forecast that “the next day astrology would be in the news.” According to Weingarten, May 3, 1988 was the day the Nancy Reagan astrology story broke and he was interviewed on TV and by the press numerous times just that week! (exclamation point his). He tells the NEJS that he has managed as much as 8.9 million dollars, and he expects to begin managing money again this fall.

How can astrology be used in the market? Does a company or a futures contract have a horoscope? Well, yes. Market astrologers use the date and time (if available) of incorporation to make a chart for a company, or the day and time of first trading for a futures contract. Charts can be made for corporate officers, and of course the trader’s own horoscope is of fundamental importance. Then the fun begins, as various competing and highly subjective charts must be considered as a whole to determine the overall astrological effect. And you thought you could just look it up in the newspaper….

Whence Astrology?

Astrology is often said to have been developed in ancient, almost prehistoric times in Mesopotamia (Babylon), but modern historians believe that because astrology requires precise mathematical relationships between heavenly bodies, it could not have arisen until mathematical astronomy was developed, and so could not have really appeared until about the fifth century B.C.E. In the end, it was really the Greeks who developed the science of astronomy, and thus brought astrology into something like its present form and use. Even our separation of the science into astronomy and astrology is a fairly new event; early civilizations, like the Greeks and Babylonians, studied the stars primarily for two reasons – to make calendars, and for divination.

It is unclear, and somewhat controversial, how widely held astrological beliefs were in Greek times, and even more so concerning the middle ages. It is certain that astrology was used throughout these times, with some authorities saying that belief and use was widespread and far reaching, affecting every phase of life. Others put forward the idea that astrology was widely used only for Augury, to determine the best timing of a new enterprise, and not for telling the future. Be that as it may, it is uncontestable that every court had its favorite astrologer, and the aristocracy was very fond of the practice of having charts made and interpreted.

What does it mean to have a chart made? Many people are familiar only with the newspaper horoscopes, based on the monthly sun sign, such as Libra, Gemini, Sagittarius, etc…. These signs refer to the constellation in which the sun supposedly rose during the month of birth; in fact, due to the gradual precession of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, those signs are no longer very meaningful. Professional astrologers use what is known as sidereal, or natal, astrology, which calculates the actual positions of various heavenly bodies as seen from the place of birth at the actual time of birth. The relationships of these bodies to each other and to the constellations then determine the horoscope.

The ancient Greeks looked at the stars and noticed that there were seven objects that ‘roamed’ the skies, while the fixed stars circled the Earth in unison. They used the Ptolemaic system, which described the heavens as a series of spheres orbiting the Earth, with their distance based on the amount of time necessary to create one complete revolution – thus the not quite accurate ordering of the seven wanderers (which they named ‘planets’): The Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They divided the sky into various regions, gave names to the constellations, and calculated the months, seasons, and years with great accuracy based on the positions of the planets and stars. They learned to predict eclipses, alignments, and other celestial events, and the astrologers learned to use them all.

At bottom, the celestial bodies are said by astrologers to cause influence akin to the personality of the God after which they are named, so that Mars is aggressive and warlike, Venus is gentle and loving, and so on. Of course, after thousands of years of development, horoscope reading has become far more complicated, with relationships between various bodies and the strength of their positions taking on great importance, not to mention the discovery of new celestial objects such as additional planets. Celestial events, such as eclipses, solstices, and equinoxes may also have consequences, and alignments and oppositions can come to bear as well. In short, reading a chart is no simple matter, with plenty of confluences and influences to account for, and a skeptic might say that this leaves room for a great deal of subjective interpretation….

The Skeptical Viewpoint

Skeptics have viewed astrology with a somewhat jaundiced eye all the way back to Greek times. St. Augustine, originally a believer, gave up on astrology when he learned of a pair of astral twins (born at the same place and time, though not necessarily related), who reached adulthood with entirely different fortunes – one was a slave and one an aristocrat. How, he asked, could this have happened, when their astrological charts were identical? In our more technological and statistically minded times, many studies have been carried out. Consider the following excerpt from Theodore Shick Jr. and Lewis Vaughan’s book How to Think About Weird Things, quoting psychologists Leonard Zusne and Warren H. Jones:

In 1937, Farnsworth failed to find any correspondence between artistic talent and either the ascendant sign or the sun in the sign of Libra for the birth dates of 2000 famous painters and musicians. Bok and Mayall (1941) found no predominance of any one sign of the zodiac among scientists listed in a directory of scientists, the American Men of Science. Barth and Bennett (1973) did a statistical study on whether more men who had chosen a military career had been born under the influence of the planet Mars than men who had chosen non-military careers. They found no such relationship. Very large numbers of birth dates were used by McGervey (1977), who tabulated the number of scientists and politicians (a total of 16,634 scientists and 6,475 politicians) born on each day of the year, and found no astrological sign favoring either one of the callings… In another recent study, Bastedo (1978) tested statistically whether persons with such characteristics as leadership ability, liberalism/conservatism, intelligence, and 30 other variables, many of them attributed to astral influence, would cluster on certain birthdates – that is, according to the astral sign that governs the appropriate characteristics. The results for a 1000-person, cross sectional, stratified cluster sample taken from the San Francisco Bay area were entirely negative.

Many have heard of the so-called ‘Mars Effect’ published by French scientist Michel Gauquelin, in which he seemed to find a correlation between the birth dates of French sports champions and the position in the sky of the planet Mars. Readers of The Skeptical Inquirer will be familiar with the debate over the possible sources of bias in the collection of the data, and Henry Weingarten tells us that whether the Mars Effect is evidence for the validity of astrology depends on the bias of the observer, but perhaps we should let Michel Gauquelin’s own words speak on this subject:

Every attempt, whether of astrologers or scientists, to produce evidence of astrological laws, has been in vain. It is now quite certain that the signs in the sky which presided over our births have no power whatever to decide our fates, to affect our heredity, characteristics, or to play any part however humble in the totality of effects, random and otherwise, which form the fabric of our lives and mold our impulses to action.

Weingarten is dismissive of these studies, saying that the fact that there are no known mechanisms by which astrology might operate, nor abundant evidence of astrological effects is largely a by-product of insufficient funding for objective researchers. He responds to the notion that astrological predictions are often vague and open to subjective interpretation by saying that ‘astrology is both a symbolic and observational science which lends to its richness and usefulness.’ Finally, he states that his own work in financial astrology is “clear evidence” of planetary effects. More on that later.

The double-blind test

Perhaps the most significant test of astrology was Dr. Shawn Carlson’s double-blind test, published in the Dec 5, 1985 issue of Nature. Astrologers had long complained that testing protocols developed by scientists were biased against them, or tested sun-sign rather than natal astrology, or had other shortcomings, so Dr. Carlson designed his test in cooperation with astrologers (including the National Council for Geocosmic Research, an organization well respected in the astrological field). Together they developed the following test proposition that: the positions of the ‘planets’ (all planets, the Sun and Moon, plus other objects defined by astrologers) at the moment of birth can be used to determine the subject’s general personality traits and tendencies in temperament and behavior, and to indicate the major issues which the subject is likely to encounter.

So, in a test designed by astrologers, using astrologers picked by the NCGR, and double-blinded and controlled, how did astrology do? It did exactly as predicted by chance, neatly invalidating the test proposition and showing convincing evidence against astrology. What is the response of the astrological community to this test? I haven’t heard one, and Henry Weingarten didn’t address it in his answers to my questions (the full text of which can be seen at www.afund.com/skeptic.htm ).

The next issue of NEJS will contain Part II of this article, in which the specific claims of financial astrology and Henry Weingarten are examined further.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 The Zodiac Investor Part II

by Jon Blumenfeld

The New Engalnd Journal of Skepticism Vol. 1 Issue 4(Winter '98)
 

Weingarten’s successes – and failures
 
        Getting back to the present, we must admit that, if nothing else, Henry Weingarten is not shy about his record.  His website has archives going back at least to the beginning of 1997 of both his weekly ‘Wall Street, Next Week’ prognostications and his e-mail/fax alerts, so the skeptic can check out his accuracy, warts and all.

        Among his claims to fame: predicting the Tokyo stock market crash ‘2 years in advance to the day’, the 1997 Hong Kong and Asian market crises, the day the Dow Jones broke 3000 for the first time, the day gold broke $400 an ounce, a ‘local’ top to the US market on March 11, 1997, predicted six months in advance, and, in his own words, ‘etc., etc., etc…’.  He told me that one of his personal favorites was calling the 554 point ‘Blue Monday’ drop on October 27, 1997, and subsequently calling, to the minute, the next day’s ‘Happy Tuesday’ rally.  In looking over the records on his website, the only reference I could find to Monday, October 27th was a statement in the ‘Wall Street, Next Week’ of the same date stating that ‘while the markets can test…7600, I don’t expect a crash next Monday’, along with a letter from a reader (on Oct. 20th)  that has too much leeway to be read as an exact date, and anyway isn’t Weingarten’s prediction.  To be fair, on Tuesday the 28th, he sent out an alert telling his subscribers to ‘BUY BUY BUY’ at 10:30 am, especially recommending IBM, which announced an enormous stock buyback (3.5 billion dollars worth) at 10:35 – a big hit, both on IBM and the market in general..  In addition, he did warn his subscribers to be careful in Hong Kong as early as late June of 1997, even calling June 24th ‘Short the World Day,’ presaging the Hong Kong-led Asian collapse of July and August.
 
        On the other hand, he also predicted that March/April 1998 in the US would look like July/August 1997 in Asia, and that didn’t happen. Moreover, though he denies being a market bear, he has repeatedly recommended selling the Dow Jones all the way up from 6500, over and over again predicting major downturns that have failed to materialize.  In his 1997 annual predictions, he recommended that his subscribers keep 60% or more of their money in cash (which was dramatically outperformed by the market), reducing that to 35% or more for 1998.  He has repeatedly recommended selling and even short-selling Microsoft, which has nearly quadrupled over the last two years.  Again, let’s be fair, many of his predictions have been accurate, such as his calls on Intel, and Weingarten points out that many of his bearish recommendations would have been money makers or broken even – if his subscribers got out at the right time.  As to helping them with that, Weingarten says that exit points from trades must be determined by the individual trader with reference to his or her investment objectives.  A nice sentiment, but it neatly absolves Mr. Weingarten of any responsibility when his predictions go wrong.  It should be noted that between 1/20/98 and 3/6/98 Weingarten stated that he himself was short 6 ‘pieces’ of the market – meaning that he repeatedly reshorted the market over that period, during which the Dow rose about 700 points. Not exactly short-term ‘hit and run’ trading.

What’s wrong with this picture?
 
        Really though, it’s not entirely fair to go combing through his records, looking for bad calls.  They don’t prove anything, any more than his sometimes impressive hits do.  Mr. Weingarten makes many predictions, and doesn’t pretend that all of them are going to be right or that all of them are going to be money-makers.  What he does claim is that by combining astrology with more standard forms of market analysis, he can provide his subscribers with an ‘edge’ that will help them to outperform mainstream analysts.  The question we have to ask is, does he?

Can we measure astrology through Weingarten?

        In looking through his predictions, there are two great obstacles to measuring the effect of astrology on Henry Weingarten’s predictions.  The first is that pesky habit of leaving exit points to the individual trader, which makes it hard to quantify the predictions.  This problem is solved by referring to the ‘Afund Unit Trust,’ a portfolio of stocks tracked as if they had been purchased on the first day of the year and then left alone. (see figure 1.)

The Afund UIT outperformed the indexes for most of the year, but there’s still the second, and more pressing problem, which is really two problems (this is getting confusing):

Problem A:  Mr. Weingarten mixes astrology with mainstream analysis, making it difficult to tell what’s astrology and what’s not.

Problem B:  Mr. Weingarten, as just one trader, is too small a sample to be statistically significant.

What other explanation might there be?

        How can we tell whether Henry Weingarten is really on to something or not?  Maybe his successes can all be explained with reference to mainstream market analysis, or just plain luck. Maybe he’s so good at geopolitical analysis and market timing that he succeeds despite his interest in astrology.  Maybe he’s just right, and we should all start learning to read corporate horoscopes! (exclamation mine, this time).

        It’s easy for us to sit here on the high horse of scientific skepticism and make seemingly a-priori judgements about the validity of financial astrology, even though we can point to a great deal of evidence against astrology’s ability to predict personality traits, but we have to go one step further –  a well-designed, objective, controlled and double blind test with a statistically significant sample is needed to really say anything definitively positive or negative about financial astrology.

A Modest Proposal

        To that end, I have a proposal to make to the world of financial astrology.  Join me in designing and carrying out exactly such a test as described above.  Some ideas for such a test would be to give astrologers dates of incorporation and birth dates of officers of various companies without the company names and have them make predictions about the relative performance of the companies over a given year.  Another group could be given company names and allowed to use whatever means (including astrology) they wish to make predictions.  A third group, made up of non-astrology-using financial professionals, could be given companies to rate as well.  Each analyst could be given three companies to rate for their performance over a one-year period, ranking them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  Data would be collected and analyzed by technicians with no knowledge of the companies or what kind of analysis was used.  Of course, this is only a rough idea – I call on the financial astrological community as well as the scientific community to come out and shed some much-needed light on this question.  Henry Weingarten has already stated that he’d love to help, but that due to intellectual property considerations, he would have to wait until the year 2008.  Perhaps some other astrologers out there would be available sooner…?

References:

1) Biographical information, excerpts from ‘Wall Street, Next Week,’ performance data on the ‘Afund Unit Trust’, and other information
pertaining to the Astrologers Fund, Inc., came from their website at www.afund.com.
2) Carlson, Shawn, ‘A Double-Blind Test of Astrology,’ Nature, Dec 5, 1985, pp. 419 – 425.
3) Gauquelin, Michel, The Scientific Basis of Astrology: Myth or Reality? Stein and Day, New York, 1969.
4) Shick, Jr., Theodore and Lewis Vaughan, How to Think About Weird Things, Mayfield Publishing, Mountain View, California, 1995.
5) Tester, S.J., A History of Western Astrology, The Boydell Press, UK, 1987.
6) Zusne, Leonard and Warren H. Jones, Anomalistic Psychology, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, 1982
 

Figure 1.
 Date            AFUND UIT       Dow Jones       S&P 100     Comment   Afund Unit
3/31/98         +15.62%         +11.26%         +14.99%          Research for article started  Trust
5/14/98         +23.20%         +16.00%                -      &nbssp;         High water mark
7/7/98           +12.18%         +14.88%         +22.47%          Article written; bad timing for AFUND
 
 

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