Most of America is fired up for football season, but I have a confession: I don’t watch. While nearly everyone else here at the office likes to talk about their favorite teams, drama between players & coaches, drafts picks, and their fantasy football roster, I barely have a marginal interest in the game.
One of the (many) reasons I don’t care about football is because I don’t want to devote all the necessary time for the hobby. The Wall Street Journal estimated an average NFL game represents 11 minutes of actual playtime, even though the actual average time for a broadcast is 3 hours and 12 minutes. That’s a lot of time for commercials, instant replays, swapping players, huddling up, and people slowly wandering on and off the field.
I’m reminded of the slowness every time I watch the Super Bowl. (Yes, I admit I watch the Super Bowl, mostly as an excuse to be sociable and eat pizza, but that’s the extent of it!) Worst of all, I notice that the last few minutes of the game seem to break the rules of time and space; time seems to stretch and expand with successive time-outs, passing plays, and every other trick necessary to prolong the game at its supposed climax. The two-minute warning (especially since it creates an additional timeout) marks the slowest two minutes of the game.
Instead of sports, I end up wasting my time reading speculative economic and financial articles online. Candidly, this puts sports enthusiasts on much better footing than I. Anyway, I was recently poring through Wall Street’s latest probabilities for a near-term recession, and I kept finding articles and newsletters suggesting that the economy was in its “late-cycle” and poised for a material slowdown, with a bear-market or GDP retraction possible. It’s certainly not the first time I’d heard this sort of talk, but it began to occur to me that I’d been reading these sorts of warnings for years without fruition. I wondered: how long have we been hearing that warning?
The Internet, for all its faults, is a great archiving resource. As far back as 2011, I found evidence of industry professionals warning that the recovery from the Great Recession was already “long in the tooth”. Once the market recovered to its pre-crisis high at the beginning of 2013, many firms began injecting skepticism into their language, warning that we were in the “final innings” of an expansion or that we were closer to the end of the expansion than the beginning. That judgement call was both bravely specific and measurably false.
The last two minutes of a football game are slow, but stock market predictions have proven to be equally slow and unchanging. Markets are cyclical and eventually the upward trend will end. However, the market has often demonstrated the ability to stretch time past all reasonable forecasts and stymie the experts, again and again.