Every so often over the past two decades, I’ve gotten a note and a sample copy from Arch Crawford. Arch is a personable guy who thinks out of the box. Out of the planet, actually. He is a financial astrologer.

Now, I recognize that the moon exerts a powerful gravitational pull on the water in our oceans — hence, the tides. And I recognize that you and I are 90-something-percent water ourselves. (Sure, Aunt Mary is all "piss and vinegar," but what do you think piss and vinegar mostly are?) I will even admit to having howled a time or two at a full moon.

But astrology? To me, "What’s your sign?" is a very handy shorthand way of saying, "Hi. I’m a really nice person. But a complete airhead."

The idea that the moon’s pull affects the stock market in any important, predictable way (by affecting human emotions) strikes me as only a little less unlikely than the idea that the pull of the planets would. Yet that is exactly what Arch Crawford has been pitching lo these many years in Crawford Perspectives: Quintessential Market Timing by Planetary Cycles and Technical Analysis Since 1977, a $250 monthly newsletter (6890 East Sunrise #120-70, Tucson, AZ 85750).

How Arch has managed to stay in business all these years, let alone thrive, is to me an Unsolved Mystery. Indeed, you can see him on "Unsolved Mysteries" one night soon (CBS — check your local listings).

That he has thrived seems clear. Last year, he abandoned his $300-a-month rent-controlled apartment in New York for Tucson, where his dwelling budget is ten times as large(forty-five hundred square feet on a golf course). One does not walk away from a rent-controlled New York apartment unless things are going very well.

And in the September 11, 1995, Forbes, a reprint of which accompanied the sample newsletter Arch sent me, there is Mark Hulbert — the arbiter of financial newsletter performance — admitting that "there is no getting away from Crawford’s excellent performance."

Now, let me be quick to say two things: Arch, who hales originally from Oxford, North Carolina, accepts all ribbing with not even a trace of annoyance or defensiveness. He is a modest, decent fellow. But in my view, most people would be throwing their money away to buy his newsletter.

In Forbes, Hulbert reports that from 1990 to 1995, "a portfolio that shifted between the Wilshire 5000 index and cash on Crawford’s signals gained 83.6%" versus just 78.7% with a buy-and-hold strategy. What’s more, "this market-beating performance was achieved with 12% less risk" — because when you’re out of the market, you are taking no risk of loss.

But in the real world, is it worth paying $250 a year for a newsletter and switching in and out of the market, generating commissions, suffering "spreads" — and paying taxes — just to do a tiny bit better than buy-and-hold? With a bit less risk? No.

Arch does seem to have a good feel for the market (however he does it). But, taking that Forbes example, how much time and trouble — and commissions, spreads and taxes — is it worth to earn 83.6% instead of 78.7%?

Even in a non-taxable account, you have to wonder.

Anyway, in the October 5 sample newsletter Arch sent me, the first I’d gotten from him in a couple of years, the headline was: WE BELIEVE A MAJOR CRASH IS NOW!! "As for now, the flow of cosmic energies max out on October 16-20 with a secondary hit October 31. Mars squares Pluto (vicious), Venus at midpoint semi-squares both. Mercury squares stationing Uranus, SURPRISE! Sun parallels Pluto, but oppose Mars in declination. Mars opposes a previous eclipse point. We believe the low for this period will come as MARS forms 135 degree aspects with both SATURN and NEPTUNE as they Square each other, all on Saturday, October 31. By the full moon on Wednesday, November 4, the worst is most likely done. Benefic Jupiter returns to returns to Direct forward motion on Friday the 13th. Things should look better under that influence."

When he wrote this, he was "200% short" — i.e., no long positions and margined to the hilt betting the market would fall. The Dow was 7726 on October 5, so being 200% short might have smarted as it rose to close at 8416 on October 16. "There are many BAD days during September and October," he wrote, "the worst of which is October 17-23." In fact, the market barely budged over those days, with the Dow closing at 8452 on the 23rd, having been a little higher in the days preceding. "Expect an eventual bottom close to the October 30 to November 2 weekend, as Mars forms a Yod or ‘Finger of God’ aspect with the exact Saturn/Neptune square."

In fact, the Dow was up 97 to 8592 on October 30, but you can’t be right every time. That he’s right even a little more than most is an unsolved mystery. But my guess is it has less to do with Pluto and Uranus than with the other analysis he does.


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