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The Joe Kennedy Story

How An Eight Year Boy Saved the Kennedy Fortune: Bullish Consensus

Bullish Consensus is the measure of how many market advisors are recommending

a long (or buy) position in a given market. This is also known as “Contrary

Opinion” and “Bullish Sentiment.”

On a day-by-day basis, bullish consensus should not be a major influence on your

estimate of a given market situation, but in years when a prolonged trend has

attracted more and more traders, bullish consensus is a major tool to help one

decide when the top (or bottom) is at hand.

Open interest is the number of contracts on the books (at a futures exchange in this

case) that must be off-set with an equal, but opposite, transaction at some future


Joe Kennedy, the father of the 35th president of the United States, as a young man,

was a highly motivated to amass a fortune. He was educated about business

management and married the daughter of Boston’s mayor, which facilitated his

business growth. Prohibition of alcohol became law in 1919 and presented another

opportunity for Kennedy to expand his successful business enterprises by

providing whiskey to those willing to pay high prices for illegal spirits. Kennedy

became a savvy investor in stocks and commodities. He made another fortune in

the booming stock market of the 1920’s.

In the 1920’s, stocks could be bought on a slim margin, meaning a few dollars of

cash could be leveraged to buy $100 worth of stock. People who had never heard

of stocks were persuaded by stock brokers to use their life savings to buy stocks on

margin. The stock market exploded in the late 1920’s, and Joe Kennedy became

one of the richest men in America by 1929.

In the midsummer of 1929, some 300 million shares of stock were “owned” by

being carried on a slim amount of “margin money.”

There was a day in the third week of September, 1929, when Kennedy, as usual,

was headed to his office building in downtown Boston with the morning

newspaper in-hand. He walked into the elevator to go to his top floor office with a

splendid view of the Boston skyline.

As always, the 8-year-old elevator operator boy said, “Good morning, Mr.

Kennedy.” Kennedy was always polite to the boy and often chit-chatted with him.

This particular morning, Kennedy was reading the newspaper headline about how

the stock market had made new highs with a spectacular move the previous day.

The elevator boy asked Kennedy, “Mr. Kennedy, have you heard about the stock

market? It is making a lot of people a lot of money.”

Kennedy said, “Really? Tell me about it.” Kennedy was intrigued that an eight-

year-old boy knew about the stock market.

“Well, Sir, last Friday my grandma told me she had invested $20 in the stock

market, and a week later that $20 was worth more than $500! Can you believe that,

Mr. Kennedy? $500! Grandma said that is more money than she earns in six

months! I had saved $5, and Grandma invested it for me on Monday. I have

already made more than $100! Mr. Kennedy, I am sure you could really make a lot

of money in the stock market!”

Kennedy told the boy he greatly appreciated the investment advice and gave the

boy triple his normal tip.

As Kennedy walked by his secretary’s desk, he told her to contact all his stock

brokers and tell them to be in his office within the hour.

An hour later, all sixteen of Kennedy’s stock brokers were in his office. Kennedy

told them to not to bother finding a chair as this was going to be a very short

meeting. Then he told to them sell every stock he owned.

All of them were quick to argue with him. Kennedy quickly raised his hand and

demanded silence.

He said, “Any of you who do not sell my stocks by noon today, I will fire you and

find a broker who will do what I tell them to do. Now get out of here and get to


On October 18, the market went into a free-fall. The wild rush to buy stocks gave

way to an equally wild rush to sell. The first day of real panic, October 24, is

known as Black Thursday. On that day, a record 12.9 million shares were traded as

investors rushed to cut their losses. Still, the Dow average closed down only six

points after a number of major banks and investment companies bought up great

blocks of stock in a successful effort to stem the panic that day. Their attempts,

however, ultimately failed to shore up the market.

The panic began again on Black Monday, October 28, with the market closing

down 12.8%. On Black Tuesday, October 29, more than 16 million shares were

traded. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost another 12% and closed at 198, a

drop of 183 points in less than two months from the all-time high in September at


The Kennedy fortune had been preserved.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, one of Kennedy’s sixteen stock brokers came to

his office. He was a pitiful sight; he was haggard, dirty, unshaven and looked like

he had slept in his suit for a month.

He said, “Mr. Kennedy, I have to ask you. How did you know it was time to sell all

your stocks? Of all the people I know, only you said to sell. How did you know?”

Kennedy told him about the conversation with the elevator boy.

“When an eight-year-old boy tells me he and his grandma were making a fortune

in the stock market, who is left to buy more stocks? His six-year-old sister and his

great-grandmother? That eight-year-old elevator boy gave me the best investment

advice I will ever receive.”

All markets will eventually run out of buyers (or sellers) in the face of bullish (or

bearish) news. On September 21, 1983, the soybean market ran out of buyers. That

was the day three farmers were waiting at my brokerage office to open futures

trading accounts with $15,000 to buy soybean futures at $9.68. These were the

same three farmers who had “no money” to buy beans ten months earlier at $4.42.

They were on the “buy soybean” bandwagon. In fact, “everyone” was on the “buy

soybean” bandwagon that month because of the terrible drought that year. After the

close of trading the previous day (CBOT traded 9:30 AM Central Time to 1:15 PM

in those days), the USDA announced they had overstated the 1982 US soybean

crop by 63 million bushels. After months of drought news, that reduction of the

previous year’s bean crop was like pouring gasoline on a bonfire. “Everybody”

was already bullish beans before the news reducing the 1982 crop production was

released. Soybean opened limit-up, stayed there for 12 minutes and then crashed

from limit-up 30 cents to down 27 cents in less than one minute.

One can subscribe to various market services which collect information from

commodity trading advisors every week and report what percentage of those hundreds of advisors recommend in buying each commodity. When that

percentage reaches 70 to 80%, it is time to sell. When that percentage reaches 30 to

20%, it is time to buy.

That measurement is called “Bullish Consensus.” One does not need to pay a fee to

a service to know when “everyone” is buying or selling. Simply pay attention to

what the market chatter is and what is being said by the people in your normal day

or activities. Consider the market chatter and follow the open interest. When open

interest approaches its largest long (or short) position for the past 12 months or so,

the market is probably about to turn.

A commercial Bullish Consensus Report:


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