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Understanding the Pandemic Stock Market

The worse economic fundamentals and forecasts become, the more mysterious stock-market outcomes in the US appear. At a time when genuine news suggests that equity prices should be tanking, not hitting record highs, explanations based on crowd psychology, the virality of ideas, and the dynamics of narrative epidemics can shed some light.

NEW HAVEN – The performance of stock markets, especially in the United States, during the coronavirus pandemic seems to defy logic. With cratering demand dragging down investment and employment, what could possibly be keeping share prices afloat?

The more economic fundamentals and market outcomes diverge, the deeper the mystery becomes, until one considers possible explanations based on crowd psychology, the virality of ideas, and the dynamics of narrative epidemics. After all, stock-market movements are driven largely by investors’ assessments of other investors’ evolving reaction to the news, rather than the news itself.

That is because most people have no way to evaluate the significance of economic or scientific news. Especially when mistrust of news media is high, they tend to rely on how people they know respond to news. This process of evaluation takes time, which is why stock markets do not respond to news suddenly and completely, as conventional theory would suggest. The news starts a new trend in markets, but it is sufficiently ambiguous that most smart money has difficulty profiting from it.

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