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This is an excerpt from STOCK MARKET INVESTMENT In Malaysia And Singapore by Dr Neoh Soon Kean, the Benjamin Graham of Malaysia. Year of printing 1985


THE GREATER FOOL THEORY (Page 67 Last paragraph)

he 1920s but since then, it has fallen out of favour even though pockets of true believers still appear from time to time.


    In essence, believers of this theory hold that stock prices are not dependent on anything tangible but rather dependent on the continual appearance of more people who are willing to purchase the stocks at an even higher price {these people are the so-called 'greater fools'). Thus, it neither matters what price one buys a stock nor that the stock's price is ridiculously high by any normal standard of measurement. Thus the believers of this school of thought hold the view that whatever stock one buys can always be sold at a higher price because there will always be greater fools than themselves. Thus, it is fine to buy MUIB at $24.00 because there will be another person foolish (or brave) enough to pay $26.00 for it. Believers of the greater fool theory never for a minute think that the supply of fools will be exhausted and that they may be the final purchaser before the crash.


   During every stock market boom, there are usually a large number of believers of the greater fool theory and some of them actually make a lot of money on the way up. Some of them get out in time by finding some greater fools to take over their hot potatoes in the nick of time but many find that they themselves end up as the greatest fools because there is no one else willing to bid up the price anymore. Needless to say, the Greater Fool Theory is a much discredited one among academics and most professionals. But it still finds many adherents. Why is this so? Everyone is having too much fun, (that is, making so much money) on the way up that they do not want to leave the market. George Goodman, writing under the pen name of 'Adam Smith' has this wonderful parable to explain how people are caught up in the web of the Greater Fool Theory and do not know when to get out.


We are all at a wonderful ball where champagne sparkles in every glass and soft laughter falls upon the summer air. We know, by the rules, that at some moment, terrorists will burst in through the terrace doors, killing many and scattering the survivors. Those who leave early will be saved, but the ball is so splendid that no one wants to leave while there is still time. Everyone wants to enjoy one more dance and sip one more glass of champagne. So everyone kept asking: "What time is it? What time is it?" We look around and find that all the clocks have no hands.


  This may be a surrealist's way of describing the stock market but Goodman's parable has a great deal of truth in it. Of course, we know that in every speculative boom of the past, the 'terrorists' did come when most of the guests were still enjoying themselves at the ball. As 'Adam Smith' implies, nobody knows when a speculative boom will end but end it must for that is the rule. At every speculative boom, not many of the small speculators escaped with their gains made on the way up. Most of the smaller speculators known to me eventually lost all their gains and much more than what has been gained.

Some even lost a large part of their original capital. Thus on the next occassion when you happen to find yourselves at this type of a ball, try to leave early. The problem is that once one is caught up in the fun and games of the party, one is apt to lose touch with reality. Chances are that believers of the Greater Fool Theory will hang on to the bitter end, only to be slaughtered. It is better to miss a few dances or a few glasses of champagne than lose one's life.

In concluding this section, an anecdote about Bernarde Baruch, generally acknowledged to be the greatest stock traders of the 1920s is related. He was once asked how it was that he remained  so rich while many of his contemporaries had declared bankrupt. This was his splendid answer: 'I always sold too early.'


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