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June 18th, 2021 (Permalink)

The Four Billion Dollar Snub

During a press conference at the beginning of the week, Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo moved two bottles of Coca-Cola from in front of him, then held up a bottle of clear liquid, saying: "Agua"―"water" in Portuguese1. Here's how this seemingly insignificant event was headlined by NBC News:

Snub from soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo wipes $4 billion off Coca-Cola's market value2

Much stock market reporting is based on the idea that there is a causal connection between the news of the day and the movement of the stock market. If there's good news, the market is expected to go up; and if it does go up, the rise is attributed to the good news. Whereas, if there's bad news, the market is expected to go down; and if it does drop, the fall is attributed to the bad news. Similarly, an event such as Ronaldo's movement of the Coca-Cola bottles is presumed to immediately affect the stock price of the Coca-Cola company. In this case, since Ronaldo seemed to "snub" Coke, the value of the company is expected to decline.

I don't follow soccer, so I'd never heard of Ronaldo prior to this incident, but I gather that he is a famous soccer player. So, it's not totally implausible that his "snub" of the drink might have affected the value of the company that makes it, as the headline claims. Nonetheless, how did the editor who wrote the headline, and the reporter who wrote the story beneath it, know that Ronaldo's snub wiped that much off Coke's market value? All that we really know is that he moved two Coca-Cola bottles from in front of him during a press conference, and around the same time the company's stock price fell, which is reflected in some other headlines reporting the same event, for instance:

Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo snubbed Coca-Cola. Then their market value sank $4 billion.1

Unlike the previous one, there's no explicit causal claim in this headline. Instead, there is only a temporal one: this happened, "then" that. However, there is an implicit causal claim: why else mention these two events in the same headline except that they are somehow connected? By doing so, the headline suggests that the snub reported in the first sentence caused the loss mentioned in the second.

Four billion dollars certainly sounds like a lot, but the Coca-Cola Company was worth $242 billion before the loss, which was only about 1.6% of its value. Using the dollar value makes the drop sound more dramatic, but the smaller-sounding percentage makes it more believable that the snub may actually have caused the loss.

How was the $4 billion loss figured? According to The Washington Post:

The [Coca-Cola] company's share price dropped from $56.10 to $55.22 quickly after Ronaldo's slight, marking a 1.6 percent fall. The market value of Coca-Cola went from $242 billion to $238 billion, according to Nasdaq index and the New York Stock Exchange.3

In fact, the news conference at which the snub took place was Monday, and the highest stock price that day was $55.71, not $56.10. Instead, the stock closed at $56.16 a share on the previous Friday, and was at $55.69 on Monday morning when the market opened before the conference even began4. $56.10 is just $56.16 with the cents dropped, and some financial journalists report the latter as "$56.1". Unless Ronaldo's snubs have the power to travel back in time―which I think would be a bigger story than Coke's stock price―the drop should not be figured from Friday's closing price.

Where did the The Post get the price to which the stock fell? $55.22 is the lowest price that the stock fell to on Monday, and $55.20 may again be due to dropping the cents. The greatest decline that conceivably could be due to the snub was from the high on Monday of $55.71 to the low of $55.22, a loss of 49¢. Moreover, by the end of the trading day, the price was back up to $55.55, leaving a snub effect of only 16¢ a share or less than a fifth of what The Post claimed.

Here are a couple of headlines from major news outlets that reported Ronaldo's well-nigh magical powers to affect stock prices:

Coca-Cola Market Value Drops by $4 Billion Following Ronaldo's Press Conference Slight5

USA Today decided to call the $4 billion and raise it to $5 billion by figuring the decline from the stock price on Thursday:

Coca-Cola shares drop $5 billion after Cristiano Ronaldo's gesture to drink water6

To its credit, NBC News later corrected its story, changing the headline to the following:

Beverage makers mocked after soccer stars Ronaldo and Pogba snub drinks7

An "Editor's Note" was added:

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Ronaldo's gesture eliminated $4 billion from Coca-Cola's stock valuation. The company's stock price, however, had begun to dip even before the gesture, and there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the gesture and the stock price.

Exactly! The revised article itself continues:

Headlines and social media conversation noted that Coca-Cola's share price fell Monday and attributed it to the global soccer star's actions. But in fact, there was no real indication that the actions had affected the stock price. Coca-Cola's share price immediately fell at the stock market opening at 9:30 a.m. ET from $56.08 to $55.25 even before Ronaldo's press conference was scheduled to begin at 9:45, just 4 cents above the day's low. The stock inched up slightly during the conference following the gesture, increasing to $55.30.8

So far, this is the only news outlet that I've seen to correct or retract its reporting on this pseudo-event.

As someone who neither watches soccer nor drinks Coca-Cola, I really don't care about this story for its own sake. Rather, I chose it as an egregious example of the tabloid-style of stock market reporting which produces silly stories such as this. Whenever you see a news story claiming that an event in sports or politics has caused the market to rise or fall, grab hold of your wallet with both hands and hold on tight.


Notes:

  1. You can watch a brief video of the incident here: Alexandra Larkin, "Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo snubbed Coca-Cola. Then their market value sank $4 billion.", CBS News, 6/16/2021.
  2. Adela Suliman, "Snub from soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo wipes $4 billion off Coca-Cola's market value", NBC News, 6/16/2021. This is the Internet Archive Wayback Machine's cache of the original page. As discussed later in the entry, this headline has since been changed and the article revised.
  3. Paulina Villegas, "Cristiano Ronaldo snubbed Coca-Cola. The company's market value fell $4 billion.", The Washington Post, 6/16/2021.
  4. See: "The Coca-Cola Company (KO)", Yahoo! Finance, accessed: 6/18/2021.
  5. Andrew Gastelum, "Coca-Cola Market Value Drops by $4 Billion Following Ronaldo's Press Conference Slight", Sports Illustrated, 6/17/2021.
  6. Asha C. Gilbert, "Coca-Cola shares drop $5 billion after Cristiano Ronaldo's gesture to drink water", USA Today, 6/17/2021.
  7. Ben Popken & Adela Suliman, "Beverage makers mocked after soccer stars Ronaldo and Pogba snub drinks", NBC News, 6/16/2021.
  8. Some of these numbers differ from those in the source used for this entry: see note 4, above. It's strangely difficult to find exact stock prices as each source reports slightly different ones.

Puzzle
June 16th, 2021 (Permalink)

A Hidden Message from Nostradamus

A great puzzle to students of Nostradamus is what happened to the missing quatrains from Century VII. In Nostradamus' Les Propheties, a "century" is not a hundred years, but a hundred quatrains―four-line poems. There are ten centuries in the book, which should make for a total of a thousand poems. However, for some unknown reason Century VII has only 42 quatrains: where are the missing 58?

Knowing of my interest, a rare book dealer contacted me with the information that he had acquired a copy of an early English edition of The Prophecies that hitherto had been presumed lost. The edition contained the following translation of the missing 43rd quatrain from the seventh century:

Nostradamus, dead ghost on weird Wednesday,
On edge columns a mnemonics fable.
Devil's Island, Viscount Phil of Galway,
Random remarks, lead sign on a table.

Unfortunately, the volume does not contain the French originals, so it's impossible to judge how accurate a translation this is, assuming that it's a translation at all. Though certainly cryptic enough for Nostradamus, there is reason to doubt that it's genuine.

Can you discover a hidden message in the quatrain? When you think you've found it, click on the "Solution" button and all will be revealed. If you're having trouble, try the "Hint" button.


June 10th, 2021 (Permalink)

Martian Watermelons and Trump's Tear Gas

The following is the headline of an article that appeared briefly on the website of The New York Times (NYT) a couple of days ago:

Fields of Watermelons Found on Mars, Police Say1

The text of the short article beneath the headline credited to "Joe Schmoe" read:

The FBI declined to comment onreports [sic] of watermelons raining down, but confirmed that kiwis have been intercepted. This story is terribly boring.

Actually, I found the story rather interesting. Unfortunately, it appears to have been fake news in the most literal sense, as the headline was later replaced by: "This article was published in error." No kidding! A statement beneath explained: "A mock article intended for a testing system was inadvertently published on this page earlier."

As fake news goes, this was probably harmless since it wasn't online for long, and was so improbable that few if any would believe it. Compare and contrast it with the following headline from a year ago, also from the NYT, which is still available online as of this writing:

Protesters Dispersed With Tear Gas So Trump Could Pose at Church2

Yesterday, the Inspector General of the Department of Interior issued a report on his investigation into the incident:

The evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP [United States Park Police] cleared the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing in response to destruction of Federal property and injury to officers that occurred on May 30 and May 31 [2020]. Moreover, the evidence established that relevant USPP officials had made those decisions and had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park, which occurred later that day. As such, we determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then President Trump could enter the park.3

That last sentence is an understatement: not only does the evidence not support such a finding, it contradicts it. So, the headline and the underlying article were false, if not fake, news.

Why is that the NYT, and many other major news outlets4, claimed that tear gas was used to clear the park for Trump's church visit? How did they come by this misinformation? The article beneath the headline contains no evidence that the actions of the park police in clearing the park had anything to do with Trump's church visit, other than the coincidence that the one preceded the other. For instance, no representative of the park police was quoted saying that tear gas was used to clear the way for the president, nor was a White House spokesman quoted as admitting that the Trump administration had requested the park be cleared. It appears that the reporter simply assumed that the way was cleared for Trump, and either asked no questions or didn't get the answers she wanted. Perhaps this was one of those stories that was "too good to check".

It's likely that very few people saw the NYT's silly Martian watermelon story, and even fewer would have believed it. In contrast, how many people believed the tear gas for Trump story? How many still do? The NYT was quick to retract its inconsequential Martian mistake, but it has yet to retract or even correct the far more important one about Trump and tear gas. Will it do so? Will it do so in such a way as to get the truth to those who still believe a false story?


Notes:

  1. You can see an archived copy of the webpage here: "Fields of Watermelons Found on Mars, Police Say", Archive Today, 6/8/2021.
  2. Katie Rogers, "Protesters Dispersed With Tear Gas So Trump Could Pose at Church", The New York Times, 6/1/2020.
  3. Mark Lee Greenblatt, "Final Statement", Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of the Interior, 6/9/2021. The full report is available here: "Review of U.S. Park Police Actions at Lafayette Park", Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of the Interior, 6/2021.
  4. Glenn Greenwald cites several other major news outlets that made the same claim, see: "Yet Another Media Tale―Trump Tear-Gassed Protesters For a Church Photo Op―Collapses", Glenn Greenwald, 6/9/2021.

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