Anyone who follows the stock market has heard of "profit-taking" and "bargain hunting." But what about "ugly buying," "inter-market front-running," or, my favorite, "circle game?"
Trying to figure out what the stock market is doing is difficult enough. But it's nearly impossible if you don't understand at least some of the cryptic language of Wall Street, where too often something that sounds bad is good, and news that might ruin the day of most mortals will make the day for traders.
So that you better understand why black is sometimes white in the eyes of stock market pros, here is compiled a short glossary of modern financial mumbo jumbo that may make the upside-down jargon of the stock market a little clearer.
Profit-taking: Originally the act of "taking a profit" after a stock has risen in price. Today the phrase is more often used as a noun, as in: "Profit-taking knocked the stock market down today." In reality, however, the phrase "profit-taking" usually means that there was no rational explanation for why stock prices fell.
Bargain hunting: The opposite of "profit taking." Used by market analysts and writers whenever the stock market rises inexplicably, and they don't want to appear too stupid to explain what happened. Often used incorrectly, as when "bargain hunters" push stocks up when prices are already at record highs.
Ugly buying: This occurs whenever an otherwise secretive and nimble professional investment firm behaves out of character by coming noisily into a market to either buy or sell stocks. To the pros, "ugly buying" usually means that the buyer is trying to let other firms know that he intends to push the market up, and that he'd like their cooperation. But it could also be a double-cross -- the noisy firm may be trying to sucker others into the market so it can get out.
Circle games: This is the sanitized name for a process whereby one trader passes a rumor-usually about a corporate takeover-to another trader. That trader continues the process until hundreds of traders are playing, and the rumor is picking up momentum by going around and around on Wall Street. Even traders who know a particular rumor is untrue will play, because they also know that in each revolution, the rumor, like the traditional chain letter, will gain the support of more fools. The real name for this game is too vulgar for a family glossary.
Inter-market front-running: It's probably illegal, but everyone does it. Whenever an investment house plans to buy stock index futures contracts, it loads up first on the individual stocks that make up those contracts. Then when it buys the index contracts, it makes a fortune as the stocks get dragged higher. Investment firms publicly loathe this practice. Privately, they say, "We have to eat too."
Chinese arbitrage: If one company is buying another company in a stock transaction, most traders would acquire shares in the company being bought. Chinese arbitrage is when you read the situation the opposite way (as the Chinese read) and buy shares of the company making the acquisition. You're betting that the deal will fall through, thus benefiting the shares of the would-be acquirer.
Excess liquidity: This is the most important phrase on Wall Street today. Remember when your mother used to say: "Is that money burning a hole in your pocket?" Well, Wall Street's version of money-burning-a-hole is the seemingly simple phrase "excess liquidity."
When dissected, excess liquidity becomes an important concept. It means that a lot of people have money that they haven't "spent" yet on investments. When the market is rising in a convincingly strong way, the people with inactive money burning a hole in their pockets will, theoretically, throw it into the stock market at some point.
If you hear someone give the perplexing explanation that stock prices are rising because so many people AREN'T putting their money into stocks, you might scratch your head in bewilderment. But that actually makes perfect sense now that you know the code words.
The stock market is going up, according to one prominent theory, because a lot of people are putting their money into stocks hoping that a lot more people who AREN'T putting their money into stocks will soon.