Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture has sometimes taken to showing spikes in his website’s traffic around market crises. They are usually dramatic and he has said in the past that they signal short-term market bottoms.
Your humble blogger has also witnessed this phenomenon. We had a huge jump in traffic around the Bear crisis, a spike in July until Paulson got his famed bazooka, and readership shot up again with the Freddie/Fannie conservatorship in early September and has sustained a very high level since then.
However, we have observed a curious phenomenon. Our highest traffic ever was during the period when the TARP was in play, the absolute abomination that the Treasury secretary first served up, and the merely wretched version that was signed into law.
Now I do not have any commentary from Barry on his traffic last week, nor do I see anything on his blog about his traffic in the last two weeks, but I wrote to him shortly after the October 9-10 market meltdown. I said I must be losing my touch, crises like this usually produce peak traffic, but I did not see the usual surge. He said he was seeing the same syndrome, traffic at elevated level relative to recent norms, but no big increase on a panicked day.
Similarly, on Friday I did not see a jump in numbers. Admittedly, I was so fried from having stayed up all night watching Asia and then European markets in their AM melt down that I needed to crash, and so did not provide running commentary during the day. But I suspect the shift in traffic patterns reflects a changing response to the relentless drumbeat of bad news.
I was in New York City during 9/11, and noticed two things. First was that there was an uptown/downtown factor. People who lived below 14th Street (which remained closed to traffic for some time after the attacks and was also in closer proximity to the sights and smells of the smoldering remains) were far more rattled than people who lived further away. Second, however, was that people who stayed glued to their TV, no matter where they lived, were unhinged.
Now this crisis does not have a strong visual component, nor does it raise issues of physical safety (although I never felt at risk during that period). However, unlike 9/11, which was a discrete event, this crisis keeps morphing into different forms (as we will discuss in a later post, we now have a new and troubling element of an emerging markets/currency crisis coming to the fore).
So I wonder if the public is beginning to get burned out, that some who were transfixed by the carnage and the unprecedented (at least post-Depression) response are now pulling back, either because it now seems to be too much of the same to them, or has simply become too much.
While this would be a healthy response on an individual level, I am not so certain it is a plus collectively.