After Michael's great market update last week, I thought it was worth re-visiting one of my favourite finance stories as a great reminder about the role emotion plays in sharemarket volatility.

If you've read all the guff about me in my profile, you'll know I have a background in literature and history (yeah, small career swerve!). One of my favourite novels is Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Great title eh? It was borrowed from a Thomas Gray poem (Elegy in a Country Churchyard).

Given my background, you can imagine how excited I was upon first entering the finance industry, to attend a lecture "Tulip Mania and the Madness of Crowds." And I wasn't disappointed. The protagonist of the story was the humble tulip, and I'm still not sure whether the moral of the story was supposed to be the role of supply and demand in economics, or the stupidity of the human race. 

In the early 17th century, the Dutch literally went mad for tulips and demand ultimately outstripped supply. If I remember rightly, someone brought (stole?) some back from Turkey and didn't want to share. Of course we know what happens when someone tells you that you can't have something – you want it even more right? So began the manic trade of tulips.

There are stories of farmer's mortgaging their farms just to get hold of a couple of tulip bulbs. Tulip traders made a fortune, and there was even a future's market for these much sought after flowers!! 

Obviously they became waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over-priced, and what has to happen then? Yep, you guessed it, a market correction! It started with some astute businessmen deciding that they would sell out and take some profits. This proved to be a prudent move given that new tulip varieties were being introduced, and thereby increasing the supply. Then a few more sold out of their "tulip position", then a few more, and suddenly people started to panic, and the tulip market went into freefall. 

To put things in perspective, tulip prices fell more than 90% in a matter of weeks. It's impossible to accurately convert this to current monetary value, however popular consensus puts the comparison at something like $80,000 per bulb to less than a dollar per bulb. 

You have to wonder at what point it occurred to some people that they had spent their life savings on flowers! OUCH.

More than one historian has linked this tulip phenomenon to the onset of the Great Depression in the Netherlands, not to mention "the madness of crowds"…

We often tell our clients that if we took emotion out of the market, it would be extremely rational. However, it's risk that drives reward so if there was no emotion there'd be little opportunity to make money. I guess we can't have our proverbial cake...

The best advice I can give is to make sure you take a leaf out of Hardy's book (pun intended), and stay far from the madding crowd when it comes to investment decisions. Make your decisions based on fact and fundamentals, and with professional guidance from your Financial Planner.

Talk soon,
C