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Bulls, bears, chickens and pigs: Why investors use animals to explain the stock market

Animals aren’t just for the zoo. In fact, they’re quite important to the markets. While some stock market phrases using animals have been coined more recently, most have been used for decades. If you’ve ever been confused by some of these animals of Wall Street, you’re probably not alone. Here’s a brief guide to the language of the markets.

Bulls and bears

Bulls are the optimistic ones. They see an improving economy and think stocks are going to climb higher. After all, bulls are known for charging ahead and thrusting their horns upward.

Bears are more pessimistic. They think the markets are going down. Which makes sense: bears swipe down their prey, tearing their meal – or in this case market confidence – to shreds. Typically a downturn of 20% or more by the major indices (like the S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average) over two months means the market is entering bear territory.

Hawks and doves

Hawks watch interest rates and inflation with a close eye. They want tighter controls over the money supply, and prefer to err on the side of higher rates in order to keep inflation, or the prices you pay on goods, low.

Doves flock toward easy money policies and prefer to err on the side of lower interest rates. They are more tolerant of price inflation and believe that extra money in circulation means the economy won’t be flying south any time soon. For example, many believe Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is a dove because of the bank’s recent campaign of keeping interest rates super low.

Chickens and pigs

You probably know this from grade school: Chickens are the scared ones. They would rather sit on their current portfolios than make changes – even if there’s a good chance they could turn a nice profit.

Pigs are high-risk investors. They want to rake in as much cash as they can in the shortest time possible. Pigs invest based on tips and emotions rather than the background of the company. Pigs are synonymous with greed and impatience, and often lose big in the market.

Animal spirits

These are the instincts or emotions that drive the markets and economy. They’re psychological forces, rather than cold, rational analysis, that fuel consumer confidence, which have a hand in expanding the booms and deepening the busts.

Wolves

Wolves make money either criminally or unethically. Jordan Belfort, who wrote “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is a prime example. His brokerage house marketed penny stocks while defrauding investors and Belfort was jailed for securities fraud.

Ostriches

Ostriches fail to react in crucial situations. When there’s danger, ostriches are thought to bury their heads in the sand and wait for it to pass. Similarly, ostrich-like investors prefer to ignore negative or threatening information, do nothing, and hope their portfolios aren’t hit too hard.

Lame ducks

A lame duck is someone whose trades and ends up with huge losses. Lame ducks have either defaulted on their debts or gone bankrupt. (The phrase originated from the 18th century London Stock Market and referred to traders who defaulted on their debt.)

Stags

Stags are short-term spectators. They buy and sell stocks very quickly, usually within just a few hours of the day. Stags (also known as a male deer) need a lot of cash on hand in order to play the market this quickly. They depend on taking advantage of small price movements and refuse to abide by the “buy and hold” strategy.

Sheep

Sheep are followers. They rely on advice from family and friends to make important decisions when it comes to the market. Sheep often suffer because they either follow bad advice or because they’re too late to the market.

Dog

If a stock isn’t performing well, it’s considered a dog. Although buying “dogs” doesn’t make sense, the “Dogs of the Dow” theory says that if you buy a dog with the highest dividend yield in the Dow 30, you could expect a turnaround of about 13% in 15 years.

Dead cat bounce

This refers to a temporary recovery in a stock price that’s on the way down. Say a stock starts at $200 and falls to $127. Suddenly, it goes back up to $145. You may think your stock will come back up but if there’s a dead cat bounce, that stock will plunge again, this time even lower than before.

Turtle traders

Back in the 1980’s, a commodities trader named Richard Dennis was raking in big bucks by trading in futures markets. While Dennis said anyone could follow his rules and make it big, his partner, William Eckhardt, said Dennis just had a special gift.

Adamant that anyone could learn, Dennis placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal. He accepted 14 first-time traders into the first class. The 14 turtle traders, as they were called, had to follow Dennis’s rules, one being that the trend is your friend. According to Investopedia, former turtle Russell Sands said as a group, the two classes of turtles personally trained by Dennis earned more than $175 million in only five years. The experiment essentially proved that by following certain rules, even novice traders can be successful in the market.