Richard Rainwater and the perils of market (and column) timing

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I’m off today, visiting lovely (albeit scorching hot) Charlottesville for Mrs. Curious Capitalist’s XXth Reunion (I figure I might get in trouble for disclosing the actual number; update: Mrs. CC points out that my attempt at nondisclosure failed, given that it is her XXth Reunion). But I forgot to tell anybody at work that I was going to be gone (except for the person who keeps track of vacation time; I swear I told her), so I’ve been checking the Blackberry like a dork all day. It sort of ruined my afternoon when I got the WSJ News Alert on the price of oil going up to $138 a barrel. In my column in the issue of Time that hits newsstands today, I write that Richard Rainwater, who sold all his energy-related stocks a few weeks ago,

makes no claim to having gotten the timing perfect. After he sold out in May and oil kept rising, past $135 per bbl., Rainwater briefly thought he’d made a terrible mistake. The price has since subsided a little, and he has calmed down a little. Still, he says, “It’s a call that I’ve made, but who knows? Who knows if I’m early?”

So Rainwater covered himself reasonably well, but somebody who picks up the magazine today will read that line “has since subsided a little,” and think, But, uh, now it’s selling for $138! Mrs. CC argues that the vast majority of Time readers do not keep daily track of crude oil futures prices, and surely she’s right. But I’d feel much better right now if I had phrased that sentence, “The price then subsided a little, and he calmed down a little.” That at least would have remained accurate no matter what happened after the magazine went to press. Twelve years in the magazine business, and I still haven’t learned.

As for Rainwater, I’ll bet he’s not so calm today.

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