Hindenburg Omen. It's not the catchy title of the latest bestselling thriller. But CNBC is abuzz with the phrase, the Wall Street Journal recently mentioned its ominous appearance, and stock market newsletters are stumbling over one another trying to explain the effect to long-jittery stock investors.
The Hindenburg Omen crunches technical factors that can portend a significant drop in the stock market.
It's also a financial tool developed in the 1990s by former physics teacher Jim Miekka, 50, who lives in Homosassa much of the year, publishes the stock market newsletter Sudbury Bull & Bear Report from St. Petersburg and, in his personal moments, is an accomplished inventor and rifle marksman.
Miekka is also blind. And his suddenly pertinent investment indicator is now predicting a market meltdown in latter September.
"I have already sold out of the market," said Miekka, an obvious believer in his Omen invention.
He's not alone. "Forget about Friday the 13th," the Wall Street Journal recently wrote. "Many on Wall Street took to whispering about an even scarier phenomenon — the Hindenburg Omen." The indicator is based on a series of relationships between the number of new stock highs and lows. If that's not technical enough, it includes the "McClellan Oscillator" (a measure of market fluctuation) turning negative.
Once part of the stock market's bin of obscure indicators, the Hindenburg Omen is now front and center, thanks to years of market turbulence and volatility and a renewed uneasiness that the global and U.S. economies are still struggling to emerge from the most serious downturn since the Great Depression.
Miekka spoke to me by phone from his home on 80 acres in Surry, Maine, where he spends three months each summer avoiding Florida's soupy heat, walking his land with his dog and, yes, practicing his rifle marksmanship.
(He has invented a rifle scope that can recognize special targets at 100 yards and that helps Miekka focus his shot by sound signals delivered to his headphones. He rarely misses, as he demonstrates online on YouTube's "Totally Blind Marksman.")
Speaking between radio interviews, Miekka seems pleased but hardly crazed by the Hindenburg Omen's mainstream notoriety. He agreed the buzz might be a marketing opportunity to expand his newsletter circulation of less than 100 readers. Already, he has asked his father in St. Petersburg to help him build the first website for his Sudbury Bull & Bear.
While the Hindenburg Omen has been behind every market crash since 1987, it's not foolproof. It has also popped up when no significant market downturns have taken place.
Miekka explains that markets can be tested daily for signs of the Omen. The more often it appears, he says, the more likely a "substantial downturn" is coming. But like any analytic tool created by market watchers, it is just an indicator and no guarantee of market behavior.
Miekka was blinded in 1986 in Massachusetts at age 26 by an explosion that also took two of his fingers. He began investing his own money and, unable to see charts and graphs, came up with his own ways of tracking market trends. He used the Omen to safeguard against the threat of big market downturns.
When he is in Florida, Miekka is active in an organization to help the blind become more self-sufficient. He chairs the board of a Citrus County group called Blind Americans Inc. that, among many goals, helps teach the blind how to build wooden kitchen cabinets to supplement their disability incomes.
Bob Krokker, who is blind and runs the organization, says he first met Miekka in 1995 during a canoe trip for the blind. "He's an amazing man," Krokker says of Miekka. "He's probably as intelligent as anyone in the world."
He's also fearless, it seems. Krokker recalls Miekka's decision early this year to walk from the Citrus County facility to St. Petersburg, aided only by guide dog Zoey, a Braille compass, a tape recorder with exact mileage recorded for the trip, a talking watch, a cell phone and a trailer hooked to his belt and pulled behind him. The 130-mile trip took two weeks. That's longer than expected because he did not walk on windy days when he could not hear the cars around him.
On Wednesday, Miekka said he was toying with a more ambitious walking tour: from his Maine home to St. Petersburg.
It's not the distance that's daunting. Says Miekka: "I'm concerned how I will stay in touch with what the stock market's doing."
If he goes, I'm guessing he will find a way.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]