Last Summer I tried to warn the good readers of The Huffington Post about the rapidly increasing number of guys with man buns and the possibility that this unlikely hairstyle was somehow responsible for the sudden volatility of the stock market and weakness in the European economy.
The man bun, I argued, was the fashion equivalent of the Euro, something that seemed like a good idea at the time but hadn't been thought through. A currency divorced from sovereignty was as fragile an idea as balancing a bob of hair on your head. It just couldn't last forever.
Some of you laughed, others wisely rebalanced their portfolios and prepared for the worst.
Since then financial markets have only grown more unstable, but like many investors I took solace from a fleeting calm at the end of 2015, hoping that the worst was over and talk of a recession would fade into memory, along with top knots everywhere.
But I underestimated the restless boredom of urban hipsters and their insidious desire to torment their follicles and offend our collective sense of style. The man bun didn't go away, it evolved into the man braid, a hairstyle even more inexplicable, more contrived, and infinitely more indicative of everything that's wrong with the global economy.
Take a normal head of hair and divide it into distinct segments, not dissimilar from the sectors of an economy, then weave them tightly back together in an elaborate, intertwined matrix so taut that pulling on any loose strand will cause the whole thing to fall apart.
Economists warn us about interconnectedness, the butterfly effect of trouble starting in China's economy and rippling across the Pacific to wallop western markets. Currently China is selling off billions in U.S. Treasury holdings to buy back yuan to boost their own currency, so there are definitely some big hairy knots in our tangled economy.
But global interdependence has become the default explanation for any market hysteria, regardless of whether or not reality matches the perception. Consider that less than 15% of the U.S. gross domestic product is in the form of exports of any kind, and most of those concentrated in only a few sectors. Suddenly the strength of foreign currencies relative to the dollar seems less threatening to many of the companies in the S&P 500 -- something to factor into your next forecast but not necessarily a threat to western civilization.
A far more likely threat to our social order is a bunch of guys spending hours braiding their hair instead of spending their hard-earned money to stimulate the economy. The only upside of the man braid is a chance to look like a Viking, or perhaps Chris Hemsworth in the Thor movies, but more likely Jared Leto. And while Vikings did a bang-up job settling Iceland, writing epic sagas and changing the course of English history, even the most manly of hair braids couldn't stand the test of time.
Remember the BRICs? The global economy was supposed to be turbocharged by emerging markets that would dramatically outpace more developed economies because of their burgeoning manufacturing base, growing middle class and untapped natural resources. Brazil, Russia, India and China were suddenly the brat pack of nations, granted social currency by economists obsessed with the world maps hanging on their office walls.
Everybody loves a good acronym, but it turns out the BRICs had the same growth prospects as the Vikings. (Pillaging is all fun and games until somebody's man braid gets caught in the oars of the longboat.) Brazil's economy has imploded, India remains a cautionary tale of economic growth masking abject poverty, China is openly manipulating their currency to subsidize their exports, and Russia has decided the best way to heat up their economy is by starting another cold war.
Some things are better in theory than in practice. The convulsions of the stock market have always been fueled by mass psychology more than underlying fundamentals, just as men's fashions are driven more by insecurity and herd mentality than any aesthetic judgment.
Don't consider this a suggestion the global economy is a myth or worse -- a worrisome whirlpool that will drag us all down even if the fundamentals of the U.S. economy pick up and your preferred stocks have little to no exposure overseas. Consider this an early warning sign, like the man bun was for the stock market last year, a canary in the coalmine of the global economy. Some economists look at moving averages to predict the markets, but what if the leading indicator of trouble on the horizon is the pernicious prevalence of man braids?
I'm not saying this emerging trend of the man braid is more influential than emerging markets on the global economic stage, but then again, I'm not ready to say it isn't. Just follow this trend line for yourself, and then see if you're in a buying or selling mood when the market opens.