Hitching Your Portfolio To The Stars

Can you predict the stock market by studying the growth patterns of tree rings? Might heavy sunspot activity portend a rise in the Dow to 4,000? Some technical analysts think so.

Such "cycle scientists" believe that many phenomena in nature and society occur in common fixed intervals. Sunspots, for instance, tend toappear in 11-year cycles. By comparing nature's patterns with historic market performance, these analysts predict trends in cycles ranging from hours to centuries. Among the approaches:

-- Kondratieff cycle: Named for a Russian economist, this theory holds that economies cycle every 48 to 60 years. By this standard, real growth in U.S. gross national product peaked in 1973 and has been on a downtrend ever since.

-- Elliott Wave theory: This revolves around the unusual propensity of the Fibonacci number series to persist within nature. (The series consists of numbers equal to the sum of the two preceding fumbers: 1-2-3-5-8-13....) Elliott Wave disciples believe stock prices move in predictable waves consistent with the Fibonacci series. Newsletter publisher Robert Prechter used it to predict twists and turns of the 1980s bull market. Now he sees the end to a "grand supercycle rise dating from 1784" that could send the stock market plunging 90% to 98% within 12 years.

-- Planetary cycles: Some technicians believe market trends can be divined from astrology, which is a study of time and cycles of the stars and the planets. As for the 1987 market crash, some proponents claim to have predicted it based on the celestialpositionings of Saturn, Jupiter, and Uranus

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