The View from Here By monitoring social-networking activities, it's possible to keep abreast of trends and factors influencing your long-term outlook.
On the internet everyone has a stock tip, but trends are the key
If Rowan Atkinson was a stock, the time to go short would have been last week. Twitter's report of his death - "RIP Atkinson" - may have been wrong, or even a hoax, but it sure caused a stir while it lasted.
An old market homily is to "buy on rumour, sell on fact". It does not really matter whether a piece of news is true. What counts is how people will react. Much of what you see going on in the daily movement of stock prices is not so much what investors think companies are up to, but what they believe other investors will do once they react to this information.
Like swimming in the ocean when someone yells "shark!", you don't ponder the statistical probability of becoming fish lunch. You head for the shore with all speed possible.
A long time ago, before Facebook and Twitter, information had few channels to flow through. Bloomberg, Reuters and, if you really want to delve into grandad's memory, ticker tape were the way to stay informed. Today, information moves so much faster that seconds separate what the dealers' desk in New York learns from a blogger in his mum's basement in Ireland.
Social media was slow to come to finance. As a rule, people don't like talking about their money online - who knows when a 16 year old in Minsk is listening in - but over the past few years, this has begun to change.
As more people take to social media, so do the ranks of Twitterites who are involved in finance increase. Mark Mobius, the billionaire emerging markets fund manager, now tweets regularly on his travels around the world. Ordinarily, Mr Mobius would expect a hefty compensation from anyone seeking his advice, but on Twitter, his musings are free.
Thinking of investing in a casino? Mr Mobius would put his money in Macau over Singapore. "Proximity to Hong Kong and major mainland towns in south China make Macau a natural centre for tourism and gaming," he tweeted recently.
Twitter is full of people like Mr Mobius. Put it down to ego or a need to be relevant, but the urge to be noticed seems to drive even successful people to the magnanimous act of giving free advice.
Closer to home, Robert A Pabich properties runs a Twitter account called Pabich Dubai. It puts out information on everything from the latest property trends in the UAE to regular stock market updates. Increasingly, if there's money to be made, someone is talking about it using social media.
When you add the sheer volume of financial news sites - London's Financial Times (FT) and CNNMoney to name a couple - the amount of rapid delivery information threatens to become overwhelming.
I find it's best to try to balance the obscure with the big. Some financial Twitterers spray snippets every minute or so. One I used, Zero Hedge - a useful site - simply overwhelmed my very limited brain's ability to absorb information. I eventually unfollowed it, sadly, because it's a good site. But it provided just too much to know, to someone with too little ability to know it.
Since my pension is tied to the fate of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, I follow several sites, including analyst Simon Brown plus a few other brokers who trade that market. But for big picture information, I stick to the larger portals such as Bloomberg, The Economist, the FT and, of course, The National.
For expatriates from other locales, there's no shortage of advice on Twitter. Mark FTSE Trading says "70% of Day Traders Lose Money - Is this you?" He promises to provide help on beating that gloomy statistic. Canada Penny Stock keeps an eye on a large spread of small cap shares for the brave investor hoping for the next big thing.
It is impossible for those of us occupied with the wearying task of earning a living to manage our finances full-time, or even to react in a meaningful way to each Twittered bit of financial information. Mostly, we just hope our pension fund is not in another Enron or run by someone with the name of Madoff.
But it's not wise to leave everything to do with your money to a stranger. By monitoring social-networking activities, it's possible to keep abreast of trends and factors influencing your long-term investment outlook. And along the way, make informed decisions.
Gavin du Venage is a business writer and entrepreneur based in South Africa.