I've pushed this line anecdotally before, but never actually bothered to collect the data showing the inverse relationship between MBAs going into the brokerage business and the economic outlook:
This year, some 37% of Harvard Business School's graduate found work on Wall Street, up from 30% a year ago and 26% for the Class of 2004. The trend suggests that Wall Street is becoming bloated and the American economy is ripe for a slowdown.
Mr. Soifer, who retired from Brown Brothers in 2000 and now runs his own consulting firm, appears to be on to something. He advised his friends and colleagues to sell back in 2000, when 30% of the HBS graduating class took jobs on Wall Street. Before that, the last long-term sell he sent was in 1987. Hmmm.
Mr. Soifer has kept the index for a quarter of a century, and while it has some drawbacks, it has proven to be a fairly solid predictor of how the markets will move over the long term.
"Historically, the Harvard MBA indicator has been more prolific as a source of sell than buy signals, " Mr. Soifer wrote. "The last time it reached the 10% buy level was in the early 1980s, when the Dow traded below 1,000. The all-time low was reached in 1937, when only three graduates — about 1% — were adventurous enough to venture into the securities industry. If you had bought stocks in 1937, you'd have done pretty well since."