The Wall Street Animal Farm: Getting To Know The Lingo

By Stephan Abraham AAA

Many people are intimidated by the business news because they don't understand the vernacular. Bull? Bear? Ostrich?!! What does this have to do with money? But there's good news: Wall Street language isn't only for business elites with advanced degrees from Ivy League schools. In fact, you may be surprised to find out that most Wall Street lingo is neither sophisticated nor esoteric. Yes, the truth is that investment bankers and brokers typically use words you probably mastered in kindergarten. Let's take a look at these barnyard words from a financier's perspective - you'll be fluent in no time.

A Dog With Fleas
Depending on your movie knowledge, you may remember this classic line in the 1987 movie "Wall Street": "It's a dog with fleas, kid." That was how Gordon Gekko described a stock tip from a young, ambitious stockbroker named Bud Foxx. A dog is an underperforming stock or asset. Most Wall Street investors think of "dog" as a four-letter word, but a few are attracted to the dogs of the market. An investment philosophy called the dogs of the Dow theory advocates purchasing the most beaten-down stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) each year. According to this theory, by purchasing the stocks with the highest dividend yields in the Dow 30, investors can expect returns in the 13% range over a 15-year period. (For more, read Barking Up The Dogs Of The Dow Tree.)

Bear
The term bear refers to the given market conditions. Bull and bear are probably the most familiar terms on

Main Street

. Bear markets are rife with pessimism and negative sentiment. Typically, a bear market is one that has experienced declines of at least 15-20% and lasts more than two months. Probably the most famous bear markets occurred in 1929, which some believe caused the Great Depression. Unfortunately, economic indicators in 2008 have drawn comparisons to the Great Depression of 1929. The severe housing and credit bubbles originating in the first decade of the new millennium in the United States burst abruptly in 2007, and this credit unwinding, or "deleveraging" had a negative ripple effect on economies and markets worldwide. Venerable institutions, such as Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers were wiped out by this bear market. Stock markets across the globe also experienced severe downturns. Governments engineered financial rescue packages for many large banks and insurance giants to avoid global financial markets meltdowns. (For more insight, see Where did the bull and bear market get their names?)

While there is no clear-cut strategy for investors in terms of surviving a bear market, many financial advisors suggest that bear markets occur as part of the normal economic and business cycle. For longer-term investors, these bear markets could be viewed as buying opportunities. Other advisors may recommend selling stocks and raising cash until a clear direction or bottom of the market begins to appear. (To learn more, read Adapt To A Bear Market.)

Bull
The term bull refers to a very positive stock market environment in which stock prices are increasing and money is flowing into stocks. Investor confidence is high in bull markets. During the 1990s and through early 2000, the U.S. stock market experienced a sustained bull market in stocks. Perhaps the poster child for the technology bull market of the 1990s was Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO). Cisco was experiencing tremendous growth due to the internet boom, and the stock returned nearly 75,000% from 1990 to 2000. Similarly, America Online (AOL) returned 480% in just six months. Bull markets can be very powerful creators of wealth for the average investor as well as Wall Street gurus. (For related reading about stock returns during bull markets, see The All Equities Portfolio Fallacy.)

Ostrich
An ostrich is an investor who fails to react to critical situations or events that are likely to impact his or her investment. For example, if the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is launching an investigation into a company, an action that could be detrimental to the company's stock price, the ostrich will simply ignore this news. The ostrich effect is one in which investors bury their heads in the sand, hoping for better days ahead. Ostriches appear (or disappear) most frequently during bear markets, when people tend to experience the most financial stress. (To learn more, see Ostrich Approach To Investing A Bird-Brained Idea.)

Pig
A pig is any investor who puts greed ahead of his or her investment principles or sound strategies. Anyone who watches investment guru Jim Cramer knows one of his most famous expressions: "Bulls make money, bears make money and pigs get slaughtered." A pig tends to think that a 100% return over a 12-month period is not good enough. As a result, the pig may then go and borrow money on margin or mortgage his or her home to buy more of a stock at a higher price with the hope of making more money on the investment. The pig can get slaughtered if the stock drops and all the original gains are lost.

Smart investors are disciplined investors. Professional investors know when to take profits as well as when to cut their losses. Their primary concern is the preservation of capital and not necessarily hitting a home run every time they step up to the plate.

Sheep
A sheep is an investor who has no strategy or focus in mind. This type of person simply listens to others for financial advice, and often misses out on the most meaningful moves in the market as a result. For example, sheep investors who had a philosophy of only buying value stocks in the 1990s missed one of the greatest bull markets of our time. In other words, a sheep can be eaten by a bull or bear if he or she isn't in the right place in the market. (For more insight, read Trading Systems: Run With The Herd Or Be A Lone Wolf?)

Conclusion
Don't assume that you can't learn trader-talk or Wall-Street-speak just because you don't work there. In fact, picking up the lingo may be more of an exercise of your animal knowledge instead of your investment savvy. Learning these terms can help you gain some insight into the world of words on Wall Street. Surprisingly, you'll find that they aren't different much from the words heard on

Main Street -

or in kindergarten classrooms across America.

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