Jim Miekka has never worked on Wall Street and doesn’t hold any financial degrees. But he has suddenly developed a cultlike following among some investors.

The 50-year-old newsletter writer is in big demand these days because of a technical market indicator he devised to predict stock-market crashes. Dubbed the ‘Hindenburg Omen’ after the 1937 disaster of a German passenger airship, the indicator has been the buzz of talk shows, blogs and news articles after developing a following on trading floors from New York to London.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped 2.5% since the indicator was triggered the first of three times on Aug. 12. The market action has turned Miekka, a blind former high-school physics teacher, into a reluctant celebrity.

‘I guess it feels good to be famous,’ Miekka says from his home in Surry, Maine. ‘But at the same time, I wonder how the indicator is going to work in the future with all this attention.’

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal Web site, WSJ.com.)

Miekka devised the indicator using a formula that parses data including 52-week stock levels and moving averages of the New York Stock Exchange. Other criteria include a rising 10-week NYSE moving average and a negative technical indicator that measures market fluctuations. All these gauges must occur simultaneously on the same day to trigger the Hindenburg Omen.

To some, it sounds like little more than hocus-pocus. Wall Street traders are skeptical, considering that the indicator has been triggered many times since Miekka devised it in 1995 without an ensuing major market selloff. Indeed, significant stock-market declines have followed the indicator just 25% of the time.

The Hindenburg following comes amid growing uncertainty in the markets and widely disparate forecasts. Investors have shown an increasing inclination to turn to charts in search of clues about the market’s direction, especially as stocks continue to lack direction.

‘People are grasping at straws and always looking for someone who might have all the answers,’ says Jeremy Siegel, finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Barry Ritholtz, chief executive of Fusion IQ, an online quantitative-research firm, says the Hindenburg Omen is a backward-looking indicator that doesn’t consider causation. He labels it ‘recession porn,’ contending that investors are attracted to negative commentary and conspiracy theories during skittish markets.

Miekka brushes off such concerns. He warns that the trio of Hindenburg Omen appearances this month doesn’t bode well, especially since a cluster of occurrences tends to lead to more significant declines. He said it is possible the market could drop 20% from the first sighting two weeks ago.

‘It’s like a funnel cloud,’ Miekka says. ‘You don’t get a storm with every funnel cloud, but now that we’re seeing several funnel clouds, I definitely think I want to stay in the storm cellar.’

Miekka’s foray into stocks began after he was injured while conducting experiments at a Massachusetts mine, where he was trying to find a better way to extract minerals from rock. There was an explosion from chemicals he was working with, and he was blinded by complications during an ensuing eye operation. ‘The last thing I saw was the eye chart going into surgery,’ he said.

As he recuperated, Miekka said he began listening to television shows that focused on investing, and began actively putting his money into the market.

He came up with his first trading ‘system’ in 1989. Now, he is working on a number of other indicators, such as a short-term, five-day buy signal based on the trading patterns of two market averages over the past 25 days.

Miekka, who publishes the ‘Sudbury Bull & Bear Report,’ said his newest indicator has been ‘very effective.’ But he is keeping the indicator’s name and the names of the averages to himself.

Market indicators aren’t his only inventions. He also says he created artificial-vision technology that uses sounds to help him identify targets better than any sighted shooters. He can hit a National Rifle Association target at 100 yards, and this week he hit a bowling pin at 200 yards.

He also helps the Florida-based organization Blind Americans. Miekka raised more than $3,000 for the organization by walking 130 miles from its headquarters in Hernando to St. Petersburg. He used a global positioning system and his guide dog, Zoey, and completed the walk in a week and a half, with just a few bumps along the way.

‘I did make a few wrong turns, but I was always able to straighten it out,’ he says.

Despite the publicity surrounding the Hindenburg Omen, his obscure investment newsletter, which has just 100 subscribers, hasn’t fared quite as well.

He says: ‘I’ve gotten maybe five or seven inquiries and one subscriber.’

Steven Russolillo / Tomi Kilgore

Advertisements