Mercury Retrograde vs the Stock Market

“If it impacts us, can an optical illusion seen in space also impact tangible gains and losses in the stock market?”

According to the field of astrology, the smallest planet in our solar system also happens to be the planet that rules some overwhelming facets of our cognition, including communication, ways of thinking, and processing information. Mercury: the planet named after the “messenger of the gods” in Roman mythology, also responsible for commerce, eloquence, and financial gain. You may have heard by now that throughout the year, Mercury enters retrograde phases, or periods of time where the planet appears to reverse direction – it’s actually an optical illusion we see from Earth (and in this randomly ancient-looking TIME video from 2018). Illusions aside, these blocks of time are characterized by human mishaps; as in, miscommunication, delays in thinking, issues with technology (because Mercury also rules computer codes), and general confusion. So, arguing in favor of astrology as a science, could Mercury retrograde have an impact on gains and losses in the stock market?

I asked a wealth manager of 36 years (with no knowledge of astrology) to explain what factors directly affect the market’s volatility: buying and selling. “More buyers than sellers in general means the stock is going to go up,” said the wealth manager, who declined to provide their full name due to fear they’d “definitely get in trouble” at work for citing this obvious fact to “the media.” “You’ve heard the terms bullish and bearish, right? Bullish is a synonym for people who are optimistic of how things are gonna go. Bearish is for people who are pessimistic. The stock market 100% is driven by people’s expectations of what’s going to happen in the future,” they continued. In other words, when people are optimistic that a company will do well for itself, they’re more likely to purchase or keep stock in said company, and sell it when they feel pessimistic about it’s future. Many people buying a stock rather than selling it = stock increasing in value. But there’s no way to predict the general populations’ mood ahead of time…unless you look at the stars.

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As a liberal millennial living in a major city, I attest that people my age keep up with astrology – I might even say a majority of them. There are apps that tell you your chart and send you your horoscope via daily push notification, and there’s a shrine larger than my bedroom dedicated to Astrology in the entryway of Urban Outfitters. It’s a big deal in my world; both a money maker and a conversation starter. I can’t express how many times I’ve heard blame it on Mercury retrograde with respect to a miscommunication, or is Mercury retrograde over yet? There’s even a splash page dedicated to asking that exact question. From personal experience, I’ve interpreted retrogrades as periods of social strain, where people avoid making large purchases and have something to rationalize with when their laptop breaks down. Based on this logic, the stock market would fluctuate during a period of Mercury retrograde. People would be buying and selling erratically, depending on their mood, while perhaps making mistakes and regretting their decisions later on. Shitty mood = pessimism = sell stock = stock value declines = everyone goes broke. 

Lucky for us, researchers of economics and business at a Romanian university looked at the daily closing prices of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 between 1993 and 2012, both during and outside of Mercury retrograde periods, publishing their findings in a peer-reviewed journal. They chose the U.S. market because we’d already established a field of “financial astrology,” helmed in the 1970’s by astro-finance-analysts like Bill Meridian and Arch Crawford, leading the researchers to factor in the idea that a significant amount of people may already base their investment practices around astrological phenomenons. Results of the study showed that, instead of the financial roller coaster ride we’d imagine would occur during a Mercury retrograde, the stock market actually appears less chaotic during those periods. The article states, “the main findings of this study are lower returns’ volatilities in the Mercury retrograde periods, inconsistent with the astrologic theories’ assumptions but consistent with the idea that traders’ beliefs in Mercury retrograde effect could change the market volatility exactly in the opposite sense than the predicted one.” In layman’s terms, the market is chill during Mercury retrograde, probably because the people investing in the stock market are more chill during that time, perhaps due to their inaction stemming from the retrograde itself.

Do we know the exact number of people who keep tabs on Mercury retrogrades who also own stocks and would modify their decisions based around them? Or, is the market less volatile during retrograde moments for another reason, like a decreased desire to buy and sell whilst we suffer from retrograde-induced brain fog? Should traders rest easy during retrograde periods with the assumption that their money will retain value by the time they reach the other side? It’s hard to say. Regardless, the concept that potentially millions of spiritual, astrology-practicing millennials will eventually own stock and inevitably base investing practices around that spirituality has the potential to alter returns alone. No matter the case, it’d behoove a smart investor to think globally and forwardly, rather than act on snap decisions based on their mood. As our wealth manager friend said, “Are people’s moods dependent on the positioning of the earth and the moon and the stars and when their birthday is? If I’m in a bad mood today am I going to sell a stock? I might say, fuck it, I’m going to get out of this stock. But generally, it’s about faith in the future.”

Sara Wass

A journalist and creative based in NYC, exploring the oddities.

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