Michael Burry’s predictions of the last—and next—stock crash.
Immortalized in a best-selling book and then a Hollywood movie, Michael Burry became a legend as one of the first to predict the subprime mortgage meltdown. He not only predicted it but used his uncanny aptitude for numerical research to earn hundreds of millions for his hedge fund, Scion Capital.
Some time ago, we published a review of The Big Short movie and the lessons it contains. (The film is well-worth watching—or re-watching—for its entertainment and educational value.) In this article, we revisit why “The Big Short” still matters and what Michael Burry is predicting now.
What is the next threat to the economy, and how big is it?
Based on Michael Lewis’s best-selling book on the 2008 financial crash, The Big Short was a story about “the giant lie at the heart of the economy.” What was the giant lie? The fact that the post-9/11, post-tech-crash recovery was a doomed-to-fail boom cycle fueled by an economic illusion—a colossal housing bubble that only a few contrarians could see.
In 2016, Christian Bale was nominated for an Academy Award for his depiction of Michael Burry in Hollywood’s big-screen version of The Big Short. While some of the characters in the movie are fictionalized “composite characters” created for the screenplay, Burry was a real player in the true-life drama that unfolded. And Burry, a relatively inexperienced, brilliant-yet-eccentric hedge fund manager, saw what others couldn’t.
While Wall Street execs and mortgage bankers partied on the profits they raked in with predatory loans that would soon collapse the housing market and the economy, Burry researched. In between drumming sessions and late-night binges on copious amounts of data, Burry saw the unmistakable trend. The housing market, mortgage bonds, and mortgage-backed securities were headed for an unprecedented collapse.
Burry’s convictions led him to battle his investors over his bold bets with big banks. As a result, he spent hundreds of millions shorting mortgage-backed securities, a move so contrarian it had never been done. Eventually—after significant paper losses and no small amount of suspense, the bets paid off.
The prophecies of “Cassandra”—aka, Michael Burry.
The Big Short catapulted Burry into notoriety and made him an investing legend. But, unfortunately, it also earned him criticism. People who lost their homes or retirement funds asked, “If you knew that the economy could potentially collapse due to the domino effect of historic mortgage defaults, why didn’t you WARN US!?”
Since then, Michael Burry’s Twitter account has been quite forthcoming about his concerns and predictions. He has earned the reputation of a “market bear” because he has sometimes predicted crashes that didn’t come (or just not yet). A line from The Big Short comes to mind, “I may be early, but I’m not wrong.”
Since 2021, Burry’s conviction has grown stronger and his warnings more urgent. In early 2021, he changed his Twitter name to “Cassandra” after posting a tweet saying he had warned, but “still, no one listens.”
The name Cassandra is a reference to Greek mythology. A princess of Troy, Cassandra was offered the gift of prophecy—with a twist. When Cassandra rejects Apollo, he adds a curse. She must always speak the truth—but no one will ever believe her prophecies. Cassandra sees a tragic vision of the Trojan horse and warns of the plot, but she is mocked and called names.
A “Cassandra” is now someone who warns accurately of disasters, yet no one believes them. There is even a sophisticated software program by the same name designed to predict financial crises. (And yes, the program predicts an imminent US recession and troubles worldwide.)
Beginning in early 2021, Michael Burry repeatedly warned about soaring inflation. But, unfortunately, Jerome Powell-Chairman of the Federal Reserve- and Janet Yellen-Treasury Secretary-were not listening!
Despite warning signs, economic engineers pumped the economy with never-before-seen levels of essentially free money. First, they denied any inflationary impact; then, it was “transitory.” Now the same economic engineers are forcing our economy into a recession through repeated interest rate hikes in a last-ditch effort to stop runaway inflation.
By 2022, the headline news was finally echoing the warnings Burry had been posting for months. “Transitory, no. Peak, no. To the moon? If you mean a cold dark place,” Burry said in a since-deleted tweet using the “moon” language of meme-stock and crypto fans. (Burry often deletes his tweets, although the “Burry Archive” account captures them.)
Not all of Michael Burry’s predictions concern pending disasters. He was the first (perhaps only?) well-known investor to invest in GameStop before it became a meme-stock favorite. Recognizing it as undervalued and going long, Burry made a cool $270 million on GameStop by “being early.” He sold his position before the stand-off between retail investors and hedge fund short-sellers drove the share price to absurd highs.
Michael Burry warns of the “mother of all crashes.”
For years, Michael Burry has cautioned that a bubble was forming in the index and passive investing funds. Over time, his warnings have grown more urgent, and his convictions have increased.
In September of 2022, Burry posted many tweets reminding investors of the history of “bear market rallies” that convince stock market bulls to keep investing. He went through market history to show that 5 to 10 percent gains or more are COMMON… even in the middle of a larger crash.
After Burry posted this, “mother of all crashes,” #MOAC started to trend:
Burry has also been posting about the increased instability in bond markets. About the surging consumer debt and credit balances. About the alarming decline in the US savings rate—the lowest rate since just before the 2008 crisis. About supply chain woes that are far from over. About the “silliness” of dramatically over-valued companies:
In this Tweet, Michael Burry reminds investors what can happen in a crash when investors start panicking and selling. You can only SELL when there is a BUYER on the other end, which can cause the market to fall violently in mere minutes.
To demonstrate his conviction, the latest regulatory filings of Scion Capital (Michael Burry’s fund) show that he liquidated all but one of his stock holdings. Google (Alphabet), Facebook (Meta), Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and eight others.
Is Michael Burry right about an imminent stock market crash?
We don’t know. We traded in our crystal balls for calculators a long time ago!
We DO know volatility (and risk) is increasing in the stock market.
We CAN say when the financial media starts to acknowledge a recession, the situation will likely worsen.
We CAN measure past market crashes, and we CAN state that a stock market crash of (more or less) 50 percent happens every decade or so.
Oh—and we WILL point out: if a stock or a market has fallen, say, 25% already of a 50% crash, the next leg down could be a 33% reduction from the current level.
100 -25 = 75, a 25% reduction
75 -25 = 50, a 33.3% decrease from 75.
(Open a simple calculator and enter 75 x .67 to demonstrate this.)
So it all comes down to the question Clint Eastwood asked in Dirty Harry:
“Do you feel lucky?”
Michael Burry has exited the stock market. How much of your portfolio is still in securities?
Do you feel lucky enough to gamble your future on being right? Do you feel more competent and luckier than one of the most respected investors of the last 20 years? Do you feel lucky enough—and so assured in your convictions to prefer guesswork to guarantees?
The truth is, we don’t know when the next massive stock market crash will happen. Maybe Michael Burry isn’t wrong—but he could be early. (Again.)
Or maybe he is wrong! Possibly Jerome Powell will reverse course tomorrow and lowers interest rates, sending stocks soaring.
Either way, we have a suggestion.
The problem is thinking that the stock market is the only investment option. It is not!
It would be best if you NEVER put most of your portfolio into an asset class that is volatile, unpredictable, and subject to considerable losses. (You might not want ANY of your dollars in that environment. That’s up to you and your risk appetite.)
We have options if you have money in a 401(k), IRA, or brokerage account and want protection for your principal without settling for 1 or 2% gains.
Whether you want a steady income stream or you’d like to protect against losses while keeping some exposure to potential stock market gains, we can help.
Reach out to us below. Let’s have a short chat to see if we might be able to offer you some solutions.
Don’t get caught at the exit in a crowded theater.
Whether your money is inside or outside of a retirement account, chances are, there is something you can do to protect your principal while still taking advantage of gains.
Reach out to schedule your no-cost, no-obligation consultation today.
And don’t forget to put The Big Short movie on your movie night list! It’s a wildly entertaining film about how Wall Street excesses crashed the economy not long ago. Plus, a brilliant character study of a competent and intriguing modern-day contrarian whose advice we should be heed.