When World Cup Meets Stocks, Soccer Wins

Published February 14, 2012 2:00PM (EST)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The furious activity in the trading pits of the world's great stock exchanges often gives the feeling that every second is gold dust in the relentless rush to make money. Then all of a sudden it's kickoff time, and everything changes.

A wide-ranging study from the European Central Bank has found that the soccer World Cup has a huge impact on traders. Many stock exchanges effectively go into slow motion when the games are on.

"When the national team was playing, the number of trades dropped by 45 percent, while volumes were 55 percent lower," the ECB said in a study on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that was released on its website Monday.

"Stock markets were following developments on the soccer pitch rather than in the trading pit," it concluded.

And if trade already dropped dramatically during some games, every goal that was scored forced another brief five percent drop in activity, the ECB said in its in its 35-page report entitled "The pitch rather than the pit. Investor inattention during FIFA World Cup matches."

Traders of course are hardly alone in falling for the World Cup distractions. At global summits, government leaders briefly postpone meetings or sneak out of negotiations when their team is on the pitch. At borders, guards sometimes don't even look at passing traffic when games are on.

Researchers for the ECB could base themselves on previous scientific literature showing that human emotion runs very much through trading, from the Friday distractions ahead of a weekend to a slump in stock market returns the day after a major local team loses.

The World Cup, though, trumps just about everything else.

Held over one summer month every four years, the tournament touches people worldwide — it counts a cumulative total of tens of billions of viewers for the 64 matches and some 700 million for the final alone.

In Chile, trades per minute dropped by 83 percent when the national team was playing, and volumes were all but wiped out with a 99.5 percent drop.

Ever since the first World Cup final between Uruguay and Argentina in 1930, Latin America has been particularly obsessed with the game and in Brazil, the only five-time winner, it is considered a popular "religion."

Trade in volumes during their matches declined by 79.7 percent in Argentina and by 74.5 percent in Brazil.

"The Latin American countries show particularly large declines," the study said. Among the 15 stock exchanges tested, Latin American nations have four of the six biggest declines.

And even in the United States, where soccer and the World Cup only started surging in popularity after the 1994 edition there, the impact is clear. Trade dropped by 42 percent both in volume and per minute when the U.S. team was playing and by around 24 percent during the other matches.

"Investors in the U.S. markets often have an international background, which might explain the rather strong effects," the study said.

England, the cradle of the modern game and home to Europe's biggest financial center in the City of London, kept a cool head — trades per minute dropped by only 21.2 percent and volumes fell 26.5 percent when the national team played in the last edition. Perhaps traders with a keen eye for the future already knew that World Cup would turn out to be a disaster.

Germany though, so often the epitome of seriousness and industriousness, had World Cup fever reaching almost South American proportions with a 59 percent drop in trades and volume.

By Salon Staff

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