In early 1981, for instance, the Dow Jones industrial average dived 2.4 percent, on what was then the heaviest trading day in history, after Mr. Granville urged his newsletter followers to “sell everything and go short.” It rebounded in the following weeks before tumbling more than 20 percent over the next 15 months.
Mr. Granville, who died on Sept. 7 at 90, was perhaps the most famous of a generation of market seers who made their own fortunes in the less risky venue of the newsletter business, in his case The Granville Market Letter, which he began publishing in 1963.
“I’m paid to put you in at the bottom and take you out at the top,” he declared as he barnstormed the country with a showman’s flair, drumming up subscribers at investment seminars choreographed like Broadway shows.
He once slid to the stage on a 100-foot-long wire wearing his standard After Six tuxedo. He used puppets and clown outfits. He often played a blues song on the piano with lyrics that underscored his contention that Wall Street brokerages were just out to make money off their customers.
Mr. Granville wrote a daily market letter for E. F. Hutton & Company before striking out on his own. At its peak, in the early 1980s, his near-weekly newsletter had 13,000 subscribers. They paid $250 a year — and $500 more for urgent alerts by phone and Telex — as Mr. Granville sought to time the biggest gyrations in the markets.
Louis R. Rukeyser, who often had Mr. Granville on his PBS program, “Wall Street Week,” told People magazine in 1981 that Mr. Granville was “the most controversial man in American finance.”
But while Mr. Granville correctly called a bear market in the late 1970s and the implosion of technology stocks in 2000, he missed other major turns, like the start of an epic bull run in 1982.
And like many other market forecasters, his overall performance was “very poor” compared with that of basic stock index funds, said Mark Hulbert, editor of The Hulbert Financial Digest, which has tracked the performance of investment advisory newsletters since 1980.
Mr. Hulbert said that from 1980 through January 2005, Mr. Granville’s stock tips for investors lost 0.5 percent on an annualized basis, compared with an 11.9 percent average yearly gain for a general stock index. Mr. Granville’s tips for more aggressive traders lost an average 10 percent a year over that period, Mr. Hulbert said.
Mr. Granville, who continued to produce the newsletter until his death, did not provide enough trading details after January 2005 to track his performance as precisely. But he got enough of the broad turns in the market right, Mr. Hulbert said, that if investors had ignored his stock picks and bought or sold an index fund with each major call, they would have earned 8.5 percent a year since 1980.
“He deserves some credit for insight into the market,” Mr. Hulbert said, adding that Mr. Granville created technical indicators still used by many market analysts.
He died in a hospice in Kansas City, Mo., where he was being treated for pneumonia, his wife, Karen E. Granville, said.