Spain's Running of the Bulls: Rules for the Run

Updated: Feb 10

Spain, with its rich cultural history and abundant geographic diversity, is famous for many things. But one annual tradition that catches the attention of outsiders is Pamplona’s encierro, or as the gringos call it, the running of the bulls.


The encierro is part of the festival of San Fermín. When I studied in Spain in 2007, I was surprised to learn that there is more art and science to the encierro than meets the eye. First, since the route is long and narrow with little room for error, participants are never supposed to touch the bulls. Any contact can disrupt their focus and cause them to turn around and look for someone to charge. Secondly, if a runner bears the misfortune of falling down, the best veteran advice is to immediately assume a prone position with hands covering their neck and remain still. Bulls are drawn to motion, so if everyone else continues running and the person on the ground is stationary, this increases a runner’s odds of escape. Many injuries happen when runners ignore this counterintuitive wisdom.


But perhaps what took me by surprise the most is to learn that you don’t actually run the whole route with the bulls. Of the 826-meter route, a typical participant might run only a block or so, quickly being passed by the bulls and slowing their pace until they join the party in the ring at the end. Just like there are rules to the encierro, there are rules to running with the bull market. Jeff Saut, Founder of Saut Strategy and former chief investment strategist from Raymond James, always used to say (and this is a loose paraphrase), “You get one good bull market during your lifetime. The first one you experience; you don’t have enough money to make anything. The last one, you’re too close to retirement to take much risk. So, the middle one is where you make your money.”


While longevity research might indicate you may see more than three bull markets, the point remains: what you do in the moment, in the middle, in that bull market, that’s what matters. Sure, you take the risk. But not without guidelines. Not without rules. Not without a strategy for getting in, making a good run, and then getting out. That’s why, when we are investing with our clients, we look at the worst-case scenario ‘s, the stress tests, the what if ‘s of each portfolio. And when it is all said and done, we have a discipline to sell and get out.


So, if you are running with seven angry bulls in Pamplona, or your portfolio is running with the bulls in the market, know the rules, follow the rules, have a good run, and be safe.


P.S. Neither Raymond James nor Keating & Associates or I ever recommend that you run with actual bulls, in Spain or anywhere. But if you do, stay tuned for our next blog topic: life insurance!

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