What’s Next

November 6, 2020 | Leave a Comment

Michael Cook writes: 

Ok, so assuming Biden gets called today or the weekend - which starts to look likely, what is next for the markets?

If Trump obsessively focuses on lawyers and anger/anguish, do we not get next stimulus until late January just as Covid cases rocket? So the sugar high we have been on basically gets its sugar removed?

I get the relief rally on the back of (I assume) no blue wave, tech breakup, paralysis is good etc, but once the dust settles - isnt this actually bad, at least for the next couple of months - or am I miss reading this?

Jeffery Watson writes: 

One could make a case that the market doesn't care about who's the boss as long as stocks can carry themselves. After all, what will really change about the nuts and bolts of things? Will the clerk at the DMV, the food inspector, the apparatchik, the cop, the local judge, pr the IRS agent suddenly change their stripes and modus operandi with a new president? 



This is interesting.

[obviously if accurate and Zero Hedge can be a bit iffy in that regard]

- doesn’t this smell like a modern version of Leeson, Sumitomo, Hunt Brothers etc, forcing a feedback loop to spin so fast it eventually gets out of control?



Jordan Neuman writes: 

Ralph referenced the liquidity situation on 10/20/87. You can research and see that the S&P Futures settled at a 10% discount to the cash on 10/19. But it was wholly untradeable.   For one thing, you couldn't get a broker to answer your call. In a real stress situation liquidity is an illusion.  That's one thing the man from Lebanon has right.

Hernan Avella writes: 

He only things these analogues of ‘87 are predictive of, is the age cohort of the person that brings them up and his/her relative underperformance to the mkt.

Ralph Vince  writes: 

Nonsense. Try to overcome your animosities towards others and me and act like a man here. 

If you weren't around over a period of a critical couple of days in October, 1987 you don't know, firsthand, what a lack of liquidity in equities and credit instruments is like. If you think that cannot happen again, that the past is not germane to the current environment, or that you are wise enough to see it when it eventually comes, good luck — God' knows you;re going to need it.

Those of us who were around and deeply involved in it back then know full-well that it not only can happen again, but that things are far more precarious now, structurally, than then, for several reasons, each of which independently conspires to make things now far more dangerous.  

Michael Cook writes:

Notwithstanding the fisticuffs here, I wasn't around in '87 but I was in the middle of 97/98 when, for instance HKMA went openly and highly aggressively bid only into its currency and equity markets. The message telegraphed was 'we will buy every damn share you sell up to the size of the entire market'. Soros and a bunch of others were having a crack at Hong Kong after doing so well with all the other Asian/paper tigers, esp Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

That was 98, way before GFC, QE and the other myriad of dysfunctional acronyms. If we do face a melt down in the US a la '87. I just dont see why the Fed wouldnt straightforward buy the equity market directly to support it.

What would be stopping the Fed, the feeling that that would be illogical, ultra vires, anti-capitalist? Look at what they have done already?! They are already buying corporate debt (bailed GM and AIG in GFC etc etc etc), it is quite a small jump now to just directly buying Apple common stock etc if needed.

I hate it, and I think it all ends in tears, but that looks the name of the game to me until the system literally breaks and we need do a new Bretton Woods / debt jubilee whatever, where the rules are all reset



Of info I am a font –
More than you probably want –
          I'll give you advice
          It will be quite precise
And some of it quaintly quant…

I also discuss finance theory
until your eyes grow bleary
          from CAPM to Black Scholes
          I stress risk controls -
but I always try to be cheery.

Our goal is to beat a bench -
but according to Fama and French
          we'll probably lag -
          (a bit of a drag
when our clients decide to retrench).

We cannot believe this is true -
we're stock pickers through and through
          though we think we have found
          that returns will compound
more, if we keep risk in view.

We aim to be more than lukewarm,
while taking less risk than the norm.
          You can't tell in advance
          if it's skill or it's chance
if we do or do not outperform.

What else can I say to you?
to help our assets accrue
          I simply observe
          the Gaussian Curve
in everything that we do.

Kim Zussman writes back:

That last ad made me Mad
The premise - it was Off
A dance around the mean?
That makes this rabbi cough!

I promise not an average
Convergence to the mean
Just modest up returns
In good times and in lean

You're lucky to invest here
At my firm no arms wave
Because we make the markets
We know how they behave

You'll have to think a while
Before I'll take your money
It will stay in the family
Just you and me and sonny.



victorJeff Watson thoughtful post below about the relevance of George Seurat to trading inspired me to think about the many lessons about markets I learned from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, and asked my assistant Linda to send him a copy of it tonight. Two hours later, as I looked through the jacket of my pink coat that I wore to my brother Roy's Halloween party, I found a playbill — Sunday in the Park with George. The 1 in 16 chance of five days' repeating each other like last Friday, makes me think of coincidences and the many times that I have had patterns with 25 of 25 correct predictions at the hand ready for use, only to find the 26th, in real life, totally wrong. The power of probabilities to make truly unlikely events when taken in isolation very probable, a variant of the birthday problem, is astonishing and if one was not a man of lack of faith, it would be eerie.

Michael Cook writes:

This makes me think of Ramsey Theory. The classic version of Ramsey's Theorem: in any collection of six people, either three mutually know each other, or three mutually do not know each other. The philosophy behind Ramsey Theory in general is: "a sufficiently large system, no matter how random, must contain highly organized subsystems."

This is very suggestive for markets.

Steve Humbert replies:

Ramsey Theory is fascinating, but other than as an analogue I'm not sure it has any predictive power in the markets. Note that Ramsey Theory does not reveal which people know each other and which do not (a bit like Ogilvy's famous lament that half of the money spent on advertising was wasted, but that he was never sure which half), and that in its binary, know-don't know, criterion, RT doesn't tell us anything about the strength of the connections. A passing acquaintance is treated the same as a life-long friendship (the market equivalent of treating a 1-tic and a 20-tic up move (or down) as equivalent, and only concerning oneself the binary up-down distinction.



lamaAlbert Jay Nock wrote of the regular recurrences of panic, of unreasonable and debilitating fear that takes over a society. Henry Clews wrote of the regularity of panics with the regularity of the seasons. In fact, on a recent visit to New York I actually saw the very same wealthy old codgers hobbling on canes on Thursday night in the splendor of their private clubs. I don't think I will ever forget them despite my own state of panic. It happened in Orson Welles's reading of the Martian invasion, it happened in ancient Greece.

I have seen panic in the water and the unreasoning behavior it creates. In our discussions of survival, I see how panic leads to mistakes, and then the mistakes can compound and lead to death. We're in a panic, no questions. I've felt it. Everyone has. It's an unreasoning blind fear that takes control of your mind.

But as empiricists, we need to take a look at what is happening and what will happen after, and what has happened after and avoid the series of mistakes that leads to death. Rather follow the path to survival. And like in Forrest Gump, mere survival might be success.

The Dalai Lama said that compassion is the key. I might modify that to say that compassion is the key to investing. By acknowledging that other peoples feelings are the same as your own, you understand their needs. In a panic their need is to stop the pain, stop the uncertainty, and have some cash. Your job as a compassionate investor is to give them what they want, despite your own similar feelings. You should be rewarded for such altruism and compassion.

Michael Cook agrees:

I like this point of view. It suggests investing from an "enlightened" point of view, which might also include: not being obsessively attached to outcomes, rather enjoying the process; being relaxed, maintaining an expansive, embracing view of things grounded in acceptance; being mindful; and relaxing and quieting the mind thus allowing spontaneous insight to manifest itself.

This does not necessarily mean assuming the demeanor of a Zen monk, or a Bodhidharma in a cave (although that might work); I think one can be "enlightened" and also be a man (person) of action. See Chogyam Trungpa's "Meditation in Action," for instance. But the best athletes are the most relaxed, aren't they?

The idea of compassionate investing has many more suggestive connotations — thanks.

Jeff Watson remarks:

SpockWith all of the volatility in the markets of late, my protege gets very excited every time he has a trade on. His knees swing, he chews through pencils, and he has to use the bathroom a lot. He develops nervous tics, and talks just a little too fast, a result of his brain going 900 mph. Contrast that with me: I approach the screens in a slow, languid motion, sit down and relax. I look at my positions and don’t panic because of the bad ones, I eliminate them quickly without vocalization. My good positions cause me to absent-mindedly ask questions to myself and ask him about arcane scenarios that might have some value. Since I’m rather dispassionate about the whole deal, he gave me the nickname “Spock.” Whether that’s good or not, I’ll let you know after this storm blows over. He can’t ever find out if I’m mad or glad after a trade, because I do the same thing after every trade. Take a breath, and drink from a glass of water, and change whatever song is playing. I still maintain a cheerful disposition whatever the outcome, the same disposition I had when played ”Chutes and Ladders” in first grade.

Nigel Davies writes:

I'd need some convincing that balanced emotional gearing is an essential for the pursuit of excellence; I think a lot of champs just learn to channel their emotions into doing the right thing at the right time.

Thus it was OK to vent one's frustrations on the cat on Friday as long as one didn't sell.

GM Davies is the author of Play 1 e4 e5: A Complete Repertoire for Black, Everyman, 2005

Larry Williams comments:

The Dalai Lama is not a trader. There can be no compassion in trading; compassion does not make a wrong call any better.

The enlightenment is making the correct decisions, understanding and compassion are for marriage counselors, not investors. There are absolutes here; rocks are hard, water is wet, margin calls must be met.

Dr Williams is the author of How I Made One Million Dollars.. Last Year, Windsor, 1998

James Sogi adds:

I'm talking about the philosophical definition of compassion, i.e. awareness of others' emotional states, rather than the softer emotional state of kindness or pity with which the definition is mostly associated. The idea is to understand them in order to take their money, and hence some irony in the definition and its utility in speculative life. Sometimes they are willing to pay for the solace of giving up the position. Tends to be at the worst time. I know — I've done it.



I got an email from a friend that I don't agree with, but I could use some help responding to it. How would you respond?

In the context of our ongoing discussion of markets and government, I can't help but feel that the meltdown of the last week lends considerable weight to my position that in the face of the value-neutral tendencies of free market capitalism the participation of a well informed, active public sector is imperative. There is a flip side to the way markets liberate economic energies; markets can become self-devouring. I accuse libert@rian ideas; they have brought us in large measure to this pass, because they foster a basic contempt for governance, ("government is the problem") the hallmark of the Bush administration.

When Robert Rubin bailed out the Mexican government by offering 20 billion dollars backing for their currency, there were howls of protest and forecasts of disaster from conservative minded politicians. Bush's laissez-faire attitude has resulted in a truly incredible 1 trillion dollar (!) giveaway. A replay, but only worse, of the S&L debacle that followed in the wake of the great free marketeer Ronald Reagan.

My friends B*b & I**a have three kids. B*b lost his teaching job.

Thank goodness that Connecticut has a "socialist" health program for people earning less than a certain amount. In Mississippi no one would come to rescue them. It would be against the grand american principles of self-reliance (or rather no bail outs for the powerless).

I'm not saying that I disagree with Paulsen and Bernake. At this point they have no choice but to intervene. But to my way of thinking the mistaken belief that the government should stay out of the way, the markets will take care of everything if left to their own devices, has led to this desperate state of affairs. Ironically, it is about is about to result in the greatest growth in government power since FDR.

My concern is that unlike the New Deal that sought to put people to work and create an ethos that we are all in this thing together, the current program will be directed at easing the pain of those who reaped the most benefits in the good times.

Henry Gifford responds:

FDRIf the mortgage market was really a "free" market, and not regulated, anyone putting money in would know there is risk, and not look to be bailed out. With regulation comes the excuse that the system let someone down, thus the system should come to the rescue.

And, if the mortgage market was really a "free" market in the sense of not being backed by Freddie Mac, etc., the penalty of default would be on the lender only, who would have watched out for their own money, and stopped making loans long before the appearance of billboards advertising 110% loans.

If the mortgage market was really a "free" market, Consumer Reports, Ralph Nader, etc. would be competing to sell information on which banks are safest, including selling stickers banks could put on the front window. The level of corruption in these private rating systems would be kept low for the same reason Coca-Cola doesn't cut corners by selling dirty or diluted soda, and the only cost to the citizen/taxpayer would be paying Consumer Reports, etc., if they chose to do so to get information to improve their decisions.

Craig Bowles writes:

Murray Rothbard’s History of Economic Thought is on six tapes but I don’t think he ever wrote the planned book. He didn’t think too much of Thomas Sowell. The tapes talk about Austrian economic theory which is the basis for libertarian views. He says that intervention alters the business cycle and causes inflation during the slowdown. The worst part though is it disrupts the allocation for production, so you get overinvestment in some areas (houses) and underinvestment in others (oil) with the liquidity-driven inflationary booms. Really great tapes and very applicable to today.



 Victor and Laurel have suggested that a fruitful area for market research may lie in replicating the methods of Brahe and Kepler. Brahe scrupulously gathered very precise data though years of observations. It was left to Kepler, his student, to develop the first model. Kepler first identified planetary orbits as elliptical.

Suppose we have two planetary bodies with periods P1 and P2 respectively. A quick review of Kepler's Laws reminds us that his third law is as follows:

P1^2 / P2^2 = R1^3 / R2^3

where R1 and R2 are the semi major axes of the two bodies. It is interesting to note that there are no linear terms in the above relationship. It can be read as the ratio of the squares of the periods are equal to the ratio of the cubes of the axes.

In the markets we know that the Efficient Market Hypothesis tells us that the market price change today should have no linear correlation with the price change tomorrow. Empirically this seems to be true most of the time for most markets. However a strict interpretation of EMH says nothing about the existence of non-linear relationships.

In particular when we evaluate the squares of changes we find they are significantly correlated. The same holds for the cubes at similar lags. It is left as an exercise for the reader to calculate the magnitude and direction of such correlations. So at first blush there may be an application for Kepler's third law in the markets.

In order to see if there is any similar Keplerian relationship in daily price series the data from the table on page 121 of Education of a Speculator hardback was studied. Using the midpoints of the classes in the table the model used only the squares and cubes of change to predict the next days performance. It turns out that the fit is statistically significant. Notably there is no linear term in the model. Checking whether a linear term would help, the data showed that it would not be helpful. Although the regression model was statistically significant it was based on out of date data and would have to be redone with current data.

Michael Cook remarks:

Kepler was not a student of Brahe; he came to Brahe's observatory because Brahe had good data, continuous night by night observations of the planets. Kepler was desperate to prove that the orbits of the planets were circles, because the circle is the perfect shape, consistent with the beauty of the divine Mind. He decided to work on Mars because it seemed to be closest. After much work he realized the ellipse was a better fit. His comment: "I set out to show that the universe was based on the eternal harmony of the spheres. Instead I showed that it rests on a carthill of dung [the ellipse]."

The other beautiful law of Kepler's is that the planets sweep out equal areas in equal times.
It is also significant that all of his laws can be deduced mathematically from the inverse square law of gravitation.

Adam Robinson replies:

As I'm sure Dr. Cook realizes, the point was that the law of gravitation can be deduced from Kepler's laws, as indeed Robert Hooke (whose insights into force and inverse square relationships were at least contemporaneous with Newton's) was able to do.  Newton's genius (in that regard, there were many instances of course) was in showing the equivalence of the acceleration of a falling object with the acceleration of an object in orbit.

Newton, in other words, gave the relationships a theoretic underpinning (until then Hooke's insights, along with Kepler's, were mere "curve fitting," in the literal sense of the phrase!), just as Einstein did, since numerous scientists at the time (Poincare for one) had come to similar conclusions (e.g., the Lorentz contraction), but lacked any overarching theory to explain why such phenomena had to occur.

Dr. Cook's quotation of Kepler also reveals the extent to which aesthetics can hinder the progress of theory as much as promote it.

Michael Cook responds:

Actually, I am not aware of any derivation of the inverse square law from Kepler's laws. I believe Hooke claimed to derive Kepler's laws from an inverse square law, which resulted in Newton's publishing his proof of the result. Hooke never published an actual proof — it's hard to do without calculus. Feynmann has a paper in which he does so, which I don't think he would have published it if it were already in the literature. 

It is incorrect to say the law of gravitation can be deduced from Kepler's laws — Kepler's laws are descriptive, and don't by themselves imply any causal mechanism.

Adam Robinson replies:

I refer Dr. Cook to the letters between Hooke and Newton; there was much controversy between the two about who had which insights, when. Hooke's insight was more of a conjecture, not a formal "derivation" as such. Not surprisingly, of course, since Hooke's inverse square law with springs contains a surprising analogue with gravitation.

Kim Zussman writes:

Jim SimonsA recent Bloomberg article on Jim Simons of RenTech mentions sunspots and markets, so along with Kepler's dung [see Dr. Cook's remarks above] this must explain the beauty of markets.

Recall that sunspots (which have been observed and recorded since well before Galileo) are magnetic storms on the sun, which appear dark in contrast to the photosphere because (though they are hot) they are relatively cooler.  And to the extent that there may be related effects on solar wind (solar ions flowing past the earth), radiation levels, and earth's ionosphere, and radio/satellite communications, here is a study.

Monthly average sunspot count (American, of course) 1944-2007 is available from the National Geophysical Data Center:

Regression of SP500 monthly index return vs. monthly avg sunspot count (1950-Oct 07) shows almost significant negative correlation (P=0.07):

Regression Analysis: SP CHG versus SPOT AV

The regression equation is
SP CHG = 0.0110 - 0.000052 SPOT AV

Predictor         Coef     SE Coef      T      P
Constant      0.010961    0.002534   4.33  0.000
SPOT AV      -0.0000518   0.000029  -1.79  0.074

S = 0.0405916   R-Sq = 0.5%   R-Sq(adj) = 0.3%

Analysis of Variance

Source           DF        SS        MS     F      P
Regression        1  0.005288  0.005288  3.21  0.074
Residual Error  691  1.138548  0.001648
Total           692  1.143836

Here is a plot of monthly avg sunspots vs date, which clearly shows the 11 year solar cycle. Note that we now near a minimum (good for stocks), and regardless of Fed actions relative to the housing market, explains the recent 5 year bull market (OK the last sunspot maximum was Sept 2001, so the prediction was off by about 1.5 yr).

Eric Falkenstein remarks:

One of the keys of finance is the implication that arbitrage implies that pricing is linear in 'risk', or whatever is priced. Otherwise, you could generate arbitrage by buying bulk and selling little bits, or vice versa. It is intriguing to think that there are nonlinear relations in markets, but these necessarily imply profits, so, to the degree they exist, they must not be too obvious (please email me the exceptions!).



Face of FearA talk at the November 1 Junto by Robert Higgs on the importance of fear elicits many thoughts of relevance to markets. Higgs is best knows for his theory of the ratchet effect of crises on government activities. He shows in Crisis and Leviathan that during times of crisis, government powers are increased and that these powers are never reduced.

He started his talk by saying that he wished he had realized many years ago that fear is the foundation for all such increases and that fears are manufactured according to normal production curves subject to the laws of diminishing marginal productivity and depreciation.
He views fear as the key emotion. And believes that fears are invented to create an opportunity for the Leviathan to expand . He groups fears into categories: fear from government itself, fear of real dangers from which government protects us, and spurious fears which are invented so that power can be increased. Planks in his theory deal with the origin of governments in conquest, the alliance between church and state, the tactics of stationary bandits who exert power from a fixed position, the creation of an ideology of fear, the economics of fear, the growth of fear during wartime. He ends with the hope that we can conquer our fears and thus go about our normal humdrum activities in a more productive way.

Against LeviathanI was quite critical of his theories believing for example that many other motivations of human behavior are more important than fear, including the five levels of Maslow's motivations, starting with physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self actualization. Of these hierarchical levels, only the safety level could in any sense be related in part to fear. I felt that much of the support for his theory was based on anecdotal and isolated events such as King Canute's assassination for collecting high taxes. I also questioned whether there was any predictive value in his classification, whether his theories could ever be refuted, the absence of cost benefit calculations in his condemnation of any and all government actions, including its function of providing for internal and external defense, and how it could be differentiated from other theories of power and behavior. I also disagreed with his wholesale condemnation of the use of fear including his condemnation of the United States entering the First and Second World War, after what he decries as false propaganda concerning the evil intentions of our enemies.

Neither Liberty Nor SafetyHiggs' current book Neither Liberty Nor Safety details many of these theories. And needless to say, he believes that the acts that followed 9-11 served mainly to legitimize a wish list of bureaucratic interventions that had been sitting on desks for 15 years, but never were able to see the ligth of day until crisis hit. He believes they did not increase our safety but took away our liberties, and never will vanish even when the need for extra patriotism recedes.

And yet, I found many parallels to the market's fears. There are 1.5 million conjunctions of fear and stock market on the search engines and many of them relate to maintaining the stock market citizen in a state of subjugation, and contribution to the upkeep even greater than that described by Higgs in his many anecdotes, and revision of his crisis and leviathan theory.

I would be interested in your ideas on the influence of fear on markets, the most recent being the fears of recession, the fear of no further rate cuts, the fear of the subprime crisis spreading, the fear of brokerage house bankruptcies and financial liquidations, the decline of the dollar, the spread of epidemics, the comparison to the crises of 1987 and 1998, the increase in volatility and what that portends, the declining earnings growth, et al., the role in fanning fear by former officials recently retired, as well as those who have long predicted Dow 5000 et al.

High on this list would be the typology of fears that have existed each year since the beginning of stock markets, and how this has engendered the 1 million % a century growth which Mr. Ellison has kindly updated here before.

Alston Mabry adds:

Happiness HypothesisIn The Happiness Hypothesis, author John Haidt uses an interesting image our human brain which has developed over vast amounts of time to handle so many tasks: he likens the mind to a rider on an elephant. The rider is our conscious, rational, aware mind - our neocortex. The elephant is everything else and is trained to be pessimistic, defensive, status-conscious, and many other things that might contribute to survival and success, but not necessarily be conducive to happiness. The rider can see farther and is smarter than the elephant, but the elephant often decides where both will go. Haidt then argues that many ancient traditions understand this dichotomy and know that the brain must be disciplined and trained for happiness.

In trading, I find there is a basic division: analysis versus execution. Analysis can seem so sure and easy, when the market is closed and one is simply crunching numbers - the elephant is asleep, as it were, and the rider is alone with his thoughts. But as soon as the market is popping, and one must put real money on the table - as soon as there is *risk* - the elephant awakens. The mind actually changes, perceives and processes the same data differently from the night before.

Perhaps the discipline of the ancients is the answer. Would Lao Tzu, or Bodhidharma, or the Desert Fathers have been successful in the pits?

Phil McDonnell writes:

MaslowAn alternative approach to Maslow's Hierarchy might be to consider the hormonal make-up of human beings. The two powerful hormones adrenaline and nor-adrenaline control our fight or flight response to potentially dangerous situations.

However they are much more than that. They directly or indirectly influence our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, serum glucose levels and even our memory. They are a significant factor in motivating us to action. For example researchers have found that after receiving adrenaline human test subjects were more likely to take action in contrived circumstances which potentially involved even physical violence. Humans cannot easily distinguish between true emotions and those induced by adrenaline.

Other research has shown that rats will develop stronger memories when adrenalin is administered. There appears to be a simple physiological basis for this in the neurons. In particular rats that lacked the particular receptor did not develop the stronger memories in the presence of adrenaline. The important point is that memories which are formed or reinforced in the presence of higher adrenaline levels are much stronger that those which are not.

Charles Darwin was the first to study the evolution of emotions in: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals with Photographic and other Illustrations (J. Murray, London, 1872).

Emotions originally developed as a way of avoiding dangerous situations as well as signaling to others the state of a particular individual. For example when an individual is in an emotional state such as extreme anger others may be warned away and learn to avoid confrontation. But when the irrationality of anger is not present others may attempt to reason with the individual. In effect the perception of an emotional state signals to others how an individual might respond in a given situation.

As traders we can turn this knowledge around. Large movements in the markets can induce an emotional reaction in other traders. In particular these movements induce an adrenaline response associated with the fight or flight syndrome. In turn the adrenaline reinforces the memory of the particular gyration in the market. So the memory is stronger and has more immediacy and in a sense more recency. So when a similar event happens again the memory is stronger, generates more adrenaline and is reinforced again.

Each time the effect of the adrenaline is to predispose the trader to action. Traders are more likely to act and act irrationally. Trading volume tends to increase. In effect the market begins to control the emotional actions of traders causing them to think with the more primitive portions of their mind. In the logic of the primitive mind losing money is equated to loss of food and ultimately loss of life. Every drop in the market is met by selling at the worst possible time. Market rises are greeted with herd like buying after the rise has occurred. It is all an emotional dance orchestrated by our own chemistry. orchestrated by our own chemistry.

Micheal Cook remarks:

Yin & YangIt is commonplace to say that two principal drivers of the market are fear and greed. I agree that there are many other higher level motivators, such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but the market exhibits crowd behavior, and the crowd is the lowest common denominator of human emotions. The "masses" don't seem to have a hierarchy of needs.

In the context of the market there seem to be two basic fears: fear of loss, and fear of missing out. This latter fear is a form of greed, so maybe fear and greed are two sides of the same coin, the yin and yang of markets.  

I heard a talk recently in which it was said that the market is driven by the irrational emotions of fear and greed, and that rationality consisted in finding the right balance. I found that amusing and ironic, the idea that rationality was finding the optimal mixture of two irrational emotions.
I also find that people seem to spend a lot of time worrying about things that in no way impact any current decision they might make. Things like "will there be a recession," "will the subprime crisis spread?" This strikes me as an expression of free floating anxiety, a channel, a displacement, a sublimation… 

Russ Sears augments:

Perhaps the widest and the true foundation to build on is not "fear" but "pride". Pride that is turned into "us vs them".

Granted that this "patriotism" is often used to create fears to expand powers. When used with fear this can be the most evil and complete expansion.

However, pride or "we are smarter than them" also creates a very stable base to expand love/family to create a counterfeit charitable hand.

That is: the Maslow hierarchy is built upside down to expand government.

Self actualization: what separates "We" from "Them" is "we" are the only ones with a true "need to know" the truth. We here is defined broad, to include all but "them"

Esteem: "We are smart enough to rule everybody's life". "We" here is defined narrowly as those of "us" that are in the government. Everybody else should follow the yellow brick road to see the wizard.

Love/family: "It takes a village" government will replace the dysfunctional family, which is all of "them"

Finally, the expansion into safety: government will protect "us" from "them".

From this view fear is the roof, or exterior, not the foundation. The expansion of government occurs with each level, not simply fear.

This can of course can be seen as a clear pattern in doomsdayist prophecies. "We" are the only ones smart enough to seek the truth, at all cost. Tomorrow is bleak without "us" to warn you and turn bad on its head and into good.

It is a good exercise for the reader to read many of the recent credit crunch articles with this view,  as current propaganda. This of course can be expanded beyond the markets and political readings, even into such areas as religion and popular pseudo science such as Dawkins for instance.

Tom Ryan enumerates:

The influence of fear:

1. The reliance on social proof rather than logic (looking to the herd for confirmation)

2. The tendency to extrapolate past events out into the future

3. The tendency to respond to contrasts more than absolutes

4. The tendency to non-linear weighting of probability (Kahneman & Tversky)

6. Emotional reaction to loss tends to exceed that of gain (Prospect Theory)

7. The tendency towards being consistent in one's behavior despite the financial pain in order to avoid the mental pain (fear of regret)

8. Overreaction to scarcity (scarcity programming - as one who has gone bust before I have this in full measure)

9. Strategic conventionality ("no one ever got fired for buying IBM")

Larry Williams contributes:

Fear is the greatest enemy of long term investors as it kicks them off track, off their game plan… that, coupled with short term 'gain-greed' seems to be why there are few truly long term investors.

Where does the fear come from?

Deep within our hearts and minds I postulate there is a fear mechanism—for our survival—but those fires are fanned, now, twenty four hours a day by media. Media= Negativity (fear)= Subscribers/Viewers.

Solution? Best I've heard comes from John Prine, "Blow up your TV, eat a lot of peaches, ya gotta find Jesus on your own"




I've been studying complex variables lately because I find the imaginary very important these days, and I had to brush up on them for one of my daughters.

It led me to consider the imaginary part of the moves during a day or week, and the real part. Consider last week. O/H/L/C:

9/28 1538.20 1545.20 1519.00 1538.10
9/21 1491.80 1552.00 1485.20 1534.40

The real part of the move, from 1534.40 to 1538.10 was 3.70. The low of the week 1519 so there was a -15.40 point imaginary negative part, and the high was 1545.20 so the imaginary positive part was 10.80.

A similar calculation could be done for the day, looking at the amount below the previous close, the amount above the close, and the final move.

We can look at the two points on an Argand like diagram. I claim that the length and the angle between the two lines connecting the negative and positive imaginary could be useful as a predictor. Better yet, the two angles themselves and the real part. Similarities might be useful. Such angles should be quantified , classified, and subjected to prediction and falsification.

Another example. The week of August 17 showed a real move of -1.10 and a negative imaginary of -76.00 and a positive imaginary of 21.50.  A small real move but non-negligible imaginary moves.

Laurence Glazier adds:

I'd also be interested in trying volatility as the orthogonal parameter (it is to do with the imagination after all.)

Michael Cook follows up:

I love complex variables - it is one of the most beautiful subjects in mathematics. Everything comes together and illuminates and integrates everything that's gone before in the traditional mathematics curriculum.

I don't understand how you are defining the imaginary part of price moves - can you clarify? I am intrigued!

Alex Castaldo explains:

If I understand Vic correctly, he defines two complex numbers, the AboveMove and the BelowMove:

AboveMove = (c[t]-c[t-1]) + i (h[t]-c[t-1])
BelowMove = (c[t]-c[t-1]) + i (l[t]-c[t-1])

And plot these as two vectors on the Argand diagram. The real parts are the same, but the imaginary parts are different (and always of opposite sign). Next you can get the angles and the lengths.

Adi Schnytzer queries:

Are these the complex components of the change simply because they exceed the bounds of the price at the start and end of the week? If so, why a week and not a day or a month? And perhaps more to the point, can the maths of complex numbers then be used to predict? Analyze the moves?



 It is time we get our heads out of the sand and stop subtracting out food and energy and admit we have an inflation problem. Energy prices are up and are going to stay up. It has been going on for two years and we (the Fed) must stop fooling ourselves into thinking there is only transient inflation which will likely reverse itself and that there is no core inflation. The transient is now permanent, though volatile. We really have an inflation problem.

Michael Cook writes:

I disagree that we necessarily have an inflation problem just because energy prices are up and are going to stay up. The fact that they are up is sending a legitimate economic signal that supply and demand are not in balance, similar for food. Were the Fed to choke off this "inflation" by throwing us into a recession, these price signals would not be able to do their work of drawing out competitive supply in the form of nuclear, solar, biofuels, fuel cells, etc. - whatever the creativity of entrepreneurs comes up with.

Jim Sogi writes:

The other unidentified variables are the global currency/capital flows that render the "island model" obsolete. There are a number of well-tested empirical theories and studies. But early into the floating currency regime the dynamics are not well understood. There are various theories.

Productivity, things like hours per week are one measure. Other tested theories include comparisons of monetary conditions, fiscal policies, economic growth, central bank policies, portfolio balance, purchasing parity (McDonald's indicator) that seek to predict currency flows. The size of these capital flows are so significant as to render traditional measures of domestic economic conditions no longer reliable or as predictive as they were. Ignoring these variables is a mistake.

Charles Pennington adds:

This argument has been made repeatedly, but is there any empirical basis for it, or any rigorous theoretical basis?

Can it be stated in a falsifiable way, such as the following:

"If money supply measure X (M1? M2? M3? something else?) increases by Y percent, then price index Z (CPI? PPI? sum market caps of stocks, bonds, real estate?) will also change by Y percent."?

My understanding is that history shows that there are times when the value of "everything" drops or increases, without any change of comparable magnitude in the various measures of money supply.

The market cap of the U.S. stock and bond markets add up to about $30 trillion. For just residential real estate, I find numbers that are a few $10s of trillion. Meanwhile the most liberal definition of money supply has it on the order of $10 trillion.

From say 1995 to 2000 the stock market more than doubled, and real estate went up, too. Just the changes in value of stocks and real estate over that period clearly add up to more than the entire money supply. Prices of other things, in general (as measured for example by the CPI and PPI), certainly did not go down over the period. So it appears to me that there can be massive repricing of things in general, of magnitude that dwarfs not just the change in money supply (about $2 trillion over that period), but the money supply itself.

This tells me that pricing of things in general has pretty wide latitude to move around. The value of "everything" dwarfs all measures of money supply, and makes moves of magnitudes that dwarf changes in the money supply. One should never think of there being some kind of grand conservation law, though I'm sure there are useful correlations. 



I have been considering the many confidence games that players in the market are exposed to with particular reference to the many false signals of imminent decline, programs of fixed quasi arithmetic bent, and expert con men who claim to have an easy way of making money. I used to use myself as an example of playing an unwitting role, i.e., being a key middle brow naive person who blindly goes his happy way allowing experts to take his money.

Indeed, I've written on the subject. And when I asked the collab the best way to research this subject she said, "go to our past writings on it." But I'm a little rusty on it and I think there have been so many new cons in the market lately that are so extensive that any previous typology has to be augmented. Any help or ideas that you all could give on this subject, particularly those related to some of our discussions on funds, that might be not as good as they seem, would be appreciated. I found the following article very helpful as a jumping off point for eliciting some market cons. 

From Jim Sogi:

It is something about the mark that allows the conman to 'turn' the victim. As with the baseball maven, the appeal to the esoteric investor who has the depth of capital to withstand drawdowns must appeal to some 'streak' in investors. In confidence games it is the greed, or dishonesty of the mark that is the key to the game. Each person, no matter how optimistic and bright, has a dark side.

Often the most apparently cheery have the darkest side. It is the job of the conman to find that side that can be used to turn the mark to his advantage. Or he finds his specialty niche. This is how elderly are preyed on with winning drawings, or the Nigerian scam. It is the combination of need with greed and a dose of dishonesty in the mark. The typical description of a con focuses on the perp, but the study of the victim yields more lessons. Most do are not aware of these seeds of darkness within, and there lies the danger.

This is the same technique used in sales, cross-examination, and religious proselytizing. Leading the victim down the primrose path feeding the victim's inner need and darker impulse. It is what happens in the market so often. Look to the victim. Look to yourself for the secrets of the con.

Eason Katir writes: 

If ya gotta lotta nerve
And ya gotta lotta plenty
Five'll get ya ten
And ten'll get ya twenty

— Singsong of the 3 card monte grifters, as they throw the

It has been written that, "In religious confidence games, this means that the religious leaders must convince the prospects that they (leaders and present members) have a special relationship to a personal God."

Market equivalent: the supplicant must prove he is worthy (accredited) and have a pious bankroll (high minimums) to have a special personal relationship with the elite hedge fund.

"The doctrine of a personal God supports: (a) perfect (infallible) leaders, (b) perfect (inerrant) sacred books, (c) perfect (marvelous) miracles, and (d) perfect (eternal happiness) posthumous rewards."

Market equivalent: the hedge fund prospectus supports (a) managers who have had a good run at some period, supported by much media hype, (b) infallible trading edge supported by scholarly white papers, (c) backtesting, hearsay, testimonials (d) eternal retirement happiness: the TV commercial or glossy magazine ad depicting the WASPy looking character in his argyle sweater sailing his wooden boat through retirement with his loving wife by his side.

"Incorrect details can expose a con game. Accordingly, details such as the location of Heaven and means of transportation thereto are not mentioned. The posthumous rewards are claimed to be wonderful, but no details are given which can be checked in the present. "

Market: black box systems. Opaqueness of current hedge fund positions.

"The advantage of the confidence games with posthumous promises, of course, is that no deceased person is going to return and ask why he did not receive his reward."

The market hasn't worked this one out as well as the article's example yet. Best it can do is provide tables and charts showing hypothetical increase in value over some long period of time, and a posteriori rationalizations about why a system stopped working.

"The religious leaders have another advantage. They carry little inventory and have small expenses."

Financial salesmen have this same advantage. They don't have to finance an inventory of expensive cars or other widgets. The mark puts up his money, and sees only flickering pixels in his browser representing his bet. Another confidence game: Feng Shui is popular. The delusion that one can fix one's problems by rearranging the furniture.

Market analogy: Beat the market by rebalancing sectors.

Michael Cook writes: 

On of the most interesting insights in "The Big Con", for me, was that it represented a new insight into human nature, namely, the depths of delusion and self-deception a mark can be led into. The very fact that the "big con" is possible was an important discovery.

And if you look at the world through the eyes of a con, it seems that everybody is conning everybody all the time, and everyone is conning himself most of all. The con, in his sociopathic cynicism, thinks that everyone is being conned except himself, but there's some saying to the effect that it's always easiest to con a con man. Why should this be true? I think it is because the most effective way to con someone is to believe the con yourself. As George Costanza said: "It's not a lie if you believe it." And once you get in the habit of believing your own lies you lose the distinction between what you know and what you don't know, the "taste" of knowledge. So the most dangerous cons suck you in by virtue of people who believe in them, and who you trust.

Hypnosis has always fascinated me as a phenomenon, and as a description of the state of mind we inhabit so often, a sort of "waking sleep", in which we are driven by suggestions, associations, and habitual patterns and reactions. Con men harness this power of the mind, as do advertisers. Are not advertisers con people? And salespeople? And don't we all sell ourselves and promote ourselves, and in so doing, engage in cons? Creating a resume is a good example - the goal is to gain the confidence, or at least the interest, of the person (or machine, these days) that is reading it. And it is shaped, edited, selectively biased - from one point of view, a "pack of lies".

The con man uses a person's propensity to con himself against him, like the way a judo master uses the momentum of his opponent against him.

If I try to convince you of anything, i.e., persuade you that it is true, am I "conning" you?

It is a compelling metaphor for all human interaction, which is a little depressing. I don't really like looking at the world through a con man's eyes, and yet I have been conned, and didn't like it, and am therefore skeptical of people's hidden motives at times.

But someone said "you must be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves" - alert to the confidence games all around you, and even in yourself, but somehow not going through life assuming the worst about people.

One of the most visible "behavioural biases" is overconfidence, and it always amazes me when people make claims to know something that they can't possibly know. Which happens every single day. And that's their job - there is a demand for that. Portfolio managers want analysts to "pound the table" on their ideas, to have confidence, and some don't care to hear what that confidence is based on.

So overconfident salespeople marketing products they believe in - Caveat Emptor!

Russ Sears adds:

I have been attending dog-training classes on Saturdays, which is really a class on "trainer training." One thing the instructor said that struck me was that most of your dog's behavior problems can be corrected, if you can get the dog to believe you have a omniscience about everything important to them.

To paraphrase, the dog won't go nuts over that leaf that flies by the window. He will say 'my master must know it, it must be ok.' And eventually you can take him for a walk and that squirrel running by your path, will not cause him to bolt if you say 'no.' He will say, 'its ok, my master saw him and knows what he is doing.'

Dogs want you to correct them before they do it, while they are thinking about it. Still, there certainly is some element of physical force to establishing dominance. This is downplayed as many owners overestimate the need to be "omnipotent." It's more about consistency. Always show them you know what they are thinking.

It seems many of the con's tricks are similar. People have a need to believe that someone knows everything, and therefore the assumption is they are in control. One does not imply the other, however, as the media and dooms-dayists would have you to believe.

For the pacifist owner, dominance need not be harsh, but rather omniscient and omnipresent. Always have a plan. Rattle the keys annoyingly, throw rocks over their heads when they bolt etc. The preparedness causes the dog to think they knew that would happen so he knew what I was thinking. Rather con thinking is, you knew it "could" happen and were ready to imply that it "would" happen.

Perhaps this is the "set-up." Where the journalist digs out the "dirt," the reader never suspects that the story was planned, even written long ago. The subprime is a good example…



 I am often asked why I don't believe in trends despite the great profits of some selected trend followers. The main reason is that standard measures in statistics, like the serial correlation coefficient or runs or Goodman tests for m dependent time series, are designed to test trends. I have not found many market series that show consistent departures from randomness on such tests. Nor, more important, have I ever found a series that looks like it has a trend, whether it be a moving average or lagged momentum type, that doesn't show some serious evidence for non-randomness as measured by the above mentioned tests. VN

My question regards the last sentence. Isn't this interesting? That is to say, if you tested runs at the craps table, with fair dice, you would find no evidence of non-randomness, and discern that you couldn't make money. But if there was evidence for non-randomness, wouldn't that imply an opportunity to make money?



I have come across many instances in my business career of the widows of successful businessmen complaining bitterly and continuously about the price that their husband received when they sold their old business to its new owners.

Mrs. Backus of Backus Oil, which was bought by Rockefeller, devoted a large part of her remaining life to such complaints, completely unjustifiably I might add, since Rockefeller offered to re-swing the sale at any time. I have come across many other examples of this, including a few where I have bought the business from a widow, or soon to be widow at very high prices, and similar complaints have been made.

My query is, what is the genetic or evolutionary reason for this, and how is the fitness of the family unit maintained by such? Hopefully any current, past, or future wives of mine will not give utterance to similar complaints, which I could assure by falling belly up again as I did in 1997 and as my adversaries have hoped for so vociferously over the past year.

Dr. Michael Cook adds:

The “fitness of the family unit” might be improved by parents who hand on more wealth to their offspring. So those mothers with a keen sense of ownership and amassing property and wealth may enhance the reproductive fitness of their children.

Easan Katir comments:

This brings one to recall buying a business in Washington from a couple, and the negotiations proceeded with civility, each cost justified, and price multiple in the industry ballpark. This proceeded until the afternoon before the closing day, when the wife telephoned, and was apparently having an attack of Tourettes Syndrome, calling me names that would make a rap star blush, The next day the closing occurred and the husband looked a little sheepish. We owned the business for many years, and I did not hear from them again. Genetic reason? well, that would be pure speculation, but one wonders if that is her usual response to stress, or seller’s remorse, or wanting some attention, or just plain orneriness.

Russ Sears mentions:

My wife told me a story of her extended relatives after visiting her parents over Thanksgiving. The patriarchs of all her relatives are or were farmers. Many of the farms continue on through the family, but most of the kids, grandkids and now great and great-great grandkids have moved on. The tale was of one those families.

It seems in the 30’s that one family of two brothers were about to lose a farm. They were $400 dollars in debt and the bank was about to foreclose. They both agreed to pool their efforts, but like many such pools one brother slacked off and the other raised the majority of the money and paid it off.



In the office we were talking about the repeated action of the S&P’s move to a certain level, and then it’s falling back from this level, that occurs on a day like today. This repeats until the potential energy of the market is converted to kinetic energy, and the market rises higher. We were looking for analogies for this, such as power lifting where you bounce the weight before extending it to maximum lift, or pole vaulting where you can take up to three tries to get over the bar. In the process of this we were also considering the energy transfer involved in making a child’s swing set go higher with each swing. The following brief explanation was found but I would be interested in any ideas people have on a proper model for the back and forth; the trying to get there but failing, that happens so often in the markets.

Each time the swing moves forward and then returns to its starting position counts as one cycle. Using a stop watch determine the length of time a swing needs to complete say 20 cycles. Divide 20 cycles by the time and you have the swings frequency in cycles per second or Hertz (Hz).

Since a swing is basically a pendulum it’s possible to calculate its resonant or natural frequency using pendulum equations as follows:

Note that the natural frequency of the swing is not influenced by the mass of the person in it. In other words’ it makes no difference whether a swing has a large adult or a small child in it. It will have the about the same natural frequency. Slight differences can be caused by slightly different locations of the person’s center of mass. This is located about two inches below the navel. When people are sitting the center of mass is in about the same place relative to the seat of the swing regardless of whether the person is an adult or a child.

If a forcing function is applied to a swing at the natural frequency of the swing it will resonate. The amplitude of the swing will increase during each back and forth cycle. The forcing function can be provided by a second person pushing on the swing. In this case even a small child can make a large adult swing by pushing in sync with the swing’s back and forth cycle. The forcing function can also be provided by the person in the swing. In this case the person in the swing shifts her center of mass very slightly by changing the position of her legs or torso. This creates a slight pushing force which makes the swing go higher and higher. It takes a very small force but it has to be timed perfectly.

The big question is what keeps the swing from flying apart or spinning over the top of the swing’s frame and subsequently killing its rider? After all, if it is a resonating system then it should be very dangerous to keep applying force in time with the swing’s frequency. The answer is fairly simple. The equation given above is only good for small angles. When the swing goes beyond a certain height it is no longer possible for the person in it to apply the necessary small force in sync with the natural frequency because the natural frequency changes. In other words the motion of the system is naturally limited.

Jim Sogi offers:

The apparent back and forth motion around the round number is a chart artifact, and as with so many chart artifacts is an illusion. The motion is in three dimensions and only appears on the chart in two. The model is a tether ball, like at summer camp. It has circular momentum from whacking it, and tightens, then rebounds off and unwinds. The angle of the wind depends on the angle of the whack. Circular math a’la Newton might work.

The other model is a guitar string. It has harmonics and standing waves along its length as the axis of vibration meet along the string, similar to price action harmonics. The higher harmonics are recreated in the higher and lower price levels.

Gary Rogan comments:

I also view the market gyrations as something similar to a swing, except it’s nothing like a physical, earthly swing because there are two forces involved, and one of them is “unusual” for a physical-world system. In the physical world, there is only gravity (other than a small amount of friction) involved in the dynamics of a swing that results in a simple differential equation describing the motion for small deviations. I see two basic “forces” involved in market motion: “momentum” and “value pricing”. Positive momentum is the force that causes people to buy when the market is moving up (buying interest proportional to market velocity), negative momentum is the force that causes people to sell when the market is moving down. Thus momentum is a force proportional to velocity, sort of like inverse friction that doesn’t exist in the real world. Value pricing is what causes people to buy when prices are “too low” and sell when they are “too high”.

Of course all of this exists in the environment of slow upward drift and real-world-like friction of various trading costs as well as news events and money-supply formations that are not completely dependent on the immediate market dynamics. The relative amplitudes of the two forces also change with time.

Normally the two forces are balanced enough to keep the market gyrating around some sort of a temporary equilibrium that itself is slowly drifting. However, when the momentum force gets too high (as in 2000) it will break the swing.

Jeff Sasmor adds:

Another thing to consider is inertia. There is a nice article on this in Wikipedia and other sources.

The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental laws of classical physics which are used to describe the motion of matter and how it is affected by applied forces. Inertia is the property of an object to resist changes in velocity unless acted upon by an outside force. Inertia is dependent upon the mass and shape of the object. The concept of inertia is today most commonly defined using Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states:

Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight ahead, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed. [Cohen & Whitman 1999 translation]

Perhaps this explains the recent upwards moves in stocks in spite of multiple discouraging memes. Humans have a lot of inertia, we’ve probably programmed a lot of it into the machines that do a lot of the trading these days.

It’s odd that this came up today, I was mulling the concept last night before falling asleep. Interesting questions that came up are:

It is a system with a lot of inputs and time-varying coefficients. Maybe it’s a reverb chamber?

David Wren-Hardin mentions:

Swings and oscillations are found throughout nature where systems on different time courses interact with each other. One obvious relationship is the classic predator-prey population dynamic. As prey animals increase in number, predator numbers rise on a lagging basis. A peak in prey animals is followed by a crash as they consume their resources, dragging the numbers of predators with them. One can cast value investors in the role of rabbits, with their steady grazing on low-calorie fare, and the momentum investor in the role of the coyote, waiting for concentrated packets of dense nutrients. Or one could place the casual investor in the role of rabbit, and the average financial professional in the role of coyote, but I’ll refrain from that comparison so not to risk defaming the coyote.

Animals also use oscillations to find out information about their environment, much like the technical analyst or trading-surfer surveying their charts. The weakly electric fish, Eigenmannia, emits an electric signal as a sort of radar to find objects in its surroundings. The problem arises when another Eigenmannia is nearby, sending out a signal at a frequency near the first fish’s signal. This results in a “beat” frequency equal to the difference of the frequency of the two signals, composed of amplitude and phase modulations. Much like the market, when the agendas of different market participants collide, the result is confusion and little information for anyone. The fish responds by moving the frequency of its signal away from the other, a process known as the Jamming Avoidance Response. The fish doesn’t know if it is higher or lower, and has to solve the problem based on how receptors spaced over its body are receiving the phase information of the two signals. In essence, each receptor “votes” on whether it perceives the signal to be leading the other, i.e., it’s at a higher frequency, or lagging, i.e., a lower frequency. Any one neuron may be wrong, but in the aggregate, the animal arrives at the correct conclusion. In classic research, the late Walter Heiligenberg termed this organization a “neuronal democracy”.

As traders, individual neurons awash in the market’s oscillations, we are faced with the same problem. Are we leading? Are we lagging? It may come as little comfort that the market will eventually get it right, even if we are wrong.

GM Nigel Davies offers:

In chess this would be quite a typical scenario. Often when you inflict some kind of permanent damage (structural or material), there is a temporary release of energy from the other side’s pieces. The ‘trick’ is to balance the gains against the likely reaction, and this is also necessary. To improve a position you often have to allow some temporary (hopefully) counter play, kind of like a wrestler letting go of an opponent temporarily so as to get a better grip.

Dr. Michael Cook adds:

Gary comments that market gyrations are “nothing like a physical, earthly swing” because there are two forces involved. How about the case of a damped oscillation, which has physical analogues? Using this analogy, momentum investors are “damped” by the “restoring force” supplied by value investors.

And what happened in the bubble was the disappearance of effective value investors, which led to an un-damped oscillation, which, when driven at the appropriate frequency, leads to wider and wider oscillations which no physical — or financial — system can sustain.

The collapse of the Tacoma Narrow Bridge is the canonical example, and here is an illustration of the math behind the phenomenon.

Rick Foust contributes:

Imagine a ball rolling down a slight incline that has a crown in the middle and rails on the sides, similar to a highway with guard rails. The ball seeks the nearest rail, bounces repeatedly and eventually stays on the rail as it continuous forward.

Now imagine that the roadway has an irregular surface and rough rails. The ball will once again seek a rail. But this time, it will do so in a careening fashion that depends on the roadway surface. As it encounters a rail, it will briefly run down the rail, bouncing as it goes, until it eventually hits a point of roughness large enough to kick it to the other side. The amount of roughness required to cause a change in state depends on the slope of the underlying surface.

In the market, the rails are accumulations of large and small limit orders. Rail roughness is created by variations in order size and position. The roadway surface is formed by underlying market orders that create a natural drift. The roadway surface may undulate in a rhythmic fashion, similar to the Tacoma bridge, if market participant psychology is undecided. Or it may consistently lean in one direction if there is a prevailing sentiment.

At some point, limit orders at one rail or the other are exhausted, pulled or merely absent. At that point, the ball is free to discover the location of other rails. Stops are now run, creating new market orders. New participants are drawn in. If the new rails encountered are small and scattered, the ball will plow through them and may even gain momentum until it eventually encounters a rail large enough to stop it. Until this rail is reached, the underlying roadway slope will likely increase as sentiment is self-reinforced.


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