Mar

21

 I found so much value in this article. Worth your time:

"The Surprisingly Large Cost of Telling Small Lies"

Russ Herrold writes:

That article makes me think about something that has been on my mind lately.

One of my routines for more than a decade has been starting the day at the coffee shop. There is large cohort of people who drop in (and leave without needing to say good-bye) for work or other obligations. Lots of social strata, lots of political viewpoints, and lots of economic situations are represented.

Another Dailyspec member and I have a common friend who frequents that coffee shop. We both were discussing the other day how quickly strangers could pick up on a dissonance between our common friend's words and his true behaviors.

I do not even feel that it is a malicious difference nor perhaps is it under the control of that friend. Certainly he would takes offense if we pointed the dissonance out, and so we have all learned or been trained to avoid confrontation.

Time and again, that common friend would be introduced into a new situation or exposed to new people. Almost at the onset of the introductions, the new counterparties would approach him or me privately during a later debrief or meeting and remark on the 'strange vibe' they got when interacting with that common friend.

I think Polonius' advice in Hamlet and Twain's adages about honesty and lying are relevant here. There is some background detection process running in a thoughtful person that picks up on coinage offered which does not ring true.

Feb

23

 What can we learn from spiders. In addition to the Japanese and the Incas, Walt Whitman and Beethoven, and machines, Frank Lloyd Wright said the main influence on his work was the spider. He liked the lightness and strength of their webs. Can we learn anything about markets from the spider?

Ken Drees writes: 

King Louis XI was known as the spider king so named because he always wove the most intricate and well conceived plots against his enemies. Markets seem to see further into the move sequences. Maybe there is something to be learned by investigating him.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

 I trying to relate the spider to the markets the first thing that occurs to me is the quote from Reminiscences of a Stock Operator:

"It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! It is no trick at all to be right on the market. You always find lots of early bulls in bull markets and early bears in bear markets. I've known many men who were right at exactly the right time, and began buying or selling stocks when prices were at the very level which should show the greatest profit. And their experience invariably matched mine–that is, they made no real money out of it. Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon."

Spiders set up their optimized webs, and then just sit tight, patiently positioned for the meal to show up.

The webs are well-structured, robust, and, like trend trading systems the number of winners (flyies eaten) is vastly outnumbered by the number of losers (fly byes).

The best webs are difficult to see.

A spider does better by making a large web, but too large and ti won't be able to hold the tray. Liken the size of the web to the use of leverage… extend your line too much and when you get a big move (a rather large beetle) it destroys the web rather than getting caught.

In unfavorable conditions, the spider eats up its web and redigests the resource to put it up when conditions are better suited to catching flies.

Chris Tucker writes: 

Spiders use sophisticated tools to capture prey, most frequently a web with sticky silk to trap insects. Spider webs are a marvel of engineering and spider silk is incredibly elastic and stronger (by weight) than steel. Spiders are incredibly industrious, many orb weavers consume their webs every evening and build a new one each night.

Spiders are patient. Orb weavers set their traps and wait, letting their tools do the work. Spiders are observant, they wait patiently for signals from their webs (usually vibrations) before pouncing. Several types of spiders use camouflage to fool prey. Ant mimicking spiders wave their front legs in the air to disguise the fact that they have eight legs and no antennae.

Spiders use deceptive behavior to fool/lure prey.

I have copied and pasted some interesting info below from the excellent wiki article on spiders):


When at rest, the ant-mimicking crab spider Amyciaea does not closely resemble Oecophylla [it's prey], but while hunting it imitates the behavior of a dying ant to attract worker ants.

Also from the wiki on spiders:

 About half the potential prey that hit orb webs escape. A web has to perform three functions: intercepting the prey (intersection), absorbing its momentum without breaking (stopping), and trapping the prey by entangling it or sticking to it (retention). No single design is best for all prey. For example: wider spacing of lines will increase the web's area and hence its ability to intercept prey, but reduce its stopping power and retention; closer spacing, larger sticky droplets and thicker lines would improve retention, but would make it easier for potential prey to see and avoid the web, at least during the day. However there are no consistent differences between orb webs built for use during the day and those built for use at night. In fact there is no simple relationship between orb web design features and the prey they capture, as each orb-weaving species takes a wide range of prey.

Spiders leverage their best talents and keep an escape route handy:

The hubs of orb webs, where the spiders lurk, are usually above the center, as the spiders can move downwards faster than upwards. If there is an obvious direction in which the spider can retreat to avoid its own predators, the hub is usually offset towards that direction.

Bolas spiders are like fishermen and use deceptive lures to attract prey:

Bolas Spiders are unusual orb-weaver spiders that do not spin the typical web. Instead, they hunt by using a sticky 'capture blob' of silk on the end of a line, known as a 'bolas'. By swinging the bolas at flying male moths or moth flies nearby, the spider may snag its prey rather like a fisherman snagging a fish on a hook. Because of this, they are also called angling or fishing spider (although the remotely related genus Dolomedes is also called fishing spider). The prey is lured to the spider by the production of up to three pheromone analogues.

Pitt T. Maner III writes: 

I found this article on the developing market for spider silk interesting:

"Despite being a protein, spider silk is by weight five times stronger than steel and three times tougher than Kevlar, a p-aramid fiber from DuPont. Strength is defined as the weight a material can bear, and toughness is the amount of kinetic energy it can absorb without breaking. The silk's primary structure is its amino acid sequence, mainly consisting of repeated glycine and alanine blocks.

Potential applications include cables and bulletproof vests. Spider silk's antimicrobial properties make it suitable for wound patches. Because the silk is not rejected by the human body, it can be used to manufacture artificial tendons or to coat implants. And its thermal conductivity is similar to that of copper but its mass density is one-seventh of copper's, making it a potential heat management material."

Jun

16

 I have recently had a lot of pain related to a problematic tooth. It is a tooth that has been giving me trouble on and off for years and I have no idea why. Dentists have suggested it suffered some type of trauma when I was younger, but if that was It I don't remember the event.

Went to the emergency room last January (weekend, regular doctor closed) because I was in massive pain over the holiday weekend.

It turns out that it had become infected and was putting pressure on the nerve in the Jaw. Since that time I have had a root canal on the tooth, but that did not solve the problem. I have had two other procedures, the last one this morning because the prior one did not heal properly and got infected again. Really aggravating experience, no need to go in to details. Today I am holed up recovering, jaw aching on a beautiful day.

The thing is, back in January, I had a gut reaction that the best thing to do would be to just forget all the treatments and have the problematic tooth yanked out. Based on the trouble it had caused me to that point, it just seemed to be the solution that made sense — likely to be final and just "end" the problem.

Yet, I was told that was too extreme and "the tooth could be saved" etc. No professional I spoke with thought it was a good idea, in fact they seemed astonished that I suggested it. And today, after treatments and quite a bit of discomfort, things not going right, etc, I am inclined to think my initial hunch was correct. Forget treatment. Just get rid of the problem.

I wonder how often this happens.

A clear cut solution to a problem exists, but a bunch of complex alternatives are presented and the resolve to do what is likely required to the end the problem with certainty is dampened. Not to push the analogy to far, but does this not also happen in trades, businesses, and relationships that are going wrong. Rather than end a problem trade, it is easy to tinker with it, look for hedges, "scalp" around the position, etc. but instead of a resolution only more pain is created. Or a relationship that has stopped working — "keep fixing it" but only more delays for the inevitable split which is more painful than a clean break.

It is hard to tell what is hindsight quarterbacking, and what is a life lesson. In this case I am still not sure which it is. I wonder if there are any general rules or ideas that can be applied to these situations to give better outcomes.

anonymous writes:

Absolutely, the best case is to always treat (your tooth or a losing trade), like it was bad meat and spit it out. Deal with it immediately, no messing around, just take the hit and get over it. Bad trades, like bad relationships, have a way of metastasizing into something worse, and the old cliche comes to mind, "Your first loss is the least."

Personally I remember once having a relationship with a nice gal that went south (but as a guy I was totally oblivious to the whole thing and didn't see the obvious signs). I was out with the lady in question in public at a restaurant and she gave me "the blow-off speech." I was so confused that I didn't even see it coming (One could make a case that infatuation is insanity). In retrospect, I should have gotten up, picked up the check, paid her carfare, bid her adieu, and walked out, never to see or communicate with her again…..like one exits a bad trade. Instead I lingered for months in an emotional limbo, like a sick puppy, suffering great humiliation and many bad feelings. In retrospect, like a bad trade, that relationship wasn't worth it and there was no bargaining, hedging, covering it with options that was going to save it. It had to be pitched immediately, and I broke my cardinal rule by not pitching it (emotions again).

Bad trades, like bad relationships can teach one many lessons in life and trading if one listens to what the situation (market) is telling you. If only, when dealing with that person, I had used my trading persona instead of my emotional side, I would have not lingered in emotional limbo for months.

This supports a great case for dispassion, and a big part of the Masonic obligation is to "learn to subdue your passions." But like the ying and yang, good things happened out of that debacle and I ended up seeing a very cultured, erudite, successful, powerful, and beautiful woman that I married a few months ago. I'm happy for the first time in five years, and that's what's important. Bad teeth, bad trades, bad relationships…..get rid of them, they are just nuisances that get in the way of life.

A commenter adds: 

But that thinking of could have, would have, should have is very deadly in the markets. Although hindsight is always 20/20, my eyesight of 20/100 does not allow such indulgences and my defensive game does not allow for such risk. I'm trying to make money, not keep my finger in the dike like the little Dutch boy. The Dutch boy was wasting his time. 

Gary Rogan writes: 

Bad women and bad teeth rarely get better by themselves, although some teeth that seem to need a root canal sometimes do. Equities do it a lot more frequently, so to this day I don't know how to reliably tell when a bad equity trade needs to be spit out. "Your first loss is the least" obviously applies to some situations, but for instance I still own a stock that lost me 20% two days after I bought it, 50% three months after I bought it, but now two years later it's up 70%, having been up 120%. Rocky talked a lot about his thoughtful decision to exit HPQ back when it was relentlessly moving south, but it's back. What used to be RIMM is still in the dump, but someone who bought it in September doubled their money. If you could always make a wise decision by just getting out of a (currently) losing trade, everyone would be a lot richer than they are.

Rocky Humbert responds: 

Mr. Rogan,

Indeed HPQ has been inexorably working its way back and may keep climbing. Who knows? What we do know is what  the S&P index has done subsequent to my exiting HPQ. And we also know what  other alternative investments (gold, real estate, etc) have done over the same period of time. Taking the hit and putting the (remaining) capital into the alternatives would have been better than suffering. Hence in these matters, one must consider not only the ongoing pain, but also the opportunity cost. To the extent that one is monogamous, the analogy holds for personal relationships.

Is there an opportunity cost for teeth? Not sure.

Gary Rogan replies: 

Sure, there is always the opportunity cost. The question is, how well do we know it in advance? My point was that if say you bet all your money leveraged 10 to 1 on wheat, and your position is down 10% you may want to exit, but if you own 100 stocks and one is down 10% or 50% or even 90% what to do at that point outside of any tax considerations and without any additional information isn't exactly clear. Given my preference for 52 week lows in the absence of any other information it may make sense to buy more or do nothing. If the sudden move lower really attracted your attention, and upon further study you conclude that this is only the beginning, of course you may want to sell. But then a sudden move up or a long period of flatlining or something you happen to read or hear may attract your attention as well.

A commenter writes: 

The key phrase that piqued my interest was when you said, "you bet all your money leveraged 10 to 1 on wheat." Why would you "bet" all your money? Wouldn't you want to just "bet" a small part of it, and keep the rest of your powder dry? Anyways, betting signifies gambling, and gambling is wrong.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

Anonymous, I am like you—I don't see any value in pissing my money away in a known negative expectation game, so I sympathize with your view. I have never found enjoyment in gambling, personally. But I can't extrapolate from my subjective view and experience onto the world because everyone's utility and entertainment functions are different.

Gambling in the United States has several positive social functions… State lotteries support education of children… Gambling on Native American reservations is a voluntary form of reparations to that people… and, it gets money out of mattresses and back into economic circulation, transferring capital from those who are not prudent in their stewardship of that capital (otherwise they wouldn't be gambling, would they) and putting it into hands where it will be more efficiently employed.

Part of the freedoms cherished in this Constitutional Democratic Republic is the freedom to act the fool, on occasion, as long as you don't infringe upon the rights of others, or forsake the duties to yourself or those in your charge. 

Kim Zussman adds: 

You would not have regretted your decision to accept professional opinion / treatment had everything gone well.

The mistake is assuming you could have made a better decision - to extract the tooth - simply because in hindsight the treatments have not worked.

For any decision there is a range of outcomes. Perhaps your treatment had 80% chance of success (defined as rapid pain reduction, elimination of infection, and saving the tooth). But so far you are in the 20%, and for you the failure feels like 100%. "If only I'd extracted"

Do you expect portfolio managers or sound strategies to never lose, or abandon them only when they do? (Buy high / sell low)

Dentist and physician success rates are mostly unknowable but patients use cues to evaluate them. Cues such as trusted referral, reputation, diplomas, demeanor, looks, office decor, exhibited technology, etc.

Your treating dentists are simultaneously incentivized to obtain good results (reputation, future referrals) as well as make money (perform treatment). Those with consistently poor results have trouble competing with those with good results, and you are less likely to wind up there. 

May

24

Relative to the Swedish Riots …

MFM Osborne reports in his biographical notes which I have the pleasure of reading, that it is much easier for an American to get published in a European Journal than an American one. His paper on the migratory behavior of salmon could not find a publisher in the US but it was gladly received in the Journal of Experimental Biology in England. Similarly for his seminal work on the flapping behavior of insects, and browning motion in stock prices. One believes it is part of a general tendency for the grass to be greener on the other side of the street. We are all taught to defer at once to those of discordant belief, especially if they believe in the idea that has the world in its grip, i.e. that the pursuit of happiness should be punished by death, or eschewed for a better world above. However, when we see it on the other side of the street, we are free to note it but have to cover it up and excuse it here, as in the confession of the three murders by the brothers before the bombing. 

Gibbons Burke writes: 

"But Jesus said to them: 'A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.'" [Matthew 13:57]

May

14

 I first saw the 'dead eyes' look of a poker player/loser when I was 13 or so. Still gives me restless nights and I know I cannot become that way.

My dad took me into the "stockman's bar" in Billings, Montana to impress upon me what degenerate, greedy people turn into.

Probably another sleepless tonight tormented by that devil.

Gary Rogan asks: 

What is the real difference between gambling and speculation (if you take drinking out of the equation)? Is it having a theory about the odds being better than even and avoiding ruin along the way?

Tim Melvin writes: 

I will leave the math side of that answer to those better qualified than I, but one real variable is the lifestyle and people with whom one associates. A speculator can choose his associates. If you have ever been a guest of the Chair you know he surrounds himself with intelligent cultured people from whom he can learn and whom he can teach. There is good music, old books, chess and fresh fruit. The same holds true for many specs I have been fortunate to know.

Contrast that to the casinos and racetracks where your companions out of necessity are drunks, desperates, pimps, thieves, shylocks, charlatans and tourists from the suburbs. Even if you found a way to beat the big, the world of a professional gambler just is not a pleasant place.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

 Here is something I posted here before on this distinction…

Being called a gambler shouldn't bother a speculator one iota. He is not a gambler; being so called merely establishes the ignorance of the caller. A gambler is one who willingly places his capital at risk in a game where the odds are ineluctably, mathematically or mechanically, set against the player by his counter-party, known as the 'house'. The house sets the odds to its own advantage, and, if, by some wrinkle of skill or fate the gambler wins consistently, the house will summarily eject him from the game as a cheat.

The payoff for gamblers is not necessarily the win, because they inevitably lose, but the play - the rush of the occasional win, the diversion, the community of like minded others. For some, it is a desire to dispose of money in a socially acceptable way without incurring the obligations and responsibilities incurred by giving the money away to others. For some, having some "skin in the game" increases their enjoyment of the event. Sadly, for many, the variable reward on a variable schedule is a form of operant conditioning which reinforces a compulsive addiction to the game.

That said, there are many 'gamblers' who are really speculators, because they participate in games where they develop real edges based on skill, or inside knowledge, and they are not booted for winning. I would include in this number blackjack counters who get away with it, or poker games, where the pot is returned to the players in full, minus a fee to the house for its hospitality*.

Speculators risk their capital in bets with other speculators in a marketplace. The odds are not foreordained by formula or design—for the most part the speculator is in full control of his own destiny, and takes full responsibility for the inevitable losses and misfortunes which he may incur. Speculators pay a 'vig' to the market; real work always involves friction. Someone must pay the light bill. However the market, unlike the casino, does not, often, kick him out of the game for winning, though others may attempt to adapt to or adopt his winning strategies, and the game may change over time requiring the speculator to suss out new rules and regimes.

That said, there are many who are engaged in the pursuit of speculative profits who, by their own lack of skill are really gambling; they are knowingly trading without an identifiable edge. Like gamblers, their utility function is not necessarily to based on growth of their capital. They willingly lose their capital for many reasons, among them: they enjoy the diversion of trading, or the society of other traders, or perhaps they have a psychological need to get rid of lucre obtained by disreputable means.

Reduced to the bare elements: Gamblers are willing losers who occasionally win; speculators are willing winners who occasionally lose.

There is no shame in being called a gambler, either, unless one has succumbed to the play as a compulsion which becomes a destructive vice. Gambling serves a worthwhile function in society: it provides an efficient means to separate valuable capital from those who have no desire to steward it into the hands of those who do, and it often provides the player excellent entertainment and fun in exchange. It's a fair and voluntary trade.

Kim Zussman writes:

One gambles that Ralph and/or Rocky will comment.

Leo Jia adds: 

From the perspective of entering trades, I wonder if one should think in this way:

speculators are willing losers who often win; gamblers are willing winners who often lose.

David Hillman adds: 

It is rare to find a successful drug lord who is also a junkie. 

Craig Mee writes: 

One possible definition might be "a gambler chases fast fixed returns based on luck, while a speculator has time on his side to let the market decide how much his edge is worth."

Bill Rafter comments: 

Perhaps the true Speculator — one who is on the front lines day after day — knows that to win big for his backers, he HAS to gamble. His only advantage is that he can choose when to play. 

 Anton Johnson writes: 

A speculator strives to be professional, honorable, intellectual, serious, analytical, calm, selective and focused.

Whereas the gambler is corrupt, distracted, moody, impulsive, excitable, desperate and superstitious.

Jeff Watson writes: 

I know quite a few gamblers who took their losses like men, gambled in a controlled (but net losing manner), paid their gambling debts before anything else, were first rate sports, family guys, and all around good characters. They just had a monkey on their back. One cannot paint with a broad brush because I have run into some sleazy speculators who make the degenerates that frequent the Jai-Alai Frontons, Dog Tracks, OTB's, etc look like choir boys. 

anonymous writes: 

Guys — this is serious, not platitudinous, and I can say it from having suffered the tragic outcomes of compulsive gambling of another — the difference between gambling and speculating is not the game, the company kept, the location, the desperation or the amounts. The only difference is that a gambler, when asked of his criterion, when asked why he is doing this, will respond with "To make money."

That's how a compulsive gambler responds.

Proper money management, at its foundation, requires the question of criteria be answered appropriately, and in doing so, a plan, a road map to achieving that criteria can be approached.

Anton Johnson writes: 

It's not the market that defines whether a participant is a Gambler or a Speculator, it's his behavior.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

That's the essence of my distinction:

"gamblers are willing losers who occasionally win"

That is, gamblers risk their capital on propositions where the odds are either:

- unknown to them
- cannot be known

- which actual experience has shown to have negative expectation
- or which they know with mathematical precision to be negative

They are rewarded for doing so on a random schedule and a random reward size, which is a pattern of stimulus-response which behavioral scientists have established as one which induces the subject to engage in the behavior the longest without a reward, and creates superstitious as well as compulsive behavior patterns. Because they have traded reason for emotion, they tend not to follow reasonable and disciplined approach to sizing their bets, and often over bet, leading to ruin.

"speculators are willing winners who occasionally lose." That is, speculators risk their capital on propositions where the odds are:

- known to have positive expectation, from (in increasing order of significance) theory, empirical testing, or actual trading experience

They occasionally get unlucky, and have losing streaks, but these players incorporate that risk into the determination of the expectation. Because their approach is reason-based rather than driven by emotion, they usually have disciplined programs for sizing their bets to get the maximum geometric growth of their capital given the characteristics of the return stream, their tolerance for drawdown.

If a player has positive expected value on a bet, then it is not a gamble at all. The house does not gamble. It builds positive expectation into its games. It is a willing winner, although it occasionally loses.

There are positive aspects of gambling, which I have pointed out earlier in the thread and won't belabor. To say that "all gambling is bad" is to take the narrowest view. Gamblers who are willing losers (by my definition all are) provide the opportunities for willing winners (i.e., speculators) to relieve gamblers of the burden of capital they clearly have no desire to hold onto, or are willing to trade in a fair exchange for the excitement of the play, to enable their alcoholic habit, to pass the time, to relieve their boredom, to indulge delusions of grandeur at the hoped-for big win, after which they will quit playing, or combinations of all of the above.

Duncan Coker writes: 

I found Trading & Exchanges by Larry Harris a good book on this topic and he defines all the participants in the exchanges and both gambler and speculators have a role to play. Here is something taken from page 6 that make sense to me: "Gamblers trade to entertain". Speculators to "trade to profit from information they have about future prices."

He divides speculators into those that are well informed versus those that are not. One profits at the expense of the other. Investors "use the markets to move money from the present into the future". Borrowers do the opposite.

Apr

29

 I really enjoyed this article "The History of Creating Value". It has a great timeline showing how people made money through the ages.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Warrior — "We can plunder grower's food for the King". Actually, not. Food is grown and taxed under the King's authority so that the King can afford a standing army that picks fights with other standing armies.

Craftsman — "If we make things and found cities, warriors won't get us." Kings need palaces and priests need temples and they are sure as hell not going to be stuck out in the boonies.

Skipping forward…

Oil Driller — "since industrialists need to feed cars, oil" . Oil was used first for illumination, then for furnaces (both for direct heat and for steam), and only then for gasoline, which begins its history because the Russian oil production has created a kerosene glut.

Corporate Executive — "cars made large factories into corporations" - So this is why the East India Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad are really outliers.

Ms. Vital is the new winner of the Historicity Prize and is entitled to a full case of scuppernog.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

The underlying thrust of this timeline is to argue that being a startup founder is the route to wealth and value creation today. Which is a great idea, and in line with Distributist economic organization, which holds that the main problem with capitalism is not when you have too many capitalists, but too few. The more owners there are in the society, the better.

But while the idea is a good one, the reality is that the road to wealth proposed by these startup evangelists is not to found and create a company which will provide a way to generate value for the owner over his lifetime, but to come up with a novel idea, develop it to the point where it has a proprietary advantage, and sell it to some corporate behemoth who has decided it it easier and much less risky to outsource its research and development to masses of proles living the startup dream. When one emerges with a good idea, simply snap it up and bring it into the corporate umbrella, and either monetize it and develop it further, or kill it because of the disruptive threat it poses to the existing herd of corporate cash cows.

Feb

19

Do We Live Inside a Mathematical Equation?

BOSTON—From the arc of a baseball to the orbits of the planets, mathematical patterns are everywhere. But according to physicist Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, it's not enough to say that math governs our universe. Rather, he believes that reality itself is a mathematical structure. What the heck does that mean? We caught up with Tegmark after his presentation at yesterday's symposium "Is Beauty Truth?" at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes ScienceNOW).

Gary Rogan writes: 

I have long believed that the most puzzling thing about the universe is that fundamental mathematical laws and constants seem to hold reliably over vast stretches of the universe. Until we understand how a photon "knows" that it needs to travels through vacuum at exactly the same speed everywhere in the universe, or why any two objects anywhere attract each other gravitationally with exactly the same exponent attached to the distance between them and exactly the same constant attached to that equation, and any number of such things, we are just observing the symptoms of something on a deeper and deeper level without understanding how the whole thing is constructed. Sooner or later this has to come down to some fantastic explanation, like a single basic particle "painting" the universe on its own timescale, or every fundamental particle simultaneously communicating with every other fundamental particle to maintain consistency, or the universe being constructed on some level via a very small number of types of discreet building blocks that are completely invariant.

David Lillienfeld writes: 

That's the one issue I have with the Big Bang–where did all that energy come from?

Gary Rogan writes: 

Well, that's just one issue of several with the Big Bang, like

-What caused it to occur?
-What was there before it?
-How did all the physical constants settle on particular values (regardless of consistency)?

The Big Bang is just another descriptive theory of the form "the universe behaves according to these laws", but provides no explanation for the "why?" on the fundamental mathematical level. And no, religion doesn't help. The "global computer simulation" theory is highly attractive: constant laws and constants across time and space and a definitive beginning out of nothing with a lot of energy are just so easy to explain!

Gibbons Burke adds: 

Further, why are all the physical constants so precisely dialed in that if any one of the 30 or so parameters which define the immutable characteristics of the universe so tightly dependent that a variation in any one of those parameters, to one part in a million, would make life, or indeed the universe, impossible?

Feb

19

 A Great Books program is designed to teach history by having first-hand experience reading the primary works of thinkers upon whose shoulders the edifice of Western Thought rests. The works are to be read in chronological order, to the ideas are arranged and built in the mind in the order by which Western Civilization was built. They are like building blocks.

Listening to a re-digested synthesis of all that material, selected and edited and interpreted according to some unknown theory (but likely, given today's academic gestalt to be a form of Marxism) and regurgitated into your earphone by a for-profit company undermines the very idea of the program.

Fortunately most of the Great Books are out of copyright, and so may be downloaded and read at no cost from Project Gutenberg, and that reading greatly aided by the electronic resources for learning and contextualizing available at one's fingertips in most capable ebook readers (highlighting with auto-compiled indexes of highlights, wikipedia search, web search, Google Maps).

The reasonable excuses for ignorance in this world, apart from apathy, sloth, incorrigible stupidity, and willfulness, are quickly becoming endangered species in this Brave New World, and are on the brink of extinction.

Feb

1

 I am reading Ari Kiev's book The Psychology of Risk.

He argues that goal setting is most important in trading success. Instead of trading passively at what the market offers, one should first set his own goal, then develop a strategy based on the goal, commit enough risk, and trade with faith toward the goal.

Does anyone have any experience or thoughts in this approach?

Gary Rogan writes:

Leo, I just found it interesting that the language sounds like the industry-standard language of "financial planning", other than the faith part, in that that language involves "understanding the customer's goals", "finding their risk tolerance", "establishing a plan to achieve the customer's goals based on their risk tolerance".

Does he believe in some sort of "you dial the risk, you'll get the return if you believe hard enough" kind of thing? As he explains it, is the purpose of "faith" so that you don't chicken out when things get tough or as something else?

Ralph Vince writes: 

From the time I was 19 or 20 years old and a coffee-cranked margin clerk, until now, I have witnessed that the number one determinant of success or failure is a defined criteria (or lack of).

As Kerouac put it:

Two flies, You guys, What are you doing here?

So what are you doing here? If you're just here "To make a better return on your money," you may want to give your criteria a little better consideration.

What are you willing to accept as risk, how will you contain the risk to that? What's the time horizon? (the most overlooked aspect in investing, bar none. We live on a planet of delusion where people are using asymptotic, long-run values which often diverge greatly from the reality of finite time).

Pension funds are able to do this — articulate their criteria, as well as anyone. They need to keep to a specific liabilities schedule. Institutions tend to trump individuals in this regard.

You can tell the compulsive gamblers — the individuals without a specified criteria, disaster is imminent.

So…what are you doing here and when do you need to get it done by?

Gary Rogan replies:

But Ralph, and I'm not at all trying to be facetious, what if I have a hundred bucks, willing to lose fifty and want ten million in a year? Aren't your capabilities/means/methods at least as important as all the other factors put together?

Ralph Vince replies: 

Gary,

Ha! Maybe your plan is a deep OTM option….parleyed 6 times in a row, with half the $100 ?

Without a specific, detailed, articulated criteria, I cannot determine my exposure plan. I don;t have control over what the markets will do
– I DO have control over my exposure.

The whole thing gets you out onto that lumpy landscape I call leverage space, and without getting into the nittygrittynasties of that (and acknowledging you are IN leverage space whether you like it or not, and it is applicable to you whether you acknowledge it or not), let's say your criteria is exactly as you defined. Well that sounds like some sort of portoflio insurance, yes? Your strike price on that is $50. Now, given that there is a peak to leverage space, portfolio insurance runs from that peak (as a % exposure) to 0 (as a % exposure) as your equity decreases to $50 (where your exposure is 0).

So now, given that you have articulated a criteria, you can plot a path through leverage space. In other words, you can create a specific plan to achieve that criteria in terms of your desired exposure.

Leo Jia adds: 

Gary,

I am only a quarter into the book, so still can't comment on all your inquiries.

You are right, it does sound somewhat similar to the financial planning language. The difference perhaps is that the goal is meant for a daily goal or very short-term goal. It should be set at a level as high as one can stretch. One should clearly envision the realization of the goal to make sure that he WILL achieve it. Only by doing this, one can be ensured to devote all his power to achieve the goal.

The faith is to ensure that one does not get chickened out easily. It helps one to steer away from common beliefs one grow up with, such as staying safe.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

The power of prayer in markets and life for extending life and gains was well studied by Galton who noted that insurance companies did not reduce the rates for boats owned by divines nor was their life expectancy greater.Having faith in a market reaching a goal, will not alter the counts as to whether to hold for the end or the middle or the reverse. It will just cause unnecessary vig.

Leo Jia asks: 

What about the faith not in a religious sense? Shouldn't one have faith in oneself, in one's well-designed strategy, and in one's ability to reach the goal?

Ralph Vince writes: 

I return to this thread, which, despite it sounding like a hokey, self-help sort of thread, is, as I mentioned, the single-greatest determinant I have witnessed through the peephole of my own experience watching and participating in the trading world. It is what transforms those who are lured here for all the wrong reasons, into dull successes at this endeavor.

Especially as an individual trader, it's so easy to get sidetracked, derailed, spun around and disoriented by the markets. And if we agree that quantity is, over the course of N trades, at least as important as direction (the latter of which we don;t have much control over, and that a gentleman's bet and betting the house — the spectrum across there determines the weight of the specific risk on us), and that quantity is specified by a plan to achieve our criteria, then it is exactly the execution of that "plan," which becomes the vital exercise in trading. And without a goal, without specific, well-articulated criteria, you cannot craft the plan to execute — you are just waffling, flailing.

(And these goals the individual can craft should be more clear than that specified by the investment committee of an institution, because as individuals, you can set a higher bar than a committee of bureaucrat-types).

The exercise then becomes one of executing the plan, something quite boring and clerical, but, to me, something that has resulted in extreme trading success. I won't elaborate further, there are plenty, always, not experiencing success and my aim in this note is to point them in the right direction to achieve one pathway to that success (as I believe there are likely many, though I am only familiar with this one). Granted, I am very familiar with the linkage between achieving a criteria, specifying a path to achieve it, in terms of simple mathematics, but this is not something someone cannot learn and familiarize themselves with to a greater level than i have.

Since doing so, I have encountered success with this that I did not think was possible. The execution of the plan turns you into a trading apostate, relegating most market-related exercise, entry & exit, selection, etc., to their rightful place as secondary or tertiary concerns, contrary to what most believe.

No, I'm not going to detail my specific plan — it's unique to the criteria I am seeking to achieve, and the point of this note is to further highlight the critical importance of criteria and plan. Along these lines, what I later found echoed what I was discovering about my plan in a book called "Great By Choice," by Collins and Hansen, specifically the "20 Mile March" notion as it pertains to specifying such criteria-plan relationships as detailed here for trading and their execution.

I doubt most will bother with what I write here. Growing up in the raucous world of Italians and Jews and their gambling, the lure of a little self-created danger and excitement — the little rush of that, is what draws most to this arena and keeps them here, though they don't see it that way.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

Great post, Ralph. It brings to mind CompuTrac/Telerate's Teletrac software, which was originally named TradePlan. It was built to facilitate putting into practice the old Frenchman's wizened admonition "Plan your trades, and trade your plan." Unfortunately it was a bit weak in an area you championed, sizing your trades appropriately, but in many other respects its design remains one of the best for indicator and rule based analytics.

Ralph Vince writes: 

And, if the Chair will grant me a pardon just this one last time (regarding the French, a topic of seemingly poisonous exosmose to our regarded Chair) the number one rule I have learned of the markets and life: "Never face the Old Frenchman. Never. In anything."

Leo Jia comments: 

Hi Ralph,

Thanks very much for the inspiring posts on this thread.

Your point (if I understand correctly) is that the single purpose of a goal is to define the size of the trades. I understand size is very important but am not very clear on how exactly a goal works on that.

According to some literatures (yours as the most prominent), size is determined by how much one want to lose on each trade based on his strategy, and to win more, one has to increase the size, but there is an optimal size beyond which one's return will diminish. Isn't all that simply mathematics and how aggressive one want to be? How does a goal serve here?

On the other hand, how aggressive one want to be is very much influenced by his faith (or his illusion) on how successful his strategy will be. A key question I often have is how one can be so sure that his strategy will work as tested so that he can simply increase his size to the optimal level in order to maximize his return? And this doubt also applies to execution.

Would you kindly explain?

Ralph Vince responds: 

Leo,

You're asking me to explain an awful lot, too much for a simpled response I fear. Let's say there is a risk proposition, a potential trade or wager. If I am going to play it one time, what I stand to make as a function of what I risk is a straight line (from a gentleman's bet, i.e. risking nothing, where f, the fraction of our stake we risk, is zero, to risking the house, f=1.0, where the line goes from 1, that is, risking nothing we make a multiple of 1 on our stake after the proposition, to some value > 1 where we risk the entire house).

For a subsequent play, where what we have left to risk is a function of what ocurred the first play, a curve begins to form (and thus you can see how the notion of a "horizon," that is a finite number of plays is an important parameter in all of this). No longer is the peak at f=1 when we have more than 1 play. The peak begins to move from 1.0 in the direction towards some value > 0 .

And I can show mathematically (because this is NOT a story about may, but about graphic visualization) that, absent knowing where that peak will be in the future, that the long-term best guess for this peak is p/2, that is the percentage of winning periods divided by 2. If I expect 50% of my plays or periods I have a position to be winning, then the best guess for this peak is 50% / 2 = .25. I am not going into the mathematical reasoning behind that here.

There's more….a lot more now. A curve has formed. The curve has a shape, and the story is in the shape of the curve and all the geometrically important points therein (I have catalogued these and discussed them at length to a disinterested world). And you are neccesarily on this curve when you trade this instrument, whether like or not, acknowledge it or not, and likely moving about this curve — and you are paying the consequences and reaping the benefits of where you are on this curve.

And here's the thing — you have control over where you are on the curve, and where you are moving on it. You don;t have control over the trade. And the thing you have control over is the difference between a gentleman's bet (where nothing is at risk) and having your entire life at risk.

Now, you have a criteria. Someone asked earlier on this thread for a particular criteria, which sound like a sort of portfolio insurance, and thus, a path can be plotted on this curve to accomplish precisely that.

There's a lot more to the geometry of this, and the paths on the curve (or surface in N + 1 dimensions, where N is the number of components you are trading), but people prefer to be blind to this but they do so at their peril and cost.

Newton Linchen writes: 

Ralph,

When I finally understood Kahnemann's proposition, that people (including and - specially - me) are not "risk averse", but "loss averse", and later recognize that was this "loss aversion" that caused me to lose more than I needed to, (since I have always researched trading strategies), the next logical step was to dive into your work.

I'm now at the point of embracing your ideas about the leverage space "for good", because I finally realized that trading requires so much toil… that it's simply not worth it if you don't aim for the maximum goal.

In other words, trading is difficult regardless of anything else… So why not do it for the maximum available profit?

That of course, requires courage, since humans have a great deal of loss aversion - and it's only possible when one realizes that it's just not worth it if you don't aim at the zenith.

Ralph Vince writes: 

If you want to Newton, and you have the stomach for it. If that's your criteria — growth maximization and drawdown be damned, then yes, you want to be at what you expect the peak to be over the future horizon of holding periods you are going to engage over.

Me, I'm old and cowardly. I like to sit on park benches with a shawl on…

Leo,

These are already things everyone is already doing, i.e. they ARE moving around in this leverage space, like it or not, likely moving about it, paying the consequences and reaping the benefits of a location in a geometry which has extreme bearing on his fulfillment (or not) of his criteria. Your guy employing the mean variance approach has, as his criterion, maximizing expected (1 period!) gain with respect to variance (usually within some specified other constraints, like without using margin, without more than x% in any one group, no short sales, etc). He is still invariably in leverage space, moving about it. (Further, in assuming the main facet of his criteria, maximizing return vis-a-vis risk, wherein he specifies risk as variance in that return, is mathematically misguided as variance is a diminution in [consecutive] return, and not risk, i.e. it is already baked into the return portion, i.e. the altitude in leverage space, as one considers consecutive return [i.e. reinvestment]).

It's not a matter of maximizing return, alone or with respect to something — unless that is ones criteria. Regardless, we are in leverage space, moving around, and can craft our plan our path through or stationary location within this space to satisfy our criteria.

And, absent a criteria, a "goal," the virtue of which was questioned at the trailhead of this thread, there can be no plan as nothing is being sought (other than perhaps entertainment or some form of self gratification). And if one does have a goal, a plan can be crafted to try to achieve that goal.
 

Sep

25

 Thus spake Taleb:

Conclude, if you are starting a career, move away from investment management and performance related lotteries as you will be competing with a swelling future spurious tail. Pick a less commoditized business or a niche where there is a small number of direct competitors. Or, if you stay in trading, become a market-maker.

Well, making markets seems to be doomed, too. It has mostly been supplanted by the 'bots, and the pockets of fleshly franchise remaining are a diminishing and endangered species.

Taleb is wrong. Investment management and advisory is, always has been, and always will be a confidence game. There will always be men who can inspire confidence, and there will always be men who lack it and are willing to pay for it. This rule trumps the ability of the confidence man to provide investment performance– as long as he can inspire confidence, his AUM will runneth over. This basic voltage imbalance among men is an immutable characteristic of the human condition, and can never be replaced by computerized automation. It will remain the driving force behind this so-called "industry".

It reminds me of this H.L Mencken quote:

Perhaps the most valuable asset that any man can have in this world is a naturally superior air, a talent for sniffishness and reserve. The generality of men are always greatly impressed by it, and accept it freely as a proof of genuine merit. One need but disdain them to gain their respect. Their congenital stupidity and timorousness make them turn to any leader who offers, and the sign of leadership that they recognize most readily is that which shows itself in external manner. This the true explanation of the survival of monarchism, which always lives through its perennial deaths.

As always,

Gibbons Burke

Sep

21

 Having internalized some basic aspects of wave counts, such as alternation of corrective waves within a motive wave, coming back to the counts produced by Advanced GET is a strange experience, as the software-generated counts seem quite wrong.

Have others, as I now have, given up using software to mark the key wave points? Of course one would still use a software grid to mark Fibonacci retracements.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Actually, Advanced Get by Tom Joseph was very good when first introduced in late 80's-early 90's. Trick was that one should have also attended Tom's weekend workshop (mostly held near an airport in Ohio), to be tipped on the whole essence: type 1 and type 2 trades, wave 4 index and oscilator. Without figuring out when Wave 4's odds diminish to unacceptable — there is no reliable Elliott Wave trading. And Fib retracements are great — but ONLY if EW type 1 or type 2 trade has first been isolated. I taught Tom's methods for about 15 years. Not sure if any of my students succeeded in black-boxing the entire methodology.

Tim Melvin writes:

Did someone really say fibonacci on the spec list? This could get interesting if it is anything like the old days…

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Well, that's the whole point. Loving to say Fib doesn't test well– when the wrong application was tested to begin with.

Phil McDonnell writes: 

To be sure one must test something according to the right way of doing things. However that is exactly the problem with wave counts and the like. The rules are so arcane and convoluted even so called experts disagree on them.

If you get 5 different Elliot exerts in a room you will get 5 different wave counts at the same time. It is a bit like the game of Fizzbin. The rules keep changing and are unnecessarily complex. 

Leo Jia writes: 

I think one probably should take this argument as a not-bad news for Elliot theory or any theory that gives non-consenting results. It means that it likely has some statistical truth in it that is worth one's effort in seeking. Don't we agree that a market theory delivering definitive results does not exist or, if exists, ought to be thrown out?

Steve Ellison writes: 

Trying to stay in line with our raison d'etre, I have been coding a method for retrospectively identifying highs and lows of multiple levels of significance.

My approach is to go bottom up, starting with an idea I got from one of the Senator's books. A local high is a bar whose close is higher than the closes of both the previous bar and the following bar. A local low is a bar whose close is lower than the closes of both the previous bar and the following bar (a sequence of 2 or more bars with equal closes count as one bar for this purpose).

After identifying the local highs and lows, I move up a level. A 2nd level high is one that is higher than both the preceding local high and the following local high. A 2nd level high cannot be recognized until one bar after the lower local high that follows the 2nd level high. I record the time at which the 2nd level high could have been recognized.

I follow similar rules to identify 3rd level, 4th level, etc., highs and lows and the times at which they could have been recognized in retrospect.

I haven't finished yet, but this method should give me a platform for testing hypotheses about "primary trends", etc.

Anatoly Veltman writes:

Tom Joseph's contribution to E.W. trading, in my view, was much greater than Prechter's or RN.Elliott's. Tom basically said with his excellent refined Type 1 trade: don't ever place any bid, unless:

1) you've already observed a valid impulse (with extended third wave)
2) a correction is currently in progress, approaching 38% of preceding rally
3) you're filtering this correction with oscilator return to 0, and fourth-wave index still sufficient for fifth wave
4) fifth wave projection extends to at least 2:1 profit/loss ratio, incl. all possible slippage.

I say: if all these conditions are not met (and this may not occur every day) - never place a bid at 38% retracement. If all these conditions are not met, you'll have to bid only at near-100% retracement. What does this principle have to do with popular E.W. or popular Fibonacci methods. Nothing!!
 

Laurence Glazier writes: 

Sure, things are complicated and one would not wish to poke a stick into a hornets nest, but … some things are complicated.

It took hundreds of years to elicit the laws of harmony from the canon of classical music (many to this day deny their existence). Put five composers in a room and have them harmonise a tune (the non-believers might refuse to!), and they will do it five different ways, but they will all have added to the map of knowledge.

Even knowing those laws, one could not reasonably predict how a piece of music would continue if Pause were pressed (unless it were minimalist) - but one might anticipate it would return to the tonic key, and that the free fantasia would not be over-long, and so on.

Those laws are difficult, unprovable, and without material substance but are the result of empirical observation.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

CTA E.W. Dreiss used, in the 1990s, a very similar way to count waves in the market using what he called the Fractal Wave Algorithm (FWA), and he traded futures breakouts from FWA-n magnitude highs and lows. Did quite well, but like all trend followers, it is a bumpy ride.

He also came up with the Choppiness Index, which sums the true ranges in the last n periods, and takes that as a ratio of the n-day range.
 

Jason Ruspini writes: 

This is the natural approach that I took as well. Ignoring the "correct" 1-5 definitions, I just looked for a run of higher such double-X highs and higher double-X lows identifiable with the necessary lag, with attention to what happens when you eventually get a lower major high/low, breaking the "wave" run count, which can keep going after 5. What I found wasn't very interesting, in-line with my previous comment. I'm still unclear if anyone is actually trading a tested (complicated) system or just applying versions of rules with discretion. If it is a tested system, why is it better than a simple long-term momentum system?

George Parkanyi writes:

I like to keep it simple. Many years ago, I read something written by Larry that said, when the commercials are generally substantially more net long or short than specs - that tends to stop trends and turn markets the other way. He admitted it was a rough rule of thumb - that it may take a while to turn the tanker - but I pay attention and time after time I've got to say it works. So right now two markets that fit that profile are coffee and to a little lesser extent sugar. (Oh yeah, VIX as well) I've been long both for a couple of weeks with modest starting positions, and just had a nibble at VIX. I don't know when the trends will turn and I may have to take a stop or two, but I like the chances for a good position-trade in these two markets - and VIX as a bet on a short-term post-Fed hang-over. I checked back to when coffee started this particular big decline - and it was within two weeks of when commercials were selling the crap out of it and their net-short positions had peaked. Gold and a number of other commodities did the same thing at the beginning of this rally that began in May - except that the commercials were the only buyers at the time. It may be a dumb-as-dirt perspective on my part, and will likely set off Anatoly - but its one thing that has stuck with me from reading a number of Larry's books.

Aug

24

 As an island resident we have to worry about hurricanes this time of year. Lots of interesting things about hurricanes but one of the biggest is they are pretty unpredictable looking out a few days/weeks. A look at any "spaghetti" chart will show that the current storm, Isaac, might end up in New Orleans or it might end up in Boston. A pretty wide range. Generally it is best to have some supplies on hand when living in danger zones but to avoid closing the shutters and making amends with the almighty until the storm is right on top of you.

That said, all models seem to predict fairly well in the short term. Has anyone looked into spaghetti models in predicting market movements? Thus far my simple google searches haven't turned up much in the way of the math behind the models. I know some weather predictions involve the Lorenz indicator and elements of chaos theory so perhaps that is a good starting point.

Gibbons Burke comments: 

Interesting fact: Isaac in Hebrew means "he laughs" or "he will laugh". Sarah, his mother, laughed when she overheard the prophesy of the three visitors telling Abraham she would bear a child within the year, past the age of childbearing.

Russ Sears writes: 

I believe you are looking for Lorenz Equations.

While not my expertise, I think this is best visualized as two circular motions pushing against each other, the pressures, speeds and dynamics of eventual interaction makes the path "chosen" impossible to predict exactly. Often they will "spin" in one direction or the other because a very small tipping point gets rolling and will be opportunistically reinforced.

Others like to illustrate it with the "Lorenzo Water Wheel".

Here is a video illustrating it.

Perhaps the water wheel is a better analogy to the markets, The bulls are pouring money in, the bears are leaking it out and the financial/economy weighs the inertia and gravity to the spin.
 

Aug

1

 The market if touched would seem to be an exact replica of the spider's attacking when the thread is tripped. The brokers have a variant of that called a "ghost order" that is not on the books anywhere but is triggered whenever a bid or offer hits the price electronically that maintains the privacy of the spider's plan.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

In the days of the dinosaur, when physical pit trading reigned supreme, the would-be spiders with resting M.I.T. orders could be gauged by the size of the deck of order tickets held in big-fish client's brokers hands. The hunting raids mounted by locals called "gunning for the stops" often caused the would-be predators to become prey.

This game is now being played by the new locals (co-locals?) - the HFT bots at the speed of light.

Speaking of the speed of light, and a different order of M.I.T., some smart fellows there have created a camera which is so fast (a trillion frames per second) it can take a movie of a packet of photons - a laser light bullet a millimeter in length - traveling through a soft drink bottle:

Here is a nice TED talk from Ramesh Raskar on "imaging at a trillion frames per second".

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

One believes that a buy market if touched order rests below the current price. And a sell market if touched order rests above the current price but the spirit of taking advantage of the weak is the same.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Furthermore, MIT orders, buy stops, sell stops, GTC orders, etc if held at the exchange or their servers become part of the market and are served to the inside players as delectable morsels to snack on.

William Weaver writes: 

Even orders that are held on a broker server can be seen by others within that brokerage… I was exploring Bberg the other day and found a function that allowed me to see what other orders rested within the firm. I've been keeping orders personal server, or CPU side for a while, but after that discovery I've become even more paranoid (not that I am a big enough player to get attention, but sometimes it seems like it is statistically improbable for prices to all but reach my take profit only to reverse and get almost to negative where I exit flat).

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Just to remind us, today's slippage on filled orders is only one tick, or even half-tick. It is the slippage on unabled limit orders that's a real killer. In the previous discussion of how HST effects long-term investors, who are "forced" to wait in queue for execution…yes, the sheer volume of short-term predatory activity, which occupies certain time on exchange server, and could go awry - could spill into a more illogical (random) near-term direction. Long-term is a series of short-terms to a degree - and all this short-term activity may be adding to randomness. This is liable to confuse the heck out of longer-term thinker and leave him entirely outside of the trade: we hear more and more how this or that traditional indicator has become a victim of fake-outs. 

Mar

28

Having considered the rollover for many years, I conclude the best thing is not to roll over at all.

Bruno Ombreux agrees: 

You are right. But that is if you have a choice. Sometime you have hedges that need to be rolled over. And it is not a choice you make. The hedges are a consequence of your underlying business, which is where you make the money. Then the hedges and the rolls are best seen as a cost, even if sometime they turn out a profit.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

An alternative to creating a single continuous contract to model the behavior of a trading regime which may holds a position across contract deliveries (as this must be tested) is to test that model's behavior using individual contract histories as you would do in real time, rolling your position at the indicated times as necessary. If you need more history for your indicators than the new contract has, then you can create a back adjusted contract anew each time with the contract inn which you have the current position reflecting the actual prices at which that contract traded, but the historical data has values from earlier contracts. This minimizes the distorting effect of cumulative rollover adjustments that you get when you make one continuous series covering the entire testing period.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

There is a paradox in this discussion. As a *theoretical* matter: I can own a cash position in something for X months/years (as a speculation, hedge or investment.) Or I can buy a future that expires in X months/years. If the p&l between the two is materially different (after taking account of leverage and financing), then this is a pure arbitrage.However, the arbitrage is problematic to exploit in physical commodities because of the logistics involved in owning and storing physical commodities. But the arbitrage should be easy to exploit in things like Stocks, Bonds, Gold, currencies, etc. The arbitrage CAN arise in the course of business precisely because hedgers, investors and speculators all have different motivations. But the arbitrageur will benefit from this dichotomy if his analysis is correct. Let's not fool ourselves: The RATIONAL ECONOMIC ARGUMENT MUST BE: the futures price is the BEST indication of where the price will be in the future. Whether that future is one month or 100 months. Any other interpretation leads to a break down in core economic principles. The rolls are simply a discontinuous manifestation of this phenomenon. 

George Coyle writes: 

I am sure this is flawed logic and welcome analysis/criticism, but all this talk has me thinking stocks are a more ideal vehicle for true trend following (vs futures). No rolling/transaction costs, potential dividend yield. You don't get the leverage and are probably subject to reg T on stocks but that may not be a bad thing.

Gibbons Burke adds: 

Another reason stocks are less susceptible to trend following strategies relative to futures markets are laws forbidding insider trading. The prohibition on a profits from privileged particulars prevents their percolation into prices until promulgated publicly. The predictable result is that when new information is released, it is immediately reflected in the price, causing a quantum move to the new value level, a trend exploitable by only the extremely nimble, or knowledgeable scofflaws.

No such prohibitions prevent futures traders from trading on inside information. The market exists mostly for the benefit of insiders. When they act on information they have, with their fingers on the pulse of the fundamentals of the commodity supply situation, and the condition of crops, etc., that telegraphs that information into the price. As the information spreads, and more traders act on it, the trend to the new value level which reflects the full discounting of that new data. So, the speed with which valuable fundamental data about commodities futures markets gets integrated into price slowly enough for a trend to form in price which is more than just noise. This creates enough beyond-noise trends which makes a trend following system able to operate and squeeze a profit out.

The for trend followers problem comes when the number of trend followers swells, and they all pile onto the signal - the systems acting on smaller noisy trends create their own noise and the increased noise increases the risk to the point where the real trends based on real changes in the supply-demand situation are not big enough to overcome the cost of catching the smaller losing noisy trends for small choppy losses.

Jan

27

 Congrats to [DailySpec contributor] Ralph Vince and Richard Wilkie on the launch of their Leverage Space-based index with Dow Jones. DJ is keeping the technical tradition of its founder Charles Dow alive in this innovative approach to asset investment and market index creation.

Cheers,

Gibbons Burke

Grey-eyed Athena sent them a favorable breeze, a fresh west wind, singing over the wine-dark sea.

-Homer, The Odyssey, II, l.420.

Dow Jones Indexes To Launch The Dow Jones LSP Position Sizing Equal Sector U.S. Large-Cap 50 Index

New Gauge is the First in Dow Jones LSP Position Sizing Indexes Series

Index Methodology is Based on LSP Partners' Proprietary Investment Strategy Created by Noted Risk-Management Expert and Author, Ralph Vince

NEW YORK (January 23, 2012) — Dow Jones Indexes, a leading global index provider, today announced the launch of the Dow Jones LSP Position Sizing Equal Sector U.S. Large-Cap 50 Index, the first in the new Dow Jones LSP Position Sizing Indexes series.

The index series utilizes a proprietary strategy created by the risk-management-research consulting firm, LSP Partners LLC, and its founder and CEO, Ralph Vince.

The Dow Jones LSP Position Sizing Equal Sector U.S. Large-Cap 50 Index is a quantitative-strategy gauge that takes a dynamic approach to measuring U.S. large-cap stocks by allocating index-component weights between an equity segment and a cash segment represented by Treasury Bills. The allocation between the two segments is determined based on a proprietary quantitative algorithm.

The proprietary algorithm is a rules-based application of the Leverage Space Portfolio, or LSP, strategy which seeks to maximize the probability of positive performance, rather than seeking to maximize performance, by employing a risk-control process focused on drawdown management.

"With Ralph Vince's proprietary investment strategy serving as its foundation, we believe the Dow Jones LSP Position Sizing Indexes family represents a novel and conservative approach to evaluating the equity marketplace," said Michael A. Petronella, President, Dow Jones Indexes. "By coupling an innovative strategy with a systematic, rules-based methodology, Dow Jones Indexes and LSP Partners have developed a series of indexes that seek to dynamically account for stock-price fluctuations which can be important during periods of market volatility."

Dow Jones Indexes has fully automated all elements of the LSP strategy into a quantitative algorithm, allowing for universal, systematic, and transparent application of the strategy to a universe of equity components of any size or composition. A detailed description of the index methodology is available here.

Today's index launch follows the April 2011 announcement by Dow Jones Indexes and LSP Partners in which the firms announced an agreement to develop and co-brand an index family to serve as the basis of both passive and active investment funds, including exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, and institutional accounts around the world.

Dec

15

 Have you seen this article about the top 5 regrets of the dying? It is a must read. 

Gary Rogan writes: 

I really liked all of them, except based on everything that I know I disagree with the statement that "happiness is a choice". Irrational fears are not a choice, depression is not a choice, and neither is happiness.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

Well, happiness is dependent on one's attitude, and in many cases, you can choose, control or direct your attitude.

My theory is unhappiness and depression happen when reality does not live up to one's expectations of what life is "supposed" to be like. I think the key to happiness is letting go of those expectations. That action at least is within an individuals purview and control. There is an old Zen maxim: If you are not happy in the here and now, you never will be.

Russ Sears adds:

I think most irrational fears and depression stem from the unintended consequences of one's choices or often, the lack of decisions, such as little or no exercise. However, I believe many of these choices are made when we are children, and we do not fully understand the consequences. Many of these bad choices may be taught often though example by adults or sometimes it is just one's unproductive coping methods that are simply not countered with productive coping methods by the adults in their lives. I think some people are more prone to fall into these ruts, but most of these ruts are dug none the less.

Jim Sogi writes: 

The regrets are perhaps easily said on the deathbed but implementing these choices in life is very difficult. Many can not afford the luxury of such choices. When there is no financial security hard work is a necessity. Such regrets are not much different than daydreams such as, oh I wish I could live in Hawaii and surf everyday. The fact of the matter is that the grass always seems greener on the other side. Speak to the lifestyle guys in their old age. Will they say I wish I worked harder and had a career and made more meaning of life than being a ski bum or surf bum? 

Gary Rogan responds: 

What you say is true about the effects of exercise. But that's just one of many factors that are biochemical in nature. Pre-natal environment, genetics, and related chemical balances and imbalances are highly important in the subjective perception of the level of happiness. There are proteins in your brain that effect how the levels of happiness-inducing hormones and neurotransmitters are regulated and there is nothing you can do about it without a major medical intervention. Certainly some choices that people make affect their eventual subjective perceptions through the resultant stresses and satisfying achievements in their lives, so the choice part of it can clearly be argued. My main point was that by the time the person is an adult, their disposition is as good as inherited. They can vary the levels of subjective perception of happiness around that level through their actions, but they are still stuck with the range, mostly through no fault or choice of their own.

Since a few literally quotations on the subject have been posted, let me end with the quote from William Blake that was used before the chapter on the biological basis of personality I recently read:

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born.

Every Morn & every Night

Some are Born to sweet Delight.

Ken Drees writes in: 

I believe that you must put effort towards a goal and that exercise in itself begets a reward that bends toward happiness. It's the journey, not the end result. You must cultivate to grow. A perfectly plowed field left untended grows weeds–the pull is down if nothing is done.

Russ Sears adds:

 It has been my experience with helping others put exercise into their lives that few teens and young adults have reached such a narrow range that they cannot achieve happiness in their lives. This would include people that have been abused and people that have a natural dispensation to anxiety. Their "range" increases often well beyond what we are currently capable of achieving with "major medical intervention". As we age however our capacity to exercise decreases. While the effects of exercise can still be remarkable; they too are limited by the accelerated decay due to unhappiness within an older body's capacity. Allowing time for our bodies is an art. Art that can bring the delights of youth back to the old and a understanding of the content happiness of a disciplined life to the young.

Peter Saint-Andre replies: 

Horsefeathers.

Yes, hard work is often a necessity. But hard work does not prevent one from pursuing other priorities in parallel (writing, music, athletics, investing, whatever you're interested in). Very few people in America have absolutely no leisure time — in fact they have a lot more leisure time than our forebears, but they waste it on television and Facebook and other worthless activities.

Between working 100 hours a week (which few do) and being a ski bum (which few also do) there lies the vast majority of people. Too many of them have ample opportunity to bring forth some of the songs inside them, but instead they fritter their time away and thus end up leading lives of quiet desperation.

It does not need to be so.

Dan Grossman adds: 

Jim Sogi has a good point. The deathbed regret that one didn't spend more time with one's family is frequently an unrealistic cliche, similar to fired high level executives expressing the same sentimental goal.

The fact is that being good at family life is a talent not everyone has. And family life can be difficult, messy and not easy to make progress with. Which is perhaps one of the reasons more women these days prefer to have jobs rather than deal all day with family.

Being honest or at least more realistic on their deathbeds, some people should perhaps be saying "I wish I had spent more time building my company."

Rocky Humbert comments:

 I feel compelled to note that this discussion about deathbed regrets has been largely ego-centric (from the viewpoint of the bed's occupant) — rather than the perspective of those surrounding the deathbed. I've walked through many a cemetery, (including the storied Kensico Cemetery) and note the preponderance of epitaphs that read: "Loving Husband,"; "Devoted Father," ; "Devoted Mother," and the absence of any tombstones that read: "King of Banking" or "Money Talks: But Not From the Grave."

Notably, Ayn Rand's tombstone in Kensico is devoid of any comments — bearing just her year of birth and death. (She is, however, buried next to her husband.) 

In discussing this with my daughter (who recently acquired her driver's license/learning permit), I shared with her the ONLY memory of my high school driver's ed class. (The lesson was taught in the style of an epitaph.):

"Here lies the body of Otis Day.

He died defending his right of way.

He was right; dead right; as he drove along.

But now he's just as dead, as if he'd been wrong." 

Kim Zussman writes:

Is an approach of future regret-minimization equivalent to risk-aversion?

Workaholic dads have something to show for their life efforts that Mr. Moms don't, and vice-versa.

If so, perhaps the only free epithet is to diversify devotions — at the expense of reduced expectation of making a big mark on the world or your family.

Nov

8

Why would people PAY the government to take their money?

WSJ: Paying to Give U.S. Money? Some Like Idea [registration may be required]

By MIN ZENG

With yields plummeting on U.S. government bonds, the Treasury Department has quietly asked some banks if they would agree to buy new short-term bills offering yields below zero.

Effectively, the Treasury is asking investors if they are willing to pay the government to take their money. And some big banks have answered, "Yes."

It may sound crazy, but yields on Treasurys of less than three-month maturity are already occasionally trading below zero in the secondary market. Under current auction rules, though, the Treasury can't sell so-called T-bills with a negative yield. In the bond market, however, higher yields mean lower prices, so the Treasury is effectively losing out every time it sells bills with higher yields than the prevailing level in the market.

The question was included in a questionnaire the Treasury delivered on Oct. 14 to the 22 primary dealer banks that are obligated to bid on primary auctions of its debt.

[…]

Gibbons Burke comments:

It is just another form of protection racket. For a small tribute, you can keep your money.

Victor Niederhoffer comments: 

The banks are so indebted to the government for their survival and bonuses and trading and purchase of distressed assets, and redeeming of sovereign debt, and capital at the funds rate, and bailouts, and investments et al , and freedom out of hotels that they are happy to accommodate their masters on the Hill with any emoluments like paying the master a fee for the privilege of holding the master's…

Oct

19

How to quantify similarities between such "mountains" [i.e. price charts] ?

1) Decide trailing periods and criteria to be used - YTD performance > X, last 5 year performance > Y, etc
2) Build universe/database of similar companies for each year
3) Build correlation table to confirm
4) Build composite model
5) Look at forward if-then test

In my experience, the bearish case on high momentum names, frankly any name, is best fundamentally analyzed as a move from Blue Oceans to Red Oceans and along with general market trends. Blue oceans situations tend to be P/E unconstrained, consistent growers, etc http://www.blueoceanstrategy.com/ but once we move into the Porter world of Competitive Strategy then P/E becomes constrained which leads to compression. Generally, there are subtle clues - RIMM announced a move into consumer markets where AAPL played- so the business market was saturated - NFLX CFO left when the stock was below $200 on its way to $300. They started focusing on cost strategies, changing the story from new subscriber adds. I haven't followed GMCR that closely - but is there a competitive threat that is changing the marketplace - are they experiencing a strategy change - that's the key question.

Solar existed on subsidies granted by bankrupt governments, so it has to compete with more economic alternatives. Hence, the president's loan issue.

Stocks have to compete with bonds, so stocks crashed in 1929, 1987, 2000, 2008, etc

EK lost to digital photography.

My worst mistake ever came from Able Labs - a generic drug maker - had 26 NDAs pending, huge margins and a new lab in NJ - problem: small reference to litigation in the SEC filings that later turned out to be because they were getting their margins by diluting the drugs - stock went from new high list to opening down something like 86%, where I sold before watching it go to $0 in 30 days. Subtle clues. They are really important if one is making the bearish case.

in reply to Victor Niederhoffer's comment:

Strange similarity  between those two [NFLX and GMCR] to a person who looks at it as
two mountains of different heights with similarly looking crests
relative to the peak.

Query. How would one quantify similarities between such mountains?
And once quantified, what is best way to see the predictive value of
such similarities. I am reminded of the cotton traders most famous
trade. He noted that 1987 looked similar to 1929. then he knew it was
going to have a crash. The drunk man saw the same similarity and started
out long that Monday, and then sold. Between the two of them, they were
enough to trip the portfolio insurance to sell.

Query. How ridiculous can you get without quantifying the two
questions I asked? I say it wasn't that similar to 1929 as compared to
other years. and also that the ones most similar to a given few years of
bearishness, in the past, the less is the relation between past and
present. i.e. no predictive value to start.

Gibbons Burke comments:

There is another model which incorporates a similar gradual buildup with no appreciable change, then catastrophic breakdown, like the straw breaking the camel's back. A simple model is dropping grains of sand onto a surface. A pile builds up. With each grain the pile gets higher and higher, in an orderly fashion and is stable, until the angle of repose gets to a critical point, at which the next grain of sand sets off an avalache. Similar but subtly different. The concept is known as "self-organized criticality", and I suppose it may have some relevance to how bubbles build up and then collapse:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organized_criticality

Christopher Tucker writes: 

See also Slope Stability Analysis Methods:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slope_stability#Analysis_methods

A similar criticality phenomenon is Flashover:

(quoting the wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flashover )

A flashover is the near simultaneous ignition of all combustible material in an enclosed area. When certain materials are heated they undergo thermal decomposition and release flammable gases. Flashover occurs when the majority of surfaces in a space are heated to the autoignition temperature of the flammable gases (see also flash point). Flashover normally occurs at 500 °C (930 °F) or 1,100 °F for ordinary combustibles, and an incident heat flux at floor level of 1.8 Btu/ft²*s (20 kW/m²).[1]

another is Phase Transition: (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase_transition )

A phase transition is the transformation of a thermodynamic system from one phase or state of matter to another.

see also Crystallization: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystallization

see also Nucleation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nucleation

see also Vitrification http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitrification

Gibbons Burke responds: 

I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to capture a flashover in a fire near my home (in 2006) in New Orleans:

http://web.mac.com/gibbonsb/Site/Blog/Entries/2006/3/13_Portrait_of_a_flashover.html

 Stefan Jovanovich comments:

The sad fact is that the firefighter community still has no agreement on how to deal with flashover risk. They have not even settled on the question of whether to use a wide fog or straight stream!!!!!

http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/print/volume-157/issue-6/features/flashover-risk-management.html

The best teacher I ever had (an instructor at the Navy's Damage Control School in Philadelphia), said that the Navy were the only firefighters who had figured out how to do something besides spray and pray - i.e. use foam to suffocate fires and inert gases to secure the fuel lines - and even so there was a fatal tendency to believe that all you needed to do was get a big enough bucket. He pointed out to the class that the greatest risk of the Forrestal fire turned out to be the water from the firefighting itself, which almost capsized the ship and washed away the retardant foam.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1967_USS_Forrestal_fire

Oct

14

 Are HFTs like insider traders? Insiders have an edge because they know nonpublic information about their businesses. What edge do high frequency traders have? Do their fleeting orders that are pulled within milliseconds give them unique insight into order flow?

Victor Niederhoffer comments:

No. It gives them the insight to earn the bid asked spread which specialists used to earn and prevents others from doing the same. See Niederhoffer and Osborne on this point jasa 1966.

Vince Fulco comments: 

HFT machines and their algorithms, competing fiercely amongst themselves to be the point of the cathode (bid, the electron receiver) and the anode (ask, the supply of electrons) across which a trade sparks, make it possible for a market order in size to be executed within the public bid-asked spread, which, in stocks is a penny. That means if the bid is 42.12 and the ask is 42.13, a buy order will likely be filled at 42.127566.

Compare to not too long ago when the minimum increment was a sixteenth (six and a quarter pennies) and before that an eighth (twelve and a half pennies.) As long as we aren't competing to be market makers, we the trading and investing public have benefitted from the machines duking it out in milliseconds and micropoints to sell at the ask and buy at the bid. It has narrowed the spread, speeded up executions, and facilitated ever larger trades which do not disturb the price.

This increased mechanical competition provides depth, though it is much less visible depth because the machines can flash in and yank bids and offers faster than the message can travel from your retina to your lizard brain. The supposed lack of depth is simply because the depth has gone stealth. It is there.

The franchises available to humans to make the market are gone are will be in the liquid equities markets. The machines have taken over. Our edges in humans, while they last, must span larger time scales.

anonymous writes: 

This just seems like a better adaptation, right?

At least in stocks, the order book is locked until the order executes, and so there is no way to get into the book ahead of anyone else to provide liquidity for an order as it execute. Similarly, there is no front running possible as the order book is closed.

The NYSE Specialists saw the orders first and made the quotes, and so had an 'unfair' edge. Otoh, they had to buy on zero or minus ticks unlike the HFT guys who can take stock.

As an aside, I assume that much of the price spikyness is is HFT (generation something) gunning against each other.

Phil McDonnell adds: 

 The edge they have is that their co-located servers get to see your order 30 milliseconds before it becomes marketable. This allows them to front run orders with a fast acting algorithm. Their orders are acted upon instantly but not yours. In effect they get a 30 ms option on your order.

The opportunity is very similar to the wire scam in The Sting where the results of the track races are delayed so that the scammers can appear to be picking winners.

Jim Lackey writes: 

 I bid for 5,000 shares of a nazzy stock during lunch and watched the HFT gone wild. When ESRX was pre split and over 100 a share I fooled with it at lunch one day last summer of 2010. It's exactly like us back in the day watching instinet bids and offers and we soes the market makers. Problem is or the unknowing if they can see your market order (even if limit to take the offer) 1 millisecond before it goes public the HFT can take the offer and then be the next higher offer and make a cent or as Gibbons says 1/10th of a cent. That was flash orders that are supposedly banned but who the Hades knows.

However, if you know there is nothing in the dark pool throw a market order up for as little as 500 shares and watch them take it up .125 or .25 cents and right back down. It didn't upset me much but it was funny as back in the day the spreads on those stocks were always .25 and the 1/8th for the most liquid. Order handling rules of 1997 changed the game so market makers couldn't make a living they quit became day traders the bubble hit there were no adults in the nazz and well, you saw what happened.

Opposite was the 666 lows and flash crashes. 

That isn't an edge we had that with ISLD exchange 13 years ago. First in line is no big deal, that is playing low or high tick of the day and or trying to take offers just as you know it's about to take off. We all operate on scales and if your no filled at all or enough it's because you were wrong not because your last in line for the penny or the 1/4 on the futures. Co location is the last thing I worry about. Even if you hide your orders or use limits at the offer prices or even above where your scale would be I do fear shortly the order sniffers would make my bid thru the ask the bid by the millisecond it takes my order to go from my machine in Nashville to the CME. Then see my order codes and say wow this lack is on the ball today and I go to buy 5es and they buy 50,000…

Yes that was a joke.

anonymous writes:

Hi Phil,

As I understand it, if I send an order to NYSE, my order posts to the NYSE book, and if it is marketable, the book is frozen (no new orders into the book) until my order becomes unmarketable. Are you saying that participants other than DMM's can see my order before it gets into the NYSE book? If so, I am headed to OWS.

Thanks! Jared

Tradercraft writes: 

They simply see and can react to bids and offers more quickly. If you put in a bid to buy at 15.23, they will bid 15.232. You pull yours out, and they pull theirs. You can't compete with them at the sparking tip of the arc gap. They make their money by making the market, so the competition is to be the just-highest bid, and the just-lowest ask. They pocket the spread. Outside pay the spread. That is life in the markets.

Vince Fulco comments:

Trade flow for all non-HFTs gets screwed up. Inevitably you have to bid much smaller and with wider scales lessening the chance of a full fill. HFTs exist for no other reason than to goad one to pay up.

Jim Lackey adds: 

I am not going to argue with time and sales whether or not HFT adds or takes liquidity for that second. However all day long they are simply market makers or short term scalpers, so at some point they add liquidity back.

Look at it this way, if a HFT decides to front run and buy and that next second the euro drops and the algoes whack all the bids then HFT is now a seller, which is good for us if we are looking to buy 5-50 or 5 hours later at lower prices. It's only bad when I am not long and we rise or I am long and it's a dramatic last hour decline. How you, me, and traders vs. investors scale is a function of the magnitude of ranges, day change/velocity and margin/firepower at the end of start of runs.

If you want my vote to kill off HFT or triple levered ETF's I say start with the ETF's first. What difference is it to me if its GSCO MLCO, Floorbrokers or HFT trying to rip me off? Yet the Triple nippled ETF's that are used to get around margin rules now make the stock it self a derivative of a ETF or an Index.

In a way its as wacky as that ABX intex or other mumbo that at first was a design to help and hedge a market and became a weapon. CDS ETF's all that off the book. Makes being a bookie a tough game…for what good reason? People gave up on the game as its so rigged now we have 5-10% air pockets in the entire US stock market. Kinda silly…

Anton Johnson adds: 

Will the evolutionary terminus be that the pride of once cooperative machines turn on each other once their prey is pressured to extinction, or will there be equilibrium where the apex predators maintain both population and stress levels that permit sufficient sustenance for their prey to coexist?

Gibbons Burke comments:

They are doing that now. There are algorithms that are designed to exploit the patterns of the other algorithms. There are all sorts of games being played at the millisecond level which are predatory in nature, and adaptive.

Sep

11

Optimal location has always commanded a premium in commerce. If you wish to set up an HFT franchise, it is no different than what McDonald's does in setting up a burger store, or what futures exchange members used to pay in order to stand in the pit and spit on one another. The stock exchanges have set up an electronic pit — populated with server racks with colorful CAT5 cables instead of garish and worn neckties and jackets — each with a cable to the main router which is cut to exactly the same physical distance as all the other servers in that pit. You gotta pay to play. It is as it has ever been. The benefits in market liquidity to have these efficient competitors duking it out to be JUST on the inside of the bid-ask spread has the effect of narrowing that spread, reducing the transaction costs, and ability to execute orders without budging the quote, and for this efficiency they are being well rewarded. I reckon it is to the Good. There will be abuses and corruptions, as ever, but these are part and parcel of the mistress's price.

Sep

2

How do they say Lobogola in the South.

Gibbons Burke writes:

"The South's Gonna Do It Again!".

Jun

24

"Audiences use language devices seen regularly in the movies to shape their own discourse," he points out. In particular, people are likely to see what types of speech 'work well' in the movies in enabling characters to gain their objectives, and copy that. "One might surmise that movies are the marketplace for seeing what's on offer, what works, and what needs purchasing and avoiding in buyers' own communicative lives," Giles says.

From here

Gibbons Burke writes:

 Saturday Night Live seems to have an initial measure of success. The actors and writer seem to track how effective they are at planting and watering the seeds of catchwords in the culture, ways of talking in novel distinctive ways that they can see in society and know they are having an impact.

For example, it was sort of novel when David spade played an arrogant receptionist who would receive clients at an office. Rather than ask a straight question, every request for informatiowas posed as a fill in the blank. For example, rather than ask the client "May I have your name?" or "What is your name?" make a statement which required an answer to complete. "I am here to see Dr. Dinkus." Spade replies "…and you arrrrrrre ________?" "Tom Turkey" "and you re seeing Dr. becaussssssse _________?" "I have a sore back."

All of a sudden, it seems to me everyone starts talking like that - a viral verbal meme. Maybe it was there before, and SNL just lofted it to prominence.

A more recent case like that is the repeated "Really?" question - as an expression of indignation, surprise, disbelief. "Really, San Francisco? Banning goldfish? Really? Really?"

I don't know if the writers on SNL heard that somewhere and then decided to flog it into mass acceptance, or whether their writers just like coming up with that sort of thing, but it seems to be a cultural game that probably goes on in the movies as well.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

The one that has become noticeable to me in the past couple of years on CNBC is the use of "So" to start answers to questions. Maybe this has been around a long time but it has an odd cadence to it. The host asks the guest a specific question and the guest answers with a somewhat deflective sounding…"So first quarter sales improved and our expectations for the rest of the year are…."

"So" becomes a transitional word to suggest a level of sophistication about what is to follow—it eases the speaker into a difficult answer, but it has certain dismissive and weaseling connotations when overused.

One is tempted to say "so, so what?" to CEOs who begin all sentences with "So".

I am not sure where or when the "So" meme started or how it took root in the Wall Street Community but there must be a simple explanation not related to Peter Gabriel's 5th studio album.

 

Apr

5

 I know that there have been posts not long ago on great books for kids regarding business. My seven year old son has been showing a keen interest in the idea of business and particularly in entrepreneurship. I was wondering if readers of this site might share the names of books or other resources that might assist me in fostering this in his development. The kid wants to make money!

Mark Schuetz writes: 

Hate to bring up a touchy subject, but I think it would be fun for kids to read about Buffett starting out. Definitely an interesting story about how he went from a paper route, to repairing pinball machines, to buying and renting a house, and so on, and SAVED money the whole time instead of spending it. It doesn't even have to be Buffett– maybe a kid could relate more to reading about famous businesspeople/investors when they were young and how they developed even at a very young age. It could inspire kids to think about more current ideas for themselves (very few will be interested in repairing pinball machines).

An editor writes: 

When I was a kid I really enjoyed the book The Toothpaste Millionaire about a 6th grader who starts a business selling toothpaste and becomes very successful. 

Victor Niederhoffer recommends: 

Self Help by Samuel Smiles, The Incredible Bread Machine, The Little Red Hen, Letters from a Self Made Merchant to his Son, by Lorimer.

John Floyd adds:

Toothpaste Millionaire

The Girl Who Owned a City
.

Gibbons Burke adds: 

This is an oldie but a goodie: The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. Many meals for a lifetime in this book.

Another good one for personal development skills helpful in business is Og Mandino's The Greatest Salesman in the World.

Feb

1

I don't think one becomes good at trading until we have been beaten so much that we no longer fear the beast…once you learn how to take any shot the market give you, success comes so much easier.

Jay Pasch replies:

There is wisdom in this post; it also emphasizes the importance of having enough skin in the game to experience its sensitivities especially when it comes to turning points– turning points start to hurt, they frustrate you, they wear you down, they rub you raw to a point where you think you can't take it anymore, to a point where you question your methods, why you trade for a living, to a point of throwing in the towel– it is then that the trader needs his perseverance the most and to stay awake.

Victor Niederhoffer asks:

What are the turning points and how can they be predicted? That's a good way of
trading I think. A turning point and run are pretty much the same with
proper definitions as a start.

Jim Sogi writes: 

There are enough niches and styles in markets that a person can find one in which his own weaknesses create the least problems.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Craig wrote about Cyclone Yasi a few days ago. This is a monster storm, and may hit Queensland sugar (and other ag) production. It will be a couple of days before the markets "digest" the results.

Spot sugar is already in tight supply. If the Queensland crop is damaged, it could push up out-month sugar prices, and this might even feed into higher corn prices (i.e. corn syrup). Conversely, the ag markets are already extremely "hot," and we've not seen a bearish headline for ages.

Earlier this morning, the chair asked a most relevant question: "what are turning points and how can they be predicted?" The chair has also previously written that "reversals are more lucrative than trends." Over the past 12 months, sugar is up 65%, coffee is up 76%, cotton is up 125%. If reversals are indeed more lucrative than trends, I'd love to figure out when I should reverse these positions, since I keep wasting money on my hedges. Sadly, the only turning points that I ever see are with 20:20 hindsight.

Vince Fulco writes: 

There seems to be a prevailing reasoning in the trading world that "reversals" or "turning points" are something which must be predicted– while trading "trends" is something which is not predicted, but merely, reacted to. The latter, not requiring "prediction."

I think that prevailing reasoning is false. Being a trend follower still requires one to predict in the sense that he is predicting the trend will continue. Both approaches require prediction. (Similarly, a non-directional approach, a market-neutral approach, say, writing butterflies, is, by the same reasoning, requiring prediction in that one is predicting the market will stay sideways, or at least not go into a protracted trend).

So my question to the site is this: Is it possible therefore to trade and not predict?

Gibbons Burke comments: 

Method one: Book your profits in your mind, don't treat it as "house money" and decide right now, for each market, how much of your money you are willing to give back to the markets. Draw your line in the sand and let the market take you out at that point. If it takes you out and then goes back to make new highs, consider maybe getting back in.

Method two, which I prefer: take half of your positions off the table, cash in the chips and reward your self for being right. Let the rest ride with a stop set at the point determined by method one. If you keep being right, and start feeling like you want to reward yourself for being right again, take half off again. Keep raising your stop on the remaining positions to lock in your profits, and let the market take you out when it feels like doing so. And given the magnitude of the trends, the likelihood is that when it decides to take you out, it will keep going in lobogola fashion.

I've had this very argument with a well known trend follower/leader on his Facebook page a couple of times. He keeps insisting that trend followers are superior to the other species of traders because they don't make predictions. But my contention is that trend followers are simply deluding themselves if they think they aren't making predictions.

They are predicting that when they get a trend following signal that the market will continue in their direction by a magnitude that is more than twice the size of the risk they are taking on. They predict that this will happen maybe 20% of the time, and that when they catch those big moves they will make up for all the psyche-destroying losses of which they predict their method will keep small.

It is a different sort of prediction, but it is nonetheless a prediction.

Dec

31

UPDATE 1/31/2011:

Contestants Summary:

- 31 Spec-listers contributed to the 2011 Investment Contest with "specific" recommendations.

- Average 4 recommendations per person (mean of 4.2, median and mode of 4) came in.

- 6 contestants gave only 1 recommendation, 3 gave only 2 and thus 9 out of the total 31 have NOT given the minimum 3 recommendations needed as per the Rules clarified by Ken Drees.

- The Hall of Fame entry for the largest number of ideas (did someone say diversification?) is from Tim Melvin, close on whose heels are J. T. Holley with 11 and Ken Drees with 10.

- The most creatively expressed entry of course has come from Rocky Humbert.

- At this moment 17 out of 31 contestants are in positive performance territory, 14 are in negative performance territory.

- Barring a major outlier of a 112.90% loss on the Option Strategy of Phil McDonnell (not accounting for the margin required for short options, but just taking the ratio of initial cash inflow to outflow):

- Average of all Individual contestant returns is -2.54% and the Standard Deviation of returns achieved by all contestants is 5.39.

- Biggest Gainer at this point is Jared Albert (with his all in single stock bet on REFR) with a 22.87% gain. The only contestant a Z score greater than 2 ( His is actually 4.72 !!)

- Biggest Loser at this point (barring the Giga-leveraged position of Mr. McDonnell) is Ken Drees at -10.36% with a Z Score that is at -1.45.

- Wildcards have not been accounted for as at this point, with wide
deviations of recommendations from the rules specified by most. While 9
participants have less than 3 recommendations, those with more than 4
include several who have not chosen to specify which 3 are their primary recommends. Without clarity on a universal measurability wildcard accounting is on hold. Those making more than 1 recommendations would find that their aggregate average return is derived by taking a sum of returns of individual positions divided by the number of recommends. Unless specified by any person that positions are taken in a specific ratio its equal sums invested approach.

Contracts Summary:

- A total of 109 contracts are utilized by the contestants across bonds, equity indices (Nikkei, Kenyan Stocks included too!), commodities, currencies and individual stock positions.

- The ratio of Shorts to Longs across all recommendations, irrespective of the type of contract (call, put, bearish ETF etc.) is 4 SELL orders Vs 9 Buy Orders. Not inferring that this list is more used to pressing the Buy Button. Just an occurence on this instance.

- The Average Return, so far, on the 109 contracts utilized is -1.26% with a Standard Deviation of 12.42%. Median Return is 0.39% and the mode of Returns of all contracts used is 0.

- The Highest Return is on MICRON TECH at 28.09, if one does not account for the July 2011 Put 25 strike on SLV utilized by Phil McDonnell.

- The Lowest Return is on IPTV at -50%, if one does not account for the Jan 2012 Call 40 Strike on SLV utilized by Phil McDonnell.

- Only Two contracts are having a greater than 2 z score and only 3 contracts are having a less than -2 Z score.

Victor Niederhoffer wrote:

One is constantly amazed at the sagacity in their fields of our fellow specs. My goodness, there's hardly a field that one of us doesn't know about from my own hard ball squash rackets to the space advertising or our President, from surfing to astronomy. We certainly have a wide range.

May I suggest without violating our mandate that we consider our best sagacities as to the best ways to make a profit in the next year of 2011.

My best trades always start with assuming that whatever didn't work the most last year will work the best this year, and whatever worked the best last year will work the worst this year. I'd be bullish on bonds and bearish on stocks, bullish on Japan and bearish on US stocks.

I'd bet against the banks because Ron Paul is going to be watching them and the cronies in the institutions will not be able to transfer as much resources as they've given them in the past 2 years which has to be much greater in value than their total market value.

I keep wondering what investments I should make based on the hobo's visit and I guess it has to be generic drugs and foods.

What ideas do you have for 2011 that might be profitable? To make it interesting I'll give a prize of 2500 to the best forecast, based on results as of the end of 2011.

David Hillman writes: 

"I do know that a sagging Market keeps my units from being full."

One would suggest it is a sagging 'economy' contributing to vacancy, not a sagging 'market'. There is a difference. 

Ken Drees, appointed moderator of the contest, clearly states the new rules of the game:

 1. Submissions for contest entries must be made on the last two days of 2010, December 30th or 31st.
2. Entries need to be labeled in subject line as "2011 contest investment prediction picks" or something very close so that we know this is your official entry.
3. Entries need 3 predictions and 1 wildcard trade prediction (anything goes on the wildcard).

4. Extra predictions may be submitted and will be judged as extra credit. This will not detract from the main predictions and may or may not be judged at all.

5. Extra predictions will be looked on as bravado– if you've got it then flaunt it. It may pay off or you may give the judge a sour palate.

The desire to have entries coming in at years end is to ensure that you have the best data as to year end 2010 and that you don't ignite someone else to your wisdom.

Market direction picks are wanted:

Examples: 30 year treasury yield will fall to 3% in 2011, S&P 500 will hit "x" by June, and then by "y" by December 2011.

The more exact your prediction is, the more weight will be given. The more exact your prediction, the more weight you will receive if right and thus the more weight you will receive if wrong. If you predict that copper will hit 5.00 dollars in 2011 and it does you will be given a great score, if you say that copper will hit 5.00 dollars in march and then it will decline to4.35 and so forth you will be judged all along that prediction and will receive extra weight good or bad. You decide on how detailed your submission is structured.

Will you try to be precise (maybe foolhardy) and go for the glory? Or will you play it safe and not stand out from the crowd? It is a doubled edged sword so its best to be the one handed market prognosticator and make your best predictions. Pretend these predictions are some pearls that you would give to a close friend or relative. You may actually help a speclister to make some money by giving up a pearl, if that speclister so desires to act upon a contest–G-d help him or her.

Markets can be currency, stocks, bonds, commodities, etc. Single stock picks can be given for the one wildcard trade prediction. If you give multiple stock picks for the wildcard then they will all be judged and in the spirit of giving a friend a pearl–lets make it "the best of the best, not one of six".

All judgments are the Chair's. The Chair will make final determination of the winner. Entries received with less than 3 market predictions will not be considered. Entries received without a wildcard will be considered.The spirit of the contest is "Give us something we can use".

Bill Rafter adds: 

Suggestion for contest:

"Static" entry: A collection of up to 10 assets which will be entered on the initial date (say 12/31/2010) and will be unaltered until the end data (i.e. 12/31/2011). The assets could be a compilation of longs and shorts, or could have the 10 slots entirely filled with one asset (e.g. gold). The assets could also be a yield and a fixed rate; that is one could go long the 10-year yield and short a fixed yield such as 3 percent. This latter item will accommodate those who want to enter a prediction but are unsure which asset to enter as many are unfamiliar with the various bond coupons.

"Rebalanced" entry: A collection of up to 10 assets which will be rebalanced on the last trading day of each month. Although the assets will remain unchanged, their percentage of the portfolio will change. This is to accommodate those risk-averse entrants employing a mean-reversion strategy.

Both Static and Rebalanced entries will be judged on a reward-to-risk basis. That is, the return achieved at the end of the year, divided by the maximum drawdown (percentage) one had to endure to achieve that return.

Not sure how to handle other prognostications such as "Famous female singer revealed to be man." But I doubt such entries have financial benefits.

I'm willing to be an arbiter who would do the rebalancing if necessary. I am not willing to prove or disprove the alleged cross-dressers.

Ralph Vince writes:

A very low volume bar on the weekly (likely, the first of two consecutive) after a respectable run-up, the backdrop of rates having risen in recent weeks, breadth having topped out and receding - and a lunar eclipse on the very night of the Winter Solstice.

If I were a Roman General I would take that as a sign to sit for next few months and do nothing.

I'm going to sit and do nothing.

Sounds like an interim top in an otherwise bullish, long-term backdrop.

Gordon Haave writes: 

 My three predictions:

Gold/ silver ratio falls below 25 Kenyan stock market outperforms US by more than 10%

Dollar ends 10% stronger compared to euro

All are actionable predictions.

Steve Ellison writes:

I did many regressions looking for factors that might predict a year-ahead return for the S&P 500. A few factors are at extreme values at the end of 2010.

The US 10-year Treasury bond yield at 3.37% is the second-lowest end-of year yield in the last 50 years. The S&P 500 contract is in backwardation with the front contract at a 0.4% premium to the next contract back, the second highest year-end premium in the 29 years of the futures.

Unfortunately, neither of those factors has much correlation with the price change in the S&P 500 the following year. Here are a few that do.

The yield curve (10-year yield minus 3-month yield) is in the top 10% of its last 50 year-end values. In the last 30 years, the yield curve has been positively correlated with year-ahead changes in the S&P 500, with a t score of 2.17 and an R squared of 0.143.

The US unemployment rate at 9.8% is the third highest in the past 60 years. In the last 30 years, the unemployment rate has been positively correlated with year-ahead changes in the S&P 500, with a t score of 0.90 and an R squared of 0.028.

In a variation of the technique used by the Yale permabear, I calculated the S&P 500 earnings/price ratio using 5-year trailing earnings. I get an annualized earnings yield of 4.6%. In the last 18 years, this ratio has been positively correlated with year-ahead changes in the S&P 500, with a t score of 0.92 and an R squared of
0.050.

Finally, there is a negative correlation between the 30-year S&P 500 change and the year-ahead change, with a t score of -2.28 and an R squared of 0.094. The S&P 500 index price is 9.27 times its price of 30 years ago. The median year-end price in the last 52 years was 6.65 times the price 30 years earlier.

Using the predicted values from each of the regressions, and weighting the predictions by the R squared values, I get an overall prediction for an 11.8% increase in the S&P 500 in 2011. With an 11.8% increase, SPY would close 2011 at 140.52.

Factor                  Prediction      t       N    R sq
US Treasury yield curve      1.162    2.17      30   0.143
30-year change               1.052   -2.28      52   0.094
Trailing 5-year E/P          1.104    0.92      18   0.050
US unemployment rate         1.153    0.90      30   0.028

Weighted total               1.118
SPY 12/30/10               125.72
Predicted SPY 12/30/11     140.52

Jan-Petter Janssen writes: 

PREDICTION I - The Inconvenient Truth The poorest one or two billion on this planet have had enough of increasing food prices. Riots and civil unrest force governments to ban exports, and they start importing at any cost. World trade collapses. Manufacturers of farm equipment will do extremely well. Buy the most undervalued producer you can find. My bet is
* Kverneland (Yahoo: KVE.OL). NOK 6.50 per share today. At least NOK 30 on Dec 31th 2011.

PREDICTION II - The Ultimate Bubble The US and many EU nations hold enormous gold reserves. E.g. both Italy and France hold the equivalent of the annual world production. The gold meme changes from an inflation hedge / return to the gold standard to (a potential) over-supply from the selling of indebted nations. I don't see the bubble bursting quite yet, but
* Short gold if it hits $2,000 per ounce and buy back at $400.

PREDICTION III - The Status Quo Asia's ace is cheap labor. The US' recent winning card is cheap energy through natural gas. This will not change in 2011. Henry Hub Feb 2011 currently trades at $4.34 per MMBtu. Feb 2012 is at $5.14. I would
* Short the Feb 2012 contract and buy back on the last trading day of 2011.

Vince Fulco predicts:

 This is strictly an old school, fundamental equity call as my crystal ball for the indices 12 months out is necessarily foggy. My recommendation is BP equity primarily for the reasons I gave earlier in the year on June 5th (stock closed Friday, June 4th @ $37.16, currently $43.53). It faced a hellish downdraft post my mention for consideration, primarily due to the intensification of news flow and legal unknowns (Rocky articulated these well). Also although the capital structure arb boys savaged the equity (to 28ish!), it is up nicely to year's end if one held on and averaged in with wide scales given the heightened vol.

Additional points/guesstimates are:

1) If 2010 was annus horribilis, 2011 with be annus recuperato. A chastened mgmt who have articulated they'll run things more conservatively will have a lot to prove to stakeholders.

2) Dividend to be re-instated to some level probably by the end of the second quarter. I am guessing $1.00 annualized per ADS as a start (or
2.29%), this should bring in the index hugging funds with mandates for only holding dividend payers. There is a small chance for a 1x special dividend later in the year.

3) Crude continues to be in a state of significant profitability for the majors in the short term. It would appear finding costs are creeping however.

4) The lawsuits and additional recoveries to be extracted from the settlement fund and company directly have very long tails, on the order of 10 years.

5) The company seems fully committed to sloughing off tertiary assets to build up its liquid balance sheet. Debt to total capital remains relatively low and manageable.

6) The stock remains at a significant discount to its better-of breed peers (EV/normalized EBITDA, Cash Flow, etc) and rightly so but I am betting the discount should narrow back to near historical levels.

Potential negatives:

1) The company and govt have been vastly understating the remaining fuel amounts and effects. Release of independent data intensifies demands for a much larger payout by the company closer to the highest end estimates of $50-80B.

2) It experiences another similar event of smaller magnitude which continues to sully the company's weakened reputation.

3) China admits to and begins to fear rampant inflation, puts the kabosh to the (global) economy and crude has a meaningful decline the likes of which we haven't seen in a few years.

4) Congress freaks at a >$100-120 price for crude and actually institutes an "excess profits" tax. Less likely with the GOP coming in.

A buy at this level would be for an unleveraged, diversified, longer term acct which I have it in. However, I am willing to hold the full year or +30% total return (including special dividend) from the closing price of $43.53 @ 12/30/10, whichever comes first. Like a good sellside recommendation, I believe the stock has downside of around 20% (don't they all when recommended!?!) where I would consider another long entry depending on circumstances (not pertinent to the contest).

Mr. Albert enters: 

 Single pick stock ticker is REFR

The only way this gold chain wearing day trader has a chance against all the right tail brain power on the list is with one high risk/high reward put it all on red kind of micro cap.

Basic story is this company owns all the patents to what will become the standard for switchable glazings (SPD smart glass). It's taken roughly 50 years of development to get a commercialized product, and next year Mercedes will almost without doubt use SPD in the 2012 SLK (press launch 1/29/11 public launch at the Geneva auto show in march 2011).

Once MB validate the tech, mass adoption and revenues will follow etc and this 'show me' stock will rocket to the moon.

Dan Grossman writes:

Trying to comply with and adapt the complex contest rules (which most others don't seem to be following in any event) to my areas of stock market interest:

1. The S&P will be down in the 1st qtr, and at some point in the qtr will fall at least

2. For takeover investors: GENZ will (finally) make a deal to be acquired in the 1st qtr for a value of at least $80; and AMRN after completion of its ANCHOR trial will make a deal to be acquired for a price of at least $8.

3. For conservative investors: Low multiple small caps HELE and DFG will be up a combined average of 20% by the end of the year.

For my single stock pick, I am something of a johnny-one-note: MNTA will be up lots during the year — if I have to pick a specific amount, I'd say at least 70%. (My prior legal predictions on this stock have proved correct but the stock price has not appropriately reflected same.)

Finally, if I win the contest (which I think is fairly likely), I will donate the prize to a free market or libertarian charity. I don't see why Victor should have to subsidize this distinguished group that could all well afford an contest entrance fee to more equitably finance the prize.

Best to all for the New Year,

Dan 

Gary Rogan writes:

 1. S&P 500 will rise 3% by April and then fall 12% from the peak by the end of the year.
2. 30 year treasury yields will rise to 5% by March and 6% by year end.
3. Gold will hit 1450 by April, will fall to 1100 by September and rise to 1550 by year end.

Wildcard: Short Netflix.

Jack Tierney, President of the Old Speculator's Club, writes: 

Equal Amounts in:

TBT (short long bonds)
YCS (short Yen)
GRU (Long Grains - heavy on wheat)
CHK (Long NG - takeover)

(Wild Card)
BONXF.PK or BTR.V (Long junior gold)

12/30 closing prices (in order):
37.84
15.83
7.20
25.97

.451

Bill Rafter writes:

Two entries:

Buy: FXP and IRWD

Hold for the entire year.

William Weaver writes:

 For Returns: Long XIV January 21st through year end

For Return/Risk: Long XIV*.30 and Long VXZ*.70 from close today

I hope everyone has enjoyed a very merry holiday season, and to all I wish a wonderful New Year.

Warmest,

William

Ken Drees writes:

Yes, they have been going up, but I am going contrary contrary here and going with the trends.

1. Silver: buy day 1 of trading at any price via the following vehicles: paas, slw, exk, hl –25% each for 100% When silver hits 39/ounce, sell 10% of holdings, when silver hits 44/ounce sell 30% of holdings, when silver hits 49 sell 60%–hold rest (divide into 4 parts) and sell each tranche every 5 dollars up till gone–54/oz, 59, 64, 69.

2. Buy GDXJ day 1 (junior gold miner etf)—rotation down from majors to juniors with a positive gold backdrop. HOLD ALL YEAR.

3. USO. Buy day 1 then do—sell 25% at 119/bbl oil, sell 80% at 148/bbl, sell whats left at 179/bbl or 139/bbl (whichever comes first after 148)

wildcard: AMEX URANUIM STOCKS. UEC, URRE, URZ, DNN. 25% EACH, buy day 1 then do SELL 70% OF EVERYTHING AT 96$LB u http://www.uxc.com/ FOR PRICING, AND HOLD REST FOR YEAR END.

Happy New Year!

Ken Drees———keepin it real.

Sam Eisenstadt forecasts:

My forecast for the S&P 500 for the year ending Dec 31, 2011;

S&P 500       1410

Anton Johnson writes: 

Equal amounts allocated to:

EDZ Short moc 1-21-2011, buy to cover at 50% gain, or moc 12/30/2011

VXX Short moc 1-21-2011, buy to cover moc 12/30/2011

UBT Short moo 1-3-2011, buy to cover moc 12/30/2011

Scott Brooks picks: 

 RTP
TSO
SLV
LVS

Evenly between the 4 (25% each)

Sushil Kedia predicts:

 Short:

1) Gold
2) Copper
3) Japanese Yen

30% moves approximately in each, within 2011.

Rocky Humbert writes:

(There was no mention nor requirement that my 2011 prediction had to be in English. Here is my submission.) … Happy New Year, Rocky

Sa aking mahal na kaibigan: Sa haba ng 2010, ako na ibinigay ng ilang mga ideya trading na nagtrabaho sa labas magnificently, at ng ilang mga ideya na hindi na kaya malaki. May ay wala nakapagtataka tungkol sa isang hula taon dulo, at kung ikaw ay maaaring isalin ito talata, ikaw ay malamang na gawin ang mas mahusay na paggawa ng iyong sariling pananaliksik kaysa sa pakikinig sa mga kalokohan na ako at ang iba pa ay magbigay. Ang susi sa tagumpay sa 2011 ay ang parehong bilang ito ay palaging (tulad ng ipinaliwanag sa pamamagitan ng G. Ed Seykota), sa makatuwid: 1) Trade sa mga kalakaran. 2) Ride winners at losers hiwa. 3) Pamahalaan ang panganib. 4) Panatilihin ang isip at diwa malinaw. Upang kung saan gusto ko idagdag, fundamentals talaga bagay, at kung ito ay hindi magkaroon ng kahulugan, ito ay hindi magkaroon ng kahulugan, at diyan ay wala lalo na pinakinabangang tungkol sa pagiging isang contrarian bilang ang pinagkasunduan ay karaniwang karapatan maliban sa paggawa sa mga puntos. (Tandaan na ito ay pinagkasunduan na ang araw ay babangon na bukas, na quote Seth Klarman!) Pagbati para sa isang malusog na masaya at pinakinabangang 2011, at siguraduhin na basahin www.rockyhumbert.com kung saan ako magsulat sa Ingles ngunit ang aking mga saloobin ay walang malinaw kaysa talata na ito, ngunit inaasahan namin na ito ay mas kapaki-pakinabang.

Dylan Distasio comments: 

Gawin mo magsalita tagalog?

Gary Rogan writes:

After a worthy challenge, Mr. Rogan is now also a master of Google Translate, and a discoverer of an exciting fact that Google Translate calls Tagalog "Filipino". This was a difficult obstacle for Mr. Rogan to overcome, but he persevered and here's Rocky's prediction in English (sort of):

My dear friend: Over the course of 2010, I provided some trading ideas worked out magnificently, and some ideas that are not so great. There is nothing magical about a forecast year end, and if you can translate this paragraph, you will probably do better doing your own research rather than listening to the nonsense that I and others will give. The key to success in 2011 is the same as it always has (as explained by Mr. Ed Seykota), namely: 1) Trade with the trend.

2) Ride cut winners and losers. 3) Manage risk. 4) Keep the mind and spirit clear. To which I would add, fundamentals really matter, and if it does not make sense, it does not make sense, and there is nothing particularly profitable about being a contrarian as the consensus is usually right but turning points. (Note that it is agreed that the sun will rise tomorrow, to quote Seth Klarman) Best wishes for a happy healthy and profitable 2011, and be sure to read www.rockyhumbert.com which I write in English but my attitude is nothing clearer than this paragraph, but hopefully it is more useful.

Tim Melvin writes:

Ah the years end prediction exercise. It is of course a mostly useless exercise since not a one of us can predict what shocks, positive or negative, the world and the markets could see in 2011. I find it crack up laugh out loud funny that some pundits come out and offer up earnings estimates, GDP growth assumptions and interest rate guesses to give a precise level for the year end S&P 500 price. You might as well numbers out of a bag and rearrange them by lottery to come up with a year end number. In a world where we are fighting two wars, a hostile government holds the majority of our debt and several sovereign nations continually teeter on the edge of oblivion it's pretty much ridiculous to assume what could happen in the year ahead. Having said that, as my son's favorite WWE wrestler when he was a little guy used to say "It's time to play the game!"

Ill start with bonds. I have owned puts on the long term treasury market for two years now. I gave some back in 2010 after a huge gain in 2009 but am still slightly ahead. Ill roll the position forward and buy January 2012 puts and stay short. When I look at bods I hear some folks talking about rising basic commodity prices and worrying about inflation. They are of course correct. This is happening. I hear some other really smart folks talking of weak real estate, high jobless rates and the potential for falling back into recession. Naturally, they are also exactly correct. So I will predict the one thing no one else is. We are on the verge of good old fashioned 1970s style stagflation. Commodity and basic needs prices will accelerate as QE2 has at least stimulated demand form emerging markets by allowing these wonderful credits to borrow money cheaper than a school teacher with a 750 FICO score. Binds go lower as rates spike. Our economy and balance sheet are a mess and we have governments run by men in tin hats lecturing us on fiscal responsibility. How low will they go Tim? How the hell do I know? I just think they go lower by enough for me to profit.

 Nor can I tell you where the stock market will go this year. I suspect we have had it too good for too long for no reason so I think we get at least one spectacular gut wrenching, vomit inducing sell off during the year. Much as lower than expected profits exposed the silly valuations of the new paradigm stocks I think that the darling group, retail , will spark a sell-off in the stock market this year. Sales will be up a little bit but except for Tiffany's (TIF) and that ilk margins are horrific. Discounting started early this holiday and grew from there. They will get steeper now that that Santa Claus has given back my credit card and returned to the great white north. The earnings season will see a lot of missed estimates and lowered forecasts and that could well pop the bubble. Once it starts the HFT boys and girls should make sure it goes lower than anyone expects.

Here's the thing about my prediction. It is no better than anyone else's. In other words I am talking my book and predicting what I hope will happen. Having learned this lesson over the years I have learned that when it comes to market timing and market direction I am probably the dumbest guy in the room. Because of that I have trained myself to always buy the stuff that's too cheap not to own and hold it regardless. After the rally since September truly cheap stuff is a little scarce on the ground but I have found enough to be about 40% long going into the year. I have a watch list as long as a taller persons right arm but most of it hover above truly cheap.

Here is what I own going into the year and think is still cheap enough to buy. I like Winn Dixie (WINN). The grocery business sucks right now. Wal mart has crushed margins industry wide. That aside WINN trades at 60% of tangible book value and at some point their 514 stores in the Southeast will attract attention from investors. A takeover here would be less than shocking. I will add Presidential Life (PLFE) to the list. This stock is also at 60% of tangible book and I expect to see a lot of M&A activity in the insurance sector this year and this should raise valuations across the board. I like Miller Petroleum (MILL) with their drilling presence in Alaska and the shale field soft Tennessee. This one trades at 70% of tangible book. Ill add Imperial Sugar (IPSU), Syms (SYMS) and Micron tech (MU) and Avatar Holdings (AVTR) to my list of cheapies and move on for now.

I am going to start building my small bank portfolio this year. Eventually this group becomes the F-you walk away money trade of the decade. As real estate losses work through the balance sheet and some measure of stability returns to the financial system, perhaps toward the end of the year the small baileys savings and loan type banks should start to recover. We will also see a mind blowing M&A wave as larger banks look to gain not just market share but healthy assets to put on the books. Right now these names trade at a fraction of tangible book value. They will reach a multiple of that in a recovery or takeover scenario. Right now I own shares of Shore Bancshares (SHBI), a local bank trading at 80% of book value and a reasonably healthy loan portfolio. I have some other mini microcap banks as well that shall remain my little secret and not used to figure how my predictions work out. I mention them because if you have a mini micro bank in your community you should go meet then bankers, review the books and consider investing if it trades below the magical tangible book value and has excess capital. Flagstar Bancorp(FBC) is my super long shot undated call option n the economy and real estate markets.

I will also play the thrift conversion game heavily this year. With the elimination of the Office of Thrift Services under the new financial regulation many of the benefits of being a private or mutual thrift are going away. There are a ton of mutual savings banks that will now convert to publicly traded banks. A lot of these deals will be priced below the pro forma book value that is created by adding all that lovely IPO cash to the balance sheet without a corresponding increase in the shares outstanding. Right now I have Fox Chase Bancorp (FXCB) and Capital Federal Financial(CFFN). There will be more. Deals are happening every day right now and again I would keep an eye out for local deals that you can take advantage of in the next few months.

I also think that 2011 will be the year of the activist investor. These folks took a beating since 2007 but this should be their year. There is a ton of cash on corporate balance sheets but lots of underperformance in the current economic environment. We will see activist drive takeovers, restructures, and special dividends this year in my opinion. Recent filings of interest include strong activist positions in Surmodics(SRDX), SeaChange International (SEAC), and Energy Solutions. Tracking activist portfolios and 13D filings should be a very profitable activity in 2011.

I have been looking at some interesting new stuff with options as well I am not going to give most of it away just yet but I ll give you one stimulated by a recent list discussion. H and R Black is highly likely to go into a private equity portfolio next year. Management has made every mistake you can make and the loss of RALs is a big problem for the company. However the brand has real value. I do not want town the stock just yet but I like the idea of selling the January 2012 at $.70 to $.75. If you cash secure the put it's a 10% or so return if the stock stays above the strike. If it falls below I' ll be happy to own the stock with a 6 handle net. Back in 2008 everyone anticipated a huge default wave to hit the high yield market. Thanks to federal stimulus money pumping programs it did not happen. However in the spirit of sell the dog food the dog will eat a given moment the hedge fund world raised an enormous amount od distressed debt money. Thanks to this high yield spreads are far too low. CCC paper in particular is priced at absurd levels. These things trade like money good paper and much of it is not. Extend and pretend has helped but if the economy stays weak and interest rates rise rolling over the tsunami f paper due over the next few years becomes nigh onto impossible. I am going take small position in puts on the various high yield ETFs. If I am right they will explode when that market implodes. Continuing to talk my book I hope this happens. Among my nightly prayers is "Please God just one more two year period of asset rich companies with current payments having bonds trade below recovery value and I promise not to piss the money away this time. Amen.

PS. If you add in risk arbitrage spreads of 30% annualized returns along with this I would not object. Love, Tim.

I can't tell you what the markets will do. I do know that I want to own some safe and cheap stocks, some well capitalized small banks trading below book and participate in activist situation. I will be under invested in equities going into the year hoping my watch list becomes my buy list in market stumble. I will have put positions on long T-Bonds and high yield hoping for a large asymmetrical payoff.

Other than that I am clueless.

Kim Zussman comments: 

Does anyone else think this year is harder than usual to forecast? Is it better now to forecast based on market fundamentals or mass psychology? We are at a two year high in stocks, after a huge rally off the '09 bottom that followed through this year. One can make compelling arguments for next year to decline (best case scenarios already discounted, prior big declines followed by others, volatility low, house prices still too high, FED out of tools, gov debt/gdp, Roubini says so, benefits to wall st not main st, persistent high unemployment, Year-to-year there is no significant relationship, but there is a weak down tendency after two consecutive up years. ). And compelling arguments for up as well (crash-fears cooling, short MA's > long MA's, retail investors and much cash still on sidelines, tax-cut extended, employee social security lowered, earnings increasing, GDP increasing, Tepper and Goldman say so, FED herding into risk assets, benefits to wall st not main st, employment starting to increase).

Is the level of government market-intervention effective, sustainable, or really that unusual? The FED looks to be avoiding Japan-style deflation at all costs, and has a better tool in the dollar. A bond yields decline would help growth and reduce deflation risk. Increasing yields would be expected with increasing inflation; bad for growth but welcomed by retiring boomers looking for fixed income. Will Obamacare be challenged or defanged by states or in the supreme court? Will 2011 be the year of the muni-bubble pop?

A ball of confusion!

4 picks in equal proportion:

long XLV (health care etf; underperformed last year)

long CMF (Cali muni bond fund; fears over-wrought, investors still need tax-free yield)

short GLD (looks like a bubble and who needs gold anyway)

short IEF (7-10Y treasuries; near multi-year high/QE2 is weaker than vigilantism)

Alan Millhone writes:

 Hello everyone,

I note discussion over the rules etc. Then you have a fellow like myself who has never bought or sold through the Market a single share.

For myself I will stick with what I know a little something. No, not Checkers —

Rental property. I have some empty units and beginning to rent one or two of late to increase my bottom line.

I will not venture into areas I know little or nothing and will stay the course in 2011 with what I am comfortable.

Happy New Year and good health,

Regards,

Alan

Jay Pasch predicts: 

2010 will close below SP futures 1255.

Buy-and-holders will be sorely disappointed as 2011 presents itself as a whip-saw year.

99% of the bullish prognosticators will eat crow except for the few lonely that called for a tempered intra-year high of ~ SPX 1300.

SPX will test 1130 by April 15 with a new recovery high as high as 1300 by the end of July.

SPX 1300 will fail with new 2011 low of 1050 before ending the year right about where it started.

The Midwest will continue to supply the country with good-natured humble stock, relatively speaking.

Chris Tucker enters: 

Buy and Hold

POT
MS
CME

Wildcard:  Buy and Hold AVAV

Gibbons Burke comments: 

Mr. Ed Seykota once outlined for me the four essential rules of trading:

1) The trend is your friend (till it bends when it ends.)

2) Ride your winners.

3) Cut your losses short.

4) Keep the size of your bet small.

Then there are the "special" rules:

5) Follow all the rules.

and for masters of the game:

6) Know when to break rule #5

A prosperous and joy-filled New Year to everyone.

Cheers,

Gibbons

John Floyd writes:

In no particular order with target prices to be reached at some point in 2011:

1) Short the Australian Dollar:current 1.0220, target price .8000

2) Short the Euro: current 1.3375, target price 1.00

3) Short European Bank Stocks, can use BEBANKS index: current 107.40, target 70

A Mr. Krisrock predicts: 

 1…housing will continue to lag…no matter what can be done…and with it unemployment will remain

2…bonds will outperform as republicans will make cutting spending the first attack they make…QE 2 will be replaced by QE3

3…with every economist in the world bullish, stocks will underperform…

4…commodities are peaking ….

Laurel Kenner predicts: 

After having made monkeys of those luminaries who shorted Treasuries last year, the market in 2011 has had its laugh and will finally carry out the long-anticipated plunge in bond prices.

Short the 30-year bond futures and cover at 80.

Pete Earle writes:

All picks are for 'all year' (open first trading day/close last trading day).

1. Long EUR/USD
2. Short gold (GLD)

Short:
MMR (McMoran Exploration Corp)
HDIX (Home Diagnostics Inc)
TUES (Tuesday Morning Corp)

Long:
PBP (Powershares S&P500 Buy-Write ETF)
NIB (iPath DJ-UBS Cocoa ETF)
KG (King Pharmaceuticals)

Happy New Year to all,

Pete Earle

Paolo Pezzutti enters: 

If I may humbly add my 2 cents:

- bearish on S&P: 900 in dec
- crisis in Europe will bring EURUSD down to 1.15
- gold will remain a safe have haven: up to 1500
- big winner: natural gas to 8

J.T Holley contributes: 

Financials:

The Market Mistress so eloquently must come first and foremost. Just as daily historical stats point to betting on the "unchanged" so is my S&P 500 trade for calendar year 2011. Straddle the Mistress Day 1. My choice for own reasons with whatever leverage is suitable for pain thresholds is a quasi straddle. 100% Long and 50% Short in whatever instrument you choose. If instrument allows more leverage, first take away 50% of the 50% Short at suitable time and add to the depreciated/hopefully still less than 100% Long. Feel free to add to the Long at this discretionary point if it suits you. At the next occasion that is discretionary take away remaining Short side of Quasi Straddle, buckle up, and go Long whatever % Long that your instrument or brokerage allows till the end of 2011. Take note and use the historical annual standard deviation of the S&P 500 as a rudder or North Star, and throw in the quarterly standard deviation for testing. I think the ambiguity of the current situation will make the next 200-300 trading days of data collection highly important, more so than prior, but will probably yield results that produce just the same results whatever the Power Magnification of the Microscope.

Long the U.S. Dollar. Don't bother with the rest of the world and concern yourself with which of the few other Socialist-minded Country currencies to short. Just Long the U.S. Dollar on Day 1 of 2011. Keep it simple and specialize in only the Long of the U.S. Dollar. Cataclysmic Economic Nuclear Winter ain't gonna happen. When the Pastor preaches only on the Armageddon and passes the plate while at the pulpit there is only one thing that happens eventually - the Parish dwindles and the plate stops getting filled. The Dollar will bend as has, but won't break or at least I ain't bettin' on such.

Ala Mr. Melvin, Short any investment vehicle you like that contains the words or numerals "perpetual maturity", "zero coupon" and "20-30yr maturity" in their respective regulated descriptions, that were issued in times of yore. Unfortunately it doesn't work like a light switch with the timing, remember it's more like air going into a balloon or a slow motion see-saw. We always want profits initially and now and it just doesn't work that way it seems in speculation. Also, a side hedge is to start initially looking at any financial institution that begins, dabbles, originates and gains high margin fees from 50-100 year home loans or Zero-Coupon Home Loans if such start to make their way Stateside. The Gummit is done with this infusion and cheer leading. They are in protection mode, their profit was made. Now the savy financial engineers that are left or upcoming will continue to find ways to get the masses to think they "Own" homes while actually renting them. Think Car Industry '90-'06 with. Japan did it with their Notes and I'm sure some like-minded MBA's are baiting/pushing the envelopes now in board rooms across the U.S. with their profitability and ROI models, probably have ditched the Projector and have all around the cherry table with IPads watching their presentation. This will ultimately I feel humbly be the end of the Mortgage Interest Deduction as it will be dwindled down to a moot point and won't any longer be the leading tax deduction that it was created to so-called help.

Metals:

Short Gold, Short it, Short it more. Take all of your emotions and historical supply and demand factors out of the equation, just look at the historical standard deviation and how far right it is and think of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and when he thought he was actually flying and the look on his face at apex realization. That plus continue doing a study on Google Searches and the number of hits on "stolen gold", "stolen jewelery", and Google Google side Ads for "We buy Gold". I don't own gold jewelery, and have surrendered the only gold piece that I ever wore, but if I was still wearing it I'd be mighty weary of those that would be willing to chop a finger off to obtain. That ain't my fear, that's more their greed.

Long lithium related or raw if such. Technology demands such going forward.

Energy:

Long Natural Gas. Trading Day 1 till last trading day of the year. The historic "cheap" price in the minds of wannabe's will cause it to be leveraged long and oft with increasing volume regardless of the supply. Demand will follow, Pickens sowed the seeds and paid the price workin' the mule while plowin'. De-regulation on the supply side of commercial business statements is still in its infancy and will continue, politics will not beat out free markets going into the future.

Long Crude and look to see the round 150 broken in years to come while China invents, perfects, and sees the utility in the Nuclear fueled tanker.

Long LED, solar, and wind generation related with tiny % positions. Green makes since, its here to stay and become high margined profitable businesses.

Agriculture:

Short Sugar. Sorry Mr. Bow Tie. Monsanto has you Beet! That being stated, the substitute has arrived and genetically altered "Roundup Ready" is here to stay no matter what the Legislative Luddite Agrarians try, deny, or attempt. With that said, Long MON. It is way more than a seed company. It is more a pharmaceutical engineer and will bring down the obesity ridden words Corn Syrup eventually as well. Russia and Ireland will make sure of this with their attitudes of profit legally or illegally.

Prepare to long in late 2011 the commercialized marijuana and its manufacturing, distribution companies that need to expand profitability from its declining tobacco. Altria can't wait, neither can Monsanto. It isn't a moral issue any longer, it's a financial profit one. We get the joke, or choke? If the Gummit doesn't see what substitutes that K2 are doing and the legal hassles of such and what is going on in Lisbon then they need to have an economic lesson or two. It will be a compromise between the Commercial Adjective Definition Agrarians and Gummit for tax purposes with the Green theme continuing and lobbying.

Short Coffee, but just the 1st Qtr of 2011. Sorry Seattle. I will also state that there will exist a higher profit margin substitute for the gas combustible engine than a substitute for caffeine laden coffee.

Sex and Speculation:

Look to see www.fyretv.com go public in 2011 with whatever investment bank that does such trying their best to be anonymous. Are their any investment banks around? This Boxxx will make Red Box blush and Apple TV's box envious. IPTV and all related should be a category that should be Longed in 2011 it is here to stay and is in it's infancy. Way too many puns could be developed from this statement. Yes, I know fellas the fyre boxxx is 6"'s X 7"'s.

Music:

This is one category to always go Long. I have vastly improved my guitar playin' in '10 and will do so in '11. AAPL still has the edge and few rivals are even gaining market share and its still a buy on dips, sell on highs empirically counted. They finally realized that .99 cents wasn't cutting it and .69 cents was more appropriate for those that have bought Led Zeppelin IV songs on LP, 8-track, cassette, and CD over the course of their lives. Also, I believe technology has a better shot at profitably bringing music back into public schools than the Federal or State Gummits ever will.

Other:

Long - Your mind. Double down on this Day 1 of 2011. It's the most capable, profitable thing you have going for you. I just learned this after the last 36 months.

Long - Counting, you need it now more than ever. It's as important as capitalism.

Long - Being humble, it's intangible but if quantified has a STD of 4 if not higher.

Long - Common Sense.

Long - Our Children. The media is starting to question if their education is priceless, when it is, but not in their context or jam.

Short - Politics. It isn't a spectator sport and it has been made to be such.

Short - Fear, it is way way been played out. Test anything out there if you like. I have. It is prevalent still and disbelief is rampant.

Long - Greed, but don't be greedy just profitable. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was the pilot fish.

I had to end on a Long note.

Happy New Year's Specs. Thanks to all for support over the last four years. I finally realized that it ain't about being right or wrong, just profitable in all endeavors. Too many losses led to this, pain felt after lookin' within, and countin' ones character results with pen/paper.

Russ Sears writes:

 For my entry to the contest, I will stick with the stocks ETF, and the index markets and avoid individual stocks, and the bonds and interest rates. This entry was thrown together rather quickly, not at all an acceptable level if it was real money. This entry is meant to show my personal biases and familiarity, rather than my investment regiment. I am largely talking my personal book.

Therefore, in the spirit of the contest , as well as the rules I will expose my line of thinking but only put numbers on actual entry predictions. Finally, if my caveats are not warning enough, I will comment on how a prediction or contest entry differs from any real investment. I would make or have made.

The USA number one new product export will continue to be the exportation of inflation. The printing of dollars will continue to have unintended consequences than its intended effect on the national economy but have an effect on the global economy.. Such monetary policy will hit areas with the most potential for growth: the emerging markets of China and India. In these economies, that spends over half their income on food, food will continue to rise. This appears to be a position opposite the Chairs starting point prediction of reversal of last year's trends.

Likewise, the demand for precious metals such as gold and silver will not wane as these are the poor man's hedge against food cost. It may be overkill for the advanced economies to horde the necessities and load up on precious metals Yet, unlike the 70's the US/ European economy no longer controls gold and silver a paradigm shift in thinking that perhaps the simple statistician that uses weighted averages and the geocentric economist have missed. So I believe those entries shorting gold or silver will be largely disappointed. However in a nod to the chair's wisdom, I will not pick metals directly as an entry. Last year's surprise is seldom this year's media darling. However, the trend can continue and gold could have a good year. The exception to the reversal rule seems to be with bubbles which gain a momentum of their own, apart from the fundamentals. The media has a natural sympathy in suggesting a return to the drama of he 70's, the stagflation dilemma, ,and propelling an indicator of doom. With the media's and the Fed's befuddled backing perhaps the "exception" is to be expected. But I certainly don't see metal's impending collapse nor its continued performance.

The stability or even elevated food prices will have some big effects on the heartland.

1. For my trend is your friend pick: Rather than buy directly into a agriculture commodity based index like DBA, I am suggesting you buy an equity agriculture based ETF like CRBA year end price at 77.50. I am suggesting that this ETF do not need to have commodities produce a stellar year, but simply need more confirmation that commodity price have established a higher long term floor. Individually I own several of these stocks and my wife family are farmers and landowners (for full disclosure purposes not to suggest I know anything about the agriculture business) Price of farmland is raising, due to low rates, GSE available credit, high grain prices due to high demand from China/India, ethanol substitution of oil A more direct investment in agriculture stability would be farmland. Farmers are buying tractors, best seeds and fertilizers of course, but will this accelerate. Being wrong on my core theme of stable to rising food/commodity price will ruin this trade. Therefore any real trade would do due diligence on individual stocks, and put a trailing floor. And be sensitive to higher volatility in commodities as well as a appropriate entry and exit level.

2. For the long term negative alpha, short term strength trade: I am going with airlines and FAA at 49.42 at year end. There seems to be finally some ability to pass cost through to the consumer, will it hold?

3. For the comeback of the year trade XHB: (the homebuilders ETF), bounces back with 25% return. While the overbuilding and vacancy rates in many high population density areas will continue to drag the home makes down, the new demand from the heartland for high end houses will rise that is this is I am suggesting that the homebuilders index is a good play for housing regionally decoupling from the national index. And much of what was said about the trading of agriculture ETF, also apply to this ETF. However, while I consider this a "surprise", the surprise is that this ETF does not have a negative alpha or slightly positive. This is in-line with my S&P 500 prediction below. Therefore unless you want volatility, simply buying the S&P Vanguard fund would probably be wiser. Or simply hold these inline to the index.

4. For the S&P Index itself I would go with the Vanguard 500 Fund as my vehicle VFINXF, and predict it will end 2011 at $145.03, this is 25% + the dividend. This is largely due to how I believe the economy will react this year. 

5. For my wild card regional banks EFT, greater than IAT > 37.50 by end 2011…

Yanki Onen writes:

 I would like to thank all for sharing their insights and wisdom. As we all know and reminded time to time, how unforgiven could the market Mistress be. We also know how nurturing and giving it could be. Time to time i had my share of falls and rises. Everytime I fall, I pick your book turn couple of pages to get my fix then scroll through articles in DSpecs seeking wisdom and a flash of light. It never fails, before you know, back to the races. I have all of you to thank for that.

Now the ideas;

-This year's lagger next year's winner CSCO

Go long Jan 2012 20 Puts @ 2.63 Go long CSCO @ 19.55 Being long the put gives you the leverage and protection for a whole year, to give the stock time to make a move.

You could own 100,000 shares for $263K with portfolio margin ! Sooner the stock moves the more you make (time decay)

-Sell contango Buy backwardation

You could never go wrong if you accept the truth, Index funds always roll and specs dont take physical delivery. This cant be more true in Cotton.

Right before Index roll dates (it is widely published) sell front month buy back month especially when it is giving you almost -30 to do so Sell March CT Buy July CT pyramid this trade untill the roll date (sometime at the end of Jan or begining of Feb) when they are almost done rolling(watch the shift in open interest) close out and Buy May CT sell July CT wait patiently for it to play it out again untill the next roll.

- Leveraged ETFs suckers play!

Two ways to play this one out if you could borrow and sell short, short both FAZ and FAS equal $ amounts since the trade is neutral, execute this trade almost free of margin. One thing is for sure to stay even long after we are gone is volatility and triple leveraged products melt under volatility!

If you cant borrow the shares execute the trade using Jan 12 options to open synthetic short positions. This trade works with time and patience!

Vic, thanks again for providing a platform to listen and to be heard.

Sincerely,

Yanki Onen

Phil McDonnell writes: 

When investing one should consider a diversified portfolio. But in a contest the best strategy is just to go for it. After all you have to be number one.

With that thought in mind I am going to bet it all on Silver using derivatives on the ETF SLV.

SLV closed at 30.18 on Friday.

Buy Jan 2013 40 call for 3.45.
Sell Jan 2012 40 call at 1.80.
Sell Jul 25 put at 1.15.

Net debit is .50.

Exit strategy: close out entire position if SLV ETF reaches a price of 40 or better. If 40 is not reached then exit on 2/31/2011 at the close.

George Parkanyi entered:

For what it's worth, the Great White North weighs in ….
3 Markets equally weighted - 3 stages each (if rules allow) - all trades front months
3 JAN 2011
BUY NAT GAS at open

BUY SILVER at open

BUY CORN at open
28 FEB 2011 (Reverse Positions)
SELL and then SHORT NAT GAS at open

SELL and then SHORT SILVER at open

SELL and then SHORT CORN at open
1 AUG 2011 (Reverse Positions)
COVER and then BUY NAT GAS at open

COVER and then BUY SILVER at open

COVER and then BUY CORN at open
Hold all positions to the end of the year

WILD CARD
3 JAN BUY PLATINUM and hold to end of year.

RATIONALE:

. Markets to unexpectedly carry through in New Year despite correction fears.

. Spain/Ireland debt roll issues - Europe/Euro in general- will be in the news in Q1/Q2

- markets will correct sharply in late Q1 through Q2 (interest rates will be rising)

. Markets will kick in again in Q3 & Q4 with strong finish on more/earlier QE in both Europe and US - hard assets will remain in favour; corn & platinum shortages; cooling trend & economic recovery to favour nat gas

. Also assuming seasonals will perform more or less according to stats

If rules do not allow directional changes; then go long NAT GAS, SILVER, and CORN on 1 AUG 2011 (cash until then); wild card trade the same.

Gratuitous/pointless prediction: At least two European countries will drop out of Euro in 2011 (at least announce it) and go back to their own currency. 

Marlowe Cassetti enters:

Buy:
FXE - Currency Shares Euro Trust

XLE - Energy Select

BAL - iPath Dow Jones-AIG Cotton Total Return Sub-Index

GDXJ - Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners

AMJ - JPMorgan Alerian MLP Index ETN

Wild Card:

Buy:

VNM - Market Vectors Vietnam ETF

Kim Zussman entered: 

long XLV (health care etf; underperformed last year)
long CMF (Cali muni bond fund; fears over-wrought, investors still
need tax-free yield)
short GLD (looks like a bubble and who needs gold anyway)
short IEF (7-10Y treasuries; near multi-year high/QE2 is weaker than
vigilantism)

Dec

22

 The other day, I was forced to attend an amateur showing of Dickens "A Christmas Carol." The production was well executed, the stagecraft was excellent, and the scenery was first rate. I've seen the Dickens classic so many times, I either just nod off, daydream, or try to improve my mind. During the show, I started to think of how the author, Charles Dickens, really hated capitalists and was a socialist at heart. He portrayed Ebeneezer Scrooge as the prototypical capitalist of the day, but his real "sin" was that he was a miser, only interested in his self, mistreating everyone. The fact that Scrooge had a bad attitude and dour personality did not work in his favor and was a great device used by Dickens to generate hatred for capitalists and the rich in general.

This got me thinking on many levels. For one thing, Scrooge was a businessman who earned his money fair and square. He cheated nobody and expected his contracts and debts to be paid as per any previous agreements, Scrooge ran a tight ship, to the point of being called miserly. He was a demanding employer of his clerk Mr. Cratchit, who accepted the employment contract with Mr. Scrooge with good cheer. Much has been said and written about the evil Mr Scrooge, his name has become part of the lexicon of the definition of an evil capitalist. Even the people in the neighborhood made disparaging remarks about Scrooge, and this mistreatment and lack of respect added to his dour personality. There was no evil to Mr Scrooge, and his unfavorable treatment was a literary device, a populist reaction by the left, the socialists who portray all rich as greedy, evil people who allow people to suffer while they live rich, extravagant lives. 

As I said before, Mr Scrooge had an employment contract with his clerk, Mr. Cratchit who was a man of good cheer. Cratchit's wife constantly complained that Scrooge was an old miser with a flinty heart of stone. She neglected to mention that Mr. Cratchit was free to seek employment elsewhere if his working conditions were so bad, but this aspect and so many others were left out by Dickens. As for Scrooge's miserly description, some would call his miserliness thrift, which is an esteemed Franklinian virtue.

Scrooge's refusal to participate in a festive dinner with his nephew and wife was his business and he certainly didn't deserve the ridicule heaped upon him by the women folk, nor was he required to offer an explanation or apology. He was merely exercising his freedom to do what he wanted, and if he chose not to celebrate Christmas, that was his natural, god given right. During Scrooge's pre ghost phase, he was a hard nosed flinty business man, albeit a bit ill mannered. There is no law against being ill mannered, dour, mean, or miserly. Scrooge was free to do whatever he wanted, with no worries what society would think as long as he behaved within the law and remaining scandal free.

Every good story likes to make a case of human redemption, a change from self interest to the interest and service of the collective. In popular culture, rich are inherently evil, their gains ill gotten off the backs of workers, and the poor always triumph over the rich. Dickens masterfully pulled this off when he had three ghosts visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve to scare the hell out of him and change his evil ways. His powerful scare tactics caused Mr Scrooge to abandon his own self interest, abandon his personal freedom for the good of society, destroy the profitability of his business, and spend his hard earned wealth on charity to repent for his earlier miserliness.

The messages Dickens made in a Christmas Carol were very clear. Productive people must give to the more deserving poor to be considered worthy, rich people are not happy due to guilt, producers must abandon self interest in order to satisfy the needs of others in a society who don't work as hard, businessmen must run their personal business for the sole benefit of their employees, conversely to the detriment of the stockholders. And finally one must give exorbitant sums to the poor, provide medical care for the employees, and give retroactive raises to allegedly underpaid employees. Benevolence is not a virtue in this world, it is a requirement. Scrooge was manipulated into this transformation by the three ghosts creating immense guilt and fear, and by the end of the story Mr Scrooge was more concerned with what people thought of him, his personal image, than the real work of creating profits, creating jobs, growing a business, and contributing to the general business climate.

At the end of the story Mr. Scrooge was a transformed man. He was happy, benevolent, highly thought of, giving,almost giddy, much like a person who has had a drink or ten. A good case could be made that he was a better man, but w hat he lost was the real tragedy. Scrooge lost his independence, his freedom, became dependent not on profits, but on the opinions of others. He was required to give money away, raised expectations of others, and caused economic imbalance by changing the market pay scale of employees in his business. In a way, Scrooge's new found largesse probably was bad for the economy as a whole a la the theories of Hazlitt. On another note, happiness tends to be fleeting much like health and I suspect that with Mr Scrooge, old habits die hard.

When the curtain closed, everyone was cheering. I felt a bit of sadness, as here's another story of poverty trumps wealth, rich is evil while poor is good, and being a second hander is more important than being a real, virtuous free man. In the end, Mr. Scrooge was the real loser and the real story was the transformation of a rich, productive man into a welfare state.

Rocky Humbert comments:

Dear Jeff:

Considering "A Christmas Carol" to be an indictment of Victorian Capitalism is not a novel idea, yet I still find your words and spirit to be sad, indeed.

While you are free to intrepret Dickens however you see fit, you have no such freedom with respect to core Judeo-Christian values, which parts of Dickens' play embodies. The principles which you lament are the core principles of Judaism and Christianity.

What you find lamentable, I find laudable. When you find trivial, I find grand. In short, I celebrate the charity and goodness toward man that Christmas celebrates, while you mock it as political correctness.

I wish you a happy holiday, and hope that you someday discover what Scrooged learned– that there is no greater joy than bringing happiness to others.

Scott Brooks adds:

 Let's not confuse charity with force of threat.

Scrooge offered a fair deal at a fair price. The way we can infer that this is the case is that people came to him, and willingly signed a contract. Scrooge performed his half of the contract by loaning them money. What is wrong with him expecting that they honor their portion of the contract?

And, let's not confuse what Scrooge did for charity. Giving to other under threat of force…..i.e. the spirits (under the direction of Dickens) threatened him with the threat of eternal damnation if he didn't commit business suicide.

Another problem with "A Christmas Carol" was that the story ended on December 25th. Let's flash forward to the "The Week After Christmas":

Bob Cratchit shows up at work on the 26th only to find that he doesn't have a job. Why? Because Scrooge, in his "fit of charity to bring happiness and joy to others" tore up all the debts owed to him and there was no more accounting work for Cratchit to do.

Later that day, and throughout the next week, a bunch of former Scrooge customers come to the office to borrow more money, only to find it closed because Scrooge has no more money to lend out. If he did, it would be evil (under Rocky's view of the world) to unfairly loan out money. And he couldn't just keep the money, he would have to give it away to atone for his supposed sins.

Therefore, the vital role that Scrooge played in the community…i.e. loaning money to people that had need of a loan for whatever purpose they felt they needed a loan for (and that Scrooge deemed as a good "loan risk")….that vital role was no longer available in the community.

And what happens when credit dries up in a society….well, I think we can all agree that that's not a good thing.

Sorry Rocky, but you're wrong in your assessment. This is not charity or Christian/Judeo ethics. This is a story by a man who didn't like Capitalism, that slams capitalism. It could have been written by most any journalist or university professor in today's society.

David Hillman writes:

 And then, there's the contrarian point of view

….which makes as much sense as does the interpretation of A Christmas Carol as an indictment of Victorian Capitalism [which, by the way, was far different from what we generally think of as 20th Century capitalism, i.e., the kinder, gentler Fordist model or the so-called millennial capitalism that has been evolving since the 1980s.]

I don't know much, but two things I know, 1) what Dickens' meaning and intent in A Christmas Carol was is about as clear as what the founding fathers intended in the Constitution, or as clear as whether the origin of the universe was a God or a Big Bang, and 2) we don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.

That said, I would posit that one's interpretation of A Christmas Carol, or just about anything else for that matter, tells us far more about the interpreter than it does of Dickens. 

Gary Rogan writes:

It's interesting that with all of his supposedly anti-capitalist novels, Dickens undertook two trips to America mostly to lobby for copyright enforcement. He also blamed his bankruptcy and later health and financial problems close to his death on being deprived of his rightful royalty stream. Somehow various American software companies and their hyper-liberal billionaire founders fighting intellectual property theft in China come to mind, although they are all in decidedly better financial shape.

Kim Zussman chimes in:

It's not every day you see Jewish pro-Christmas arguments against Mormons; a market top indicator?

The 1938 Christmas Carol is a great film, and if you don't tear up your trading accounts are definitely too flush.

Scrooge's encounters with ghostly futures cause us to ask what is really important. It is difficult to balance the race for money with taking time for things and people who will too soon be grown, old, or gone.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

"A Christmas Carol" is far less about what our List calls "capitalism" - i.e. pricing by competition - and far more about Dickens' wanting the world to have a universal catcher in the rye and not be like the America he saw in 1842. He was appalled by our slavery and by our insane "push". He was also upset by the fact that, like the East Asians today, Americans were notorious copyright pirates. We were also the source of his growing wealth by being the best customers for his books. During his visit to New York his American publisher and his admirers (Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant) held a gala in his honor, with 3000 people attending.

Dickens knew almost nothing about business by 1843 (the date of A Christmas Carol's publication) from direct experience or observation. His father had worked in the Navy Pay office and lived on a family inheritance. Dickens' only job in any "dark, satanic mill" was a few months sticking labels on bottles of shoe polish. He then went back to school. After school he worked in a law office as a clerk, taught himself the new short-hand and became a court reporter through a family connection. That led to political journalism. Sketches by Boz - his first book published in 1836 - is a collection of his political pieces for the Morning Chronicle, covering the Parliamentary elections.

The socialism Jeff finds in the story is there; it is the same socialism you find in Thoreau. It came from the same source - Unitarianism - which Dickens became interested in while visiting the U.S. And, capitalism in its modern forms was still in its infancy. It would be another decade and more before limited liability was formally recognized in Britain in the legislation of 1855-1856.

Gibbons Burke writes:

A Christmas Carol is not anti-Capitalist as such. But it makes a case strongly against Capitalism run by capitalists who serve Mammon rather than God. Scrooge, who initially perfectly represents that anti-human form of Capitalism at its worst soul-less excess, is the perfect picture of a seemingly-self-satisfied soul roasting in a Hell on Earth of his own devising, and he seems certainly destined for the eternal flame pit until his heart is converted later in the book. At that moment he becomes filled with the Joy that is the gigantic secret of the Christian (according to Chesterton).

Here is Dickens' initial description of old Scrooge - which seems to have plenty of editorial voltage:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call "nuts" to Scrooge.

The book is available in several illustrated editions for free on Project Gutenberg.

Jeff Watson responds: 

So, in other words, while Scrooge was unpopular, he enjoyed total freedom. That sounds pretty good to me. At least If I had his rep, I wouldn't have to say no to 30 requests for donations a day. Can you imagine how refreshing it would be to perform an essential service, perform admirably in business, deliver superior service, and not give a damn what people thought of you? That would make Hank Reardon proud. It is not a crime to be disagreeable, a skinflint, self serving or any other eccentricity. If we punished men for their eccentricities, Henry Ford would have never created and revolutionized the automobile business, J.P. Morgan would never have risen beyond the level of margin clerk, the old Commodore Vanderbilt would have probably died in a house of ill repute, Barney Frank would have been hanging out on…, and Bill Clinton would probably be in an Arkansas … for a very youthful indiscretion. 

John Tierney writes:

In 1899 Elbert Hubbard viewed the "Scrooges" thusly:

We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the "downtrodden denizen of the sweat-shop" and the "homeless wanderer searching for honest employment," & with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne'er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long patient striving with "help" that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away "help" that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues, only if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer- but out and forever out, the incompetent and unworthy go.

It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best- those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him. He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, "Take it yourself."

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled No. 9 boot.

Tim Melvin comments:

 The question of scrooge and how we view him is one that men of business have wrestled with since the damn story was published. The thing is that Dickens does not paint Scrooge as the example of every businessman. We tend to take much of the Scrooge story out of context, I think. Business itself is not painted as evil or wrong. Was not Fezziwig the owner of a prosperous and successful business when young Ebenezer was employed there in his youth. Judging by the Christmas party it was prosperous business indeed. Yet Fezziwig was a generous soul to his employees who treated then well and asked for a fair days work for a fair day's pay and got it it cheerfully from those in his employ. Scrooge described his time employed there and his boss thusly, "The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune ."

In contrast Scrooge underpaid Bob Cratchitt and treated him poorly. To say that Mr. Cratchitt could simply look for other employment is as ridiculous a statement as it is heartless. With a large family and a sick child he would be foolish to change what employment he did have by seeking other employ. Given the hours he toiled when would he had the time anyway?

Scrooge is indicted not for being a man of business but for being a man who shuts out the world and pursues only business in a mean spirited way. I greet my lender when I see him on the street. Scrooge was harsh man who was probably the lender of last resort and treated his customers poorly. Good business is a win win were the partied walk away feeling that both have scored a victory in my experience. To have your neighbors ignore you in the street and cackle over yor corpse does not paint the idea that he did business fairly in my mind. To be sure we all have probably made some enemies along the way, but we have made friends as well who would mourn our passing/ not so in this case.

Scrooge is indicted of closing his heart to all of humanity. He chooses commerce over the love of a woman and the potential for a life and a family. He helps no one with a kind word, a gentle lesson or a shared idea. The concept of charity is unique to us all. But hard asses as all of us are, as libertarian and objectivist rooted as we are, would we hesitate to assist a friend, relative or even employee who had an ill child if we had the resources to do so? Which of us would not give our nephew, our only family a visit on a holiday eve or at least a kind word, a lesson in the ways of the world that might help them succeed in life?

Scrooge was not indicted and sentenced to haunting for being a business man. He was convicted of living without love. The love of a child, of a woman, of humanity. He hated himself as much as he hated the rest of the world. Scrooge's crime was not being a business man but for failing to appreciate the wonder that life actually can be. I like so many other readers of this site detest the corporate charities, and I say no quickly and clearly in my best bah humbug fashion. But just like everyone else here there are charities and causes I believe in and donate my time and money. I do not buy the in the give to all philosophy or faceless giving anymore than the rest of you. I do believe in libraries, special olympics and a few other causes and I give. So do you whether it's a church, a cause, a philosophy of a friend in need so quit pretending your are an objectivist hardass who helps no one. Not only is that so much BS, it's a heartless life that would create a scrooge like existence and so far I have met no spec who fits that description.

Scrooge's crime was not business. It was living with love, without the touch and hear of another, without a child's smile, a lover kiss or the hand of a friend. By Dickens account he denied himself all the makes life special. There is no account given of good food, or beautiful music or even good books. Scrooge's crime was not one of business. He was guilty of crimes against life itself. 

Jeff Watson responds: 

(While I agree with much of Tim's premise, I'd like to see the statutes Scrooge violated regarding the aforementioned crimes). If those are indeed crimes that Scrooge committed, I fear the state is on the road to becoming more totalitarian if they feel the necessity to regulate those areas of normal but eccentric human behavior. Again, it's not against the law to be a total dick, nor should the government concern itself with forbidding person to be rude, self absorbed, cheap, hated, or mean spirited. I certainly can't find anything in the constitution addressing this issue. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

Dickens wanted women to stay in the kitchen; Hubbard wanted them to own the restaurant.

His company - Larkin Soap - gave Frank Lloyd Wright his first big commission. The friezes on open galleries of the building had these mottoes: GENEROSITY ALTRUISM SACRIFICE, INTEGRITY LOYALTY FIDELITY, IMAGINATION JUDGMENT INITIATIVE, INTELLIGENCE ENTHUSIASM CONTROL, CO-OPERATION ECONOMY INDUSTRY.

Here is Hubbard's story of how he started the Philistine magazine and the Roycroft shops. Begins at page 309

Sep

7

libertarian party logoWith the view that there is a strong Libertarian streak across this web site, I pose these questions:

Should investment professionals, brokers, etc be registered and regulated by the government?

Should the government be able todetermine who should or should not be in the investment business or should the free market determine this?

Is it the government's duty to attempt to preemptively protect investors from potential fraud?

Should the government have strong laws against fraud yet have few laws determining who should be in the investment business?

A discussion delving into both sides of this would be very interesting.

Stefan Jovanovich replies:

Jeff's question deserves a proper answer. Common law fraud was the strongest possible law, and it did not involve the government (as opposed to the civil court) at all. Under common law, three elements were required to prove fraud: (1) a material false statement made with an intent to deceive (scienter), (2) a victim's reliance on the statement and (3) damages. This was the legal/regulatory world that the authors of the American Constitution were familiar with. They had all - both civilians and lawyers– read Black's definition of fraud: "All multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to get an advantage over another by false suggestions or suppression of the truth. It includes all surprises, tricks, cunning or dissembling, and any unfair way which another is cheated."

Having such a broad and general definition might seem an invitation for perpetual litigation; but it had, in fact, the opposite effect since both parties- plaintiff and defendant– had at risk the cost of their own attorneys AND those of the opposing party, if that party won the case. Nick may have a more benign view of regulation precisely because Australia follows the old American and current British tradition of requiring the loser to pay the winner's costs and attorneys fees. But, I doubt that, even in the Commonwealth countries, the sovereign has surrendered its immunity from having to pay the other party's costs and fees when the government is the loser. That immunity is really at the heart of Scott's and other's anger. The government is never required to pay its share of the burden of the regulatory system. The government can, with ease, tyrannize the citizens by bringing a criminal or regulatory action; the citizens may successfully defend themselves but they are ruined by the expense of maintaining their innocence. Under our system of sovereign immunities (the last holdover from the theocratic idea that the government is God's instrument) being the government means never having to pay any tithes for your civil servants' mistakes or, heaven forbid, requiring the civil servants themselves to have any personal stake in the outcome of their decisions. 

Easan Katir writes:

There was the famous case in old England where a father on his deathbed bequeathed his interest in a brewery equally to his six daughters, thinking he was giving them a wonderful gift.

After his death, it turned out the partners in the brewery had burdened the enterprise with mountains of debt. The creditors exercised their legal right to collect from all partners. This was before the corporate shield, so all six families of the daughters were bankrupted.

Some gift.

Gibbons Burke writes:

Small businesses, farms, individual traders and some professionals still operate in a mostly free market where the rules of accountability and the mechanism of creative destruction still obtain.

Big corporations are just as much the enemy of a free market as big gummint. I am starting to think that the world would be a better place if corporations had never been allowed to exist. The idea that the owners of an enterprise should not be held responsible for it's debts or its crimes, beyond their investment in the enterprise, seems to be an immoral one with bad consequences.

Salomon Brothers was a better organization than Salomon, Inc., as Michael Lewis has observed in many of his writings. When the partners were absolved of the risk of their investment schemes, the tenor of the schemes turned malignant and metastasized. Same idea applies to ….

Aug

3

The Globe TheaterThe best clam shack I have eaten in is the clam shack in Kennebunkport, ME and the worst is Red's Eats in Wiscasset.

The show "Love Never Dies," the sequel to Phantom, is better than Phantom, has more good melodies, better special effects, and a more believable plot helped along by Frederick Forsysthe.

The Henry IV, Part 2 at the Globe really brings one back to Shakespeare's times and it is interesting that the Thrales Brewery was on the spot of the Globe and Johnson loved Mr. Thrale as a man always loves those who provide for their supper even when he acted worse than the average slave owner towards Mrs. Thrale vis a vis such things as his unconcern about her 14 pregnancies.

One still doesn't believe that Shakespeare wrote the plays and nothing at the Globe, including the handwriting on the will shakes that belief. There would have to have been some writings, some books of reference besides the standards, and the knowledge required was too great for one as uneducated and involved so greatly in the day to day of the business and the performing.

The history of the world might be written some day as an attempt to provide the flexions with the greatest profit relative to the disruption caused in feeding on the publics.

Ralph Vince comments: 

Hmmm, c'mon Vic… Greasy Nick's, Pelham Bay?

Gibbons Burke comments: 

By'm'by… Thrale's daughter Hester, another favorite of Dr. Johnson, figured as a recurring character ("Queenie") in the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian.

I was lucky to be in London the week the rebuilt Globe opened for business, and on a lark on Saturday was standing in line for a groundling ticket to see "Henry V", when a woman approached me in line and offered to sell me her second ticket which her husband was unable to use. That play is sort of interesting because the prologue actually breaks the fourth wall and refers to the globe theater. During the "band of brothers" speech, the actor playing King Henry plays it to the groundlings, as if they were his army. I left my ticketed seat to go down to be among that crowd for that speech and it was quite stirring. Margaret Thatcher was in the audience for that matinee.

The Johnson house is a great tour; got to see the garret where he compiled his Dictionary.

Jul

26

zombiesThe seemingly resurgent interest in vampire ("Twilight", Yarborough's "Ste. Germain" series, the "Vampire Diaries", others) and zombie ("Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", "World War Z", etc.) fiction may point to the interest in both the overall notion and particular fixtures of an 'undead' class.

Whatever the causal relationship, the concept of entities that exist in an unliving-yet-undying state– often having to survive by parasitic or cannibalistic means– drearily lasting for years, decades, and centuries in an ambiguous condition, seems to me to reflect/hint at expectations of/connote acceptance of, a prolonged period of economic and thus social stagnation.

Gibbons Burke writes:

Fr. Robert Barron has some interesting insights [6 minute video]  about the recurrent vampire craze from a Catholic perspective.

Jun

21

Mr. Pitts fine and erudite post pointing out the importance of the outlet pass to Varusechek who has the best free throw shooting percentage brings to mind Sondheims' song from company . " its the little things you do together that make life a joy " . less hateful and humorous is the real proverb,that little strokes fell great oaks or Wiswell's make quiet moves, or take care of the draws and the wins will take care of themselves.

Marion Dreyfus comments:

Can any of the more psychologically astute listers explain why the win of the Lakers the other night occasioned vast destruction of the city, cars and streets?

Why did the police permit this lawlessness?

Why should we accept this hooliganism?

Stefan Jovanovich responds:

 Marion: your question presumes that there is a "we" in Los Angeles. That is a fallacy; there are only tribes. The tribe that inhabits downtown LA after dark are the homeless, and it was not their property that was vandalized. "Law and order" in LA is entirely up to the local inhabitants. During the Rodney King riots Koreatown was an island of tranquillity even though it was among the neighborhoods closest to South Central because the local tribe immediately displayed their arsenal of (mostly illegal) weaponry. Then, as now, the police were - as they have been for years -well-paid spectators whose concern was their own safety (for all the talk about the danger of the public saftey life, the emergency services in LA now have lower mortality rates than parking lot attendants). As paramilitary SWAT teams have grown in size and budgets, actual control of public events has declined. Some of us cynics think there might be a correlation.

Marion Dreyfus writes:

Thanks for clearing up the mystery.

It is dismaying in the extreme, however.

No-go zones in our country?!Just like the illegals n Arizona, who have entirely taken over parts of the state where no americans can set foot. 

 

Alan Corwin comments:

I don't think no-go zones are anything new in our country. There were a lot of no-go zones after dark in Boston in the 1950's for example, and I believe that was typical of big East Coast cities. The scariest place I have ever been was when I decided to check out Wilt Chamberlin's High School in Philadelphia during the late 60s. I thought I had wandered into a war zone. That may indicate how sheltered my life has been, but it was scary.

The thing that always amazes me about these riots is that they are almost never in the losing city. Things got pretty ugly in Boston the last time they won a championship, but all was quiet on the Eastern Front when they lost this year.

 

Gibbons Burke comments:

Witness the 1992 riots in Chicago after the Bulls won the NBA championship:

Bulls' NBA Victory Sparks Chicago Riots By Michael Abramowitz Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, June 16, 1992; Page A01

CHICAGO, JUNE 15 – As Michael Jordan and the newly crowned professional basketball champion Bulls partied with 18,000 delirious fans inside Chicago Stadium Sunday evening, an ugly orgy of violence and looting unfolded in neighborhoods scattered around this city, authorities said today.

Police reported more than 1,000 arrests on charges of burglary, theft, mob action, disorderly conduct and damage to property, all in the hours following the Bulls' dramatic come-from-behind victory against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the National Basketball Association Finals for their second consecutive championship.

There were scores of injuries, nearly all of them minor. No one was killed. Among those injured were 95 police officers, two of whom received minor gunshot wounds. Three civilians were shot, two by storekeepers and one by the police, according to a police spokesman. The owner of a South Side liquor store and an employee received second-degree burns when looters attacked their establishment.

Although drunken revelry is still the most common mass response to sports championships, violence of the type that occurred here late Sunday and early today is becoming more common. Last year, after the Bulls' first NBA championship, the looting was less widespread, there were 100 arrests and no serious injuries or deaths.

[…]

Jun

21

Richard RollThe annual meeting of the IAFE in New York on 2010/06/18 featured UCLA's Prof. Richard Roll , who was a colleague of Chair at the University of Chicago many years ago. He started out by warning the audience that his explanation is different from everybody else's, cannot really be considered proven, and may be hard to accept. Nevertheless he urged the audience to keep an open mind, if only because if this explanation is correct then the current remedies may actually be harmful.

First he dismissed the popular idea that inappropriately low interest rates caused a bubble in real estate prices, which then crashed. Although nominal interest rates were low, the more relevant real interest rates (as shown by the yield on TIPS) were actually rising during the period 2004 to 2007.

Also, defaults in the debt or derivatives markets cannot have been at the root of the crisis, contrary to common opinion. The net amount of debt in the economy is zero (someone owns each debt and someone else owes it) as is the net amount of derivatives (for every long there is a short). Default on debt simply involves a redistribution of wealth, not a destruction of wealth. For example if a borrower defaults on a $300,000 mortgage, and the house is now worth 200,000, the result is essentially as if the bank had given a $100,000 "gift" to the borrower. One is better off and the other is worse off, but the net national wealth is unchanged. These are just redistributions with no (or little) system wide effect.

So what happened? Roll believes that the root of the crisis was a reduction in wealth, and specifically a drop in the value of human capital. Recall that human capital is the present value of all future labor income streams for all persons. It is very difficult to measure because it requires knowledge (or estimates) of the future; but it must be a very large number, perhaps the largest component of national wealth. Roll believes that the value of human capital is correlated with the value of real estate and, to a lesser extent to the value of the stock market. The correlation can be seen, for example, in the fact that people who expect to have a high income in the future live in expensive houses; the value of someone's house is to some extent an estimate of that person's future income.

According to Roll a sharp drop in the value of human capital took place in 2007-2008. This immediately, or perhaps with a short lag, caused a drop in the value of real estate and (to a lesser extent) a drop in stocks (because if the people's future income is expected to be lower, the revenues of corporations will also be lower). We cannot measure the drop in human capital directly, but the drop in real estate and stocks is a clue that (according to Roll) the value of human capital dropped.

The only remaining question is why the value of human capital fell. Roll's controversial explanation is that the market correctly anticipated that government intervention would greatly increase in the years ahead, and that his would cause a permanent lowering of the rate of growth of labor income. Economists have found that past a certain point, a decrease in the share of GDP generated in the private sector leads to lower growth; conversely "liberalization" or an increase in the private share typically leads to higher growth.

This explanation was contested by a member of the audience, who said he had worked in the mortgage securities field and who felt that enormous problems developed in the mortgage market which the Professor was leaving out and which were essential to understaning the crisis.

Another member of the audience pointed out that the professor's explanation is similar to the theory of Amity Shlaes as to why the Great Depression lasted a long time.

Another critique was made by derivatives textbook author John Hull, who felt that the human capital explanation was on the right track, but disagreed about the cause. He felt that the markets began to realize that the US was increasingly unable to compete with China and could not easily restructure itself because of weaknesses in education and skills of the US population. Roll replied that this explanation was too specific to the Us, and did not account for the fact that other countries, for ex. Great Britain, also experienced a severe financial crisis.

Steve Ellison writes:

One possible reason for a decline in human capital is the aging of the population. As the average age of the population increases, the value of future income decreases.

Rocky Humbert writes:

Roll says, "Default on debt simply involves a redistribution of wealth, not a destruction of wealth. And that wide-spread defaults have no system-wide effects."

His argument is like saying "Muggers and bank robbers simply involve a redistribution of wealth, not a destruction of wealth." He ignores the costs and consequences that wide-spread mugging and bank robbing would have on behavior and economic activity. He also ignores that bankruptcy and reorganization imposes significant costs on all of the stakeholders (and by extension, society as a whole.) That's one reason why the value of an enterprise declines as it enters bankruptcy protection. Defaults is not a zero sum game with the value moving from shareholders to creditors. It's a negative sum game.

Professor Roll's argument falls down when one considers that "human capital" is a balance sheet item, but "human income" is on the cashflow statement. A country, company and individual with a negative net worth (negative human capital) can function without any problems — but it's when the cash flow cannot support the expenses that the problem causes a crisis. Hence, human capital is like goodwill on a corporate balance sheet. It's an accounting fiction. It's the human cash flow that matters.

Gibbons Burke writes:

Abortion and contraception have taken a heavy toll on human capital. Since Roe v. Wade was decided, over 50 million potentially productive human beings have been murdered in the womb in the U.S. alone.

Kim Zussman adds:

You wrote "the drop in real estate and stocks is a clue that (according to Roll) the value of human capital dropped."

Then it must have been true that human capital (anomalously) increased, causing the housing bubble in the first place.

In the attached chart (Case-Shiller real house-price data, 1890-2010), the bubble peaking in 2006 DWARFS all other housing price peaks over 120 years.

Perhaps a surreptitious rally in human capital occurred, manifested by the unprecedented housing bubble?

Rudolf  Hauser comments:

It is not quite fair to criticize Prof. Richard Roll without having heard his presentation, but based on Alex's summary thereof, I will do so nonetheless. I agree with some of what he has to say but differ in many respects. The main failure is to make any reference to the discount rate. Wealth may be the present value of future income but that is both a function of those future income streams and the rate by which they are discounted. I also find the focus on the value of human capital a strange form of analysis which ignores some market realities as to what actually happened.

Let me start by a very simplified explanation. Real wealth in the capital stock is created when someone labors to produce it. That includes amounts spend in developing human capital via education and training. That labor means that consumption will be less than the amount of production by the amount of that capital investment. But that tells us nothing about how existing wealth is valued. Assume A is moving from NY to LA and B is moving from LA to NY. Both purchased their homes for $100,000. They now decide that their homes are worth $500,000. They trade homes. All they have is capital transfer. It hardly matters what the actual value is in that it is an even exchange. Now in reality A will sell his home for that amount to someone, just a B will, and they will both buy their respective homes from others. The ignoring the intermediate transactions, that is in effect what you have. Now in the past people and lenders would base their decisions largely on their expected future incomes. But in the sort of bubble situation we had in housing, people were expecting home price appreciation to bail them out. In essence, expected future appreciation was part of their anticipated income stream. Now when it was finally realized that this assumption was a chimera that it was decided that the two homes were only worth $300,000. Now wealth has declined in value. The only question is who bears the loss. Given the mortgage amounts the lenders might well find that they must bear some of that loss. There is no reason to refer to "gifts" to the borrower. It is the decline in the value of the property, of wealth that causes the loss. It makes no sense to call that loss a gift.

Then we get to what brings about the additional losses of real wealth. That happens when capital, either physical or human, becomes useless in producing future income. That can happen when lenders refuse to renew loans and/or revenue declines cause bankruptcies. Long periods of unemployment destroy human capital. Physical capital decays from neglect. And that can happen because firms are driven into bankruptcy because of debt defaults and their ability to refinance themselves.

As to the argument that this was a drop in the value of human capital, it is first of all something that cannot be measured. The wealth we can measure has cyclical tendencies. While the recent recession was one that might logically influence future expectations, for the most part recessions are and should be expected as they have always happened from time to time. There is no reason why they should change long-term expectations other than emotions. What does happen is that there is a need in the time of crisis to have more liquidity. That increases the risk premium on longer-term and less liquid assets. Part of that increase in returns is an expectation of capital gains when the liquidity crisis/recession ends. That is why we often see an inverted yield curve leading into such declines. Logically, the yield curve should become more positive, not turn negative, because risk premiums should rise more on the longer term assets. But what matters is total return and that included anticipated capital gains. When those are not great enough the yield curve does not invert, as was the case in the 1930s. Well if the declines in wealth were due to changes in future expectations that is not what you would see. Rather it is because of what I would call risk liquidity premiums rising. If Roll's argument were valid with regard to government intervention, how does he explain the increase in stock values of the past two years-a period when by all logic the changes in government should be increasing fears of greater intervention?

What happened was that the markets finally realized that with all the complicated debt and derivate structures that depended on counterparties many transactions away to deliver was in doubt and that no one's balance sheets could be trusted anymore. With that lending dried up and all values where put into question. That cause a large increase in risk liquidity premiums that was only mitigated by the Fed belatedly pouring in large amounts of liquidity and the government offering guarantees for parts of the financial system.

Another point, although a bit more trivial. When Alex writes that Roll said that "The net amount of debt in the economy is zero." he ignores the fact that some of that debt is owed to foreigners. That is the statement is only true in an international sense.

What you had in this period was an increase in the foreign inflow of savings. Net fixed non-residential investment by business relative to GDP was significantly lower than it had been in the 1990s. In essence there was too much savings wanting to earn higher returns relative to the business investment opportunities leading investors to finance a housing boom instead.

Jun

3

Patrick Tull, reader of the books on tapeIf one were to begin the series of Patrick O' Brian books, should they be read in the order in which they were written? I'm finding good prices for some of the later books and looking to get through 1 or 2 while I am out of the country for a few weeks without internet access and distractions.

Gibbons Burke comments:

Yes, the series should be read in order, though some recommend that some readers may find that the second book of the series is a better introduction to the canon because there are more scenes on land.

I found it tremendously helpful reading the novels the first time through to have a dictionary and a pocket atlas readily available. Dean King's "A Sea of Words" is a most helpful companion to the series, as are his book of maps detailing the voyages in the novels, "Harbors & High Seas".

Google maps would be an even better resource these days. An iPad with the novels loaded into the Kindle app (they're not yet available in iBookstore), or audiobooks in the iPod app, combined with the Maps app, and the built-in dictionary would be a great way to circumnavigate the canon. Capt. Aubrey, who was ever interested in the latest go-fast sailing tech, might even approve, though it is likely O'Brian would express contempt.

Chris Tucker writes:

When Victor first introduced me to the books I mentioned that I had a bone to pick with him about them and that is that I was staying up until all hours of the night reading and I wasn't getting enough sleep. He wisely recommended that I try books on CD and listen to them while driving or whenever I had time to do so and so I forgave him for depriving me of sleep. I took advantage of the local library to get ahold of the recordings because they are a bit pricey.

If using a library, I find that tapes are actually better than CDs because if there is bad patch on a tape you may miss a few words or perhaps still here them but with derogated quality, but with a CD you may miss an entire track or two. Also important to note if listening to this series on CD or tape, Chair highly recommends, and I emphatically second, that you listen to the series as read by Patrick Tull, who manages to add to the already incredible drama that O'Brian evokes. Books read by Tull are available at RecordedBooks.com here.

Apr

28

Indiana JonesSimilar to the markets that over time work on similar plot lines and themes, one of Hollywood's classic formulas for success is to make a movie that has plot lines that were popular and well regarded in previously released very successful films:

"Days of Thunder", starring Tom Cruise, was essentially the same film as another Tom Cruise blockbuster, "Top Gun". Same theme, just change fighter aircraft for race cars. Why didn't they just name Thunder as "Top Car"?

"Cinderella Man", starring Russell Crowe, is essentially the same film as "Rocky", starring Sly Stallone.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"–perhaps that movie could have been called, "The Curious Case of Forest Gump".

Avatar takes it over the top. Last night I came up with an algorithm for the film: Star Wars + Dances with Wolves + Last of the Mohicans + Terminator + Shrek + Indiana Jones #4 = The biggest grossing film of all time.

Gibbons Burke comments:

Thus it was ever so…

PIXAR used the story of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai for A Bug's Life. Kurosawa did the same thing with Shakespeare plots for many of his movies, eg. Throne of Blood=Macbeth, RAN=King Lear. Shakespeare did the same thing with older stories, (Hamlet is one) which are now mostly forgotten, so thoroughly did the bard eclipse their work.

Apr

20

A depiction of Antigone trying to bury her disgraced brother whose body had been denied a proper burialIn order to destroy the myth and hero status of a villain and stop others of the same vein from following in his footsteps, the dead and bruised body should be displayed in all its glory. (see this story from heraldsun.com.au about gangland killers)

In trading the same can be said. Hang that P&L sheet from your bathroom mirror. Blow up that chart and stick it on the fridge. As you clean your teeth everyday and pour your OJ, you will have to remember that big spike down in P&L and what on earth you were thinking when you put on the risk. Gone will be the feeling of "it's a new day, a new dawn," and wipe that smile off your face. It will continue to make you do the work and stay in touch, without memories of past grandeurs.

Maybe give yourself a heavy punishment, e.g., a morning exercise routine — 200 sit-ups, 200 push-ups, 30 minute run — until you get the P&L back on track of pre-madness levels. (And at the same time something good could come out of the negative.) 

Ralph Vince writes:

Craig,

I don't know if I would do it with P&L statements, but your post illuminates something I have been thinking about a lot in recent years. At first, it was just a nagging problem, became an obsessive one, and ended in an epiphany which has changed not only how I approach trading, but my results– dramatically. And it is the simple question that often nags us (and, when it does, the discussions usually end unresolved, or "resolved by convention") of "What is a trade?"

Some years back, I had the statements of a famous long term trend follower, and was reverse-engineering his system (because I am sneaky that way). This particular fund always had a position in a market, either long or short. These were futures positions, so, of course, there was the rollover issue going on.Did a rollover constitute a "trade?"

There was a fellow a few years back who would put on, effectively, two positions when the time came to put on one. When half the position saw enough profit such that the stop on the remaining half of the position was hit would result in a scratch, he would exit that half.
Is that one trade or two?

Is a long term trend following system an accumulation of day trades?

Is what appears on a p&l statement really a trade? Is what the software you are using to research your trading ideas give you a trade that is the same as what SHOULD be considered, by you, a trade?

Here's the solution I came to, and why it was significant to me. I determined that a "trade" is, in effect, anytime I have on a position, sized according to the moment or equity at the moment. For example, a long term trend following system IS a cumulation of day trades (sans commission on most of those trades) if, each day, the position is resized based on the current capital in the account (and this is not to say that size varies proportionally to capital — it can even vary inversely, but it varies). In effect, anytime the compounding aspect of consecutive "trades" is affected– that is a trade.

If I trade 10,000 QQQQ always, and never vary my size…it is one trade.

Why was this rule important to me? Because, the results of my trading are not the p&l statements, but rather the multiplicative effect of this stream (in fact, I regard each trade by the term I and others call an HPR, which now makes it a relevent mathematical entity). So I am racking up HPRs into a type of queue, if you will, and their multiplication together IS what I am making or losing, and does show me the drawdown I am really experiencing.And from that, I can now go and craft my trading around creating "trades" (HPRs) to append into this queue……and it is the mathematical "shape" of these HPRs that becomes important, because that IS the effect of my trading. Rather than having arbitrary "trades" handed to me, and looking at where I am at time T, and saying "Oh, look what happened there…that's odd," I am able to steer things much more in the direction I wish them to travel.

Lastly, as I said, it doesn't matter if quantity is varying in direct proportion to capital or not– in fact, it is the very function of HOW it varies, in this respect, that is the REAL puzzle of money management (for example, direct proportional variation is simply a "fixed fractional" approach, wherein one fraction would result in optimal geometric growth). But optimal geometric growth may NOT be someone's criteria– and it is the very function of how your size varies relative to your capital that must be crafted to satisfy what someone's criteria is.

Gibbons Burke replies:

Interesting insight, Ralph.

So, if I understand you correctly, a trade is any action which changes a position's risk connection to the portfolio, including initiating it? Or is a trade considered when an HPR can be calculated, that is, when an already-initiated position is changed?

As an example, how do you account for the fellow who uses the old floor trader's trick of taking half the position off the table when his objective is reached, and letting the rest ride. When the position is initiated, do you initiate two trades in your tracking system, or does the single initiating trade #x get split into trade #x.1 which is completed logging an HPR (holding period return), and trade #x.2, which remains active? What if profits are take on position x.2 when another objective is reached - you then get trade x.2.1 which is realized as an HPR, and trade x.2.2 which continues to ride?

How difficult is it to reconcile your way of trade accounting with brokerage statements, and reports which must be made to taxing authorities?

Ralph Vince replies:

Until I am flat the tradeable, I consider it as one trade. One I am flat– I have an HPR (to add into the queues of HPRs) The reason is that the initiation of any position in a tradeable is a function of the current state of compounding/equity.

So, for example, I buy 1000 shares of XYZ. IT goes up, I am still in it but now I buy 1200 XYZ (I have a total of 2200, the subsequent 1200 buy a function of the equity at the time). Thus, I would consider this two trades, two separate HPRs. The first one would be on 1000 shares and it would be considered closed when I added to it (!) The second position now, 2200 shares…ad infinitum or my own physical demise (whichever comes first!) Similarly, if I buy 1000 shares, and I say, I am buying 1200 shares, irrespective of account equity at the time, but rather based on account equity at the establishment of the first part of this position, then, this is one trade when closed out.

Chris Cooper writes:

Ralph's way of looking at the trades makes sense when the reasons for increasing size are due only to some function of your equity. But often, changes in your position are due to other causes. For example, one might trade 1000 shares of XYZ when the price reaches one standard deviation above a moving average (Bollinger Band), and 1000 more if and when the price reaches two standard deviations above the average. These should also be considered two separate trades, but entered roughly in parallel, not strictly serially as in Ralph's example. The parallel case implies different characteristics in modeling risk and reward, whereas the serial case is more straightforward.

Apr

16

The Connected Person: The personage who makes you feel without saying it that he is or will be connected to the very lynch pin of policy at the interior or some such.

Gibbons Burke writes:

 C. S. Lewis described this man, and those who seek to be similarly connected, in "The Inner Ring" — an address he gave to a graduating assembly at King's College, University of London, in 1944:

In the passage I have just read from Tolstoy, the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi discovers that there exist in the army two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read it up. It also remains constant. A general is always superior to a colonel, and a colonel to a captain. The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it even a formally organised secret society with officers and rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it.

There are what correspond to passwords, but they are too spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not so constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the borderline. And if you come back to the same Divisional Headquarters, or Brigade Headquarters, or the same regiment or even the same company, after six weeks' absence, you may find this secondary hierarchy quite altered.

There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called "You and Tony and me." When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself "we." When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself "all the sensible people at this place." From outside, if you have dispaired of getting into it, you call it "That gang" or "they" or "So-and-so and his set" or "The Caucus" or "The Inner Ring." If you are a candidate for admission you probably don't call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

Badly as I may have described it, I hope you will all have recognised the thing I am describing. Not, of course, that you have been in the Russian Army, or perhaps in any army. But you have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring. You discovered one in your house at school before the end of the first term. And when you had climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the ring there was a Ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school Ring to which the house Rings were only satellites. It is even possible that the school ring was almost in touch with a Masters' Ring. You were beginning, in fact, to pierce through the skins of an onion. And here, too, at your University—shall I be wrong in assuming that at this very moment, invisible to me, there are several rings—independent systems or concentric rings—present in this room? And I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings—what Tolstoy calls the second or unwritten systems.

and he talks about how to avoid the traps, enslavements, and inhumanities of Inner Rings:

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

Dec

22

Not all bailouts are the same; the government's efficiency in bailing out the fatcats at A!G is in sharp contrast to its lackadaisical approach to the Katrina victims.  A reader.

 As a Katrina victim, the FEMA-backed Red Cross paid my family's hotel bill in toto for the first couple of weeks of our evacuation. We registered with FEMA online and within three weeks of the storm received an initial check for two grand, then a couple of weeks later a second check for two grand, and then a couple of weeks after than a third check for 10.5 grand. That combined with the couple of grand fronted to me by my insurance company (State Farm was awesome) meant we were pretty flush.

We never got one of the Red Cross debit cards, which folks were seen using buying flat screen TVs and such. Nor did we take advantage of the food stamp program as so many of my friends and neighbors did even though they didn't need to.

When they came and finally inspected our house, and determined that our damage was minimal, and they knew what we'd gotten from our insurance, they, much later asked for the 10.5 grand back! We took our time paying them back, enjoying the carry trade - they were charging 1% and I was earning much more than that on it with Madoff. (just kidding). Finally paid them all back, and I'd say that the gummint probably did a good job stewarding the money they paid out because it pretty well covered our disaster related expenses and that's it.

Don't believe the mainstream media spin. The Federal Government did a great job. The reaction was delayed when they heard they had to deal with a population of storm victims who were shooting back at rescuers and looting the federal armory at Jackson Barracks, etc. The full story hasn't been told.

Dec

5

 Many years ago I wanted to date a friend of mine. When I called her, sometimes she was nice and would talk. This gave me hope. The same hope you have when markets rebound after a sell off for a few sessions even with light volume. Sometimes she would tell me: "Call me back in five minutes. I am doing something very important." When I called back after five minutes, she would not pick up the phone. Or if she finally did, she would say: "Sorry. I am leaving now. Can you call me this evening?" When I called her later, I wouldn't simply find her at home, she would be busy brushing her teeth or shampooing her hair. Eventually I didn't succeed in my efforts and I gave up. Low after low, rebound after rebound, you refuse to accept that you are in a bear market. You keep on insisting as stubborn as ever. And your losses mount. You refuse to see signals that are very clear to those not emotionally involved in the situation. And you average your positions as prices go down, with horrible outcomes. As if, in the case of my girlfriend's story, hope resulted in a mortal disease.

At the same time, I like to remember the epic fight between Rocky Balboa and Lang. Rocky was feeling the pain of his opponent's tough punches. Lang said: "I'm gonna torture him. I'm gonna crucify him. Real bad." Rocky replied: "You ain't so bad, you ain't so bad, you ain't nothin'. C'mon, champ, hit me in the face! My mom hits harder than you!". Lang expended his energy trying to knock Rocky out. Rocky eventually retaliated and knocked the confused Lang out with an impressive counter-attack. The 9% plunge few days ago hurt me much less than the downtrend did back in October. Eventually you get used to these plunges. You get prepared to expect very negative events. Hopefully bears will get exhausted like Lang did and we will eventually see higher prices and a trend reversal. The selling pressure at a certain point will ease and the bulls will prevail with a fast and sudden counter trend as Rocky came back and surprised his opponent.

Kim Zussman comments:

It's hard to imagine that most traders can discern random from non-random, not to mention that even scientists have trouble with the subtleties (pertinent variables, sample size, learning set selection, multiple hypotheses, causation vs. association, etc.).

Another way to assess this is whether statistically astute traders do better (under all market conditions) than innumerates.

Dan Grossman remarks:

Regarding the girlfriend story, it is a principle of behavioral psychology, and gambling, that random reinforcement is highly addictive. 

Victor Niederhoffer replies:

One should carefully consider whether there is any evidence that random reinforcement is better than systematic reinforcement or punishment in inducing behavior. The evidence is very mixed and inconclusive last time I studied it.

Gibbons Burke writes:

The wikipedia article on Operant Conditioning in a sub-article titled Reinforcement provides a decent trailhead to further references, as well as criticisms:

Effects of different types of simple schedules

• Ratio schedules produce higher rates of responding than interval schedules, when the rates of reinforcement are otherwise similar.

• Variable schedules produce higher rates and greater resistance to extinction than most fixed schedules. This is also known as the Partial Reinforcement Extinction Effect (PREE)

• The variable ratio schedule produces both the highest rate of responding and the greatest resistance to extinction (an example would be the behavior of gamblers at slot machines)

• Fixed schedules produce 'post-reinforcement pauses' (PRP), where responses will briefly cease immediately following reinforcement, though the pause is a function of the upcoming response requirement rather than the prior reinforcement. • The PRP of a fixed interval schedule is frequently followed by an accelerating rate of response which is "scallop shaped," while those of fixed ratio schedules are more angular.

• Organisms whose schedules of reinforcement are 'thinned' (that is, requiring more responses or a greater wait before reinforcement) may experience 'ratio strain' if thinned too quickly. This produces behavior similar to that seen during extinction.

• Partial reinforcement schedules are more resistant to extinction than continuous reinforcement schedules. • Ratio schedules are more resistant than interval schedules and variable schedules more resistant than fixed ones.

Sep

9

A CNN program, Deep Survival, comes to some conclusions about the people who survive serious accidents and disasters:

many of the disaster survivors he studied weren't the most skilled, the strongest or the most experienced in their group. Those who seemed best suited for survival — the strongest or most skilled — were often the first to die off in life-or-death struggles, he says. Experience and physical strength can lead to carelessness. The Rambo types, a Navy SEAL tells Gonzales, are often the first to go.

Steven Scoles adds:

I read Gonzales book "Deep Survival" a couple of years ago and found it full of intriguing stories like the one noted in the article. I would highly recomend it. I do fair bit of mountain hiking and river kayaking and it made me realize how my experience has made me complacent in those activites (e.g. more willing to go off on my own in unknown territory)… not unlike bull markets make people complacent about risk.

Gibbons Burke preaches:

Faith in a G_d who promises life everlasting to those who believe and follow Him gives the faithful believer a great deal of peace of mind in the face of dire circumstances.

Kim Zussman replies:

Kim ZWhat then is one to do when faced by (the all too frequent) dire circumstances in a world without objective evidence of supernatural benevolence? Do you become forced to take up formerly illogical beliefs, and with that admitting your weakness and defining your faith?

Many traders share the experience of putting on a well-reasoned position which turns around to crush you. During the decision to fold or not (or G_d forbid, Martingale), does your internal voice change from "T=3.2!" to "WTF do I really know?" and if it doesn't, how is this not faith which transcends scientific self-doubt?

Gibbons Burke persists:

Gib BurkeWe're speculating with regards to the true meal of a lifetime and beyond — or eternal barbeque, depending on your freedom to choose outcome you will. Seems perfectly on topic, no?

With apologies to Blaise Pascal for mangling his famous wager… the gaming odds for the prudent eternal investor favor belief, without even considering the utility of belief:

= A believer, if wrong, will never realize his error: he will be dead and to dust. Poof! His upside is limited to the benefits of that belief - peace, joy, happiness, fortitude, patience, courage, etc. (so-called fruits of the Holy Spirit) and perhaps the blessings of a life well lived, depending on the breaks.

= For the same reason, a non-believer, if right, will never realize any returns from his correct bet, so the upside on this option is capped at his expiration date (death). He, too, may have lived a seemingly good life, relatively uninhibited by the constraints of the believer's conscience and avoidance of sin.

Advantage: subjectively neither at this point.

However…

+ A believer, if right, will enjoy the eternal and infinite upside alpha of his investment in belief: life everlasting in communion with God, who is Himself Truth, Beauty, Virtue and all good things - to behold him face to face, for eternity, as well as the benefits which accrue to a life lived on earth in faith - even perhaps suffering for that faith. What a small premium to pay, relative to the potential reward, no?

- The non-believer, if wrong, will bear the eternal and ultimate lock-limit drawdown, with no stop loss in place. A literal margin call from Hell. Separation from God the Father. He will know he was wrong - for ever, and ever, world without end.

So, to put this into option terms:

The risk profile for investing in the LEAP of faith — a 'call' option of belief in the Underlying Security — is unlimited upside if he's right; limited down side if he's wrong.

The 'naked put' option of the who doesn't believe in the value of the Underlying Security, is a limited upside if he's right; unlimited downside risk if he's wrong. He may end up with a debt he can never repay. (Paging Dr. Faustus…)

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever. [1 John 2:16-17]

Stefan Jovanovich  generalizes:

One of my favorite pulp fiction moments is in Joss Whedon's Serenity. The preacher, who like many godly men has had a great deal of experience with his own capacity for evil, is dying. Mal, the atheist hero, calls for medical help and tries to reassure the preacher that he will live to preach many more sermons to Mal's skeptical ears. The preacher is having none of it; with his dying breath he replies, "Don't matter what you believe. Just believe in something." I am afraid I share the preacher's hopelessly ecumenical notions of gospel. Belief in the magic of markets, chess, checkers, one's friends, something is the necessary precondition for humility and humility (not passivity) is the necessary precondition for wisdom. The survivors I have known do not necessarily believe in God but they do believe in "something" greater than themselves. They did their best and kept at it - all the while accepting that what happened to them was never entirely under their own control. Or, as the philosopher said after banging his thumb with the hammer, "it happens."

Nigel Davies tries to get back on subject:

GM Nigel DaviesThis got me thinking about how one should survive in chess and markets. I'm not sure these should be treated in quite the same way as both stakes and sample size are very different. In Gonzales's examples there is a sample of one person in a one-off situation, so luck will be at a premium. As such it may be difficult to separate this out from genuine skills.

In markets too there is a lot of luck.

Turning to chess one can find excellent advise on 'defending difficult positons' from both Lasker ('Lasker's Manual of Chess') and Keres ('The Art of the Middlegame'). Very briefly, Lasker suggests having no weakest point in one's position whilst Keres advises that one should make the opponent's win as hard as possible rather than focusing on counterattack. I think these are both very useful, but there is another dimension which I think is important.

The ability to keep one's position afloat when things go wrong is a function of the earlier disposition of one's forces. So players who proceed in an aggressive and taut style find it very difficult to change this disposition when things start to go wrong. Firstly their forces may be committed to attack, and secondly they may have compromised other parts of their position in a belief that the attack will win.

It's noteworthy that many of the greatest master's of defence (for example Lasker, Capablanca, Korchnoi, Karpov, Kramnik) haven't usually played for the maximum in the opening, looking instead for a certain harmony and balance in their positions. Their games have an unpretentious feel, very few weaknesses and balanced forces.

Chess masters are not noted for their humility but years of experience can teach them how to create balance intuitively. Will reading about it help? I don't think so. And it may even be damaging by providing false confidence or theories which haven't been tested by pain.

Aug

8

The ratio of surface area to volume is a concept that is often used to optimize, e.g. the leaf has evolved to maximize this ratio. Are there applications of this to charting that might lead to insights and testable hypotheses?

Phil MPhil McDonnell replies: Hidden variables may be at work. When we see price and volume reported it is actually the result of up to four hidden variables. At any given time there is the book, the collection of all limit orders to sell and limits orders to buy. These two variables interact with two other unobservable variables which are the traders who are about to enter market orders to buy and to sell.

Market orders extinguish limit orders on the other side of the trade. Together the interaction of these results in the two observable numbers which are reported -price and volume. If we then add the third observable dimension of time we actually have a 3D space that can be quantified.

I am struck by the similarity of this line of thought to Kepler's Laws. Recall that Kepler's Laws are all expressed in terms of squares and cubes of the relevant variables.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008

Jul

10

I personally believe that the Uptick Rule should be reinstated or large money pools will be created to drive stock prices down on selected companies.

Alex Forshaw replies:

Why do you find it ok that speculators drive prices up, but not down?

Sam Humbert counters:

I will show you an article, the subject of which was how CNBC was unknowingly complicit in the fall of Bear Stearns. You might find it informative. 

Jason Goepfert says:

So one of the largest investment banks and securities traders in the nation was taken down because traders didn't have to wait for an uptick to sell short? It didn't have anything to do with the fact that they had bitten off way more than they could chew and should have been deleted as on ongoing concern? That seems a little fanciful to me.

There were hundreds of stocks that were taken off the uptick rule for a couple of years prior to July 2007, in a trial balloon run by the regs. They studied the trading patterns on those stocks extensively compared to those that were still subject to the rule, and found little difference in trading patterns. The rule was not lifted by whim.

With penny pricing, it doesn't take much to get an uptick in a stock. If a large fund(s) really wanted to take down a company, the uptick rule makes no difference. They would just buy a bunch of shares, get the stock on an uptick, then short the hell out of it again. Or buy puts, or any of the other derivatives they have available.

The stock would go to zero whether the rule was in place or not. See Enron et al.

Blaming the uptick rule is lazy.

Sam Humbert  comes back again:

Marty Whitman of 3rd Ave Value Fund has issued a statement in effect also blaming the elimination of the Uptick Rule as one of the factors that the bear raid on Bear Stearns was successful.

I agree with Marty Whitman.

As to driving prices up versus driving them down, there is a difference. Quickly falling stock prices can cause a panic which could cause money withdrawals from some stocks such as brokerage and banking firms, which in turn can cause bankruptcies and job losses. 

Dylan Distasio recalls:

The fact of the matter is that uptick rule was easily avoided prior to its elimination through the use of married puts aka "bullets." When I traded intraday (before the SEC essentially eliminated this use of them in 2003), we used to use them on a daily basis. 

Gibbons Burke also disagrees with the uptick rule:

If all the artificial barriers [such as the uptick rule] are removed the knowledge that stocks are more susceptible to bear raids will temper the irrational exuberance that lofts stock prices far beyond their real value, which causes them to correct just as dramatically.

Wall Street is institutionally bullish, and it extends even to the press covering the street, so support for the uptick rule is understandable, if not reasonable and rational. For example, I know from personal experience that Dow Jones requires all employees to sign agreements when they're hired on to never ever sell short, or be effectively short with options. No one on the entire staff of the Wall Street Journal has any interest in or ability to benefit from stocks going down. It renders the Journal a tout.

Mr. Albert has the day trader's perspective:

1) the nasdaq 100 had no uptick rule for quite a while before the general repeal

2) S stocks on the Nasdaq, certainly the most subject to bear raids as they have much shakier financials and tend to be story stocks, never had an uptick rule since I began trading in 1996

3) none of the SHO pilot stocks was more volatile than the comparable non Pilot stocks (in need to find the acedemic reference but it is there). IMO the specialist system (not the uptick rule) was a stabilizing force in the markets so now we have more vol

James Lackey has seen it all before:

All you get from more rule making, margins, uptick or program rules etc is bigger gaps at opens and closes. Restrict intra day moves and the energy must be transferred somewhere else. 

Steve Leslie updates:

Yesterday the SEC announced that they were selectively reinstating the uptick rule for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Why just those two stocks? I have no idea what this accomplishes other than a symbolic gesture. Could you imagine commodities having a limit up or limit down rule for just corn or beans? Couldn't they just raise the margin requirements for borrowing stocks ? As usual governments are late to the party. Back in 1987 the Government began looking at computerized trading and the use of collars. Of course this was after Oct 19th debacle. Look at Hurricane Katrina and see the government in action during a crisis situation. And yet there are still those who try to tell the public that the government is the solution to its problems. The bankrupt LA Times had a front page article arguing for government intervention in the financial markets, especially subprime. Politicians' cliches include "we can't drill ourselves out of the oil crisis and it is the speculator who is the cause of the problem." They are the ones who need to be ratted out and summarily chastised and shot. And then they use trite phrases like "We need to send a message to these oil companies and the speculator that they are going to be reined in." And then they hold a hearing in front of cameras, ask mindless, rehearsed questions formulated by their aides and attempt to project themselves as informed. Yet they expose themselves as what they truly are. Robots, empty suits whose prime objective in life is to get re-elected and retain their cushy phoney baloney jobs. And Nero fiddled while Rome burned. I think I will go outside and get a breath of fresh air.

Mar

31

The New Orleans Katrina disaster was made worse for many victims by the ineptness of FEMA and premeditated 'foot dragging' in non-payments by insurer State F@rm. They intensifed the suffering. I know a couple personally who live in Petal, MS who had one heck of a time getting settled there with property damage and the same in Gulfport on a condo loss.  It seems to me today that insurance carriers want us to have the best policy known to man in place and pay top premiums, but don't ever turn in a claim for fear of being canceled for using that policy.

N.O. resident Gibbons Burke replies:

Other factors which 'intensified' the suffering after Katrina:

1) Drunk armed bands of looters and miscreants roaming the city shooting at one another, police, rescue workers and ambulance teams working to get boats in to evacuate patients from hospitals. The fact that 'mere anarchy' had been loosed upon that City delayed the response because would-be rescuers had to return to base to get flak jackets and ammunition. A friend who stayed for the storm said it was "like Mardi Gras with guns" - a big party scene. Another had to use lethal force against looters in our neighborhood, and came under fire while in an air boat on the way to rescue an infant from a flooded house in a neighborhood near ours. He turned two would-be looters into a rescue squad and got over 40 people stranded in flooded homes to evacuation points, including our 92-year old neighbor.

2) An indecisive governor Blanco who would not give the President specific authorization to go in with the military to help out. She was playing politics and not wanting to cede control of her state to the Feds.

3) A mayor of the City of New Orleans who was holed up in a Hyatt Hotel room overlooking the Superdome, afraid for his life to go down and provide leadership to his people. Contrast this with Mayor Schiro who was on the scene and very present during and after Hurricane Betsy in 1963.

4) A large proportion of the population displaced by flooding did not own their residence. They suffered no real estate loss, and so there was no basis to recompense them, other than providing housing allowances to stay in hotels and then finally trailers for the next couple of years.

5) A state with a reputation for corrupt practices meant that (in contrast to Mississippi) they had to do handstands (and had to hire an external contractor to handle the distribution of funds at $250mil. to get federal relief money. Contrast this with a functional state government in Mississippi where the federal relief money was obtained and distributed relatively quickly.

My personal experience with State Furm was they dealt with me quite well - fronted me a couple of grand cash two days after the storm; another neighbor down the street also was treated well by State F@rm. The one insurer whose name was consistently mentioned as being difficult to deal with was Allsgre@t.

Dec

14

 The usual way to quantify intraday range is some comparison of high to low. But this misses another dimension - the length of the path traveled by price, which is related to speed of the market (since o-c time is constant, for the entire session  market speed = path length). For example there could be two days, between 930-415 ET (405 min), both with H-L = 20pt (ES). One goes steadily from low at open to high at close, a path length of 20 pt and rate 20pt/405m = 0.05pt/min. The other is a wild day, with a 20 pt gain followed by a 20 pt loss (net unchanged). The wild day path length is (simplifying) 40 pt, which is a rate of [20 + 20]/405 = 0.1pt/min.

Considering just the constant open-close daily period, market speed = path length (a potentially potent area of study is the reaction to market speed in short time intervals, but I will leave that for later). Exact path length would require summing tick data for each day, but for a reasonable estimate here I use 5 minute closing prices and estimate path length as sum { abs(5min moves) } for each day from 930-415. Here are the largest o-c path lengths since 1/07, along with the o-c return (ES points):

date     sum_abs oc
08/16/07 233.25  24.75
08/10/07 212.50    5
11/08/07 185.25  -7.75
08/01/07 185.25  12.25
11/20/07 176.50    9.5
07/26/07 175.75 -20.75
08/09/07 173.25 -20.75
11/02/07 161.50   -2.5
07/27/07 154.50  -31.5
08/17/07 151.00     -7
10/24/07 150.25   2.75
11/09/07 148.75  -3.25
08/15/07 148.25 -15.25
12/12/07 146.00    -22

Notice the big move yesterday is only 14th longest path length YTD. Since that path length is a form of volatility, I compared o-c return with contemporaneous path length and found the usual negative correlation:

Regression Analysis: oc versus sum abs

The regression equation is
oc = 4.49 - 0.0648 sum abs

Predictor      Coef  SE Coef   T      P
Constant     4.490   1.636   2.74  0.007
sum abs    -0.0648  0.019  -3.27  0.001

S = 11.7078   R-Sq = 4.3%   R-Sq(adj) = 3.9%

Gibbons Burke asks:

Do you consider in this calculation the distance from the previous day's close to the current period's open? If not, then a gap day's net price path sum won't include the overnight move in the path.

Larry Williams adds:

It is not just the range and such but which side is moving the market on that path. It is clear to me the gap from last night's close to today's opening is public activity, the path from today's open to the close much more professional activity; that's the key to the numbers as I see it.

Jim Sogi remarks:

I agree with Larry, but for different reasons.  Rather than just pro/public, the night session is related to the global situation and large gaps seem to be a whole new area recently developing. Yet another new different unseen cycle. 

Paolo Pezzutti suggests:

There are at least two dimensions in play: one is speed, which is somehow associated with concepts such as range and volatility. Another is related to directionality. According to different combinations of these two dimensions you could build a matrix of market behavior. The areas would be:

1. volatile; directional
2. non-volatile; non-directional
3. volatile; non-directional
4. non volatile; directional

The problem is related to indicators to be used to efficiently define these areas. How you identify the borders/lines of contact between areas? This classification can be useful when trying to identify the proper tools and techniques to use in each area. What kind of indicator could one use to take into account speed? What can we use to identify directionality?

Steve Ellison responds: 

In his book "Trading and Exchanges", Larry Harris identifies two types of volatility. Fundamental volatility results from changes in fundamentals. Transitory volatility results from excesses of uninformed traders who move prices away from fundamental values. Price moves caused by transitory volatility are likely to reverse as informed traders take advantage of bargain prices to buy or rich prices to sell. Price moves caused by fundamental volatility are much less likely to reverse.

A hazard for a contrarian trader is falsely assuming volatility is transitory when it is in fact fundamental. Dealers and market makers protect themselves from this risk by widening spreads when the order book is one-sided.

I propose a 2×2 matrix of the actual type of volatility and the market's perception of the type of volatility:

.                     How most market participants
.                     perceive volatility
.                     Fundamental          Transitory
Actual
type of
volatility:
.                     Price quickly        Price trends
Fundamental           establishes a        as disbelievers
.                     new equilibrium      change their
.                                          minds one by
.                                          one
.
.                     Market reverses      Price quickly
Transitory            dramatically         reverts to
.                                          previous levels

For years, the trading literature was very heavily slanted toward trend following as the road to riches, which biased many traders toward assuming any volatility was fundamental. However, with much money having been yanked from trend following funds this year, the upper right quadrant is occurring with more frequency.

May

14

I notice all three major stock indices begin with a "1", as Benford's Law says they might tend to:

I N D U     1 3 3 2 6 . 2 2
S P X         1 5 0 5 . 8 5
N D X         1 8 9 8 . 7 9

Philip J. McDonnell notes:

A quick glance at a slide rule shows that the difference between the number 1 and the number 2 takes up about a third of the scale. The slide rule scale is logarithmic and thus enables adding the lengths of the logs to facilitate multiplication. If the underlying process of any stochastic process is multiplicative as opposed to additive, then the process will follow a lognormal distribution. So if the process is lognormal then one should not be surprised that the proportion of 1-digits is one third.

George Zachar adds:

The Wolfram Demonstrations Project is a new, cool, free math visualization tool. I've run it on both Windows and OS X. 

Gibbons Burke adds:

Wolfram seems to have borrowed some features (especially the parameter sliders) from Graphing Calculator, which was distributed free with every Mac since January 1994 (though no longer — Apple has its own now). Version 3 is available for free and it is enjoyable to play with. 

Nov

15

I was in my garage late last night changing oil in my car and I came across an old beat up paperback of Moby Dick that was stashed in a box next to the oil filter wrench. One thing led to another and I was 30 chapters deep. I came to the realization that chapter 24 titled “The Advocate” could easily be retitled “The Speculator” and have the word/words “speculator” “wall street” substituted. I will share some samples with the ya’ll:

In the first place, it may be deemed almost superfluous to establish the fact, that among people at large, the business of “speculating” is not accounted on a level with what are called the liberal professions. If a stranger were introduced into any miscellaneous metropolitan society, it would but slightly advance the general opinion of his merits, were he presented to the company as a “speculator”, say; and if in emulation of the “Corporate Presidents (C.E.O.’s)” he should append the initials “C.S (Chief Speculator)” to his visiting card, such a procedure would be deemed pre-eminently presuming and ridiculous. Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honoring us “speculators”, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation amounts to a butchering sort of business; and that when actively engaged therein, we are surrounded by all manner of defilements. Butchers we are, that is true. But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been all “CEO’s” whom the world invariably delights to honor. And as for the matter of the alleged uncleanliness of our business, ye shall soon be initiated into certain facts hitherto pretty generally unknown, and which, upon the whole, will triumphantly plant the “speculators chambers” at least among the cleanliest things of this tidy earth. But even granting the charge in question to be true; what disordered “trading desk” of a “speculators chamber” are comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those “cherry desks” from which so many “corporate presidents” return to drink in all ladies’ plaudits? And if the idea of peril so much enhances the popular conceit of the “corporate president’s” profession; let me assure ye that many a “CEO” who has freely “signed quarterly earnings”, would quickly recoil at the apparition of the “Market Mistress’s hand”, “fluctuating his capital up and down with reckless abandon”. For what are the comprehensible terrors of “being a corporate officer” compared with the interlinked terrors and wonders of “Speculation”! But, though the world scouts at us “speculators”, yet does it unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea , an all-abounding adoration! For almost all the “TV shows”, “Daily Papers”, “Radio Programs” that spread “market wisdom” around the globe, “shout our language”, as before so many “pulpits”, to our glory!

I will save the last of the chapter for you to read. It is an impressive homage to the whaler or “speculator” as I have taken the liberty to implant. It discusses the heritage forgotten, the lineage of the men, the importance of the risk taken and the rewards reaped by those of the type. I got goose bumps from the reading. It was something I must have forgotten or hadn’t thought of the first few times I’ve read Melville’s masterpiece.

Gibbons Burke replies:

Interesting that you should run across ‘Moby Dick’ yesterday as November 14th was the 155th anniversary of the great novel’s publication.

My favorite chapter is The Castaway, about Pip, who jumps from a whale boat on a sleigh ride and is abandoned to the solitude of the ocean alone:

He is treated to a vision of God, and returns and is adjudged to have gone stark raving mad. Of course, he is also given the gift of prophesy, and like Cassandra, can see what the future holds for the barky.

Nov

14

I received a book recommendation from Stefan Jovanovich who, like Jim Sogi, utters something of profundity whenever he speaks. He recommends historical books by Peter Green and J. S. Holliday as models of good scholarship. I call on him and others for some good historical books that I can read and augment my library with and share with my children, who are studying history in school, and regrettably have been brainwashed by politically correct curricula, starting with Squanto as the archetypical American hero.

I recommend the book Lessons of History by Will Durant as well worth reading for its lessons on markets as well as a honest attempt to review the lessons from a life long study of the sweep of history in conjunction with this request.

Alston Mabry replies:

Inventing America is a textbook that has an interesting approach and might be an alternative for homeschoolers:

Book Description; W. W. Norton presents Inventing America, a balanced new survey of American history by four outstanding historians. The text uses the theme of innovation–the impulse in American history to “make it new”–to integrate the political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of the American story. From the creation of a new nation and the invention of the corporation in the eighteenth century, through the vast changes wrought by early industry and the rise of cities in the nineteenth century, to the culture of jazz and the new nation-state of the twentieth century, the text draws together the many ways in which innovation-and its limits-have marked American history.

Check out the TOC or get the second edition here or get a used copy of the first edition for a nominal amount.

Some other longtime favorites are The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe by James Chambers, and King Harald’s Saga: Harald Hardradi of Norway: From Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson. You can get the wiki overview here, but the saga itself is a quick read and an amazing story.

Another audio book I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to on cross-country drives is Simon Schama’s A History of Britain. The audio book is in 3 volumes. Schama, a professor at Columbia, is such an excellent storyteller that I would pick up anything he has written. The television series of the same name is also available on DVD and is outstanding.

Schama’s most recent work, Rough Crossings, is about the British and slavery during the Revolutionary War: You can hear Schama talk about Rough Crossings on Book TV.

Stefan Jovanovich replies:

Simon Schama has the gift of charisma. When you watch his narration of the video documentary of the History of Britain, you are instantly aware of it. The trouble is that his histories are not to be trusted. At their worst they are little more than royalist propaganda. Too often he writes the story that the Queen would like to read, not the one that happened. Even though Cromwell was the first head of the United Kingdom to allow Jews to openly practice their religion, Schama finds the Great Protector to be a far greater villain than any of the crowned heads who so routinely persecuted the children of Israel. He is equally severe in his criticisms of those greedy speculators of the Dutch Republic who left Spinoza free to grind his lenses; in Schama’s eyes, those Dutch Reform bigots were guilty not only of inventing capital markets but also of buying too much stuff. The common thread in Schama’s works is the notion that sectarian Christians, with their notions of free markets, are to be feared as dangerous, greedy fanatics who will upset the natural order of the world. The meme continues with Rough Crossings. Schama makes a great deal of the fact that the British offered freedom to slaves who would join the Royalist forces in fighting Washington’s Army while failing to note that the Confederates ended their struggle with the same concession to the dire necessities of war. In general, Schama finds the Christian deism of the slave owning signers of the Declaration of Independence proof of their hypocrisy and, by extension, that of the American nation as a whole. The fact that, for another half century, neither the Archbishops of Canterbury nor the Kings of England had any problem with sanctioning and enforcing slavery in their remaining territories is somehow put aside. So are the origins of the anti-slavery movement in both England and America (those dreadful Methodists). The nearly two centuries old Anglo-American naval alliance (the longest-lived military confederation between democracies in recorded history) had its origins in the anti-slavery patrols off West Africa by both fleets that began in the 1820s. Those were initiated as a political concession in both countries to those same cross-bearing nutballs who thought that the “common” people should have the right to vote even if they did not own a carriage. Ain’t history grand?

Tom Ryan suggests:

Daniel Boorstin’s three books, The Americans, written before 1973, provide a refreshing take on American history in my opinion. I recommend the third in the series, “The Democratic Experience”, which covers the 1870-1970 period in American History. It is unconventional in the sense that it focuses on the stories of the individuals who built, invented, and created this country, the untold stories of the individuals as it were, rather than the typical history of Washington political leadership that is regularly fed to children in grades 4-12.

Steve Ellison adds:

I highly recommend British historian Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People, which goes into detail on many topics, including the relentless economic growth that occurred almost from the outset. A small sample:

By the third quarter of the 18th century America already had a society which was predominantly middle class. The shortage of labor meant artisans did not need to form guilds to protect jobs. It was rare to find restriction on entry to any trade. Few skilled men remained hired employees beyond the age of twenty-five. If they did not acquire their own farm they ran their own business.

Rodger Bastien responds:

I just completed Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Empire by Tom Holland. I highly recommend this historical narrative of the final days of the Republic which deals with primarily the years 100 B.C. to 14 A.D. For me, the book brought to life this period which I knew little about but was arguably as important to subsequent civilizations as any period before or since. Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra may have existed centuries ago, but to me those centuries somehow feel a little shorter.

Gibbons Burke replies:

I am finding I am enjoying first-person narrative accounts of historical events and times, so, with that in mind:

and one that’s not a first person, but which is fascinating and has many meals:

John O’Sullivan replies:

I recommend two books by Anthony Beevor: Stalingrad and The Fall of Berlin 1945. Both mesh grand strategy with individual detail and amazing narrative momentum. I also like three Middle & Far Eastern travelogue/history/biographies by William Dalrymple : Xanadu, From the Holy Mountain and White Mughals. Dalrymple has created his own genre and its a rich mix.

MacNeil Curry replies:

I would have to recommend Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Not only is it a fascinating account of the West from a different perspective, but it highlights quite well that there are two sides to every story and that both must be carefully studied before one can truly come to there own conclusion.

Tyler McClellan replies:

Speaking of John Wesley Powell, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner is a book with many practical lessons for investing and life that used to be required reading for the history of the American West.

Craig Cuyler replies:

My favourite historical novels are without doubt the three part trilogy by Neil Stevenson called the Baroque Cycle. This body of work, over 2500 pages long, covers life in 17th-century in England, Europe, Russia with special reference to natural philosophy & science. Stevenson weaves in his ideas about currency, calculus in speculation which took place around the central characters like Isaac Newton, Huygens, Hook, Leibniz. The courts of Louis XIV in the battle for the monarchy in England feature strongly. The Baroque Cycle is to science what the Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. Fantastic read!

Nov

7

Years back I read a comment from Tom Dorsey of Dorsey Wright who stated that it is easier for a stock to go from $80 to $100 than from $15 to $20.

Is there an optimal price of a stock to purchase? $30 or above?

If one bought a basket of stocks at $80 at the beginning of the year, and held it for one year, what would be the performance of the basket and would it outperform the S&P index? What would the standard deviation be?

What price should an investor avoid? Below $12 or below $5? What are the reasons for doing so?

James Sogi adds:

Aside from the high/low price issue,

> 20/80

[1] 0.25

> 5/15

[1] 0.33

So it’s about 8% easier.

John Bollinger recalls:

I think the first to dip his toe in this pond was Frederick Macaulay, later of ‘duration‘ fame, writing in the Wall Street Annalist — a NYT publication — in the 1930s, the exact date eludes me.

Martin Lindkvist elaborates:

Ahh… the square root theory. Norman Fosback has a little discussion in Stock Market Logic. The square root theory says the the magnitude of the stocks price move is directly related to the price of the stock. Specifically, for a given market advance, all stocks should change in price based on their square root. So the $15 stock (square root is 3.873) would advance to 24 (3.873+1 squared) and the $80 stock should at the same market advance go to 99 (8.944+1 squared). Or so according to the theory. The gist in any case is that in during an advance it pays to have the lower priced stock which should be more volatile.

Fred Macaulay originated the theory in the Annalist, March 13, 1931. William Dunnigan’s New Blueprints for Gains in Grains from 1956 also has a discussion.

Gibbons Burke replies:

These lines from the first of the Quartets, Burnt Norton, resonate with philosophical thoughts on the nature of the markets, and the study of market history….

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden...

Oct

31

SAD, By James Sogi

October 31, 2006 | Leave a Comment

Big wave season is here - both in the ocean and in the markets. Time to dust off the big wave boards.

Yesterday at Mahaiula it was 15 feet and glassy with only four of us out. We had to paddle about half a mile out to sea as the waves were big. Surfing, running, biking, sit ups, push ups, weights, stretching helps get in shape. Out on the water it was cosmic. The moon was rising above the mountains in the distance, the blue water and spin drift from the big waves filled the air and the energy was big, but the water surface was smooth clam and glassy. To line up our positions to be in the right spot for the take off not too far out, but not too close in to be crushed by the waves there are a number of things to watch. I’ve been surfing 40 years and can modestly claim to have mastered the basic skills.

1. Line up the cosmic elements by lining up the moon, the tree and the two volcanoes and lava flows. This triangulates well to give a good analog location, but isn’t enough, It would be possible to digitally locate at N 19 degrees 47.496 by 156 W02.445 the theoretically historical take off spot but you still might get creamed. There are ephemeral and random factors at work that you have to be aware of in real time. Just the stats is not enough to hit the sweet spot.

2. The waves come in sets or series of 5 or more at a time with a lull in between. Just like the waves of day bars in the market in sets of five or six, and a big day up the last few months. We use the current pattern to choose the wave and where to sit. When the first wave comes, you cannot see over the top, but you can see off in the distance a group of waves coming and position accordingly. Never take the first wave, there might a bigger one right in back you can’t see and will drill you if you take the first one. This is an execution issue. The waves come in 12-20 second periods, and the set come in 15-20 minute intervals, and these facts are counted and out in the mental plan. Specs do the same.

3. We look at the shape of the wave as it wraps over the underground rocks and coral reefs and focuses its power. It varies according to the shape and size of the swell, and varies from wave to wave and varies with the tide. This helps refine the position as the waves roll through to be in just the sweet spot where one or two paddles send you off on a 20 foot drop at high speed along the face of the wave on a two hundred yard ride as the waves explodes right behind you and curls way up three times your height above your head.

4. I watch what the other surfers are doing. If the guy on the outside, who can see beyond the next waves starts scrambling frantically, you know a big one is coming and the 3 second head start may be just enough to make it over the crest before it crushes you. In the markets our list is really helpful to stay connected with other trades. Thanks again to Chair for hosting the site and the list.

5. We watch the water currents and the drift. There is a steady trade wind pattern that we watch. I always keep an eye in the water or big sharks who frequent the area. The current pulls you deeper into the line up and if not accounted for, you will end up too deep and get caught.

S.A.D. is not season affective disorder, here it stands for Surf ‘n Dine. After surfing we go three miles up the coast to the Four Seasons at Hualalai and eat at The Grille with Alan Wong chef, Yumm and sip Mangoritas with red and yellow color tomato soup with cucumbers and wasabi . Yes, its tough. If any of you come out here, Four Seasons is the best place to stay.

Gibbons Burke relates an industry story:

There is an interesting story, and perhaps a meal or two, about Gordon “Grubby” Clark, founder of the Clark Foam company in Laguna Niguel, Calif. This innovative industry pioneer abruptly quit making surfboard “blanks” - the polyurethane core of the board - which were the industry standard and the manufacture of which he dominated the world with a 90% market share:

The article includes a fax from Mr. Clark explaining in some detail his reasons for shutting the legendary firm down:

For owning and operating Clark Foam I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits, and even time in prison. I will not be saying more than is in this letter so I hope you read it carefully. I do not want to be answering questions about my decisions for the next few years. Effective immediately Clark Foam is ceasing production and sales of surfboard blanks. I would like to give a lot more details but keep in mind that I may have both fines and criminal charges pending at this time or in the future. Therefore I have been advised by my attorney to say as little as possible. I do not want this document to be used as an admission of wrongdoing nor am i going to help the government prosecute me. I do, however, feel I owe everyone some sort of explanation- even if it is incomplete and not a full disclosure of my problems…

and ending with:

When Clark Foam was started it was a far different California. Businesses like Clark Foam were very welcome and considered the leading edge of innovation and technology. Somewhere along the way things have changed. The State of California and Orange County California are trying very hard to make a clean, safe, and just home for their residents. This is commendable and I totally support their goals. It is my understanding their plan is to remove selective businesses to make way for new, better jobs that will be compatible with the improved environment. They are putting an incredible amount of resources into their effort. This is a tough job and they are doing a good job of meeting their goals. The only apology I will make to customers and employees is that I should have seen this coming many years sooner and closed years ago in a slower, more predictable manner. I waited far too long, being optimistic rather than realistic. I also failed to do my homework. What will I be doing in the near future? There is a very good chance I will spend a lot of time in courtrooms over the next few years and could go to prison. I have a tremendous cleanup expense to exit my business. I have the potential for serious fines. My full time efforts will be to extract myself from the mess that I have created for myself. In closing I want to thank everyone for their wonderful support over the years. This has been a great ride with great people. I have loved this job and the people I worked with. Thanks, Gordon Clark

Echoes of Rand-ian heros Howard Roark, John Galt and Hank Reardon, no?

Prices for the remaining unsold Clark blanks took off after this event. Has the surfboard industry recovered from the blow yet?

James Sogi says not to worry:

Talking to my shaper, there are plenty of blanks now…from Mexico. All good quality, no problemo. Gee I wonder who is making them? The market always finds a way. Always one step ahead of government. Talk about government getting into bed how about Daylight saving time as the ultimate commie plot to extract more work out of the proletariat.

An offsite discussion of option trading led to this insightful post from a frequent contributor.

Oct

10

The American Heritage Dictionary lists the following four options for the definition of the word gamble:

1. To bet on an uncertain outcome, as of a contest.
2. To play a game of chance for stakes.
3. To take a risk in the hope of gaining an advantage or a benefit.
4. To engage in reckless or hazardous behavior: You are gambling with your health by continuing to smoke.

Certainly, according to definitions 1 and 3, and depending on your semantic leaning definition 2, we, as market participants seem to fit the bill of "gambler." It is the fourth definition listed above, however, that is really at the heart of this matter. Somewhere along the line, many centuries before any of us were born, the word "gambler," came not only to define one who takes on risk, possibly involving money, but one who does so in a crazed, irresponsible and, yes, reckless way. The image conjured by the word is always one of an old bum, living on the streets, who having been disowned by his family, and happens across a large monetary note, heads straight to the local casino or race track to lose it all. A helpless loser. A man or woman who could never raise a family or provide for anyone, even themselves. Gambling is seen as a type of disease, not unlike obsessive compulsive disorder, or alcoholism. There are twelve step programs and group therapies available. ! However this has never been the denotation of the word, but rather the connotation.

"Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society." Thus spoke Bill Frist after the passing of his Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act this October second. The bill was due to be blocked for lack of parliamentary time, so Frist sneaked it into a Homeland Security bill, the "Port Security Improvement Act," which was guaranteed to pass based on its content. But can gambling only be done in a casino, online or otherwise? I wonder just how many people in the US have had their dreams dashed by online poker playing? Could it be more than 90% of those who play? That is the exact amount of new businesses that fail within their first year, an event that also dashes quite a bit of dreams, not to mention capital. Shouldn't First, according to his own logic, move to illegalize new business? Why is it that no one considers entrepreneurs gamblers?

A term usually approved of by more in our profession is that of "Speculator," which has the following strange definition:

A person who is willing to take large risks and sacrifice the safety of principal in return for potentially large gains. Certain decisions regarding securities clearly characterize a speculator. For example, purchasing a very volatile stock in hopes of making a half a point in profit is speculation, but buying a U.S. Treasury bond to hold for retirement is an investment. It must be added, however, that there is a big gray area in which speculation and investment are difficult to differentiate. Also called punter."

I wonder how this writer would characterize one who held a stock until retirement, or one who day traded bonds? Regardless, a speculator seems to be more respected than a mere gambler. No where does the word "reckless" appear in this definition, and indeed we start to see the immergence of respectability here. Even more respect is given to the "investor.":

1. A person who puts (money) to use, by purchase or expenditure, in something offering potential profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.
2. A person who purchases income-producing assets. An investor as opposed to a speculator usually considers safety of principal to be of primary importance. In addition, investors frequently purchase assets with the expectation of holding them for a longer period of time than speculators."

Here we have the penultimate description of the respectable way to wager. Now we are "putting money to use," "consider[ing] safety of principal to be of primary importance." The word "risk" is not mentioned even once, much less "chance," and certainly not "game." It is interesting to note that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act act had to have special langauge which permitted "any activity governed by the securities laws (as that term is defined in section 3(a)(47) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 for the purchase or sale of securities (as that term is defined in section 3(a)(10) of that Act)." It is also interesting to note the harsh 57% crash PartyGaming took on the London Stock Exchange after the US law was passed, a movement that was sure to reward many who were "gambling," and short the stock.

I just wondered what everyone else thought of these terms. Do they object to them? Do they feel offended when they are called as such? Do they prefer one over the other? My mind runs briskly to the top poker players in the world, how consistently they are at the top of the money lists, making hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Any gambling book worth its salt informs the reader of how important it is to preserve capital, and of how much one must go out of their way to avoid gambler's ruin. It seems to me only logical to regard the top poker players as investors. In fact, maybe this is the crux. Could it be that one who takes chance and succeeds is an investor, while one who takes chance and fails is a gambler? Not unlike one who kills a household of people is regarded as a mass murderer, while one who kills the majority of the army of another nation is hailed as a conqueror?

Tom Ryan responds:

In the main, it seems to me that there are several distinct differences between gambling and speculating/investing, and this ties into the discussion on fractals and markets which has been dissected many times on the list before.

The first point is that diversification tends to help reduce risk in speculating but does little for you in gambling. Why? Because the pieces of paper we trade in the capital markets are actually legal claims on the economic engine of commerce, via either a rate of interest or a claim on future assets/profits/dividends. Provided that economic growth and health continues in the aggregate and nuclear winter is not coming, in the aggregate the value of these claims will rise over time, and therefore the more you diversify the higher the odds that you will participate in this rising tide. In gambling, playing more casinos, tracks, or playing different types of games does not increase your probability of success.

Secondly, in speculating/investing, one can usually reverse out of a position or decision…even though there is a cost to that, it is not 100%. In gambling you can't take a portion of your money back after the ball is in play on the wheel or the horses are on the back stretch. So in speculating there is far more potential to adapt to changing circumstances

Finally, increasing your significant time horizon helps reduce risk in speculating/investing but actually works against you in gambling as in the long run all gamblers go broke because of the combination of the odds and the vig that you pay to play. It has to be that way of course as the casinos have to take a net rake from the gambling public in the aggregate to have a business in the long run.

One of the issues with infinite variance is that it leads one to theologically consider that the game ending event could happen at any time, therefore the statements I made above about risk management would be false. However, one of the (many) problems with infinite variance in a social environment (capital market) is that it ignores the ability of people and groups of people, to learn, adjust, adapt, and evolve over time as circumstances change. For example, although we may not have the ability to avert a major disaster from a large asteroid hitting the earth today, we as a species are more aware of the danger today than 500 years ago, and 500 years from now maybe we will have the technology/capability to avert such a catastrophe. This adaptation and learning process is always ongoing in the markets due to competition. This is simply a long winded way of saying, markets are not snowflakes.

GM Nigel Davies Replies:

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this question may be that those who object the most may be the ones who are most at risk. Life is inevitably a speculative game in which the line between calculated risk and gambling is often going to be quite blurred.

In any case it's better to know that you're playing a game. As a topical example I doubt that many people who take on large mortgages to buy property consider themselves to be 'speculators' (gamblers?) on property prices and interest rates, but that's exactly what they are.

Gibbons Burke responds:

Being called a gambler shouldn't bother a speculator one iota. He is not a gambler; being so called merely establishes the ignorance of the caller.

A gambler is one who willingly places his capital at risk in a game where the odds are ineluctably, mathematically or mechanically, set against the player by his counter-party, known as the 'house'. The house sets the odds to its own advantage, and, if, by some wrinkle of skill or fate the gambler wins consistently, the house will summarily eject him from the game as a cheat. The payoff for gamblers is not necessarily the win, because they inevitably lose, but the play - the rush of the occasional win, the diversion, the community of like minded others. For some, it is a desire to dispose of money in a socially acceptable way without incurring the obligations and responsibilities incurred by giving the money away to others. For some, having some "skin in the game" increases their enjoyment of the event. Sadly, for many, the variable reward on a variable schedule is a form of operant conditioning which reinforces a compulsive addiction to the game.

That said, there are many 'gamblers' who are really speculators, because they participate in games where they develop real edges based on skill, or inside knowledge, and they are not booted for winning. I would include in this number blackjack counters who get away with it, or poker games, where the pot is returned to the players in full, minus a fee to the house for its hospitality*.

Speculators risk their capital in bets with other speculators in a marketplace. The odds are not foreordained by formula or design - for the most part the speculator is in full control of his own destiny, and takes full responsibility for the inevitable losses and misfortunes which he may incur. Speculators pay a 'vig' to the market — real work always involves friction. Someone must pay the light bill. The marketplace does not kick him out of the game for winning, though others may attempt to adapt to or adopt his winning strategies, and the game may change over time requiring the speculator to suss out new rules and regimes.

That said, there are many who are engaged in the pursuit of speculative profits who, by their own lack of skill are really gambling; they are knowingly trading without an identifiable edge. Like gamblers, their utility function is not necessarily to based on growth of their capital. They willingly lose their capital for many reasons, among them: they enjoy the diversion of trading, or the society of other traders, or perhaps they have a psychological need to get rid of lucre obtained by disreputable means.

Reduced to the bare elements: Gamblers are willing losers who occasionally win; speculators are willing winners who occasionally lose.

There is no shame in being called a gambler, either, unless one has succumbed to the play as a compulsion which becomes a destructive vice. Gambling serves a worthwhile function in society: it provides an efficient means to separate valuable capital from those who have no desire to steward it into the hands of those who do, and it often provides the player excellent entertainment and fun in exchange. It's a fair and voluntary trade.

*A sub-category of the speculative gambler: Playing poker with a corrupt official can be an untrace-able means to curry favor by "losing" bribes in a game of "chance." The 'loss' is really a stake in a position where the "gambler" is really seeking a payoff in a much bigger game, and the poker game is his means to a speculative edge. An example of this is Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind", who played cards with his jailers in order to obtain special privileges. Mayor Royce in "The Wire" is another literary example, but this may have been modeled the real-life bribe-taking tactics of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards (whose 'house' is now Oakdale Federal Penitentiary - the Feds kicked him out of the game for winning too much.)

Sep

25

There are many angles to the markets.

There are Gann angles, which of course make no sense, because angles on a chart are depending on axis units.

There is also the Cauchy distribution, whose fat tails are scaring away those who can remember 1987 but have never traded smallcaps or electricity. This distribution can be generated from angles, made by someone shooting randomly at a distant target. Where "randomly" means uniform. Hence fat tails are the property of some distribution of angles.

More interestingly, there seem to be a lot of statistical tests developed for circular data; that is angles. I found out about them in 100 statistical tests by Gopal K. Kanji. Just for fun, I gave a try to the V-test, or Modified Rayleigh. It is a test for randomness, checking whether observed angles tend to cluster around a given angle.

The data is JPY/USD monthly returns since 1965. One problem surfaced though — how to transform returns into angles?

I chose to project them on a vertical axis, in some reminiscence of the Cauchy target experiment. As a result, time is factored out of the study. It could turn it into what I think they call an "axial study", in which all angles need to be doubled in the computations. This could be a mistake, but it does not affect the results. The conclusion is the same whether the angles are doubled or not.

And the conclusion is that we reject the null hypothesis that angles are random around the zero-line, at the 0.0001 significance level. Rayleigh's V is 5.255. There is some element of non-randomness in monthly JPY/USD, which still need to be identified.

Here is the code for the test, except that V's significance had to be checked in a table, unavailable in any R package.

YEN <- read.table("MonthlyYenUSD.txt", header=TRUE)
Close <- 100*diff(log(YEN$Last))
Angle <- 2*atan(Close) #Axial data

xbar <- sum(cos(Angle))/length(Angle)
ybar <- sum(sin(Angle))/length(Angle)
r <- sqrt(xbar*xbar+ybar*ybar)
phi <- atan(ybar/xbar) # xbar>0, else add Pi radians
theta0 <-0 # theoretical angle direction i.e. null hypothesis
nu <- r*cos(phi-theta0)
V <- nu*sqrt(2*length(Angle))

Gibbons Burke adds:

I am no Gann fan, but Gann angles escape the aspect ratio problem you mention because Gann plotted his charts on paper of a constant scale, so that one increment of time was always kept constant in physical distance relative to the units of price on the y-axis. Typically it was 1 point in price = 1 unit of time. In this way, a 45 degree line always related to a rate of ascent or descent of, say, one point per day. So there was some internal consistency. Or, as Shakespeare put it "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."

Early technical analysis software packages like CompuTrac let you draw angled lines which were completely arbitrary because of the vertical range in the time period plotted in the chart, but they were there because the TAG group threw just about anything into the program that users asked for. But they also had methods of drawing Gann angle lines with the consistent aspect ratio ability.

Bruno replies:

To answer my own post, I tried as much as I could to find randomness with circular tests, but could not. The reason is certainly that returns data is not circular. The way to make it circular is to introduce time. Divide the circle in 12 for monthly returns.

Then returns have to be in a third dimension. Fortunately, we have got spherical statistics!

Dr. Phillip J. McDonnell adds:

With all due respect, Gann realized his error only after he had been publishing for some time. It was a retrospective fix. But it is an inadequate fix.

When a stock splits 2:1 any normal chart is now no longer a 1 point to 1 time unit ratio. When Microsoft paid its 10% dividend is the new ratio now .90 to 1.00 or should it be 1.10 to 1. Gann is moot on the question.

When a stock pays dividends should the price be adjusted? Should the dividends just be ignored with the attendant error in rate of return?

What about weekly charts - is the time scale 5 units or 7 or just 1 (a week)?

What about monthly? Is it 1 unit, 21 units or 30 or the actual number of trading or calendar days?

With many angles, many time scales and dubious rules it should be quite easy to find many examples that come 'close' to turning points in the markets. In fact it is probably quite difficult to find any failures. This is especially true if one is allowed to define 'close' as whatever one needs to make the current data fit.

Even though the arcane mysticism of Gann is suspect, Bruno's ideas on angles may have some merit and should not be lumped into the same basket. The Cauchy distribution induced by the angle model can be problematic. During the 90's several advances were made by Zar and others in the statistics of angles and tests thereon. That area is relatively new but very workable.

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