May

29

 Forgive me if I haven't augmented the dinner party lately as one was at his 50th reunion at Harvard where I heard a great Boston Pops concert, did some bird watching at the very elegant and peaceful Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and found many of my classmates who seemed just like ordinary boys in '64 were now quite eminent and personable. About 1,000 out of 1,200 living out of 1,500 entrants were there. The joke was that if Bin Laden had been a Harvard student, the fund raising apparatus would have had his whereabout so they could solicit him. You will be hearing from me shortly.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

According to the Social Security administration, out of an all-male '64 class size of 1500 entrants, only about 1065 should still be alive.

Perhaps going to Harvard is the secret to longevity?

Russ Sears writes:

There is considerable self selection in going to college. Higher education could be thought of as an annuity ceasing upon death. SS death rates are higher than most actuarial tables, because life insurance is generally underwritten. But annuity tables have the lowest death rates due to the self selection. Incidentally the more options you have in a payout of say a pension plan or even SS, the more likely the annuitant will game the options. Where politicians often start with equivalent tables. 

May

26

 I'm reading one of the best training books I've ever read for training for endurance sports, which they define as almost any sport lasting more than two minutes. Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete House, Steve, Johnston, Scott. They draw on many studies from high level Olympic athletic training and physiology.

Technical physiological detail supports their theory. In a nutshell to train for endurance sport, duration as opposed to intensity is key. Building up an aerobic base where you can exert yourself without hard breathing is key to to building mitochondrial mass, capillaries and appropriate ST muscle fiber which builds endurance. High intensity is not a short cut, and can lead to a decrease in endurance and performance. Cross fit is an example of high intensity.

There is no shortcut. It takes long hours building a base for endurance. The effect builds over years.

Larry Williams writes: 

I would add to this discussion that endurance does not win races. The winners are the fastest runners, skater's bikers, etc.

When the marathon running aspect of my life began I was doing 100 miles a week, ran 50 milers and all that but could never qualify for The Great Marathon; Boston, as I had to post a 3:25 at a sanctioned race to qualify. I was then running 4 hour marathons, and while I could run all day that was not enough.

Once we began doing speed work on the advice of a Kenyan runner who, while running with I asked, "What do I have to do", was given the simple answer, "run faster".

So off to the track we went for speed work and that on— top of endurance— got us to 4 Bostons, one with Ralph V.

There is a difference between completing a race, triathalon, etc and wining. Winners are fasters and work very hard to gain speed.

Seems like this applies to the markets in some fashion but I'm too slow to put that all together.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

We're always taught that staying in the game is the key, because that's your prerequisite to catch the once-in-a-lifetime move. But then again, ascribed to palindrome: it's not whether you're right or wrong; it's how much you have on when you're really right! 

Larry Williams adds:

It's that delicate balance between spend and endurance– above average performance and staying in the game— in our game it seems. At times I have had speed in trading, competition, and like all in this list we have endured, but getting both at the same time still eludes me.

Buffet only has endurance.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

I don't think Buffet only has endurance. He'd been given valuable chunks on silver platter.

Gary Rogan writes: 

 It seems like being given valuable chunks came after 1990, when he was already a billionaire. He made his first million in 1962, and a million was worth a little more back then. Perhaps someone has the goods, but it doesn't seem like he built up his fortune early on on anything but taking advantage of available opportunities. Early on the opportunities were not flexionic, but later on they got to be that way more and more. He will do or say anything to make a buck, but was he given or did he take what he saw?

As for only having endurance, it would appear based on his objective net worth that in acquiring wealth endurance matters more than speed, unlike marathons.

Rocky Humbert comments: 

Mr. Rogan makes a key point which should be underscored. The tortoise beats the hare in investing because of the law of compounding.

In a marathon, the objective incremental value of the runner's speed at mile #2 is the same as at mile #22. That is, the marathon result is a simple sum of the time used for each mile.

In a lifetime of investing, the incremental value is different at year #2 versus year #22 … because net worth is a geometric series due to compounding.

There are many subtle aspects to this — the effects of volatility on the compounding, and the effect of a bankruptcy in year #1 versus year #22, etc.

Lastly, to the extent that one believes that there is a random/luck/chance is a factor, the turtoise will do even better than the hare.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Good points Rocky (ever-prescient, except in matters matrimonial and matriarchal, in my humble opinion). In reading what you wrote though, the following question comes to mind (and I am unable to answer it, perhaps you or someone with a more sports-physiology knowledge can — my interest here in in the mathematical function pertaining to…).

There is not difference in benefit accruing to the marathoner by a given speed at mile 2 versus mile 22. However, is there a tradeoff a cost, involved between running wither of these faster that would indicate a particular strategy as being more preferable than another? I know individual marathoners may have a different take on this, I'm more concerned with the actual physiological function however.

anonymous writes:

Overall fitness requires strength, speed/agility, and flexibility.  The mental component is extremely important as it is the brain that gives the signals to the muscles to act.  If there is no deep reserve, or lack of strength, the brain senses this and pulls back autonomic functions.  Motivation however allows the brain to tap the reserves of strength and endurance in times of need.

Each individual has different training requirements.  Many a sport trainer or coach has found this out the hard way.  Each individual reacts to training in different ways at different times in the training regime. 

Training actual changes the body and brain functions.  Mitochondrial cellular mass actually increases, as does enzyme production and along with muscle mass and function. 

Recently I started logging my training efforts in a quantitative manner.  Very helpful.

Overtraining is a common problem.  A typical cure is to increase training, but it is counterproductive.  When you feel tired, cut back, or rest.  Your body is telling you something.
 

May

16

 Placed Insights calculates that people in America eat 17 Big Macs a second, 1,020 a minute, 61,200 an hour, 1,468,800 each day and 536,112,000 a year; this amounts to $2.4 billion in annual revenue from bread, beef, pickles, cheese and ketchup for the McDonalds corporation and its franchisees.


Dunn Warren Investment Advisors
thinks the Big Mac is a better measure of "inflation" (yet another word, like capitalism, that describes a real thing by giving it a unicorn label) than the C.P.I. A CFA at that firm, James Cornehisen has, with the help of his assistant, regularly tallied the price of a Big Mac at 30 McDonalds restaurants throughout the U.S. They find that the current price of the hamburger ranges from $3.78 to $5.28 with the average price being $4.45. This is an increase of 9 cents from what they found to be the average price January 2014 - a rise of 2%. However, the current average price is a drop of 11 cents (a decrease of 2.4%) from the average price in May 2013 which was $4.56.

Rocky Humbert writes:

The Economist's Big Mac Index has caused indigestion for foreign currency traders for many years.

The Big Mac Index might work a bit better to demonstrate regional differences in the cost of living within the USA. But as a general indicator of price, it suffers for the substitution problem. (That is, if the price of beef rises, people will switch to chicken.) It also assumes the premise that McDonald's has a fixed profit margin on Big Macs.

But fortunately (or last I checked) there are no hedonic adjustments necessary for 2 all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." (Any speclister who has no idea what I just wrote has not done enough backtesting on their trading models.)
 

May

16

I have a question for the counters (and Dr. Z):

When the S&P makes a new, all-time high, what has been the historical reality of additional closing higher highs in the subsequent 1, 5, 10 days? The theoretical answer is obvious. But what is the historical reality?

My gut says that there will be more additional closing highs than the theory predicts. But what is the real answer?

Kim Zussman writes:

The attached plots waiting time (in trading days) between new all time highs in SP500 (1960-present).

Obviously you're more likely to get a new ATH tomorrow if there was one yesterday as opposed to 100 days ago.

Over this same period new ATHs were followed by another ATH the next day 56% of the time. This is slightly higher than drift, as over the period up days occurred on 53% of all trading days.

Victor Niederhoffer adds: 

Perhaps this will add some stats to Rocky's question. Since 1996 there has been a remarkable consistency to the distribution of moves after big highs. For example, after 1000 day highs, there were 172 of them. The expectation the next day was - 1/2 an S&P point. Or about minus 1/10 of 1%. The average duration to the next 999 day high was 2.3 days. The expectation 3 days later was about -2 points or minus 1/3 of 1%. On average, considering that you were not in a 1000 day high, the average duration to the next 1000 day high was 58 days. The expectation was 2/10 of 1 big point the next day or 2/10 of 1% a day. The expectations for 100, 200, and 500 day highs are remarkably similar, i.e. random to slightly, slightly, insignificantly, meaninglessly, negative. All this is based on continuously adjusted futures data so that the actual changes, not meaningless adjusted changes, were used.

Kora Reddy writes:

I am doing the below study on dividend adjusted $SPY ETF closing prices (regarding continuous future contract prices and I need an opinion on how to avoid what the chair says "it's better not to roll". Do we trade the next month expiry futures while taking the signal on current month futures on the expiry days…) but if after closing on an ATH, and then if $SPY presents a dip after 10 trading days, at close, the expectation from t+10 th day to next 10 trading days (non-interleaving trades).

#    24
% wins   63%
avg     1.05
med    1.21
avg win 2.99
avg loss       -2.18
max loss      -5.41
stdevp        3.29
t-test  1.57

For the dip presented after 20 trading days after $SPY closes at ATH, expectation for the next 20 trading days (non-interleaving trades).

#  15
% wins   80%
avg % 2.54  ( vs 0.8 % for any 20 trading days , or 1.26% barring the trades in 2013 year  )
med % 3.34
avg win %      4.03
avg loss %        -3.41
max loss % -4.96
stdevp  3.61
t-test 2.72

below the 15 prior trades since Jan 2000 ->
 
Date    t+20    t+20 %
01-May-14    ??    ??
27-Mar-14    1.71    0.93
24-Jan-14    6    3.37
12-Dec-13    4.5    2.55
15-Oct-13    7.19    4.28
15-Aug-13    2.9    1.77
05-Jun-13    0.85    0.54
25-Feb-13    6.48    4.46
10-Oct-12    -4.96    -3.57
02-Nov-07    -3.06    -2.32
09-Aug-07    0.59    0.47
07-Jun-07    3.92    3.05
02-Mar-07    3.34    2.8
05-Jan-07    3.71    3.07
14-Apr-00    7.12    6.82
14-Feb-00    -2.2    -2.06

that 1-May-14 trade is the result of $SPY closing at ATH on 2-Apr-14 and 20 trading days later $SPY closing lower, as on 1-May-14 ( lost -0.29%).

ps: no major edge for the dips presented after 1/2/3/4/5 trading days after $SPY closing at an ATH.

Victor Niederhoffer replies:

Just adjust algebraically. Or do it the best way. Maintain the original prices for percentage calculations, and work with algebraically adjusted changes for all other price changes and independent variable calculation. Fortunately, the market is evil, and likes to take the same amount from the poor lower feeders all the time. So it moves 5 or 10 bucks with impunity whether its 850 or 1850 with the same frequency. 

Apr

14

Bloomberg news picked up this article. I am not endorsing the paper, its methodology nor its conclusions. But counters should heed the underlying message. Especially Kora. I find it surprising that he doesn't look at the multiple comparison issue nor cite Bonferroni etc, but rather prefers to ask the question, "what is chance that a backtest generates a great result by chance." He argues that if you use 10 backtests, you are very likely to find a strategy with a Sharpe Ratio of 1.6 which is over-fitting: "Pseudo-Mathematics and Financial Charlatinism: The Effects of Backtest Overfitting on out–of-sample Performance" by David H. Bailey, Jonathan M. Borwein y Marcos Lopez de Prado z Qiji Jim Zhux, April 1, 2014

What good is a hypothesis that cannot be disproven? A Cautionary Tale (In Memory of Ross Miller)

1. Kora observes: Y = Fn(X) with a significance of T.

2. Kora raises a small amount of investment capital based on the expectation of this stochastic function alone. She gives no consideration to dynamic or causal or other exogenous relationships or intellectual or information edge.

3. Kora produces excellent performance as Y= Fn(X) as predicted.

4. Kora raises a massive amount of investment preformance after establishing a track record.

5. After raising a large amount of capital and collecting substantial management and incentive fees, something happens and Y <> Fn(X), and the clients suffer horrendous drawdowns. The fund shuts down and the total net amount of loss dwarfs the net amount of gains.6. The SpecListers say, "The probability of this was extremely small. But it is an example of Bacon's Ever Changing Cycles." Rocky says, "This is a example of bad science because any utility of the observation Y = Fn(X) without a casual understanding is limited to and qualified by, the ability to anticipate the onset of a changing cycle. And if the scientist can correctly anticipate the onset of a changing cycle, then this meta-hypothesis is vastly more important than the functional hypothesis.

Unfortunately, this is a recursive paradox, because the ability to anticipate the onset of a changing requires the ability to anticipate the onset of a changing cycle of a changing cycle, and then the onset of a changing cycle of a changing cycle of a changing cycle … and this continues ad infinitum OR UNTIL spec partiers go home to bed — whichever comes first."

Jordan Neumann writes: 

I admit not to have fully read the paper — I searched for the word transaction cost but did not find it, yet it makes finding a profitable strategy much harder than it seems.

Isn't this a problem with statistics in general? How does this differ from using thousands of drug candidates to find a drug? We still don't know why Advil works, but I take it anyway based on the statistical evidence. When quants believe that earnings or margins or insider trading affect prices, I would say that the economic justification is far from random.

There is a recent series of news articles that disparage quantitative analysis, just as several quant funds suffer for a few bad years. I would think that everything moves in cycles, and this might be the bottom.

Hernan Avella writes:

Mr. Rocky offers some valid questions to the counting battalion. However, I'm afraid his argument suffers severely from the straw man problem. It assumes that one can't have an approach that incorporates: logic, an economic framework, money management rules and counting. Even more. As you move up in the frequency spectrum, the economic framework becomes optional (useless).

The real question is (for med/long term speculators). If you incorporate all the said components in your approach, can you quantify your success per component?

Ralph Vince writes: 

Kora,

Yes, in my humble opinion, more money is to be made on the assumption of EMH (the cost of being wrong in this regard is less).

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

The test of the reality of a market is whether or not there are prices for quantities exchanged in actual transactions; and the market itself is sufficiently profitable that dealers are willing to pay for the rent and other costs of keeping the lights on. Market failure happens all the time; a trade disappears because other markets have swallowed the action or the inter-mediation itself is no longer handled by bid-ask. Even now more than a century and more after they disappeared you can find the remnants of "corn exchange" buildings throughout Britain; dealing in grain continues but it is no longer handled by open outcry involving dealers and farmers within half a day's train travel of a regional hub.

Markets are efficient in the way that engines are efficient in that they work. They are inefficient in the sense that there is wasted energy, some or much of which can be the result of insider manipulation and general fraud. The debate is over numbers matter - the economics of the companies and the world of money as a whole, the prices themselves and their patterns, the numerical indices of sentiment; for that question there is no absolute answer, nor should there be. Larry Williams, the R-Man, the Watsurf, RPH and many, many others can all be right - and wrong. And, in that sense, markets are permanently inefficient because, even among people to whom Morgan would have assigned a perfect grade for their financial character, the only final word comes when the market itself disappears. 

Apr

8

1) First, some thoughts on the question "what would happen if everyone lived off capital?"

If people saved, rather than spent, every dollar they earned, it would initially slow down the velocity of money. Likewise if no one ever spent savings, it would initially slow down the velocity of money. Rather than maximizing immediate consumption, people would be savers first, then very frugal consumers.

However, in both these cases the slack would be picked up in either the business sector, or the government sector, since there is now have an over supply of savers looking to invest capital. This would, of course, lower the risk, as the companies would not have to jump too high a hurdle to make interest payments. When do you think government would likewise only spend capital?

The recent financial crisis could be thought of as the opposite case where everyone thought they could leverage and overspent. This increased the risk as savers willing to lend disappeared. The money given to the flexions' banks to save them, could be thought of as printed money put in a lock box called deleveraging. Hence an increase in the quantity but a slowing of velocity of money and a risk of deflation.

2) Now for some strategies for preserving capital. The idea is to be a saver first, a consumer second.

Lets assume we invested $1,000,000 in Vanguard's index fund in April 1987. And any week we ended up with more than $1,000,000.00 we withdrew the excess. Below I list the 52 week amounts withdrawn (assuming 364 day years, 364 = 7*52). While the average $138,000 seems generous, about top 5% of earners, it would still give you many years in a row of $0 withdrawn in the 2000's. But if you think these booms and bust are systematic, then a better strategy would be to only withdraw in any one year a set amount, and save the rest for those lean $0 years. The next 2 columns shows how much you would have withdrawn if that set amount was $125000 annually. The withdrawals come from from $1 million invested in stocks excess earned, first, and then, if needed, from the amount stuffed under the mattress (not literally, of course, but previously set aside as neither consumed nor invested in stocks) . The amount invested in stock is kept at $1 million, the excess not spent in any year is mattress padding for future years.

You can see that during the bounteous years of the 1990s, you could have set aside over $1 million without compounding to cushion those upcoming lean years.

(Note: fiscal years ending in April)

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Mr. Sears' approach towards capital withdrawals is nominal, not real. So in an environment of 10% inflation and a risk free rate of 10%, he would be shrinking the real value of his corpus as he withdrew 10% on average. Conversely, in a deflationary environment, with rates at zero, he would not be consuming at all even though the corpus of his portfolio would be growing in real terms. The reality is that inflation has been averaging between 2 and 3% for the last decades and that destroys the corpus over a lifetime.

This wealth illusion associated with inflation/money printing is prevalent among both retirees and working folks. It is an insidious behavioral bias and I believe affects both consumption and economic activity. The bias is one reason that deflation is a drag on medium term growth.

Ralph Vince adds: 

I believe inevitably governments, a century or several hence, will live off of their own capital, part of a social-evolutionary process.

A structured dismantling of future liabilities (undoing the mega-Ponzi Social Security in the US, for example, in an orderly manner through generational taper with newcomers to the job market putting 100% in self-directed, those leaving the job market, 0% self-directed) and would other future liabilities to a sustainable level, and some time later, to a level of easy sustainability would allow an ultimate sinking fund of future government liabilities, eventually reaching a level of self-sustainability.

At which point, one would HOPE taxes would end, unless the Catholic Church model is employed.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Everyone does live off of investment (I think this is what Russ means by "capital"). The one correlation that seems dismally robust is that, in spite of all efforts to "distribute" (sic) wealth, only the ratio of private investment to people working determines how high someone's pay can go. If there is low "capital" investment, people make very little; if there is high "capital" investment, they make much more. People instinctively know this; it is the reason we all have our eyes drawn to to displays of physical grandeur and, in the days of the gold standard, bank lobbies always had marble. But, since we live in the age of alchemy (the nominal wealth illusion the R-Man notes), "income" becomes more important than savings.

Ed Stewart writes: 

Stefan doesn't it matter how savings are deployed. Savings productively deployed in a way that increases output of goods and services increases total wealth (and if such capital is up per head, wages) but not all savings are equal in this regards. Savings deployed to fund a make-work project via government debt represents consumption. I question if in general, savings used to help another party pull forward consumption on net represents consumption and not savings, just redistributing wealth from shortsighted to farsighted — if that makes sense (??).

Russ Sears writes: 

Once again my e-mail's brevity and my poor writing causes some confusion. The "mattress" strategy was meant to be humorous, not literal. Implying you have many options as to how you use the "savings" to hedge inflation. This strategy was meant to illustrate how to take equity risk while still withdrawing a decent amount for consumption. $125000 is a decent amount in today's dollars to live off, but in 1988's dollars that was very high living, perhaps near top 1%. In the example, the amount withdrawn could easily be slowly increased for inflation, with interest earned on the savings or less savings. The bigger problem I have with my own example is what do you do if you retire/need money at the start of long term $0 return to $1,000,000 capital amount. But let us go over some inflation options:

1. Put savings back into equities…I believe, (only my opinion), this may be a good option if money keeps being put into the system due to low or negative inflation and hence likely low interest rates as we currently see. But, this also leaves you more open to risk of inflation killing the equity markets or long term bear markets in general. However, looking back long term equities returns should beat inflation if next 100 years is like last 100 years.

2. Put saved money into a long term bond fund. This could handle mild inflation, as long as it stays mild.

3. Put money initially into short term fund then as inflation gets "high" switch over to long term bond fund as inflation kicks up. But this leads to when is inflation "high" (10% seems to be Rocky's boggy). Perhaps the answer is when it starts killing equities returns because the market is worried about it. Then if you think this is the case start putting "more" of the savings into long term funds. You'll have to decide what "more" speed is and if inflation is "the cause" for poor equity returns.

4. A combination strategy.

How to invest for inflation is a tough subject which such a simple "living off capital" strategy was not meant to answer. I hope the above shows sufficiently that a disciple approach to withdrawals. even if adjust for some inflation is better than simply going with the wealth effect and spending as earned from equities. But in the end you are going to have to decide for yourself, what you think inflation will do and when it will do it. And then execute it. But at least a disciplined approach to withdrawals give you much more flexibility and with it a chance to meet this challenge.

Finally the reason "capital" was chosen instead of "investment" was to signify an investment that is somewhat dependent on a stable "monetary" base for entry and exit. As opposed to a more direct investment in human capital or even property which may out last a government and may more likely be inverse related to inflation.
 

Apr

7

 My dad, who's on his deathbed, when lucid last week offered some advice to my nephew (who's struggling) and my son (who's not struggling). My dad said that in order to get ahead in life, one must hustle for money all the time, always look out for a better deal and more money, work very hard and smart, marry the correct woman, not necessarily the one you currently have the hots for. He mentioned thrift, and said that although cash offers a negative return, that personal thrift in all areas will keep you comfortable in the long run. He nailed both grandsons on their $5.00 a day Starbucks habit and ran some numbers by that over 30 years. He also nailed my nephew who smokes on how smoking will not only lower his life expectancy, it will affect his net worth and retirement. He said, "I bet between your Starbucks, smoking, and fast food lifestyle, you are spending 35% of your net income on bulls**t." He told both of them to think 3 generations down the road and plan for that and save, accumulate, and save some more. His final word to my nephew was that he is only inheriting $1000, but he had the tact to not mention that my son is getting my half of their estate that I surrendered. I did a good job raising my son. My son is already figuring out how to not dip into capital, which is a lesson everyone should be required to learn. Sadly, most don't.

Rocky Humbert writes:

Economics question/thought: What would happen to the economy if everyone followed that lesson: "My son is already figuring out how to not dip into capital, which is a lesson everyone should be required to learn. Sadly, most don't." If the only consumption is from a return on capital and earned income, what effect would this have on personal income and economic growth? I haven't thought this through, but my gut reaction is that this would pose a serious problem.

Richard Owen writes:

This is a good point. And any major shift by economic actors would be destabilizing over some period. In Jeff's instance Starbucks would go bankrupt and many baristas would lose their job and the capital employed in coffee houses rendered worthless.

But a steady state situation of high capital reinvestment by everyone can be envisaged. It would eventually lead to an increased level of capital per capita and thus the dividend would eventually dwarf what could previously have been received by eating into capital. The question is, if people are then rid of an appetite for Starbucks, what capital assets should be created other than coffee bars from which to receive the enlarged dividend? Luxury houses? Personal libraries?

Mar

30

 2014 Payscale College ROI Report

Rocky Humbert writes: 

One cannot help but note the irony of Dr. Z posting this "data". I dare say, based on his seemingly unremitted skepticism towards the markets, he would not invest the tuition in equities, but would instead hold cash ensuring with certainty a negative after-tax, real return (comparable to the eponymous Goshen College). If one lacks confidence in stocks 20 years hence (despite history), why would one believe that these numbers have any predictive value over the same period? More substantially, the study is based on a static view of the world. Geologists and petroleum engineers are currently in short supply. But the market will surely respond to that with a glut in five to ten years. Picking a college based on this data is like buying Blackberry when it was "da bomb." Similarly, it seems that the study gives no account to GPA, major, or post graduate study. In the best case, these numbers will be ignored. In the worst case, this sort of thing will turn into the next-gen US News rankings. Either way, they do not reflect the many intangibles associated with higher education nor with any real forecast of individual results. Lastly and most importantly, I am extremely dubious about the accuracy of the numbers. I have never been asked by my Alma Mater about my income. And if I were, I would err on the low side to reduce my attraction to the every vigilant alumni fundraisers.

Kim Zussman writes: 

I cannot vouch for the calculator's accuracy, but if you look further it allows screening by major, as well as adjusting for financial aid. It was shared in part because it seems ironic to rank an educations ROI; not just because it resembles predicting markets long-term, but especially the implication that education is primarily to earn money.

It remains that universal skepticism is the hallmark of good science anywhere outside New Haven, CT.

Mar

23

TEASER ALERT: I am not about to write what you expect!!

A popular blog site recently posted a story that advocated people to tap their home equity and buy stocks. The link is here or if that link doesn't work, here. 

What I find interesting about this article is that it is being met with universal revulsion judging from the blog comments and other related postings. (Not naming names.) The so-called Pros are saying it's irresponsible, ludicrous, sign of a top, etc. etc. etc. And the so-called pros are also saying that people will get sued for giving this advice. (I have no opinion).

Let's ignore the fact that this column's recommendation was extremely good advice for the past 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 50 years, and let's also ignore some of the weaker arguments in the story.

I think we should step back and analytically consider that there is actually some merit to the concept (for some people). (Caveat: I am not bullish on stocks).

Imagine the very responsible Mr X who every month took all of his extra income and paid off his mortgage early. He's now about 40 or 50 years old. And he owns no stocks. He owns no bonds. And he has no mortgage. And he's got enough cash to meet any emergency. I can make a very rational argument that Mr. X would be very well served to place a modest mortgage on his home and use the proceeds to acquire some financial assets. Not necessarily all stocks. But definitely some financial assets. There are several underlying arguments in favor of this: But first and foremost is diversification. We know mathematically, over time, diversification is the only free lunch.

So the authors of this controversial blog post got distracted by things like positive carry. And some other not-so-true things. But all of the readers spewed venom. And this reaction may have informative value.

Remember: A home is both a consumption good and a store of wealth. If someone put 100% of their net worth in a single undiversified stock, they are asking for trouble. And a home is really no different in that respect.

anonymous writes: 

I agree 100%.

The negative reaction, it seems, mistakenly seems to argue the case of not selling one's residence to buy stocks (which is clearly not what the author of the original piece advocated). Clearly, if one were to buy a second residence with that same home equity, in the case of agnosticism as to the direction of home prices and equity prices, would their reaction be the same?
 

Leo Jia writes: 

I think it all depends on who Mr X is.

If he is financially skilled (which seems not the case at all in Rocky's description), then maybe OK.

If not, then he should stay at where he is.

Or if he is really tempted, he should first spend a lot of effort in getting the skill. But Mr X should be well advised that he would still have no clue of what that skill is after many years of fooling around.

Do we all believe that investing is an easy job for everyone?

Different from the house, a financial asset is liquid and evidently volatile. Ordinary people can not tolerate the pain when the change of their asset value is vivid and clear. With the benefit of liquidity, the pain would cause them to do a lot of stupid things, which will then burn them out in no time.

Feb

26

 "It identified a bug that enables people to withdraw the same Bitcoins more than once…"

I submit that the demise of Bitcoin will be, in part attributable to the lethal cocktail of:

1. instant transactions

2. human/computer fallability

3. anonymity and the lack of well-capitalized exchanges/clearinghouses.

This 3rd factor is the boon and bane of Bitcoin.

Mistakes are human. Forgiveness is swift. Reverse wire transfers are divine.

From the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) which governs wire transfer:

§4A-211(c)(2) states that cancellation of a payment order after acceptance by the beneficiary's bank is only available in instances where the payment was unauthorized or there was a mistake by the sender and that mistake falls into one of three categories: (i) duplicate payment, (ii) payment to a person or entity not entitled to the funds, or (iii) payment which resulted in the beneficiary receiving more that they were entitled to. The effect of this language is to take issues such as buyer's remorse completely off the table and legally limit the instances where a buyer can even attempt to recall funds already credited to the seller's account to only those instances where the buyer can make a claim that the seller received funds to which it was not entitled.

Mt. Gox Bitcoin Exchange Goes Offline as Peers Lash Out

(1) 2014-02-25 07:47:38.266 GMT By Pavel Alpeyev and Carter Dougherty Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) — Mt. Gox, the Bitcoin exchange that halted withdrawals this month, went offline as industry peers distanced themselves from the Tokyo-based company in an effort to defend the virtual currency.

Efforts to reach the www.mtgox.com website today directed users to a blank white page, a day after Mt. Gox Chief Executive Officer Mark Karpeles resigned from the Bitcoin Foundation, a key advocacy group for the digital money. "While we are unable to comment on whether or not Mt. Gox's business operations employed operational best practices and reasonable accounting procedures, we can assure the public that the Bitcoin protocol is functioning properly," the foundation said in an e-mailed statement. Mt. Gox, one of the first exchanges, said this month that it identified a bug that enables people to withdraw the same Bitcoins more than once, leaving it vulnerable to hackers. Prices quoted on the exchange plunged on speculation that account holders wouldn't be able to get their coins back. Mt. Gox didn't immediately reply to a phone message and e- mail seeking comment.

full article here.

Feb

17

I looked at all combos of today's highs versus yesterday's highs, and today's lows versus yesterday's lows, for daily S&P from 2009 to present I find 96 inside days going up an average of 2.8 points with a sd of 15 the next day for a t of 1.7

today high > than yest high, today's low great than yest 516 ob u =0.3

today high > yest high & today low < then yest lo 121 ob u = 0.2

an outside da today high < yest hihg & today low > yest low 96 ob u =2.8 t=1.3

inside da today high < yest high & today lo < yest low 380 ob u = 1.0 t= 0.3

futures prices.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

What about if you limit your studies to 1) Fridays? 2) Fridays before 3 day weekends? 3) Fridays before 3 day weekends after severe weather/NYC school closings? 4) Fridays before 3 days weekends after severe weather/NYC school closings when the weekly closing price in natural gas is at a multi year high? 5) Fridays before 3 day weekends after sever weather/NYC school closings when the weekly closing price in natural gas is at a multi year high and the fed funds strip is pricing in no tightening for the next 90 days? 6) Fridays before 3 day weekends after severe weather/NYC school closing when the weekly closing price in natural gas is at a multi year high and the fed funds strip is pricing in no tightening for the next 90 days and there is a new Fed chairman and it's the second year of a presidential cycle and the trailing SPX p/e is 17 and the dividend yield is 1.95 and my dog threw up after eating too much snow?

Victor Niederhoffer writes:

It is always good to have Rocky poking fun at statistical studies. Apparently the mean and measures of the distribution variability have no value to him. However, we are agreed on one thing that splitting a variable with a zero mean into many bins does not add much value to decision making. Without meaning to denigrate the gist of the critique, I hasten to agree that there is a big difference between statistical significance in the past, and predictivity for the future. If there were no such difference, then all my followers and I would be very wealthy men like the Rosthchilds who always said that if they knew where the market was going "I would be a wealthy maaan". How do you say that in German.

anonymous writes: 

Ich ware ein reicher mann

Paolo Pezzutti writes: 

There are certain market paths and regularities that help making decisions about opening and closing trades. I am not sure whether this process can be fully automated in order to search, evaluate and implement these regularities. For sure, however, knowing and using the methodology is not enough to make you wealthy. There are many other factors, as your trading choices are discretionary, that influence your performance such as money management, discipline, consistency and so forth. I find that the "technical analysis" aspect of trading is not the main problem. Before beating the market I have to beat myself….. In this regard, Brett Steenbarger, for example, highlights pretty well the psychollogical and behavioral issues of trading. 

Feb

10

 Welcome to New England. This weekend, there was another protest. Approximately 400 people protested a new $800 million combined cycle gas turbine to be built in Salem. Approximately 50 protested in favor of replacing the old coal plant with natural gas. This spectacle after similar protests took place at Seabrook and Pilgrim, Boston area's two nuclear units.

If you add it up, New Englanders want no coal. No natural gas. No nukes. No new transmission lines.

At the same time, New England conducted their annual auction for [power plant] capacity. IIRC, the auction came up short by about 350 megawatts, including Canadian sources.

New Englanders are getting what they want. Major coal plants are exiting. Nuclear plants are retiring decades early. Few people are willing to invest in new natural gas based power plants. No new transmission lines of consequence are being built.

In addition, since no new natural gas pipelines are being built, there is a chronic shortage of natural gas. Boston has to import marginal natural gas from Africa through LNG channels. The practical solution is to burn oil.

Energy costs are becoming a major element in household budgets. I believe New England's energy costs are affecting real estate values. It would be interesting to see any credible studies.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Carder writes: "I believe New England's energy costs are affecting real estate values. It would be interesting to see any credible studies." Energy costs for people whose income is over $50k have already grown from 5% of after tax income to 9% of after tax income from 2001 to 2012. This is a national statistic (www.americaspower.org).

That the NYC Tri State area has both among the highest energy costs and most expensive real estate challenges Carder's theory. My guess is that this is a long cycle phenomenon and not well suited to short-term studies. The change in real estate prices are primarily a function of the short term change in employment, income, interest rates, taxes ; the costs of energy are (I believe) a much bigger deal for employers than employees.

Over the longer term, companies will presumably locate plants where there is ample energy and employees will follow and in that way real estate prices can be affected. But unless there are regular blackouts and/or reduction in net income/employment I would be surprised to see electricity prices affect real estate prices in a discernible way.
 

Feb

5

One wonders if the stooges, the puppets from the centrals will be hauled out to make reassuring comments about the health of the economy and the resonance of the qe's. After all, small people in emerging markets might be hurt and the idea that has the world in its grip will come into play. Trading it from that cynical world view has not been entirely unprofitable the last two days. But it was entirely unprofitable on Monday. However, it often takes a day for the puppets to receive their marching orders.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

I note a Bloomberg news story from this morning that the INVERSE VIX ETF (XIV) had a record inflow of money last week — the largest amount since the ETF started trading in 2010. This tells me that the market has become conditioned to extrapolating the behavior of the past five years.

I believe that among the biggest challenges in investing and running one's models is figuring out when the game has changed (or "ever changing cycles").

I am not making a prediction about when the game will change. But the risk is rising substantially. Conditions precedent for the game changing are (1) "Everyone" is conditioned for the same behavior; (2) High leverage in the system; (3) Rich valuations and/or optimistic assumptions; (4) Subtle changes in monetary conditions and/or other related expectations; (5) A long period of time since things looked really scary. (FWIW NYSE December Margin levels are at records fwiw.)

Think back a few years — what were you thinking then? How many people laughed at "Green Shoots"? Why do people believe the bankers now? But they didn't back then? What is different? I'll predict that we don't have another financial calamity. But to quote the wisdom of Roseanne Roseannadanna, "If it's not one thing, it's another."
 

Bill Rafter writes:

For the next shoe to drop you may want to look at my post of last week.

Gary Rogan writes: 

When I said we'll see 5% down I was using every one of those reasons other than 4 that I don't understand other than slightly lower QE. The margin leverage chart is the scariest thing in the world if you are looking for scary things.

Feb

5

 As diligent dailyspecs know, I recommended a long in natural gas a few weeks ago. The front contract has now risen about 40% and is currently making a new high (up about 15% over the past two days).

As a veteran of this market, I can say with wizened knowledge that Natural Gas is a market that V-tops. So if you followed my recommendation and bought some UNG or whatever, don't expect a graceful exit. I am NOT calling a top. There is some probability of further upside. Possibly massive. Rather, I am saying that you shouldn't expect me to announce my exit in the way that I did in gold.

Note to Dr. Z and the counters: There is always a bull market somewhere.

Ed Stewart writes: 

Amazing string of winning ideas. It seems that with the benefit of Rocky's calls doing one's own research is counterproductive.

Jim Sogi writes: 

In '05 and '08 natgas went over 15 and 10. What caused those run ups?
 

Jan

28

 In a poisson distribution the number of events, e.g big declines in a time period occurs with a specific average rate, regardless of the time that has elapsed. For example, the average number of big declines per month is two. How likely is it to have 2 declines in the month, 3 declines. The time between such events, follows an exponential distribution. What is the distribution of time that elapses between such events? The time between events has a mean of 1 / the average rate, e.g. 1/2 a month in the above example. The variance is also 1/2.

Mr. Vince proposes that the rate and average elapsed time changes conditional on what has happened in the most recent period, a very good proposal, which can be modeled most practically by the use of survival statistics that all here are familiar with, i.e. what is the average duration between declines based on what the most recent event has been. Vince proposes that one look at the likely variations in that time, which may be skewed to the near term or long term.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

My stats are rusty but I believe poison specifies an average time between events (lambda) as a parameter and further specifies that's the actual time between events is random. Others please correct me, but I believe volatility in stocks experience clustering and so the independence assumption of poison is violated.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I'm talking about modelling the times between declines of x% with the fishy distribution, determining lambda. Then testing various past time windows vs futures ones to find a window length such that lambda settles and converges.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Why would it be a reasonable theory that a process where actual sentient being react to a previous decline in some way resemble a process where every event has no informational connection to not only the prior event but any other?

Ralph Vince replies: 

Why not? Has dependency been proven here?

Jan

2

 If market or individual stock a has a positive predictive correlation with market b, and b had a positive predictive correlation with market a, then there is positive feedback, and an explosive growth when a is up would occur. Similarly, if there is a positive predictive correlation, i.e. the serial correlation of a with b say one day forward is 0.2, then market a goes down. If there is a negative predictive correlation of market a with market b, then when a goes up, b will tend to go down, and vice versa, and there will be a stable equilibrium between the two with each pulling the other in opposite directions.

The situation is very similar to what occurs in all feedback circuits in electronics, including what you seen in any kind of amplifiers where there is negative feedback to maintain stability.

What are the markets that have positive predictive correlation with each other, i.e. when a is up today, b tends to go up tomorrow, and when b is up today, a tends to go up tomorrow? There aren't many. And when such occurs, it is only for a limited time. So you have to be on your toes if you wish to use positive feedback. All this can be quantified with varying degrees of reality and rigor.

Steve Ellison writes:

I evaluated the correlations of the 1-day change (16:00 to 16:00 US Eastern time) in 6 markets with the following 1-day change in each of the 6 markets. The 1-day correlations from September 13, 2010 to September 4, 2012 (498 trading days) were as follows:

      S&P 500 10-year bond  crude oil     gold     silver       euro
S&P 500        -0.08       0.12      -0.05       0.05       0.11      -0.11
10-year bond    0.01      -0.05       0.04       0.05      -0.02       0.04
crude oil      -0.04       0.05      -0.06       0.00       0.04      -0.05
gold            0.01       0.00      -0.01      -0.01      -0.01       0.03
silver         -0.03       0.03      -0.01       0.02       0.05      -0.01
euro           -0.05       0.07      -0.03       0.06       0.06       0.03

By randomly reshuffling the daily changes in each market and running 1000 iterations of a simulation, I identified that a correlation with an absolute value greater than or equal to 0.09 was significant. Hence there were only 3 correlations that were significant, and 2 of them were positive:

10-year bond vs. previous day S&P 500: 0.12
Silver vs. previous day S&P 500: 0.11
Euro vs. previous day S&P 500: -0.11

None of these correlations held up in later data. From September 5, 2012 to May 2, 2013, the correlations of the 10-year bond with the previous day S&P 500 and silver with the previous day S&P 500 were negative. The correlation between the euro and the previous day's S&P 500 was -0.08. However, from May 3 to December 27, 2013, the correlation of the euro with the previous day S&P 500 was positive.

Rocky Humbert writes:

 An apochryphal tale: Rocky was hired to be the operations manager of a local towing company/garage and instructed to optimize his manpower work schedules and resource utilization to improve profitability.

Rocky noticed that tow truck drivers sat around idly drinking coffee at certain times of the day. But then there would be a surge of demand and customers might have to wait many hours to get a jumpstart or tow (and the garage would lose business to competitors).

It was a classic operation research/queueing theory problem. Under pressure to quickly turn the company around, and with a HBA MBA plus a PhD in applied mathematics in tow, Rocky conducted a study looking at six months of trailing data (between November 1st and April 1st) and discovered that the peak demand for service was daily between 7am and 8:45 am. His p-values were low. His T-tests were high. He was highly confident and energized to put his statistics to work concluding that batteries must die sitting unused overnight. So he changed his company's work roster to have more staff at the peak 7:00-8:45 hours and implemented the changes effective May 1st. Lo and behold, starting around May 15th, there were almost no customer calls between 7:00 and 8:45 and instead the demand spiked between 4:00 and 6:00.

So instead of improving things, he screwed them up and by September, Rocky concluded that the prior data must have been faulty and re-jiggered the staff to meet the afternoon demand — and implemented the changes effective November 1st. (Yup, the demand shifted yet again just in time for the chilly autumn air ).

Rocky was fired and became a successful money manager and annoying DailySpec poster. The moral of the story is that all of the cool statistical analyses should produce the QUESTIONS. Not the ANSWERS. What is the underlying process at work????

There will be times when stocks and bonds correlate. There will be times when stocks and bonds negatively correlate. Rocky submits that at some point in the not-too-distant future good news for the economy will be bad news for stocks (which is the opposite of the current regime). This isn't ever changing cycles. It's common sense. Or as Rocky's dad (a pioneer in digital computing) liked to say: GIGO.

Dec

11

 As of December 4, 2013, US banks had $2.493 trillion on deposit at the Fed. (Source: FRB H.4.1 Report). This amount includes required and excess reserves. The amount has increased by 63% over the past 12 months and approximately 300% since the Fed started paying interest on the balances. Bernanke started paying IOER during the financial crisis, but banks had wanted this for years. Some fraction of this reserve growth is due to QE and some fraction is due to the above-market rates that the Fed is paying. (This is the so-called IOER "Interest on excess reserves.") Right now, the Fed is paying about 0.25% on IOER and the t-bill rate is 0.02%. So the Fed is paying more than 0.23% above the market. On a balance of $2.5 trillion, this is a direct subsidy to FRB member banks of roughly $5.75 Billion per year and with each QE day, the amount grows.

This subsidy is theoretically being financed by the Fed's holdings of longer-dated securities so it's positive carry for the Fed. However, from the perspective of a risk-averse banker, and ignoring capital haircuts and the risks/spreads etc., a banker would need to buy treasury securities with a maturity of greater than 2 years to get the same yield as parking overnight money at the fed. So banks are behaving quite rationally.

The elephant in the room is the rate that the Fed pays on IOER. Talk is brewing that along with the announcement of a taper, the Fed will reduce the IOER rate. I submit that this is a highly unstable equilibrium and a change in IOER will have unintended (and unpredictable) consequences. Let's imagine that the Fed cuts IOER to zero. You will suddenly have $2.5 trillion looking for a new home. Where will it go? T-bills are already at 0 yield. So if banks just buy T-bills (even outside the fed) then that is a classic liquidity trap. Or, it's possible (but improbable ) that it will suddenly go into the real loan market. If that happens, the economy would go gangbusters with possibly little upward pressure on rates since $2.5 trillion in supply is a lot of money. Or, this gusher of ?dumb? money will listen carefully to the fed's forward guidance and collapse all rates towards zero out to the 2-year etc. I think this helps explains why Bill Gross is bullish on the front end of the curve because the curve is highly arbitraged between 2 years and 5 years. So it's possible that a taper announcement combined with a drop in IOER could turn out to be very bullish for the bond market. And this would persist until the Fed actually raises the funds rate.

Additionally, dropping the IOER might appease some critics about the size of the fed's balance sheet (ignoring the sheer quantity of bonds that remain). The IOER has been a subsidy to re-capitalize the banks. And now that this process is largely complete, the subsidy of $5.75 Billion/year should end and watching the gusher of $2.5 trillion leave the reserve account will be interesting, to say the least.

Bottom line: The IOER is a bigger deal than the taper announcement. The pundits will figure this out in due course.

Alston Mabry writes: 

"Remember that money we gave you, so you could give it back to us, and then we'd pay you for keeping it with us?"

"Yeah…."

"You can't have it back."

Bud Conrad writes: 

Rocky, Thanks.

The Fed has to buy up the new debt issuance from the government to keep rates low. It is also buying the MBS to keep mortgage rates low and to allow the banks to keep on their books holdings that might otherwise be declared toxic waste from being written off. So they can't stop QE purchases.

They have to fund the purchases some how. At present the Fed has been paying over market rate to keep the deposits of Excess Reserves to obtain the money to buy the Treasuries and MBS/Agencies. I don't see how the Fed balances its books if the banks withdraw $2.5 trillion. Then the Fed would look like a commercial bank that has a run from depositors and is quickly iliquid. The equity account is only $65 billion. The Fed is like a very leveraged hedge fund. If the depositors want to withdraw their money, the Fed would have to sell off assets or EXIT, which would cause panic in the markets.That seems even less likely. So Al is right: "You can't have your money" has to be the response.

So the Fed is trapped into continuing the payments on the deposits (IOER) as long as they have income from the Treasuries and MBS to pay for it. The idea that the Fed prints up currency is a little misleading because the actual physical demand for paper is decided by the public's conventions, and there is less use for the dollar bills with more transactions being done with credit cards. So as rates rise they will be raising the IOER rate, and at some point that gets so big that it uses all the asset income, and then the Fed has to go to the government for a bailout, which means the tax payer supports the banks getting their huge interest payments.

As an aside, does anyone know if the big banks can go to the Fed and add money to their deposits to earn the above market rate? Banks are supposedly free to with draw the accounts created out of thin air to pay for QE purchases, but can they add to those deposits? It would seem not because the amounts would rise even more dramatically.

Rocky Humbert replies: 

Bud: If your head is spinning, I suggest you sit down. If you look at the situation as I articulated it, then don't you agree with my analysis….? (This is a macro-economics conversation. No conspiracy theories allowed. ; ) Namely, the Fed could theoretically exist with only $1 of equity. Their equity is irrelevant because of their ability to print currency. And so long as the currency is accepted and relatively stable, everything works. For the Fed, currency is the same thing as a paper check. So if Citibank and the other big banks say "we want to withdraw $X trillion in excess reserves" the fed can hand them a check for $X trillion. And Citibank can take that check and spend it however they want. Whether the check has a picture of Ben Franklin or looks yellow or purple or is electronic is not material. It's credit creation… (This is when the S-Man chimes in.) I believe that before the Fed existed, this was how all banks operated — namely, there was essentially no difference between XYZ Bank's check/draft, their self-issued currency, etc etc.

Rudolf Hauser writes:

There is a bit of misunderstanding here. A reserve balance at the Fed is a bank's checking account at which it holds bankers money. That is the only money, other than currency, that another bank will accept in payment unless it is willing to keep a deposit in the bank that is in the negative position of the transaction. When a bank wants to reduce its balance at the Fed, it does so by buying other assets, such a T bills, or making loans. The seller or borrower now either deposits that money in their own bank or makes loans. This process continues if no other bank receiving deposits or proceeds of sales of assets to these spenders decides to hold excess deposits. Eventually enough ends up in checking accounts so that all the excess reserves reduced by the first bank have either become required reserves or held by other banks that have increased their excess reserve balances. The Fed does not have to sell any assets or pay out anything. The reserve balances just get moved around and converted from excess to required reserves. This of course increases M1 and M2 balances and is inflationary. If the Fed wants to avoid this it either has to make holding excess reserves more attractive by raising the rate it pays, selling assets it holds, borrowing cash via reverse repos or by converting excess reserves into required reserves by raising required reserves that have to be held against any checking or other accounts.

The risks are that eventually the banks might want to reduce excess reserves, resulting in a expansion in M1 and M2 that will be inflationary. Real growth is being held back by factors other than lack of liquidity. While faster M1 and M2 growth might push some demand forward in time resulting in some temporary faster real growth, the type of growth that would clearly have to lead to higher prices for either assets and/or goods and services. Alternatively, the Fed could take the measures noted above. It's ability to pay more on excess reserves is at some point limited by what the Fed earns on its assets and the amount of equity it has. But do not forget the first hit is on the U.S. Treasury which is currently getting large contributions from the Fed, which pays most of its profits to the Treasury. This is currently a large cushion. Selling assets will cause interest rates on those assets to rise, potentially considerably depending on how much the Fed sells among other factors. Even if the Fed does not try to upset the situation, rates might rise because of actual and expected inflation. This might create problems for some holders of long term debt and securities. The least destructive way might be to raise reserve requirements, but this might create problem to the extent that excess reserves are not evenly distributed among the banks. All these moves would be politically unpopular. This is why I am somewhat skeptical of the Fed to get us out of this situation. They could do it, but it will require a FOMC with a lot of wisdom, determination and courage to do so and a Congress that does not take away the Fed's nominal independence to pull off.

anonymous writes: 

Zerohedge quotes Bridgewater on the process of QE noting that not just the amount spent, but what it is buying dictates what the economic effects are. If the assets are more risky and less like cash, the effect is supposed to be more. Seems to me the creation of new money is the big cause of the effect. and then how that money is used is the other half of the equation. It's my view that the new money sits on the Fed balance sheet and impairs its inflationary effect. The reason it sits as excess reserves is that the Fed pays above market rate on the deposits. The $ 2.5 trillion times a reasonable interest rate in normal times of 4% would cost the Fed $100 B, and that is close to it current earnings for its assets of Treasuries and MBS Rising rates is not good for the Fed either.

Bridegwater and commentary:

In the past we have explained how QE continues to "fail upward" because instead of injecting credit that makes its way into the economy, what Bernanke is doing, is sequestering money-equivalent, high-quality collateral (not to mention market liquidity)- at last check the Fed owned 33% of all 10 Year equivalents - and by injecting reserves that end up on bank balance sheets, allows banks to chase risk higher in lieu of expanding loan creation. Alas it took a few thousands words, and tens of charts, to show this. Since we always enjoy simplification of complex concepts, we were happy to read the following 104-word blurb from Bridgewater's Co-CEO and Co-CIO Greg Jensen, on how QE should work… and why it doesn't.


The effectiveness of quantitative easing is a function of the dollars spent and what those people do with that money. If the dollars get spent on an asset that is very interchangeable with cash, then you don't get much of an impact. You don't get a multiplier from that.

If the dollar is spent on an asset that's risky and very different from cash, then that money goes into other assets and into the real economy. That's really how you see the impact of quantitative easing. What do they buy? Who do they buy it from? What do those people do with that money?

Of course, this is why sooner or later the Fed will proceed to "monetize" increasingly more risky, and more non-cash equivalents assets, until "this time becomes different." Which it never is, but the Fed will still try, and try and try.

Dec

10

 Here am I in New York City, no time for longer philosophy right now, but quick observations. After talking to friends in recent days, left and right, all ages, NY TX IL …. I'm not sure the real problem is left vs right or statists vs libertarians or socialists vs capitalists, etc.

Because all those worldviews have deeper roots…

Here is what strikes me as possibly the REAL issues…

1. Emotionally driven public policy. (Holy Moses, there is a homeless man, somebody give him some money now! Raise the minimum wage! Ok, problem solved!)

2. A public that is illiterate in arithmetic (not math) and afraid of it, of data, of statistics.

3. A public with no education in economics, even the most basic understanding of how prices clear markets and how that is just as beautiful as dinosaurs and butterflies.

Of course I am saying it's a failure of our k-12 education system.

Its not socialist teachers…I see little evidence of that though of course some exist but I don't know that the students believe them….it's teachers and students piling up over the years who were never shown these things (analysis, rationality, economics) in the first place. It's a problem of curriculum balance. Every grade schooler probably knows how to recycle and figure their carbon footprint. And how to "give back."

I also think there is a real gender gap in these items, especially the emotion point for many women voters. Perhaps not unlike the gender gap in science and technology.

Or something along those lines…you get my drift….

Gary

Gary Hoover

Entrepreneur

Chairman/CEO Bigwig Games, Inc. Play Hard and Prosper

Chris Tucker writes: 

Here is a video of the talk Gary gave at the Junto, almost verbatim.

Richard Owen writes:

Mr Hoover should add John Lewis in the UK to his list of impressive department store business models. Great talk.

anonymous writes: 

I also enjoyed Gary's talk very much. Seems the historical mechanism for success in retailing has been increasing quality while reducing price. I have been wondering about this lately with respect to healthcare. Along the lines of retailing, in the wake of the recession my patients seem more sensitive to cost, and they don't want to be "nickled and dimed".

Over recent years in my periodontal practice, I have reduced fees, increased service, and do many more things without charging. Despite loss in local employment (Amgen layoffs, etc) and increasing competition, we've stayed quite busy. However like some of the retailers, our profits are down. Presumably by keeping fees low we have preserved market share.Some of my nearby colleagues take a different approach. Since their busyness and revenues are down, they raised fees - as if this will compensate for lack of demand. They are still not busy, but they do have patient flow and stay in business.

Recently I did some grocery shopping at a local supermarket I usually stay away from, which is a small chain known for high prices. One bag with a few items (including Chilean Sea Bass) cost $126, and I vowed not to come back. While in the market I saw several patients from my practice who looked very happy to be shopping there. Like many in our community, these were affluent people who don't need to budget for groceries. Perhaps they obtain status by paying extra to go to an expensive fancy grocery? The exact value of health care services is much harder for the consumer to judge than groceries. Perhaps my high priced colleagues are aiming for this demographic, and are willing to sacrifice market share. And if so, status-spending is a different twist to supply/demand.

Gary Rogan writes: 

 It is well known in high-end retailing (or actually retailing of any "prestige" products) that raising prices often increases sales. The function of prices is to communicate information about quality in that world. How can any self-respecting "prestige" buyer think highly either of themselves or the product if it's priced like cheap junk? I don't like people who think better about themselves when they pay more, but that doesn't change the reality of what sells at the high end. 

Rocky Humbert adds: 

Shopping in our local over-priced "gourmet" market last weekend, I noticed some brilliant-looking Chilean Sea Bass for $29/pound. I didn't buy any. I noticed an in-store special for Starkist Tuna for $0.99/can. I bought 15 cans. What are the lessons here?

1. It is arrogant and foolhardy to make judgments about other market participants and their motivations. The market and the economy works because participants have different preferences, values, and information. The vendor wants to know, and big corporations spends billions to shape the preferences. But they really don't and can't without unintended consequences. I didn't buy the Sea Bass because I was making a Paella. I bought the tuna because one of our cats is on a high-protein diet and at 0.99/can, the tuna is substantially less expensive than gourmet high-protein cat food!

2. Shaping customer preferences is not the same as offering a product that consumers want in a shopping environment that consumers enjoy. The couponization of consumers and the recent experiences of JCP and Sears illustrate this point well. My Lexus dealer offers an oil change for $50 whereas the Jiffy Lube charges $30. Lexus can take 3x as long as Jiffy Lube. Where do I go? Surprise! I go to the Lexus dealer because the waiting area is more comfortable, they treat me better, they have "free" coffee and danish; they give me a "free" car wash; I can do work while waiting so it's productive; and it's a generally more "enjoyable" experience. What is my enjoyment worth? Do the math. Are other people there because they are making a statement about "being seen" at the Jiffy Lube? Who knows. Product differentiation occurs at many different levels. But overall, it's rational and derives from utility curves.

3. I find that many people who have missed this stock rally (and I wish I had been more aggressive) rationalize the opportunity cost by thinking that the people who participated are "wrong". The rally has been "engineered" by the Fed. The long term fundamentals don't support the expectations. It's going to end badly. The Nikkei didn't go anywhere for X years so the S&P will do the same. Blah blah blah. I think the real story and lesson is that making value judgments about other people is not a productive exercise. Not in business. Not in the markets. And not in life.

Gary Rogan adds: 

 My favorite example of a case where judging motivation is easy comes from one of the behaviorist books I've read where a lady who owned a boutique in New Mexico had a display case of handcrafted Indian jewelry that wasn't selling at all. Once, preparing to go out of town she left a not to her assistant instructing her to mark down the jewelry with a suggested percentage. Due to her poor handwriting, the merchandise was substantially marked up instead of down, and to the owner's surprise almost completely sold out in just a few days. I will arrogantly (but not foolhardily) assume that the marginal utility of the jewelry came from the high price and not the suddenly changed quality or usefulness.

Rocky Humbert responds: 

Mr. Rogan, we both agree that there are many such examples of what you describe. Brands and pricing and intangibles matter. However, the academics often argue that these consumer preferences demonstrate irrational or gullible or other behaviors that are not "efficient" or not "optimal." My point is that the underlying supposition that "optimal" or "efficient" is a universally accepted, static, independent variable, is questionable at best, and misleading at worst. . If you voluntarily partake in an activity, you are getting "value" from it. If the activity is transactional and involves a seller and buyer, then both participants are getting "value" from the activity — or they would not engage in it. To the extent that the transaction is "zero sum" financially does not mean that some other intangible value is not being created. An observer might just not understand what the value is. It's all about personal utility curves.

An observer watching me decline the $29/lb Chilean Sea Bass and buying 15 cans of $.99 tuna would reach a very different conclusion than the truth. An observer wondering why any particular individual decides to shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or the local A&P will similarly come up with questionable conclusions. (I'll bet that the person who started this whole thread doesn't shop for food regularly! Spending 60-90 minutes every week in a supermarket can be a huge chore and one of the attractions of Whole Foods is its environment and presentation.) Sure you can buy the same diamond on 47th street as at Tiffany's for a fraction of the cost. Is it the status of the blue box? Or is it the certainty and comfort of the buying experience? Or is it laziness? Or something entirely else. Countless examples of this.

Gary Hoover writes: 

 The books about marketing luxury and super luxury goods list many techniques which are the opposite of standard marketing wisdom for mainstream products. These include creating product shortages, ignoring negative reviews and keeping them off your website because you only want to talk to your advocates, raising prices to create status appeal etc.

While a walk down Fifth Avenue or other luxury districts worldwide might make you think otherwise, luxury goods are still a relatively small part of the economy. Neither BMW nor Daimler-Benz are in the world's top ten vehicle makers in units, though their dollar revenues rank them higher (especially due to Daimler's big truck and bus operations).

But the luxe segment has grown dramatically in recent years.

Nevertheless, the real dollar volume rests, like the last hundred years, in serving the huge and growing global middle class. Those companies have to pay attention to "old school" rules like price elasticity and great product availability and distribution.

In walking stores in New York the last few days, I was intrigued by the volume done by Swiss Chocolatier Lindt, with multiple Fifth Ave locations, who now drives their product through mass merchandising outlets like the drugstore chain, apparently without ruining product quality or perceptions thereof.

Amanda K comments: 

 Gary (aka Free Market Liberal),

As a female libertarian who has worked in the tech field for years, I definitely see the gender gap in both areas. I suspect that there is a higher percentage of people in tech that are libertarian-minded than other fields. Is it because they are more logical? Because they spend a disproportionate amount of time surfing the web for good ideas? I don't know. Even my female scientist friends reject small government… and they are supposed to be so logical! Of course, they are paid by the government so they may be a bit biased:)

Warning – Politically Incorrect Paragraph (or PIP) below:

I suspect that many of my girlfriends voted for Obama because he is handsome and youngish, they are more easily guilted into voting based on ethnicity, it's cool to vote Obama, to vote against him is to admit that they were wrong the first time around, and Mitt Romney is a plastic man – there is nothing to latch onto. In other words, they vote for emotional reasons.

There may be another issue in addition to the three issues you outlined:

4) A public that has abandoned basic moral principles. For example, if everyone recognized that it is wrong to steal, then it would be obvious that asking the government to steal in order to give money to the homeless guy is also immoral. Schools would be a symptom, not a cause of this problem.

Thoughts?

Amanda

P.S. – ENFPs and INTJs are the most likely to be libertarian with 5% chance each. The only letter in common is N: Intuition. One of the Myers Briggs websites contains the following statement as part of the description of an N: Sometimes I think so much about new possibilities that I never look at how to make them a reality. Sound like any libertarians you know? ;-)

Dec

5

 We have gone almost a year with the two percent additional payroll tax reinstated. The results are worse than expected.

What would have been expected is an increase in employment, but not enough to offset the effective tax increase. The reason you would expect an employment increase is because Americans are a resilient lot and get bored with sitting around. Sooner or later they find a way to get back to work. That is not what we have: The growth in payroll taxes is now negative, indicating a net loss in payrolls. The data is effectively "cap-weighted" so it might mean a loss in the number of jobs or switching to lower pay, as when a nuclear engineer becomes a sanitation engineer.

Philosophically, tax rate increases for individuals generate increases in tax revenue for governments. This is exactly what is expected by government, but the problem is that government does not know where to stop. They expect further rate increases to result in commensurate increases in revenue. But government neglects that individuals have a say in this: the latter can vote with their feet by leaving the workforce. America is now on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve.

Additional amounts taxed (N.B. the PPACA has been ruled by the Supremes as a tax) will have a continued negative effect.

A fellow Spec-Lister suggested I look for structural/secular changes in the employment data. My initial thought was that humans are skilled at obtaining freebies, and the disability payments coming from Social Security seemed a perfect target. Consider, faced with a lay-off, why not see a doctor, claim clinical depression and get yourself on disability? The long-term advantage of doing so may mean that you never have to work again, which would not be the case with unemployment benefits. But is my conspiratorial claim borne out by the data?
The short answer is "No". However there is more, should you feel inclined.

Firstly, which data does one use? Social Security Administration issues a report showing claimants for disability and the average claim. Multiply the two and you get the total value of disability benefits paid. Alternatively, you can go to the Treasury website and see their ledger of what actually was paid. Although the two sources (Soc.Sec. and Treasury) mimic one another, they are decidedly not identical. Of specific concern is that they differ by an odd order of magnitude, and one which is not relatively constant. So then one might posit which source does one trust.

Chart of Disability Benefits Paid

Chart of the 12-month rates of change of benefits paid

My experience suggests that the Social Security data looks as though it has been manipulated or "cleaned up". The Treasury data looks as though it contains a degree of static, which is more realistic. My guess would be that the Treasury data is "raw", while the Social Security data is "adjusted". In general my personal preference is for raw data if I cannot reverse engineer the adjustments. Both data sources indicate a relative decline in the yearly rate of change, decidedly counter to my pre-supposed conspiracy claim.

If you look a little deeper into the Treasury data you find a profound cyclic influence:

Cyclic disability benefits

This was a surprise. I did not assume the claimant had much control over the process, but the data indicates that summer is a key time to receive benefits. Oh, the joy of it all. [Skeptics should note that the cyclicality is not related to the number of days in the various months.] The cyclicality also suggests that disabled persons do return to the workplace. (I would have lost that bet.)

What is the current trend?

trend slope in disability benefits paid

For whatever reason, the drift of disability benefits is not increasing. One might optimistically believe that because conditions are not worsening, they must get better. Such logic could cost an investor a lot of his wealth.

Rocky Humbert replies: 

There was a Washington Post story yesterday that adds some color to this discussion. It notes a fact: 1.3 Million workers will have their "emergency" unemployment benefits end on December 28, unless Congress renews this aid program. This is a big number. And I was unaware of this fact. And as I consider myself somewhat informed about stuff, I'd guess relatively few market participants are aware of this fact either.

The writer then looks at the probability that a lot of these folks will file for disability claims. The author cites a study (which I have not read) which suggests that they won't. I have no opinion except that people respond to incentives. And some number of these 1.3 Million will surely find their way back into the reported labor force. This will likely distort the tax revenue, payroll, and other data to some degree in the first months of 2014.

I am raising this point not because I have any view about the currently big number of people receiving disability or what it means. (That's HR Rogan's job.) Rather, I am raising this, because the employment and tax numbers will, I believe, look really odd in January and February. (HR=hand wringer)

The story can be found here:  "Where Will Workers Go After Their Jobless Benefits Expire? Probably Not on Disability"

Jeff Rollert adds: 

Just to add another vector to the discussion, I would also argue that, since 2000 (the benchmark year in the article), the entry into the global labor pool of hundreds of millions of smart, motivated Chinese workers (not to mention Vietnamese, etc) has had a significant impact.

From the MIT Technology Review: "How Technology Is Destroying Jobs":

Given his calm and reasoned academic demeanor, it is easy to miss just how provocative Erik Brynjolfsson's contention really is. ­Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator and coauthor Andrew McAfee have been arguing for the last year and a half that impressive advances in computer technology—from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services—are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years. Even more ominous for workers, the MIT academics foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as these powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine.

That robots, automation, and software can replace people might seem obvious to anyone who's worked in automotive manufacturing or as a travel agent. But Brynjolfsson and McAfee's claim is more troubling and controversial. They believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States. And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries.

Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence, according to Brynjolfsson, is a chart that only an economist could love. In economics, productivity—the amount of economic value created for a given unit of input, such as an hour of labor—is a crucial indicator of growth and wealth creation. It is a measure of progress. On the chart Brynjolfsson likes to show, separate lines represent productivity and total employment in the United States. For years after World War II, the two lines closely tracked each other, with increases in jobs corresponding to increases in productivity. The pattern is clear: as businesses generated more value from their workers, the country as a whole became richer, which fueled more economic activity and created even more jobs. Then, beginning in 2000, the lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee call it the "great decoupling." And Brynjolfsson says he is confident that technology is behind both the healthy growth in productivity and the weak growth in jobs.
 

Nov

15

 From "Technical Analysis of the Futures Markets: A Comprehensive Guide to Trading Methods and Applications" by John J. Murphy, Prentice-Hall, 1986:

"The flag and pennant represent brief pauses in a dynamic market move. In fact, one of the requirements for both the flag and the pennant is that they be preceded by a sharp and almost straight line move. They represent situations where a steep advance or decline has gotten ahead of itself, and where the market pauses briefly to 'catch its breath' before running off again in the same direction.


"A bullish pennant resembles a small symmetrical triangle … the move after the pennant is completed should duplicate the size of the move preceding it.

So … with apologies to the Chair and all others who believe that this is a load of mumbo-jumbo (and I count myself among those folks EXCEPT when the chart agrees with my bias and position), I note that the Nikkei since May has been in a Bullish Pennant and if last night's move over 15,000 is sustained and extended somewhat, then Mr. Murphy would expect the Nikkei to approach 20,000+ in the near future.

Unrelatedly, but quantifiably, I would further note that the Nikkei is now within a cat's whisker of having a 10 year total return (in US dollars) that is equal to the S&P demonstrating the magnetic pull of reversion to the mean. (The S&P has been compounding at about 7.5%/year.) This is a factoid that few know or would believe and is thus a stealth bull market, which is the most insidious and powerful kind of bull market. Only after the Nikkei's performance has exceeded the S&P's for a few years will the public (and pundits) wake up and announce that "Japan is back!" much like gold bulls awakened in 2009 as evidenced by both Google Trend searches and price.

I was bullish and early on the Nikkei, when it was an extremely contrarian view. I remain (on balance) bullish on the Nikkei even though it's somewhat less contrarian. My opinion plus $1 can't buy a cup of coffee, so reach your own conclusions — but don't fight the trend.

Nov

7

TSLA is down $26 (about 15%) today post-earnings. That seems like a pretty big move. But it isn't.The stock was trading at about 170ish yesterday. If I had bought the at-the-money straddle (170 calls and 170 puts) expecting a "big" move, I would have broken even. The Chair, who would have sold the 170 calls and the 170 puts, would also have broken even. The Chair won this round.

Oct

11

Since Bamster has apparently figured out that de-linking the CR and the debt increase isn't in his interest, isn't it clear that political strategy is now the dog and the market is the tail? If the market is so smart, why can't it see more than a day ahead, and why does it swing wildly based on words, leaks, conjectures?

Rocky Humbert writes:

When this whole thing started, I wrote: "This slow motion train wreck will probably continue (and stock guys will keep denying it) until CNBC puts the 1 month Tbill on the side of their price montage. Once that happens, you'll know it's safe to go back into the water. (I'm only half kidding)."

Remarkably, that happened late on Wednesday and the WSJ dutifully carried a large news story about the breakdown in money markets after the close Wednesday and in the print edition of Thursday. The current Obama administration is pretty light on people who understand the systemic importance of the money markets and what would have happened if the panic continued to accelerate.

I suspect that they (and perhaps you) got an impromptu lecture from the NY Fed Open Market Desk and understand this better now. (Or perhaps you consider the timing of the stop-gap, face-saving 6 week extension headline to be total coincidence???) The plumbing of our entire economy is the money markets. Not the stock market. Not the bond market. The money markets. It's the dog. And everything else is the tail. 2008/2009 demonstrated this powerfully. If you've ever been in an argument with your wife and both noticed a serious plumbing leak in the midst of your argument, you stop arguing and call the plumber. It took a spike in yields of roughly 5,000% to get the politicians back to the table. The dog wagged the tail.

Gary Rogan replies: 

I appreciate this line of thinking, it's very instructive. But help me out with one thing: my model of how Obama operates is that he would LOVE to crash the economy if he could blame it on the Republicans. While I can see how the Republicans would be forced to negotiate, is there any real pressure on Obama, Fed lectures or not? Perhaps than this is a recipe for the total Republican surrender, since they are the only side with the market pressure on them, but still: is Obama in any sense motivated to solve the market problem as opposed to find a way to assign the blame to the opposition?

David Lillienfeld writes: 

So you subscribe to the thesis that the GOP crashed the economy in 2007 to blame it on Barney Frank and get Dodd-Frank repealed?

Gary Rogan replies: 

No, this is a random thought that has never occurred to me. The GOP would never crash the economy on purpose because they are not Marxist revolutionaries and because they are largely beholden to a lot of business owners and operators. It would also be hard to believe that as a party they would want to hand the victory to the Democratic Presidential candidate in the following year, so this is an absurd suggestion.

Obama has clearly demonstrated that he personally only cares about the following things: (a) income transfer to the "unfortunate" (b) gay rights (c) Muslim rights (d) black rights (e) triumphing over any opposition regardless of any collateral damage" You can see that he has a tin ear for what's important in the "flyover country" by his handling of the "death benefit". Getting him to act normally is like trying to explain human behavior to a creature from some Alien movie: they can certainly pretend most of the time, but once in a while the algorithms fail and a few humans bite the dust.

David Lillienfeld retorts: 

Sorry, but you'd have to go back to the DNC's decision in 1972 to have George McGovern give his acceptance speech at 3 AM (at least I think it was 3 AM–I was pretty sleepy at the time) rolling all the way forward to McGovern's declaration of "1000%" support for his Vice Presidential candidate a few days before the latter withdrew to find anything rivaling the political stupidity and naivite evidenced in the GOP's actions in the past couple of months. As for the biggest absurdity in the present situation is the GOP's apparent suicide wish. I had thought after the last election, there was some desire in the GOP to come to terms with its growing political isolation, that it understood that the American electorate was not amused at the sight of an 82 year old man lecturing an empty chair on a stage. Apparently I was wrong. I also find your premise that business owners and the like are beholden to the GOP. That's starting to change, though I don't think that means they will be any more interested in aligning with the Democrats than they are right now. The effect of the shutdown and even moreso the debt ceiling doings on business has hardly been a positive one.

Not everyone in the Democratic Party is a Marxist and not everyone working in the White House is a Marxist (the idea of Chuck Hagel as a Marxist is humorous, though, I grant you, and ditto for Jack Lew). Not everyone who voted for Obama is a Marxist. And there are those who voted for him while not supportive of everything he says or does if only because of the choices they were confronted with. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't make them a Marxist, either.

I lived through the "America: Love it or leave it" period in the late 1960s and 1970s, and I'd like to think that we're past that as a society.

Stefan Jovanovich clarifies: 

David is too good a scientist not to know that public opinion polls have become suspect precisely because so much of the actual electorate chooses not to answer the phone or answer the questionnaires. In fact, for more and more people answering Gallup's questions is considered to be the equivalent of voting - i.e. I answered the poll questions so I don't need to get an absentee ballot. Some of us made this mistake in predicting the last Presidential election; David seems determined to repeat our error by taking the "public's voice" for being equivalent to the electorate's.

As for the description of the Democrat Party, I am afraid my answer is "yes, they are all Marxists". To say that, I have to rely on my own peculiar definition of Marxism; but I think it is an accurate precis of what Marx, Engels and Lenin all thought. In their world a person always and everywhere believed that labor had a value independent of (and almost always superior to) its market price? Since the late 1950s, when I first started following politics, I have never met a Democrat, left, center or right, who did not agree with that assertion. It is hardly an odd opinion; for most of my life it has been shared by not only all Democrats but also a majority of Republicans. Both parties have shared the fantasy that there are two "sectors" in an aggregation called the economy and that the prices for the "public" sector and those for the "private" can be directly compared to one another. That is why, even now, a majority of the Congress supports labor unions, Davis Bacon, non-judicial regulation and all the other forms of soft and hard government-enforced monopoly.

All this upsets Gary - understandably. It would upset me if I were not a hopeless optimist. The idea of actual liberty - of people being absolutely free to paint their houses whatever colors they liked, swap fluids with whatever consenting adults they chose, eat, drink and smoke things that are "bad" for them, believe in Joseph Smith's golden plates, heavenly virgins, Darwin's universe, whatever - has always been a truly radical idea. That it has never yet been the majority opinion is no reason to believe that it will not someday become the "common sense" of humanity. The dedicated Communists who were my grandfather's friends - the ones who actually went to Spain to fight Franco and the Nationalists - had, in their own way, the same stubborn faith. They thought Stalin was a monster, but that not shake their belief that someday the dictatorship of the proletariat would not longer be necessary and we would all be free. Grandfather agreed. He just thought we could skip all that petty and monstrous bossing around of other people and get straight to the Don't Tread on Me that had been his reason for coming here in the first place.

Oct

9

 Has the ted spread inverted at 1 month? That's what I"m seeing. The money market funds perhaps can't risk a liquidity event or they would be selling CP and buying bills right now.

I don't see any trade that I can do here. All dressed up and no where to go. But what I don't understand is why money center banks aren't using their excess free reserves to buy 1 month bills. There should be essentially no capital haircut unless the new Basle rules have totally mucked things up. Something isn't working. This is down 40 SPU point kind of stuff. (NOT a prediction and I'm not short SPUs).

anonymous writes: 

The Greek Theater partial government shut down has made the plunge encouragement team lazy, or else they're incompetent. I'm looking at the entirety and it feels like I'm on a submarine or other naval vessel and the klaxon horns are going off and the call is man your battle stations. Things could get wild. Grains are very nervous, especially with export worries and that is showing up in the volatility of the basis in different areas. My mentor taught me that nervous markets generally close lower and you have an edge selling into strength in nervous markets. I never even quantified this, as I accept his advice like I accept the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Oct

7

I see the following t-bill rates on my screen. The date is the t-bill maturity. The yield is the bloomberg conventional yield:

 10/10/13 0.035%
 10/17/13 0.112%
 10/24/13 0.132%
 10/31/13 0.112%
 11/07/13 0.086%
 11/14/13 0.096%
 11/21/13 0.046%
 11/29/13 0.035%
 12/05/13 0.020%

 12/12/13 0.020% 

What is going on here? Let's assume that the government "defaults" (whatever that means) and the holders of the t-bills maturing on 10/17 and 10/24 cannot get their money back for a while. The market has priced "normalcy" (whatever that means) into the market with about a month.

Yet, the extra yield being paid for the 10/24 t-bills equates to about 3-4 month's worth of yield. And the Fed is going to be doing their usual system repos during that period.

Question for GZ and the t-bill arbs: Is there something funky going on? Or is this a real arbitrage?

George Zachar writes:

As far as I know it's really there. Large classes of natural t-bill holders can't take ANY risk of not getting par on dates certain.

Rocky Humbert:

Cool! So I was all excited about backing up the truck and buying some … until I realized that for every $5,000 invested, I make $0.50. ($100 per million.)

I think this anomaly may be good to watch since it's the only objective market signal for assessing the probability. And so we have a baseline unfolding. But not worth the effort to trade (yet) — since if they really do default, there will likely be much lower prices in other stuff. I'll go so far as to predict that an actual default will be worth between a 3% and 7% panic haircut on the S&P. Don't ask for historical, quantitative proof. They ain't any.  But you heard it here first…. 

Oct

3

 "Business Insider: The Stock Market Looks Like 1967 All Over Again"

A chart overlay showing similarities between the S&P in 1993 and this year appears below in this article. I have seen other overlays by the bespoke group showing almost exactitude with this market and I believe 1926 or some such. Harry Roberts, where are you, with your proof that random charts look just like stock market charts. What are the chances that such idempotent overlays would occur by chance if you could pick out the closes match over the last 93 years or so.

Rocky Humbert adds: 

And 1954 too. From that link:

U.S. stocks are trading virtually in lockstep with 1954, the best year for American equity and the time when shares finally recovered all their losses from the Great Depression.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index's returns in 2013 are tracking day-to-day price moves in 1954 almost identically, according to data compiled by Bespoke Investment Group and Bloomberg.

In no other year are the trading patterns more similar to 2013 since data on the index began 86 years ago. The correlation coefficient between this year and 1954, when the benchmark gauge rose 45 percent, is 0.95 out of a maximum of 1.

Kim Zussman writes in: 

Using SP500 weekly returns for 2013 (Jan - Sept), checked correlation of these 39 weekly returns with weekly returns of prior 39 week periods back to 1950.

Here are the 10 most correlated:

Date          Correl     Month

09/30/13     1.000     9

01/05/70    0.506      1

04/11/55    0.506      4

02/19/80    0.482      2

07/26/65    0.479      7

11/12/12    0.476      11

07/21/97    0.450      7

06/21/04    0.448      6

09/21/64    0.436      9

04/08/85    0.431      4

The current 39 week period correlates perfectly with the current 39 week period.

Next closest correlation was the period ending January 1970.

The most correlated Jan-Sept period ended Sept 1964, which along with $7.95 will buy a cup of coffee.

Sep

19

 Hot off the press from the journal Neuron is "In the Mind of the Market: Theory of Mind Biases Value Computation during Financial Bubbles." Despite the extremely small sample size in this research, my wife will fervently agree with the conclusion that "abilities that are normally beneficial in social settings can result in unproductive behavior in financial markets."

The article is suggestive that medication and electroconvulsive therapy may improve one's P&L…

Summary:

The ability to infer intentions of other agents, called theory of mind (ToM), confers strong advantages for individuals in social situations. Here, we show that ToM can also be maladaptive when people interact with complex modern institutions like financial markets. We tested participants who were investing in an experimental bubble market, a situation in which the price of an asset is much higher than its underlying fundamental value. We describe a mechanism by which social signals computed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex affect value computations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, thereby increasing an individual's propensity to 'ride' financial bubbles and lose money. These regions compute a financial metric that signals variations in order flow intensity, prompting inference about other traders' intentions. Our results suggest that incorporating inferences about the intentions of others when making value judgments in a complex financial market could lead to the formation of market bubbles.

Sep

13

 Voyager 1, launched back in 1977, has become the first man-made object to pass into the unknown vastness of interstellar space. News Report.

I have a serious challenge for you. Name a single man-made device that has worked continuously for 40+ years without any human physical intervention. The winner will receive Rocky's usual prize: A unique gift of dubious monetary value.

Chris Cooper has a go at it: 

There must be any number of vintage self-winding watches that still work. If it must be wound, does that still match the spirit of your inquiry? Of course, there are many watches and clocks which must be wound by hand that are still operating. You can find some self-winding watches for sale on eBay.

Kim Zussman replies:

I am man-made and have worked continuously for well over 40 years (though currently half time for the government).

Bill Rafter adds:

Without doing any looking, there are lots of low-tech human creations that have survived the test of time. Many dams have performed their functions for decades and even centuries. I'm not speaking of hydroelectric dams, but simple river control devices. The Marib dam in Yemen is still there (after two millennia) and would be working if there was enough rainfall. Many artificial harbors also have exceptional longevity. Some Roman harbor constructions are still operational; the Romans having been expert in concrete manufacture. And don't forget Roman roads.

In more recent times, I am certain there is some electrical cable that is still functioning from half a century ago, if only to ground lightning rods.
 

Sep

10

 The google trend for "Nouriel Roubini" peaked just as the economy and markets bottomed. I don't think this was a coincidence.

In the short-term, Mr. Market is a voting machine. And google searches reflect those votes. It provides a coincident snapshot of the first and second derivatives of votes. Whether it leads or lags, market prices are an exercise left to the reader.

In the long-term, Mr. Market is a weighing machine. And all of this stuff is noise. And in the really long term, we are all dead.

Aug

29

 It is rumored that today AAPL placed their 10 year paper at 10yrTbond+75bps, which means about a 2.4% rate, if I'm reading the screen correctly. Given that the yield on AAPL's equity is about 2.9%, that's a nice positive cash flow way to conduct a buyback and still keep your overseas cash hoard protected from taxation. Not that it matters (or has any magical power), but for the equity to get to a 2.4% yield, with a divvie payout of $12.20, it would need to hit about $508.

Not to jinx it, but I will point out that AAPL recently peaked at 513.74.

Victor Niederhoffer writes:

One should take account of the fact that for many purposes empiriclaly and theoreticlal, especially in a world without taxation the value of debt + equity is a consant. So if debt goes up by 1 billion the market value of common stock goes down by 1 billion. The modigliani miller theorem.

Rocky Humbert:

I don't think many CFO's believe M&M is actually true in the real world. Those who do have seen their companies go bankrupt. Like many investors, I have preferences, and I'll generally put a higher valuation on the equity of a company with lower leverage even if the ROE is lower. I'm sure activist investors will disagree with my bias. M&M doesn't take correct account of risk adjusted ROE I believe. And it's hard to test my bias quantitatitively since in the long term, the overleveraged guys who went to B-school all blow up. Survivor bias etc.

Aug

29

 I'm looking for some inexpensively-valued stocks in India and Indonesia. (I know, I know, Russia is supposedly cheap too.)

I looked at the big caps in the India ETF's and they don't look cheap for a country that is suffering from the early stages of a capital flight. And I don't trust my Bloomberg for finding diamonds in Chanakyapuri.

Does anyone have some favorites? As Sergeant Joe Friday would say, "just the tickers, Ma'am

(Don't be shy. I only harass Mr. Rogan when his stocks go down.)

Many thanks.

Leo Jia writes: 

Would Rocky kindly explain your rationale in buying India? Is it mainly due to the devalued rupee and your belief that it is a short-term event?

Rocky replies writes: 

Whoa. I am not buying iNDIA. I inquired whether anyone has some favorite tickers there so I could do some bottoms-up research on stocks. We are in the early innings of a capital crisis — things could get MUCH worse — including hard exchange controls. About 3 years ago, I undertook the same exercise in Greece, and I could not find any companies which meet my overly stringent requirements for investment. India, in contrast to Greece, has some very attractive macro aspects and the question is whether there are companies that at some price reflect a good opportunity.

From a trading (as opposed to investment perspective), I have no insights.

Aug

23

 A commenter asked if Rocky was my real name. The "rocky" moniker was assigned to me by a certain former secretary of the treasury when we were colleagues at a still-surviving investment bank. The circumstance leading to the naming was that lunches were being delivered from a local eatery in brown paper bags marked with one's first name — and several people on the trading desk had the same first name. The future treasury secretary opened my lunch bag by mistake and was revolted by my choice of brie and english mustard on a granary bap. As the group's so-called "rocket scientist," a proclamation was promulgated that theretofore all of my lunch bags would be marked "rocky" instead of my real name. The future treasury secretary was fortunately ill-informed, because prior to my employment at this firm, my expertise had been in Missile Systems rather than Rocket Systems. Had he known that, my moniker would likely have been Missy instead of Rocky, and I would surely have gotten into more pub brawls as a result.

Aug

22

Why in the name of the good one, should bonds be going down on news that the taper will be reduced by 25%. By how much are interest rates affected by an additional 25 billion of liquidity a quarter or so. None of my books on liquidity preference versus expectations seem to think it should be anything like it is. What a tendency to supine submission we mortals have.

Tyler Cowen writes: 

That is exactly my feeling. I have been asking this question for about two months now and nobody has a good answer for me…

It's as if only the current flow matter and the stock of liquid assets somehow fades into irrelevance. Strange.

Rocky Humbert writes:

Excuse me, gentlemen, But can either of you please explain the raisson d'etre for any investor (i.e. someone who buys and holds to maturity) to have purchased a 10 Year TIP at a non-trivial negative real yield — and which has been the case since QE started in earnest.

I submit that your perceptions of befuddlement may be due to price anchoring/recency bias — and that a previous dislocation due to fed interventions is finally being corrected. Investors are now sensibly demanding a positive real return on their fixed income investments. Sensible, unless we are in a persistent deflation. But if a persistent deflation is in the card, the stock market's nominal earnings expectations are horribly wrong.

I further note that bank CD rates are not rising with market rates. To me, this is a potentially ominous conundrum with the following potential explanations: (1) There's little demand for loans. (2) Bank capital rules are limiting their purchase of marketable securities. (3) Banks are funding their loans with overnight excess reserves. (4) Volker rule-type fears are limiting participation. (5) Banks have been told that short-rates won't rise for a really long time.

Aug

19

 There have been 5 occasions when stocks fell by more than 200 Dow points in a day and bonds the same time fell by more than 1/2 a big point 3 of them occurred in last two months including last Thursday. This has many market implications including the changing the guard of the relation between bonds and stocks, and the importance of liquidity preference.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Agree 100% with Vic's astute observation and hypothesis. Mr. Market is seemingly at the point in the economic cycle when good news is bad news for financial assets. What's difficult to believe is that in the current cycle, this inflection point is occurring with lackluster GDP growth (i.e. substantial output gap in domestic and global economies) and high unemployment. These facts help explain why the 2 year Treasury is not backing up.

One surmises therefore that Mr. Market is trying to find an equilibrium yield in the long end of the curve with no prospect of further aggressive manipulative Fed interventions. Since the current easing cycle began (and before the Fed started buying long-dated securities), the extreme of the 2/10 spread has been +288 bp. We are currently at +248 — which gives a price anchored sense of magnitudes to where we may be headed. If the curve steepens another 40bp, that will coincidentally also put the 10 year TIP at about +100 real yield — all of which is sensible, consistent and not a panic overshoot. This will also put the 10 Year Treasury at about 3.2%ish.

I'm not making any predictions about the effects of this on stock prices. Except that I would expect stocks to get into some potentially serious problems should the 2/10 spread quickly widen past 300bp as that will represent a new regime (as Vic says, "changing of the guard"). There are too many other variables to be more precise. Including the relationship between nominal yields, yield ratios, etc. I will note that bank CD rates have not been increasing with market interest rates. This can be interpreted numerous ways but it's an important fact for investors.

Gary Rogan writes:

Perhaps this is as simple as the market is taking seriously Ben's statements that he will keep the short end of the rates low, but is determined to use any good news, fake or real to taper/stop the QE. There is just going to be less money for any kind of financial assets so that any rates not controlled directly by the traditional Fed manipulations so that their prices all have to go down, stock, bonds, and everything. The market must believe that the Fed sees real danger in continuing QE and it thus must come to an end almost for sure. This has puzzled me for a while since I can't see how any kind of housing recovery can be sustained with higher mortgage rates nor how the US treasury can afford the higher rates, because I expect the deficits to start increasing again. But Ben's term is coming to an end and he probably wants to leave on a certain not that only he can judge to be the most optimal for his post-Fed future. In a couple of years it could be deluge as far as Ben is concerned but not in a couple of months. Perhaps he just doesn't want the QE in place when he leaves.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

This is an unusual Ponzi, in the most important respect: that there is no official to call it. Alas, where market is bound to err, the market will focus on public sector Ponzi alone. The more important is the derivatives Ponzi, and that's what is liable to cause 90% market contraction off of whatever pinnacle.

Happened twice already in new millenium: with .com stocks, and then with bank stocks. Yet, most participants' philosophy is that it can't happen. Or has no right to happen? What right is there to take a billion-dollar underlying, re-hypothicate it without an end in sight, and pass it for a trillion-dollar book? Mr. Market is bipolar; trying to fit it onto historical precedent will work, for most of the trading days — but not for the most important trading days.

Jeff Sasmor writes: 

It's also possible that this is a trial balloon and that there will be feedback from the market reaction into what the fed does.

If interest rates rise and choke off the housing market wouldn't they act to reverse that?

"Plans within plans," as the Guild Navigator said.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Anatoly is of course correct that markets go further and trends persist longer than reasonably sane people expect. The most recent examples of this are the Platinum/Gold spread; the WTI/Brent oil spread; and the 2008/2009 period. But his conclusions about "most important trading DAYS" are not only disproved by the duration of these episodes, they are also suspect in the context of investment and wealth accumulation — as the power of compounding requires time.

There remains no evidence that ANYONE can consistency anticipate or profit from the "most important" trading days. Those "important" days pale in the fullness of time as we see over and over and over again. Furthermore, he can (as I do) lament the Fed's mechinations. But they in no way resemble a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme requires new money to pay off old money, and can persist in perpetuity so long as there is sufficient new money to pay off old money. So long as the Fed has a printing press and the ability/willingness to expand its balance sheet AND THE US DOLLAR IS STABLE, the status quo can and will persist. Social Security (as a standalone entity) is a better example of a societal Ponzi scheme.

Further to the "status quo," among the things that I find most remarkable about the past few years is the relative stability of the major currency markets. Sure there have been some violent moves. But the Dollar, Yen and Euro are all within a couple of percent of where they were exactly 20 years ago! . Even the Chinese Yuan was trading at about the same price twenty years ago. (They devalued it to about 8 in 1994, and then gradually moved it back towards 6ish.) Lastly, does anyone remember Bill Ackman's breathless announcement from a couple of years ago that he had a massive call position on the Hong Kong dollar … and that they were going to be forced to imminently re-value their currency. With his problems in JCPenny, Herbal Life etc, he should consider unplugging his Bloomberg and read "All Quiet on the Western (sic) Front."

Gary Rogan adds:

I expect that they can't live with the effect of the rising 10 yr and mortgage rates even as they stand today. My initial supposition when Ben first started the tapering talk was that he wanted to puncture the stock bubble, but can't afford to puncture the bond bubble. He seems to have punctured both. The genie is out of the bottle and with all the loose talk emanating from the various Fed associates it will now take a pretty dramatic action to reverse what looks like a looming crash for most asset classes.

Aug

19

 Many years ago one followed the Wall St. Journal stock-picking / dart throwing contest. The Journal claimed that the expert stock pickers were well ahead of the darts over many iterations. Holdings in those days were all mutual funds or indices. So for a first foray into individual stock ownership, I bought shares of "TCBY treats" - a frozen yogurt franchise - which was touted by the analyst in WSJ dart contest.

His analysis was, "The balance sheet looks good". I checked his background and he seemed well educated and reputable (remember this was pre-enlightenment vis. shibboleths of Ivy degrees and name shops).

I never checked the balance sheet because it was unlikely my novice reading would provide more insight than the market, and in any case the analyst was trained, experienced, and (in essence) endorsed by WSJ.

Some time later the analyst could point to brief intervals when TCBY was higher. However as you might guess the stock went into a long/slow slide into oblivion.

Following recommendations without understanding their basis and the motives of the recommender is risky business.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Dr. Zussman is absolutely correct. One should never ever listen to any recommendations or thoughts that I espouse as my motives are suspect; my analytics are flawed; and my thought processes are clouded by insomnia and senile dementia. (I view these albatrosses as my secret edge in the markets.)

Furthermore, I myself follow Dr. Zussman's advice religiously and assiduously avoid reading newspapers or books, avoid conversations with intelligent people and spent 23 hours per days in a saline-filled sensory deprivation tank (from which I emerge to occasionally pen SpecList posts.)

Gary Rogan writes:

I have been told by many people, on multiple occasions, and for a variety of reason to avoid stock tips, mainly because you can never know exactly why the person likes them and also because they are unlikely to fit into your "trading system" (and I would guess investment system). I find this advice hard to evaluate. I suppose if one knows some stats of the person's previous picks this makes it easier. If you can deduce that the person isn't simply talking their book, that's probably better as well. But fundamentally, a stock can't know that someone has recommended it to you. If you have a system, you should at least know whether the person intends for the pick to be a short-term trade or a long-term investment and judge accordingly. Rocky doesn't give a lot of stock tips, so what should one think of one when it suddenly appears? Hard to know. On the other hand, I think I have a pretty good idea who Rocky really is and he is an upstanding member of the community with a good track record, and can't possibly be thinking of moving AAPL significantly by talking about it here, so is it really wrong to follow his recommendations?

Aug

9

A question for Kim or Victor: Since IWM has more stocks than SPY, does it follow that daily returns on IWM are closer to the Normal Distribution than SPY? - A Reader

Victor Niederhoffer replies:

It does, as a consequence of the Central Limit Theorem .

Kim Zussman replies:

Let's look at it empirically. Here is the "Anderson - Darling" test for normality of daily SPY returns, 2000-present (SP500).

Next is the same test for IWM (Russell 2000 ETF), 2000-present.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Vic, I'm not sure that the central limit theorem is the right paradigm. An unknown is whether the covariance within the two groups is sufficiently different to offset the CLT. I have never tested this. And testing is tricky because you need to use compounded total returns with dividends reinvested. The index and stock prices produce misleading results because dividends are greater for big caps.

Intuitively, I believe that most of the perceived differences can be explained by 2 things:

1) the dividends…which is really just a duration effect and 2) the reality that companies leave the R2k only when they are incredibly successful or when they die. Stocks only leave the SP500 when they die. They never leave the SP500 and go to the R2k when they are successful. So over time, the perceived differences are a micro sampling of a survivor bias between the 2 indices. Not sure how to test this theory…

What we do know is the implied volatility of r2k is almost always higher than the implied volatility of the SPX. I think this could be an analogue to the fact that out of the money puts are more expensive than out of the money calls. Put another way, if you are long SPX and short r2k in equal dollar amounts, you will usually make money during violent and persistent market downdrafts. I think this is proof that the distributions are different.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

Those are good points you make about areas that I should have considered in estimating the departures and distributions of comparative performances. It is also amazing to me that the statistical tests, especially the Kolmogorov Smirnov, show such departures. I am a great believer that the risk premium on untried and small stocks is much bigger and that they should perform better and that buying two handfuls of them will have a limiting distribution that converges to a return a percentage or two above the 8 % you get from the average NYSE stock. I must go back and check my premises. It reminds me of how I told the people in my family to buy the riskiest vanguard over the counter fund, and they tell me that they are always getting notes in the mail that the funds I recommended are being sued by their holders as the worst performing funds in history due to all sorts of wrongs of a practical and theoretical nature. I mean this response in a humble and appreciative way although it is sometimes hard to communicate that by email in the face of all the errors that are elicited.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Like everything else in this realm, it depends on the unit of time used in analysis. If you use annual data, things play much more nicely to Normal. The shorter the time unit used, the less so.

Jul

27

 Seems like the market has been rather trendy lately. Of course now that I've realized it its probably near the end of the trend. But that's the same thing I though at the beginning of the trend.

Mean reversion systems have difficulty in a trendy market, and simple TA things work well for trends if you're lucky.

Rocky Humbert writes:

Mr. Sogi writes: "Mean reversion systems have difficulty in a trendy market, and simple TA things work well for trends if you're lucky."

I suggest that Mr. Sogi should have written: "Simple TA things have difficulty in a choppy market, and mean reversion systems work well if you're lucky."

Every single profitable trade requires a trend!

If you buy at 9:30am at a price of 100 and sell at 9:31 at a price of 100.25, there was a one minute trend. Call it whatever you want. But if you have two points connected by a line, that line is a trend.

The carpenter ants that live in my yard don't know that my neighbor has much better foraging.

Steve Ellison writes: 

As I understand the premise of trend following, it is allegedly good to identify the trend in place before placing one's trade and enter the market on the side of that trend. To say every profitable trade requires a trend seems a tautology to me and not useful since the statement refers to the trend that occurs after entry and hence cannot be known at the time of entry.

Bruno Ombreux adds: 

Rocky,

This is a semantic debate. It all depends how you define a trend. "Point A to point B" is a "line", not necessarily a "trend". There are actually formal definitions for "deterministic trends" and "stochastic trends". There are also statistical tests to check the presence of those trends.

Mean-reversion: you can make money in a market going from "point A to point A" instead of "point A to point B". 

anonymous writes:

Having spent a number of years in the trend-follower business, I can confirm that trend-following, as practised by some rather large CTAs, means betting on markets where models suggest the continuation of a move. So if the price went up from A to B, a trend follower would make bets where the move from B to C is in the same direction, whereas a mean-reverting player will try trade instruments that he believes will move back towards A.

Over the years, I have given much thought to the workings of the whole trend-following business, and its role in the market ecosystem. The Chairman's various critiques of the style are all valid, and worth heeding. Yet, properly understood, I believe trend-following remains a valid approach to trading. i.e., it is a trading style that exposes you to risk factors for which the market is willing to pay you.

Rocky Humbert adds:

A wise man once said, "There ain't no point in beating a dead horse. But there ain't no harm in it either."

We've all had this trend following discussion ad nauseum in the past, and the chair's pathological aversion to trend following is well known. So to avoid re-opening old wounds, I will re-offer the single most plausible and economically rational reason why trend-following can work and has worked. (That is, I'm not saying anything about whether it still works or will work in the future.)

In order to move a price, the market requires new information. And this new information takes time to disseminate among market participants. And during this period of dissemination and acceptance of a new perception, prices will appear to trend. If you are the first person to acquire and understand this new information, you are said to have a variant perception. If you are the second or third person to realize that there is new information, you are called a trend follower. And if you instinctively fade this perception as it disseminates through the market, you are either called a contrarian or Anatoly. Strictly speaking, a true contrarian, like a stopped clock, is right twice a day. And while this new information is disseminating through the market, there are obviously many opportunitities to profit.

Ultimately, however, a trend-follower is economically equivalent to a person who buys synthetic options or volatility. And a mean-revision trader is economically equivalent to a person who sells synthetic options or volatility. Transaction costs notwithstanding, unless one has superior information, there is no apriori reason to believe that selling synthetic options should, over a career, be more profitable than buying synthetic options. However, the equity profile of an options seller is that of many small profits and a few big losses. Whereas the equity profile of an options buyer is that of many small losses with a few big gains.

Jul

18

 There must be a way of measuring the hills and valleys and their durations. Possibly with survival statistics. And then computing similarities of the present to the most egregious bad or remarkably good ones in the past. Once this similarity is measured, presumably with a squared distance, the similarity would be correlated with subsequent action. I would imagine geologists and modern statisticians have many rules of thumb for computing such distances of current to past.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

I think we both know that the vast corpus of academic research demonstrates no systematic predictability from simply looking at price charts.

The issue is, when one is otherwise bullishly or bearishly inclined, can the chart's characteristics help an investor improve his/her results?

For Bruce Kovner et al, the answer is yes. "Fundamentalists who say they are not going to pay any attention to the charts are like a doctor who says he's not going to take a patient's temperature."

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

It does look at times as though certain "faulted" structures get reactivated and blocks rise again in the basin and range of the market (with reference to HPQ, GMCR, NFLX, SODA, CMG, et al.) Are they more susceptible to future reversals based on past history?

"Ultimately, the broader scientific challenge in the Basin and Range Province is to compare geologically determined rates and styles of deformation to contemporary strain fields determined by GPS to see if regions of accelerated extension are relicts of geologically recent activity or precursors of future activity. Hopefully, the new compilation of faults in the Basin and Range will provide an ever-growing archive of paleoseismic information that will encourage such comparisons."

from "Summary Of the Late Quaternary Tectonics of the Basin and Range Province in Nevada, Eastern California, and Utah
"

Gary Rogan writes: 

Assuming random news flow, something that has really negative sentiment will react with a larger upward move to a positive piece of news than something that has really positive sentiment. Clearly something that has been going down for a long time is likely to have negative sentiment, therefore it is more susceptible to a reversal than something that has been going up for a long time (which is actually incapable of a reversal on positive news unless it's "sell the news", and the effect of similar positive news is also likely to be smaller). On the other hand if there are no positive news or a state of illiquidity is achieved than negative sentiment doesn't help. So the trick is to look for things that have SOME chance of positive news and are not near bankruptcy.

Jul

4

 At times like these, with the employment report two days away, the importance of Erica ("Obama Labor Agency Nominee Sent her Kids to Communist Rooted Summer Camp") can't be gainsaid. Presumably would wish a number that's not too good.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Quoting from website: "Founded in 1923 by Jewish activists as a retreat for their children from the tenements of NYC, Camp Kinderland is true to the vision of its founders. In a difficult world, we are an oasis for children; a place where they can be themselves, feel at ease, and work and play in an atmosphere of cooperation and trust. As at many camps, our campers play sports, swim and hike, gain new experiences in arts, drama, music, dance, nature and camping. But at Kinderland they also encounter ideals of social justice and peace. They don't hesitate to sing a Yiddish labor song, paint a mural of Harriet Tubman or write a skit about putting an end to war—that's just what you do at Camp Kinderland, where it is okay to think, to care, to question and to act. There is nothing quite like it; and it works because the values of community and culture, of justice and righteousness, are inextricably integrated with the friendship, the joy, the beauty, the sheer fun and adventure, of life at sleepaway camp. Please feel free to explore our website ."

Dare I suggest that someone you know might actually benefit from a couple of weeks in this environment? I remember a summer at YMCA camp and it not only strengthened my Jewish identity, it strengthened my immune system. (The bathrooms didn't have hot water and it was my first and last interaction with a pork chop.) My wife, who's political views are somewhat right of Attila-the-Hun spent a few weeks at a Workman's Circle camp during her youth. The menu was better, but the sports were worse.

Gary Rogan writes:

"social justice" = "redistribute the loot to the 'rightful owners'", AKA "Communism", its Jesuit and later Jewish roots notwithstanding. It's worth avoiding anyone who excitedly talks about believing in it.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

The idea of social justice first took root in the US in the 1840s when the first flood of German immigrants - Lutherans, Catholics and Jews — took advantage of cheap tickets on the paddle wheel steamers from Hamburg. To this day their descendants remain the largest single "ethnic" group (sic) in the country. 

Rocky Humbert responds: 

Perhaps Mr. Rogan might consider starting Camp Hassen-land as an alternative to Camp Kinderland? He might find a couple of willing investors from spec list. Rocky offers this advertising copy for his website:

Founded in 2013 by cynical atheists as a retreat for their children from the tree-lined streets of Greenwich and Palm Beach, Camp Hassenland is true to the vision of its founders. In a difficult world beset by a particular idea in its grasp, we are an oasis for the self-accomplished - those who earn, deserve and consume the best; a place where money can be spent without thinking about the less fortunate or considering the possibility that one's place in life might be (just occasionally) outside of one's control. As at many camps, our campers play sports, swim and hike, gain new experiences in arts, drama, music, dance nature and camping. But at Hassenland, they also encounter vodka and inane propositions bets. They don't hesistate to sing a negro spiritual — recalling the golden age of this country — paint a mural of Sir Francis Galton, or write a skit about stepping over homeless people in the gutter — that's just what you do at Camp Hassenland — where it is okay to think, to not care, to act, and to screw your fellow campers if they are that dumb. There is nothing quite like it; and it works because the values of individualism and greed, of entitlement and smugness, are inextricably integrated with the the sheer fun and adventure of life knowing that you are superior to everyone else. Please feel free to explore our website.

Jun

19

I found this paper interesting:

"A Bayesian Understanding of Information Uncertainty and the Cost of Capital"

Uncertainty is not always resolved by new or better information. Also contrary to intuition, the cost of capital implied by a conventional capital asset pricing model can increase as investors become more certain about future events.

Gary Rogan writes:

I only got as far as this premise in the abstract:

"The role of financial reporting should be understood not in terms of its effect on the cost of capital per se, but as aiding investors to assess the probability distributions of future cash flows more accurately, thereby leading on average to higher expected utility portfolios."

Can widely distributing financial information to investors increase the AVERAGE expected utility? If everyone is better informed, won't the positive effects average out to zero or close?

Rocky Humbert writes: 

I have not read this paper yet, however, the answer to Mr. Rogan's question is: No, this is not a zero sum game. Better information can generate net positive value when measured at a societal level. The core economic principle which explains the net positive is that better analysis/better information will result in better capital allocation. Better capital allocation should result in higher societal productivity and hence a higher potential growth rate. This is one of the economic underpinnings behind the SEC principle of full disclosure of all relevant and material facts.

Simple example: If I "invent" a perpetual motion machine and raise $10 Billion in capital to build a factory to produce my perpetual motion machines, then this capital will be re-directed from some other potentially more productive use. In this silly example, investors rely on my prospectus to invest and have bad information. If they read the prospectus carefully however, they will see a disclaimer that the physics behind my invention are nonsense and they are better off investing in a factory that creates widgets or drugs or whatever which actually work.

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

7

Turning on my Bloomberg this morning, I see that the Nikkei gained 486.2 points last night.

This reminds me that among the most difficult actions for a long-term investor is to do absolutely nothing.

It also confirms my belief that ka-chinging a tiny profit in a long-term position assures that the market will continue to move in the desired direction.

Both are platitudes for sure. But one's P&L speaks louder than poetry.

Apr

29

 I heard someone the other day say the "wrong route be easy" whereas the "right path will be hard." I challenged them to defend this principle!!! This is an annoying empty platitude. Both in markets and in life.

If you want to be a poet, please recite the rhyme of the ancient mariner instead. If you want to be an ascetic, please get your philosophy correct. If you want to be a trader, recognize that pain means you were WRONG.

On what basis do you argue that "on the wrong road, you find success and happiness initially but in the end you lose; whereas on the right path, you suffer but eventually win."

By this standard, if you allow me to hold your head underwater for the next 2 hours, it's a winning "position".

PLEASE!!!

Perhaps I should go back into my brain hibernation — from which you awakened me 50 hours ago!!!

Leo Jia writes:

Thanks for the wonderful argument, Rocky.

On a single trade, I am totally with you in that one should quickly recognize and correct mistakes. But on an entire trading career, this is generally not the case. I don't know how you learned to trade, but along my experience, which I believe is also quite similar for many successful traders, there have been a lot of difficulties. Should I or those many others have better quit early along the way? One simple example that perhaps best reflects this in life is on choosing careers. The easy (and likely the wrong) route is to get employed. The hard (and likely the right) route is to start one's own venture.

Stefan Jovanovich adds: 

I am the 3rd generation of Jovanovich to subscribe to the belief that "good business happens quickly". Depending on how you would include joint ventures/partnerships in the count, Eddy's Mom and I have started between 8 and 12 businesses and run them until they were either sold, shut down or the Peter principle applied to our management skills. In every one the test was the same: you made money within a matter of a few months or you never made it at all. These rules do not apply to venture capital or any other start-up where the loss of the money invested would make no difference to the lives of the investors. They apply absolutely to the opening of noodle stands ("broth runs deep in our veins, son") and other enterprises that start from scratch without any scratch.

The other rule is that sick businesses cannot be cured or "turned around"; they can be liquidated, as Secretary Mellon advised; but they cannot be saved as enterprises once the rot has set in.

Apr

23

 I have been considering whether there is any evidence that socially responsible businesses are better investments than profit maximizing ones. Most of the research points out that it is hard to define profit maximization because short term and long term maximum paths might differ. The concept of risk and return is also relevant with higher return often decreasing the chances of surviving. The duty of a company and its directors to its shareholders, and their incentive to do better for themselves and their shareholders by increasing earnings also plays a part. The concept of dead weight cost is also relevant which is minimized when marginal cost equals marginal revenue and the pricing is such that the demand curve intersects the supply curve at the profit maximizing price. I found this article on going for fourth downs refreshing and provocative in this area.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

I think this is an important subject to consider and the current academic literature does a comparatively poor job. For starters, there is no satisfactory definition nor rubrics of "socially responsible businesses." The monikers of "sustainability" and "green" and "sensitive to communities" are difficult to quantify to say the least. And frustrating to understand in many cases. A chemical plant that dumps its toxic waste into the backyard (while poisoning its workers and neighbors) is?? clearly maximizing short term profits at the expense of long term profits. And it's clearly socially irresponsible. And it will eventually fail. In contrast, my office landlord just installed infrared soap and hand towel dispensers in the bathrooms (presumably to be green), but will they have a good ROE on this? I have no idea. Will they attract new tenants because this is a "green" building? If the rent is the same, I suspect yes because some # of customers get incremental utility from transacting with socially responsible businesses. In contrast, no one (reasonably) gets incremental utility from transacting with socially irresponsible businesses.

The "duty of a company and its directors to its shareholders" is a decidedly American concept. The reality is that torts and taxes and regulation mean that the actual implementation of this duty may in fact include social responsibility. Things have changed over the past 100 years (for better or for worse). So — the answer to the chair's question must be: if the cost of being socially responsible is small, then socially responsible businesses MUST BE better investments. If the cost of being socially responsible is large, then it's less clear — and there is the free-rider problem.

Rishi Singh writes: 

I had the benefit of hearing the current owners of the Empire State building give a talk on going green and increasing revenue a few years back. Their synopsis was that going green for the sake of going green was too expensive for the marginal benefit (e.g. solar panels). Instead, by gutting office space, adding insulation, different windows, and light sensors to turn off lights, they improved the quality of the offices and significantly reduced utility costs at a reasonable cost. By adding these features they could charge higher rent while also improving their green footprint and returning to profitability. An example of market forces awarding the cheapest implementation of reduced energy usage.

Susan Niederhoffer writes:

Some thoughts:

1. His point about short term vs. long term is very important … because long term you see/pay for your short term decisions. Conscious Capitalism companies are long term focused. We have used as proxy for good companies, 100 best companies to work for, or some other third party list.

2. Your heading reveals a trade-off mentality, that it's either or. That's not what we've found. It's possible to keep looking for solutions that make ALL stakeholders better off (and most CC companies include the earth as a stakeholder to avoid those nasty externalities). Even if it costs in the short run, doing the right thing will pay off over time. Patagonia is a good example.

3. CSR is often the crony capitalist trying to tack on a beneficial marketing strategy to get on the green bandwagon (his landlord). You have to dig deeper to sort out which companies really mean it.

4. Transparency is getting harder to avoid. Companies that delay finding out about the negative impact they have in their supply chains and fixing them will pay when their customers discover and put it on twitter. Brand loyalty is hard to buy.

5. You will have fun debating these with John at Junto. Keep up the research…but better read the book too.

Russ Sears comments: 

The problem also is there are many "socially responsible" businesses that are not to be believed. The customer wants to do business with a business that is on the loyal side of the prisoners dilemma. It signals that they value repeat business, and this one transaction will not be be maximized at the customer's expense. In other words, a properly designed social response shows that the business considers itself to be in an infinite set of transactions. It will take less now so that the great great grand kids can make up for the small cut they give back to society. Like Zacheus the tax collector, if they miscalculated and took more than their share, they will return it 4 X what they took.

The problem however, is that often a social responsible business is really doing a slay of hands. Like Capone gifts to the Opera, or LiveStrong gift to healthy living.

Also sincerity is terrible difficult to measure, but it's something many individuals think they are better at than they are. Like ants, they are to be trusted because they give off the scent that they are from the same "tribe".

Apr

17

 There are some traders who make money based on news events. Please tell me how an analysis of the recent news could have been beneficial to traders who analyze news. The first reaction was a drop of 1 % in the last hour in S&P and a rise of a corresponding amount in gold. The reaction overnight was the opposite. Why was this news so bullish overnight? Is all news just an opportunity to do the opposite of the initial reaction? What do you think? Is there a systematic way to profit from news announcements? The 9-11 was not a temporary thing. Was that the clue?

Steve Ellison writes: 

I would hypothesize that any market reaction to a news event that triggers strong emotions should be faded because of the availability heuristic (people tend to give too much weight to dramatic but rare events).

I would also hypothesize that any market reaction to government statistics should be faded, since they have margins of error and are often significantly revised later. However, when I tested this proposition using the government report that routinely provokes strong market reactions, the monthly US unemployment report, it was not clear there was any edge to trading in the opposite direction of the S&P 500's move on the report day.

Jeff Watson writes: 

I generally don't fade USDA crop reports after they come out and grains are offered limit down. However, I've been known to buy wheat right at the top just before the report and have it go limit down on me. I hate that feeling as the noose tightens when the trapdoor opens. In fact that just happened to me on the last go-around.

Alston Mabry writes:

How do you test news events? First, you have to immediately and accurately evaluate what effect the event "should" have, ex ante. And then at some future point in time, compare the predicted to the actual effect the event "did" have, ex post. As there is no objective measure to use for the first step, you wind up simply testing whether or not you're any good at predicting the effects ex ante.

Steve Ellison writes: 

I tested using the following logic. If the absolute value of the change from Thursday's close to Friday's close on an unemployment reporting day was greater than the median of the absolute value of the daily change in the previous month, I assumed the market was reacting to the unemployment report and selected that day. For all the selected days, I backtested a one day trade entering at Friday's close and exiting at the next trading day's close, positioned in the opposite direction as Friday's net change. That is, if the net change on Friday was positive, the hypothetical trade was a short. The results were consistent with randomness.

Sushil Kedia writes: 

News is a rare commodity in today's world. We are inundated with broadcasts today. Any media missives that bring by a communication of fact and those amongst the fact-set that are beyond the expected may still have some market moving value. The durability of that fact or how out of line of anticipations it was may perhaps have some effect on how much and for how long the prevailing state of prices will be affected. Those broadcasts that provoke emotion are likely that are worth inspecting a fading trade. Whether news of war, crop-failures or any such genre' of information flows that produce an instant or moment of endocrinal rush.

The fine art of speculations rests on anticipations. Broadcasting media would never report what is coming to happen tomorrow, but only what may have (no guarantee that the broadcast is totally factual, since we have more "viewspapers" today than newspapers) already happened. Those who rely more on figuring out what they ought to anticipate on such resources are often the food for those who would rely on these broadcasts to figure out where the likely dead bodies will be buried. Price may not have all the information of what keeps happening every moment, but does have more information than any other resources of what is expected to happen.

Event Study Method may be a decent tool to evaluate the statistical behaviour of specific kind of events that occur repetitively with varying outcomes and of studying the repetitive actions of specific mouth-pieces than of studying erratic and randomly occurring news.

In a highly inter-connected markets' world and where the risk-free rate itself has a volatility the comforts of isolating non-random abnormal returns' evidence too is fraught with risks of playing on a frail advantage that keeps fluctuating in its expected value with ever-changing cycles if not fading away. Thus, it seems fair to me rather than an over-simplification that the most important factor for the next price is the price at this instant or any distant instant is the price at this moment and in the prior moments.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

I have one secret on this subject that I will share. Well, actually it was explained by Soros and Druck as the "Busted Thesis Rule." I think I've written about this previously on the Dailyspec.

If there is a news event that SHOULD BE unequivocal in it's meaning (i.e. bullish or bearish), and the market after a bit of time starts going in the opposite direction to the consensus meaning, then it's a wonderful opportunity to throw your beliefs out the window and go with the short-term direction. Many important big moves start this way. For example, XYZ is bullish news, yet the market after a little pop starts going down, down, down, …. don't fight it. Rather, "Sell Mortimer Sell!" P.S. I learned this lesson the hard way when Bell Atlantic made its ultimately ill-fated bid for TCOMA and Bell Atlantic's stock when straight up instead of what it "should" have done … which was go straight down. I won't describe the censure I received by my legendary boss at the time. Amusingly, neither of these companies still exist. Bell Atlantic became Nynex which became Verizon. And if memory serves me, TCOMA was bought by AT&T when they got into the cable tv business…

Gary Rogan writes: 

In a similar type of episode, when 3Com spun off 5% of Palm thus giving it a market valuation, and the resultant value of Palm significantly exceeded the value of 3Com that still owned 95% of Palm, this marked the end of the dotcom era.

Apr

17

 Okay, the 142 bank pres and public relations people have the minutes already to be released to public in 10 minutes. Bonds are up and stocks are down. Germany is getting killed. Which way will the release to the non-flexions affect bonds stocks and gold. I've been buying gold whenever it drops as I believe that the bank deposit confiscation has to be bullish for gold as are the trend followers short.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Rocky is patient at $1390, getting ready to pull trigger on test of $1320.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

Rocky a lot more astute than me perhaps because he has a bit of the idea that has the world in its grip in him from his days at the 'Bank' and his love of trend following. One passed their headquarters near the scene of the crime yesterday evening and it was replete with canine k9 4 footed operatives.

anonymous writes: 

One can imagine the scene:

Fed: Honey, I would love to be with you but we have to lay low a few days after the press got pictures of us together.

Banker responds: If that is the case, you and the D. C. boys have fun by yourselves. Give me the checkbook and I will go home to L.A. to shop. Call me when you decide you need the markets to go up again.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

For the record: I am flat gold. If Cyprus (or any other country) could cure their ills simply by selling gold, there would be no ills. My recollection is that the Korean housewives were selling their gold wedding bands to support the Won … during the 1997 financial crisis over there. Korean bonds were yielding 15% at the time. And I bought a few as an investment. That worked out ok. I am not buying the bonds of Cyprus, Greece or those other places. The wealth of a nation is in its land, its laws, and its work ethic. Everything else is a speculation.

Gary Rogan writes: 

"The wealth of a nation is in its land, its laws, and its work ethic."

Brilliant! I would add "respect for its just laws" to the list. May those who want to reward millions of those who broke the laws of this country by giving them the very object of their law-breaking and by making them a part of this nation give this some thought.

George Parkanyi writes: 

This is not scientific, but my feeling on gold is that given government interventions (manipulation is such a strong word) in markets these days, they can't exactly let that turn into a complete rout either. Fear is fear. Gold was supposed to be the haven of last resort. If people see that collapsing then there is the sense that there's nowhere to hide. The panic could transfer to other markets. It's not behaving as it "should" under the circumstances, which further calls into question in people's minds what the hell IS going on? And what is this action discounting - massive deflation? Governments sure want that idea to spread. This is one of the reasons I'm still holding fast to the core position - though I've taken stop-outs on portions. Not large enough portions to avoid a big hit. But it is what it is. The gold stocks are really getting creamed as well. Solid producers trading like penny stocks. Unless deflation IS ultimately our lot, I'm smelling blood in the streets (some of which is mine) and screaming bargains.

I think the odds are good for a sharp reversal rally. If things go really bad in other markets, that's where they'll be looking to cash out rather really pounded down precious metals. And gold is an international commodity - still highly valued in many cultures. This crowded-trade unwinding behaviour I think could reverse very quickly, very soon.

A commenter adds: 

Was the fall in Gold the result of some bigger thing that I am unaware of, and did someone smell a canary that has been dead for a few months and was the first to find out triggering the selling?

David Lilienfeld writes: 

Let's take a look at what's known:

1. Europe was weak going into 2013, but the dimensions of that weakness are becoming evident. The collapse of auto sales in the EU, the episode with the Cypriot banks (which I still don't understand why the Cypriot government didn't say, "Fine, Germany, we're leaving the euro, we have all these euros in our banks, our new exchange rate is X, and now you have a big mess on your hands, much as we do on ours; don't like that? Fund us!), the coming episode with Slovenia, followed by Spain, Italy (if it can figure out who is the government) and France. Then there's the farce previously known as DC. There's the leader of North Korea trying to demonstrate that there is testosterone flowing throughout his veins. The dimensions of many of these has become evident recently. The degree to which China is slowing down and the degree to which the US housing "recovery" might slow down have also started to clarify recently. I won't get into the potential for a repeat of a SARS-like outbreak in East Asia.

I don't think the canary's been dead for a few months as much as it had a massive stroke, followed by resuscitation from cardiac arrest a few times (OK, OK, it was many times), and it's now brain dead and being maintained by artificial life support, ie, it's dead but it doesn't know it. Or the canary's been dead for much longer than a few months.

There's a lot of bad stuff that's gone on the last few months, and the extent to which the market in the US is near its all-time highs is a wonderful gauge of nothing so much as the power of denial. How there could be as much complacency as there's been (a topic of recent interest on this list) is something I don't understand.

Craig Mee writes:

If you haven't noticed, the first stop for gold was the width of the consolidation. I bring you information on laying of track to take into account expansion and contraction. We must work out what size volatility or influences allows for temperature rises and falls.

EXPANSION AND CONTRACTION.


1611. In laying track, provision must be made for expansion and contraction of the rails, due to changes of temperature. As the temperature rises the rail lengthens, and unless sufficient space is left between the ends of the rails to allow for the expansion, the ends of the rails abut one against another with such force as to cause the rails to kink or buckle, marring the appearance of the track and rendering it unsafe for trains, especially those running at high speeds. If, on the other hand, too much space is left between the rails, the contraction or shortening of the rails due to severe cold may do equally great harm by shearing off the bolts from the splice bars, leaving the joints loose and unprotected. The coefficient of expansion, i.e., the amount of the change in the length of an iron bar due to an increase or decrease of 1 degree F. is taken at .00000686 per degree per unit of length. 

Apr

9

 I admitted I was powerless over my affliction to taking small profits.

I made a decision to turn myself over to the care of those who affably might help me as God has helped others.

I made a searching inventory of all the losses I have taken.

I admitted to other human beings especially the spec list the nature of my wrongs.

I am ready and willing, but perhaps not able, to remove these defects.

I humbly ask all my supporters and friends to help me remove them.

I have enumerated the many millions that I have lost and beg forgiveness from those I could have helped had I not had this affliction. My family would be a very wealthy family and would not have to worry about such things as homes and educating their kids had I not succumbed.

I promise that I will make amends to them except when doing so might lead me closer to the grave and a nondescript and economical old age home.

I will continue to take an inventory of my lost profits and exacerbated losses, and when I transgress I will admit it. Readily.

When I jog, and have a peaceful moment, I will meditate on my past transgressions.

I will share the awakening of my profits, if any, with my colleagues so that others afflicted with this ailment can practice the principles necessary to correct.

And I will count. If this affliction manifests itself in day of week effects, than when the two day move is down seriously and the one day move is up, there should be a rise the next periods. I find of the 152 most similar events in the new millennium, the average decline the next days is -0.05 %. When the two day move is up seriously but the one day move is down, there should be a decline. I find the average move the next day of 132 such events is 0.03 %. I find similar random results for intra day manifestations of this terrible affliction. So I will meditate and count some more. 

Russ Sears writes:

An integral part of the 12 steps is accountability. You don't slip off the wagon because you don't want to have to admit it to the group and your accountability partner. Further, you recognize the triggers and you call the accountability partner to talk you down from the ledge.

In October in Canada, I attended an Enterprise Risk Management Conference where several heads of large Risk Management Departments talked to the group. It appears the regulators have adopted a system of 3 level of "challenges". That is they document times risk rules were broken and mistakes were made, either unintentionally or by bad processes at 3 different levels.

The first level was self or departmental reporting. The second level was outside department but internal to company (either internal controls or internal customers) and the 3rd level was external auditors. Each level was expected to have some "challenges" and write up how to improve them, and give a degree to how material or risky the error was. The right number of challenges and the degree of rogue risk was determined. Too little challenges or no serious violations were considered not taking risk management seriously.

The problem is, however, that this only prevents errors or rogue risk happening at the lower levels because it is a top down approach. But most companies fail because of strategic risk. Often in hindsight it is clear the strategy was guaranteed to make money short term in exchange for taking on crippling unavoidable long term risk.

This became clear to me when the Citi Risk Manager talked…The preamble to the "dance while the music is playing" quote played in my head.

They knew the housing market was a bubble ready to burst… But they also knew there was massive bonuses to be made before it struck and destroyed most of their company's equity.Nobody at the lower level was allowed to "challenge" their strategy, no matter how clear the fraud was to these lower level people.

In short, there are some risk rules that should never be broken, no matter how high you get. These may change as the circumstances dictate but they should always be defined. Allowing everyone to hold you accountable should be part of the any trader's 12 steps.

Chris Tucker adds: 

Is there a twelve step program for traders that habitually get out too soon?

(20 minutes to close): "Daddy will you play with me?"

"Umm, give me a couple minutes honey" says he. "Let me sell this first."

He groans but dutifully closes all positions. "What are you selling?" He makes a half-hearted attempt at explanation. Then heads outside for frisbee and badminton.

Then comes in an hour later and berates himself in disgust.

He never called his sponsor so there was no one there to say "Just hold it 'til the close bud, you can do it!"

He makes dinner all the while promising that he'll do better tomorrow. That he'll call his sponsor. That he'll keep at least one contract open, even if it kills him.

And he wonders, deep down, if he really can. Or is it going to go on like this forever.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Mr. Tucker's whimsy is actually a profound question which is not easy tested:

Over a trading career, which is better: Exiting too early or exiting too late? Over a trading career, which is better: Buying too early or buying too late? (for a long only investor)

I would argue that for most fundamentally-oriented investors, the true killer is buying too early. I believe there are mathematical underpinnings to this. Perhaps other have a rigorous analysis of this problem. I've never seen this debated on the Dailyspec.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I think it depends on how you size your way in. I find I am infinitely better to be too early — on exits as well as entries. But I scale in, gingerly, one toe into the kiddie pool at a time. But this is, essentially, entering and entering on limit orders, whereas to be late at both ends, is essentially entering and exiting on stops.

I'm very interested in your thought process as to why that would be more advantageous.

Mar

29

 One queries whether Passover, Yom Kipper, or Rasha Shauna is bearish for stocks and will say a prayer of atonement and share a torte if it turns out not so.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

You mean Sell Rosha Shana Buy Yomkippur did out-perform Buy&Hold?

Ralph Vince queries: 

But what about Passover? What about the full moon and a shorting a (very) quiet market?

Jeff Watson writes: 

Back in the pit days, during a quiet market, locals would start selling the market down to where it would trade and order flow would start coming in.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Can this be a way of creating "real world" demand?

Jeff Watson adds: 

Sure, the grain companies use this same concept in the reverse to bid up the front month to get farmers to kick out some of their stored grain into the market. Right now look at may corn/wheat spread. It is treacherous and the big grain companies are slugging it out with that spread. I'm avoiding it like the plague, just like I avoided that gold/platinum inversion 1.5 years ago that went out to $150. Too rich for my blood. Very rarely does corn trade premium to wheat. Vic even asked me about doing the trade when corn was 2 cents premium to wheat(where wheat usually commands a 50% premium to corn). I told him I wouldn't touch that trade with a 10 foot pole. In my case, fundamentals and gut instinct kept me from stepping on that land mine. It's been fighting for a week, and I just prefer to be long a little May wheat and have some other months and exchanges spread. I hate risk, and also hate gambling unless I'm the house.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

The gold-platinum, of course, was entirely different as no Gold is ever consumed. It went out to at least $225 (we should ask Rocky if he knows the high tick, and how long the price was available). To my recollection, the spread double-topped in unusually brisk manner, i.e. the record prints didn't last more than overnight.

Richard Owen adds: 

What is it about spread trades that make them so treacherous? Gold/plat, corn/wheat, the Volkswagen stub, etc.

Is it because the mis-pricing is so "obvious" that people get greedy? Because it's a matched trade, they allow too much for a positive hedging effect? And because they want to trade the spread, they focus too much on maintaining the relative basis, rather than using risk-management appropriate to a gapping short, even if it screws up the net position?

Rocky Humbert writes: 

IMHO the reason the spread trades are dangerous can be attributed to several phenomena:

1) Price Anchoring and false assumption bias. People believe that just because the spread between X and Y has been bounded previously means that this is a law. In the case of stocks, in the fullness of time, it's a good bet that every stock must eventually either merge, get taken over, divest or go backrupt. Otherwise, one stock would take over the world. This means that if you are long GM and short Ford (because it always traded within X bucks), you will eventually blowup. And because GM/F is a mean reversion trade, it has the typical person adding as it goes against you. Can you trade around it and get out at a profit? Sure. But that is intellectually dishonest versus the original motivation. I suspect trading around the position is, in reality, what most profitable spread traders do. They don't put it on, add to it and wait for total reversion. In the case of commodities, there are short-term supply and delivery issues, so even if you are conceptually right, if the convergence doesn't occur before the contract expires, you will incur a permanent loss since the mis pricing doesn't exist in the next contract. That's the case with C / Wheat right now. Corn is at a premium to Wheat in May. But at a discount in all of the other months. So you need to get the price and the timing right. Or you will lose money.

2) Difference versus percentage. I find that people look at the spread as X minus Y. They often ignore X / Y. As prices rise and decline sharply, the ratio becomes more important. But it's not how most people's minds work. For example, a 2 cent mispricing when corn is at 250 is quite different from a 2 cent mispricing when corn is at 736. Oops make that 695 (limit down)

3) False Volatility Assumptions. Assume the price of X0 and the price of Y™ and you are trading X versus Y. And assume that the spread moves up and down $1. People mistakenly think in terms of $1 on 100 … and that's not a big move. In reality, you are trading the spread of $1 and so when it moves to $2 , that's a 100% change — no different from Apple going from $444 to $888 . Don't laugh. I can't tell you how many people fall into this intellectual trap.

4) Butterfly traders. Before interest rates were pegged, I used to chuckle at the 2/5/10 butterfly traders in the bond market — who would do the trade in MASSIVE size. And they'd talk about how the 2 was cheap to the 5. Or the 5 was cheap to the 10. Deconstructing the butterfly trade revealed that (almost all of the time) the P&L of this popular duration neutral curve trade moved with the direction of the 5 year. So it really was a bet on the 5 year rising and falling. And everything was dwarfed by that.

When I was worked with Kovner, he always hated spreads. He would say that it's hard enough to get one trade right. Why add to the aggravation and try to get two or three trades right?

Mar

22

 I found a couple of (modern and historical) examples of adaptations made by the wealthy in response to increased taxes, rules and regulations. In a confiscatory environment keeping a low or unknowable profile and building below the "water table" appears de rigueur.

1) The Window Tax was introduced under William III in 1696. At the time, windows were a luxury, and it was likely the number of windows in a property would be in proportion to the size of the property and thus to the wealth of the owner. It was this seen as a progressive tax and a prototype to income tax, introduced 146 years later by William Pitt the Younger. Nevertheless, the tax was unpopular, and avoidable if windows were bricked up, as many were (and one can still see many examples of windows that were bricked up for this reason in London today). Indeed, the term 'Daylight Robbery' is thought to have its provenance in this era. The Window Tax lasted 156 years until 1851.

2)

That's just what the plutocrats are doing: digging down. Maggie Smith, of the London Basement company, which carries out basement renovations, dates the craze to the early to mid-1990s, when she noticed increasing numbers of people wanting to renovate their musty old basements. "It started quite small, with people doing 30 to 40 square meters, generally under the front of a standard Victorian London house," she says. "Then they began digging out under parts of gardens, then entire gardens, installing light wells and glass bridges to bring in natural light." Soon they built underground recreation centers, golf-simulation rooms, squash courts, bowling alleys, hair salons, ballrooms, and car elevators to the underground garages for their vintage Bentleys. The more adventurous installed climbing walls and indoor waterfalls.

source

3) The Wiki for "plutocracy" makes a comparison between the City of London and Lake Buena Vista, FL. 

Rocky Humbert adds: 

Here's another example of real estate tax arbitrage: Central Amsterdam ages back to over 700 years, but most of the buildings seen today were built in Amsterdam's "Golden age", about 250-500 years ago. The "Golden age" was the period when most of what is now known as central Amsterdam was built. Some people think it is Amsterdam's best architectural achievement. Probably the most prominent building built within this time period is the canal house. These line all the canals in the centre of Amsterdam. Every canal house was built to be unique from any other, though built with the same shape, each one was personalized with an ornamental piece, such as the gables and plaques. Another method was to put very decorative carvings on the "neck" of a house. This is called "necking".

During the time period in which these houses were built, your house taxes depended on the frontage. Meaning your taxes were determined by the width of your house. Therefore the sneaky Dutch built their houses deep and narrow to avoid severe taxing. For this same reason the staircases are very narrow and low, making it impossible to take furniture up and down them. To solve this problem hooks were put at the top of every house to winch goods up and pass them through the windows on the needed floor.

Mar

20

 The following (copied from Mebane Faber) is so counterintuitive that it's worth considering. I don't think in these terms, and there could be outliers that explain the phenomenon. But (if they did the arithmetic correctly), it is what it is….

Source:

Should You Buy at New Lows? Or New Highs?

So we tested which strategy works better: Buying near 52-week lows… or buying at 52-week highs. We looked at nearly 100 years of weekly data on the S&P 500 Index, not counting dividends. You might be surprised at what we found… After the stock market hits a 52-week high, the compound annual gain over the next year is 9.6%.

That is a phenomenal outperformance over the long-term “buy and hold” return, which was 5.6% a year. On the flip side, buying when the stock market is at or near new lows leads to terrible performance over the next 12 months… Specifically, buying anytime stocks are within 6% of their 52-week lows leads to compound annual gain of 0%. That’s correct, no gain at all 12 months later. Using monthly data, our True Wealth Systems databases go back to 1791.

The results are similar… Buying at a 12-month high and holding for 12 months beats the return of buy-and-hold. And buying at a 12-month low and holding for a year does worse than buy-and-hold. Take a look… 1791 to 2012 All periods 4.3% New Highs 5.5% New Lows 0.9% The same holds true for a more recent time period, this time starting in 1950… 1950 to 2012 All periods 7.2% New Highs 8.5% New Lows 6.0% History’s verdict is clear… You’re much better off buying at new highs than at new lows. You might not agree with it… but it’s true.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

That's a shocking result. Heavily weighted one might think to the depression period and the 2008 period, and probably not taking into account durations from hitting the new lows. i.e. the 1st new low in a period or the tenth. Probably even more copacetic to the trend followers with individual stocks.this is how Rocky and I first met, but I don't think he remembered it. A loss of mine was reported in the papers and Rocky wrote to me to memorialize what a woeful idiot I am. I wrote back saying "You seem to take great pleasure in my losses et al". But as you know, you can never win a dispute with Rocky. Now we're friends again.

Scott Brooks writes: 

I have been privileged to buy the low and sell the high on multiple occasions. It's all those other darn trades in between that drag down my return.

I had a friend tell me once that there are 50 perfect days in a year….. a bluebird sky, cool temperature, perfect humidity, occasional slight breeze (you know the kind of day I'm referring too).

Most people make the mistake of living for those perfect days. The key to a great life is to make the best of the perfect days when they arrive. And the way you make the best out of those perfect days is to make the best of the other 315 less than perfect days per year.

It's about having a good positive attitude so you can make the best out of whatever you get. And they way you do that is through practice…..you practice and practice and practice…..until a positive attitude and making the best of things becomes habit.

So make the best out of our less than perfect trades, for they are the ones that are ultimately going to define you as a person and a professional.

Jim Sogi writes: 

Amen to what Scott says. In surfing you got to go on the crappy days so you are in good shape when the big waves come. You can't just wait, like many do, for those rare perfect days. Then they are so out of shape they can't make the drop and have no legs.

Alston Mabry writes: 

I'll assume the data for 1791-1950 is more troublesome, so let's just consider this result:

1950 to 2012

All periods 7.2%

New Highs 8.5%

New Lows 6.0%

The obvious question is: When do you sell?

Jordan Low writes: 

It seems that there is never a good time to sell. You can beat 6% by say investing in short term bonds. It has to be short enough for the turnover of the strategy, so say duration of less than 1Y.

Also, the new high strategy has not really worked since 2000 with the market risk-on/risk-off, so are we in a new "regime"? Or do I keep to the strategy and pray that I will end up ahead 60 years from now — i.e. not a repeated game, you get one dice roll!

Ed Stewart writes: 

I have noted that including historic t-bill rates or alternative short term rate benchmarks as an estimate for return while in cash dramatically alters the return of long term timing models. However, I am not sure if t-bill or similar has been a fair estimate of cash holding returns - I am sure others no much better than I do.

With regard to the article idea, It does seem to be the logic of a simple trend model - something like Long on first close in top X% of range 52 week range, Flat when close in bottom X% of 52 week range. A bunch of rule sets similar to this (some type of very long term trend indicator or look-back) seem to give similar results - and like was mentioned much of the benefit comes from missing a small number of significant market declines.

In other periods (like the 90's) the models can trigger whip-saws that would likely have frustrated many "believers" at that time into giving up on them - which of course means they would have missed the benefits that accrued since 2000.

In thinking about timing models, one real benefit is that they provide a framework for the panic instinct while including a signal to get back in. The problem with the public is that they can panic, become traumatized, then never get back in until years have passed (if ever). In other words, even if one is skeptical about the future performance of timing models, such models might be a useful tool if the realistic alternative is very poor money-weighted returns with a near certainty (rather than the theoretical return of buy and hold).

A commenter writes: 

 I take the view that when any sign is known to the market, it will start to disappear; and when it is no longer a sign, it will start to reappear.

I would think it applies to this case as well. The advantage of buying at market high is not news. When was it first exploited? Were the turtles first known to the public for doing this? In the 90'es?

But anyhow, I think a plot of the returns across the time span is more meaningful (and clearly more revealing) than the average. With that, I presume that we will see the advantage of buying at market high is diminishing in the recent decade. More meaningful I think would be how much it has diminished so that we can anticipate the future when it returns.

Russ Sears writes: 

I suspected that the results depended on the period looked at. Kim gave the 250 day period results. But what happens in other periods. I looked at the S&P index from 1950-2013, with cut-off dates determined by period's length. I defined it a "first new high" if there were X day high within X days. and looked at the next X days log normal returns.

5 day period
avg     0.14%    Stdev    2.18%
         count  avg next period      T
new low  1006   0.06%                (1.24)
New high 1004   0.29%                 2.14

25 day period
avg      0.71%   Stdev    4.77%
         count  avg next period      T
new low   208    0.99%                 0.85
New high  179    0.86%                 0.44

50 day period  
avg     1.40%   Stdev     6.75%
        count   avg next period      T
new low  100     1.16%                (0.36)
New high  96     0.87%                (0.78)

100 day period  
avg      2.78%  Stdev     9.67%
        count   avg next period      T
new low  44      3.69%               0.63
New high 35      4.51%               1.06

500 day period  
avg     13.42%  Stdev    21.96%
        count avg next period      T
new low    8      8.33%              (0.66)
New high   7      7.24%              (0.74)

Mar

19

Robert Shiller, the oft-quoted Yale professor with a valuation approach that is bullish for a few hours once every decade (or so), appeared on my Bloomberg terminal late yesterday:

BN 03/18 *SHILLER SAYS STOCK MARKET IS 'OK INVESTMENT' STORY TO FOLLOW. –KARA WETZEL-0- Mar/18/2013 14:27 GMT

BN 03/18 *'I'M SAYING GO FOR IT,' SHILLER SAYS OF STOCK MARKET STORY TO FOLLOW.–KARA WETZEL-0- Mar/18/2013 14:27 GMT

BN 03/18 SHILLER SEES NO EVIDENCE OF A TURNING POINT IN HOUSING (Video)-0- Mar/18/2013 15:09 GMT

One ponders the definition of an "OK" investment from this celebrated professor? As to a "turning point":

turning point 1. a moment when the course of events is changed the turning point of his career

2. a point at which there is a change in direction or motion

3. (Mathematics) Maths a stationary point at which the first derivative of a function changes sign, so that typically its graph does not cross a horizontal tangent

4. (Mathematics & Measurements / Surveying) Surveying a point to which a foresight and a backsight are taken in levelling; change point

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

One has had the displeasure of going one on one with the Professor while he rode his stationery bike. I got him to admit that his topsy turvy 10 year correlations were absurd as they show negative correlation with future price changes for previous years, but positive correlations for current years. I also pointed out the retrospective nature and part whole nature of his data from past years on which the basis of his work was done. He held up the possibility for a while that certain pareto processes or stochastic integrals had this tendency and then indicated that his work on p/e was not very significant and had not been updated. He did not consider me an important personage at that time, (I believe Lowenstein was there to add insult to injury), and at lunch which I paid for, he showed his contempt for me (probably justified) by directing all his attention and talk to the profs at the table. Subsequently I believe he realized that he had devoted quite a few pages of one of his bearish book showing that values were crazy because the dividend model would not have been as volatile as actual prices to some of my work on world events. To add further insult to injury Prof Lo had a similar experience with him when Lo was not as respected as today.

Mar

12

As the S&P approaches its all time high, slowly but steadily, one ponders the implications as it appears to be pre-ordained with the slow but consistent rise occurring.

It is well known that the markets' volatility are auto-correlated when the jump in prices occur quickly. But if the large change in price is slow but steady such as we've seen last few weeks, does volatility increase? Does this signal reverse trends are more likely than normal? Of course this needs to be defined better, yet, I wonder if someone knows the answer(s) from previous studies?

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Russ: There are multiple answers to your question.

1. Firstly, you have to differentiate between the VIX (which is based on a "market" estimate of future volatility using live options prices) versus the actual realized volatility. It is theoretically possible — in fact, quite likely — that the VIX can diverge from actual market volatility for long periods of time. Right now, the VIX is about 11.5% and the November 2013 VIX future is 18.90. So right there, you see the market has priced in a higher VIX. Assuming that this market is efficiently arbitraged, it means that 8 month options are much more expensive than 1 month options. There is some path dependency here, but in a nut shell, it means the answer to your question is no, eh yes. (That is, Mr. Market believes the answer to your question is yes in the longer term, but no in the shorter term.)

2. Secondly, the definition of volatility is simply the standard deviation of returns. As a silly example, imagine if the S&P went up by 5% EVERY SINGLE DAY. In this absurd example, the VIX is extremely low (even though the market is going bonkers), since it's a monotonically increasing value and the change in returns every day is 0. (That is, so long as the velocity of the market is constant, there is NO volatility.) In this silly example, I would expect the spot vix to collapse (due to arbitrage) but the long term vix futures would explode. (It's important to not forget how the VIX is calculated.) Similarly, if the S&P were declining by 5% EVERY SINGLE DAY, the VIX would also collapse. Again, a stupid example. But the math doesn't lie. Of course, the historical behavior of markets is that things don't move in a straight line. But for any given period of time, markets can and do move in a straight line.

So to answer your question precisely, "if a large change in price is slow but steady does volatility increase?" one must note how the calculation is made– and one must further appreciate that monotonically increasing or decreasing markets are the very definition of low volatility. The short answer therefore is "NO".

All of this begs for (and rationalizes) why as someone who sees very little value in the S&P, I am still making some nice returns by owning short dated call options (and I periodically roll up my strike prices.) This strategy will work until it doesn't. But it's already worked long enough to justify the simplistic assumptions underlying it — which is that I neither want to be the greater fool nor the lesser fool. Just a profitable old fool who plays the hand that I'm dealt. Not the hand which I wish I was dealt. Nor the hand that will be dealt tomorrow.This period will undoubtedly end with fireworks and tears. But when and from where? That NO ONE knows. Keep things stupid and simple….

Feb

18

 Weekly, one looks at Israel's market for benchmarks and guidance as they read our mail and are so much more scholarly than we. And to do it, I often scroll through 100 returns for every world market. In looking at these, one notes that about 90 of the markets are performing significantly worse year to date than the US. Canada and Europe are up 2% on the year to unchanged versus our up 6% are typical. Only Japan is up 10% and a few Arab countries are in our ball park. In conjunction with the run 20 percentage point increase in stocks relative to bonds, and the duration of 75 days since bonds set a big max, and the dissipation of wealth in the long precious metals, and the incredible run of max after max in US stocks, and the little woman's (who is very sagacious and always gives me good advice about the market) waving of the sceptre each morning over the head "but dear, yes. You're making, but what happens when it goes down 100 points 5 days in a row. Don't give it all back", one is somewhat less exuberant than one would be without all these Cassandra like warnings. If all my kids start calling me saying that they notice they have a few bucks in money markets receiving 0% interest, and should they invest in stocks, like they did at the height of 6000 nasdaq in 2000, then I'll know it's time to join Maturin in leaning over the boat and noting the behavior of the flying fish. Hopefully, I will take my shoes off if I fall in the water.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Well put. Alas, the wife of the man who is long S&P calls because he sees little if any value in stocks (or bonds either for that matter, but accepts that the market is always right and he doesn't fight the fed or fight his wife) is already asking, "after the market goes down 100 points 5 days in a row, is that time to sell or time to buy?" The trendfollower replies, "depends on your timeframe."

Feb

5

 Two customer anecdotes:

Anecdote #1

My wife goes into Tiffany's and asks the salesperson to measure her ring size. The saleswoman looks at her with one of those "you don't belong in here" expressions and tosses her the ring of samples for sizing across the counter. (My wife measures her finger and walks out — in a moment eerily reminiscent of the scene on Rodeo Drive in the movie Pretty Woman.) 

Anecdote #2

I drop off my car at the Lexus dealer and I tell the rep that I need new brake pads and rotors. Two hours later he calls me (and I expect to hear that the bill is several hundred dollars). Instead he tells me that I'm good for at least another 5,000 miles and that he didn't do any work. The only reason I took the car in was because the mechanic who performed my required annual inspection said my brake pads were worn out.

Many business lessons here.

Jim Sogi writes:

I ordered a custom made down jacket from an outfit in Washington called Nunatak.  A guy named Tom claims he makes the garments. I"ve read elsewhere he jobs it out. They make high end outdoors gear. When I ordered it, I paid in advance and he said it would deliver in 8 weeks. Okay, I understand that. 10 weeks go by with no word, so I email…No response. I call… No response. Another two weeks go by. I email again, and get no response. I figure its a rip off scam, so I call my credit card company. The day before my expedition the guy calls and says he will mail it to my son's in LA. It never gets delivered. When I ask him, he goes off on me and says, "Wow, I apologize for setting off your anger issues….I believe Walmart has what you need in the future. Tom" This is supposed to be high end custom gear, and I would have bought thousands of dollars of gear if it was any good. Is this anyway to run a business? What an unpleasant experience. I've never had this kind of antagonism from a vendor, ever, much less a custom operation. I hope this gets put on the website so others don't have similar problems with Nunatak. The guy was not pleasant to deal with or reliable or helpful.

Mr. Kris Rock writes:

He must have been Colombian and knew from hacking your email you were headed to Argentina.

Jan

30

There is a zero sum part to trading where what one flexion makes, another high frequency or day trader or poor gambler ruined or lack of margined or viged player uses. The win win aspect is that if you hold for a reas period as almost everyone in market is forced to do, you get the drift of 10000 fold a century, except if you lived in the Iron and played a game with kings moving backwards.

Anatoly Veltman writes:

Ok, I'll say it. Drift prevails over a century. And I had no problem with drift as recently as 4 years ago, when the only true drifter I know, a prince of certain oil, was adding to his C holdings by bidding pennies.

I'm having a problem with over-relying on drift now; because now, four years later, you can only bid pennies for C if you add $42 in front of it. All the while the real economic indicators, as Chair pointed out just today, have not and will not improve much any time soon. Now tell me: why assume that there will be much of a drift effect in the near five, or maybe the near ten years? Do you expect policy improvements, or pray for a budget spiral miracle, or Europe culture unity miracle, or what other miracle?

Jeff Watson writes:

Back in 1932, the DJIA made a new all time low that wiped out 36 years of gain. Likewise, the market didn't totally recover from 1969's highs until 1982, and the market has done a 15 bagger since then. I'll stick with the drift, which is a steady wind. 

Rocky Humbert writes:

There seem to be two sorts of smart-sounding stock market pundits: (1) those who get bearish because prices have risen. (2) those who get bearish because prices have fallen. I am neither smart nor a pundit but my views of the 3-5 year upside from here (small) and current positions (long inexpensive s&p calls) are known to all.

In the face of the current seemingly relentless rise (which has used up a year's drift in 3 weeks)… I confess that I am looking at my new, over 50% combined tax rate, and positing that higher marginal rates disincentive not only my risk-taking, but also my selling (as the taxes discourage my speculative urge to sell now and buy stuff back at hopefully lower prices.)

With this in mind, an academic study might consider whether changes in capital gains tax rates result in more serial correlation (i.e. trending — as I look around three times) SHORTLY AFTER the higher taxes are imposed. And the effect diminishes over time as people become accustomed to the new regime. Obviously I would guess the answer is yes.

Kim Zussman writes:

 Increasing tax regime could be bullish:

1. additional vig against frequent trading (as if there weren't enough already) > 1a. "drift" of holding period toward longer timeframe
2. disincentive to sell = incentive to hold and/or buy (including insiders)
3. restructuring away from dividends toward stock buy-backs

Rocky Humbert writes:

Dr Z may be onto something. Does this mean if Obama raises capital gains taxes to 99%, the stock market will triple over night? 

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

1. I have no problem with counting to include the last few years
2. I have a problem with counting to include anything pre-2007, let alone pre-2001, and even more so pre-1987.

The reason I have a problem with it: historical price analysis, no matter which way analysis is performed, relies on the notion that participants have not largely changed, and that "their" psychology has not changed. This is not the case - if one goes too far back - because financial market mechanism and participant make-up has changed ever increasingly over the past decade.

One of the victims of methamorphosis was "trend-following". I believe that most previosly successful trend-following rules have died in application to regulated electronically executed markets, because most clients are now automatically prevented from over-leveraging. Thus, "surprise follows trend" rule, for example, lost potency. Nowadays, you get preponderance of surprise "against trend". That's a very significant switcharoo, which has put most of famed trendfollowers of yester-year out of biz.

Also, Palindrome was not much off, predicting the other day hedge fund outflows due to old as age "2&20 fee structure". This structure just can't survive the years of ZER environment. Huge chunk of very cerebral participation has been replaced by bank punk punters, gambling public's money for bonuses.

Gary Rogan writes:

The drift seems to be a long-range phenomenon that has existed in different stock markets for a very long time. It is therefore difficult to make predictions of its demise based on any specific factors. One thing is clear: calamities like revolutions end the existence of the market and obviously the drift. Benito Mussolini was very good for the Italian stock market for a long time, and even way into the war it kept up with inflation, but eventually it succumbed to the realities of war (in real, not nominal terms). Granted, Mussolini initially had much better economic policies than Obama, but who would really expect that faschism could coexist with a great stock market? The question still remains: will there be a total wipeout? Short of that the drift is likely to continue.

Il Duce wasn't chosen completely at random, and the question was (just a little bit) tongue-in-cheek.

I could easily make the contention, and a great case, that fascism co-exists with a great stock market right here in the USA.

Ralph Vince writes:

I think we make a huge mistake when we assume that policy affects long term stock prices. Sure, you might have seen events, like a lot of stocks seeing big ex-dates last year, before big tax theft years — but the long term upward drift is a function of evolution. Like our progress has always been — starts and fits.

Sometimes the fits have lasted 950 years! But it always comes around. I like to get up in the morning, put my shoes on, by a few shares of some random something or other. If it goes against me, buy a little more. When it comes around to satisfy my Pythagorean criterion, out she goes.

As I've gotten older, I like to do it with wasting assets, long options.

It makes it more sporting.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

I wish that we all could agree that prices only count if you can use the money . Zimbabwe's stock market does not have prices for anyone who wants use the money except in Zimbadwe. The Italian stock market was not quite that bad but close enough to make its "performance" entirely fictional from the point of view of anyone wanting to do what people now take for granted - use their dollars to buy/sell "foreign" stocks, close the trades and then take home their winnings - in dollars. That was not possible in Italy after 1922 or in Germany after 1932, for that matter.

As for Mussolini's economic policies, they were far more destructive than the President and Congress' inability to stop writing checks that the Treasury has not collected the money for. In his Battle for the Lira (1926), Mussolini decided that the currency would be fixed at 90 to the pound, even though the price in the foreign exchange market was 55% of that figure. The result was to create an instant bankruptcy for all exporters and those few remaining financial institutions that dealt in international trade. As a result Italy got a head start on the rest of the world; its Depression began in the fall of 1926. But Quota 90 did create a windfall for the Italian industrialists who were Mussolini's supporters; their costs on their imported raw materials were immediately halved. Like the German industrialists after Hitler took power, they saw their order books boom with all the government spending for guns and butter. And look how well that all turned out.

Baldi writes:

Ralph, you write: "As I've gotten older, I like to do it with wasting assets, long options."

Older? You wrote about doing just that in 1992:

"Finally, you must consider this next axiom. If you play a game with unlimited liability, you will go broke with a probability that approaches certainty as the length of the game approaches infinity. Not a very pleasant prospect. The situation can be better understood by saying that if you can only die by being struck by lightning, eventually you will die by being struck by lightning. Simple. If you trade a vehicle with unlimited liability (such as futures), you will eventually experience a loss of such magnitude as to lose everything you have. […]

"There are three possible courses of action you can take. One is to trade only vehicles where the liability is limited (such as long options.) The second is not to trade for an infinitely long period of time. Most traders will die before they see the cataclysmic loss manifest itself (or before they get hit by lightning.) The probability of an enormous winning trade exists, too, and one of the nice things about winning in trading is that you don't have to have the gigantic winning trade. Many smaller wins will suffice. Therefore, if you aren't going to trade in limited liability vehicles and you aren't going to die, make up your mind that you are going to quit trading unlimited liability vehicles altogether if and when your account equity reaches some pre-specified goal. If and when you achieve that goal, get out and don't' ever come back."

Jan

24

 If cheapskating is going to increase, we might consider whether individual stocks that cater to cheap skates might have inordinate returns. This is the kind of things that my kids might make money with in terms of the category of stock, rather than its financial characteristics. Perhaps. On another front, I believe it is important to be especially cheap after having a good year. I think of Rimm every day with grave loathsomeness.

Art Cooper writes:

It's been a market theme for quite some time to buy stocks like Family Dollar Stores, Dollar General, etc. instead of retail stocks which cater to the middle class. The high-end retail market is a different market, as it responds to different forces. 

Jeff Watson writes:

I'm always accused of being a cheap person and try to not be penny wise and pound foolish. I never pay retail for anything and try to buy only stuff that will hold value. Herb Cohen is a person I look up to. He might look a little seedy, but he makes great sense and teaches sound methods of bargaining. His first $19.95 book I ever bought was probably the best investment I ever made, saving at least a million bucks, by bargaining with some of his techniques over a 30 year period. That's a hell of a return and his techniques work…

Pitt T. Maner III writes: 

 Cheapskating is likely to be an increasingly popular topic as hidden inflation and taxes go up. Perhaps there is an opportunity for a "Global Skinflint"!

"Jeff Yeager, dubbed "The Ultimate Cheapskate" by Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show, is a very cheap guy. He re-cants, as opposed to decants, the wine he proudly serves his dinner guests, funneling cheap box wine into premium-label bottles. He believes you should never spend more than USD 1 per pound on food items. And to save time and energy costs, he soft-boils his morning eggs along with the dirty dishes in the dishwasher."

And then there is the TLC show :

"Be aware of what you're using. Victoria Hunt, who retired from her accounting career at 48 has been tracking her expenses and her income on a spreadsheet since 1989. "Every minute of every day has something to do with how I can make a better decisions financially," she points out."

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Mr. Yeager is either wasting money on his super-heated dishwasher or he's stretching the truth about his eggs. Dishwashers (generally) do not heat the water about 140 degrees. See this article on naturalhandyman. To get the egg white solid, it requires about 180 degrees. Even my Miele doesn't get the water to 180 degrees! This does not compute! (That is, he's making his money selling books. Not cooking eggs.) I would suggest that he should instead put his Pop Tarts and morning sausage on his car engine's manifold. By the time he gets to work, he'll have a well-cooked breakfast. (And he can similarly roast hot dogs on his drive home.)

Dr. Johnson writes: 

Ballyhoo? Like any good Spec, one must test, and test I did, the claim that an egg can be cooked in a dishwasher during a normal wash/dry cycle.

Equipment- Miele G5775.

Note: Perhaps not the ideal brand for testing a cheapskate's assertion.

Eggs= Phil's Fresh Farms Free Range Large 42F wrapped in plastic film.

Max Water Temperature Wash5F Max Air Temperature Dry= 185F

Time to complete cycles= 54 min wash & rinse, Dry 22 min.

Results: Egg removed immediately at end of the cycles= Yolk 134F thick and slightly flowing, settles to 1/4 height, white 151F at shell boundary with firm consistency.

Egg removed after 10 Min.= Yolk 141F thick and settles to 1/2 height, white 141F at shell boundary with firm consistency.

Conclusion: Not Ballyhoo! One important consideration for those cheapskates who want to try this method is that egg shells are semipermeable, therefore unless the taste of detergent combined with a menagerie of old food waste is to your liking, sealing the egg in plastic wrap is advisable (also which at +140 F will transmit unwanted substances).

David Hillman writes: 

Yes, let us commend Dr. Johnson both on his testing and on his using Phil's Farm Fresh Free Range eggs, the chicken egg of preference at Casa DGH…..cage-free, no chemicals, natural whole grain feed, laid in nests, and certified humane!

That said, even though my Bosch heats water to 160F and air dries at what seems to be 1200K if one opens the door during the 'sanitize' cycle and is met by a blast of superheated air, this whole business of cooking eggs in a dishwasher seems a bit impractical.

One, it seems like using a sledgehammer to place a pushpin in a cork board. Two, while the dishwasher here is run every 2-3 days, typically in the evening, eggs are a daily breakfast staple. What to do on 'accumulation' days? Three, counting time to heat water or a pan, it takes about 10 minutes to fry, poach, baste, scramble or soft boil eggs on the range. Why wait 76 minutes? Four, dishwasher cooking uses a heck of a lot of water and electricity v. range top cooking, multitasking notwithstanding.

For those who feel the need to multitask in the kitchen, there are what seem to be more practical alternatives to cooking one's breakfast eggs in the dishwasher, though at $90, this might not be thought of as 'cheapskating' …..

Pitt T. Maner III adds:

 A few older links, but possibly of interest to those seeking to find ways to ride the money-saving trend and as a possible example of a company that finds quickly (identifying trends) and uses new inventions from private inventors. Khubani the CEO started with ad in National Enquirer.:

1) From 2010: 'A.J. Khubani, the man behind many “As Seen on TV” gadgets such as the PedEgg foot scraper, is making cheapskate gimmicks a priority at his company Telebrands, one of the nation’s top direct-response TV marketing companies.

More than half of Telebrands’ gadgets, sold online and at 90,000 stores, are now focused on helping shoppers be cheap. Khubani, who has been traveling around the country to meet inventors, is speeding up the number of new products he’s launching to every 30 days from every 60 days. “The mood of the country has changed,” said Khubani. “We’ve had tremendous opportunity with this recession.”'

Since 2007, Telebrands’ revenue has doubled to several hundred million dollars, he said.

Read more.

2) The current lineup of brands.

3) From 2012: "For the first time in our company's 29 year history, TeleBrands had 15 products ranked in a single year including our most recent hits like, Slice-O-Matic, Plaque Blast, Slim Away, OrGreenic and Bake Pops," said TeleBrands' CEO/Founder, AJ Khubani. "Each year, we continue to solidify our spot as the largest and most successful marketer of DRTV products aimed at solving everyday problems and reaching mass audiences at affordable prices. In 2011 alone, we rolled-out 12 products — the most in a single year in our company's history."

Read more.

4) On Khubani from 2011:

"The son of Indian immigrants, Khubani started out at 23, spending a few thousand dollars on an ad inNational Enquirer — a move that led to his first big hit. Since then, he's sold hundreds of millions of "As Seen on TV" products, including AmberVision sunglasses, the PedEgg and Doggy Steps. He has bolstered the careers of ubiquitous TV pitchmen, including the late Billy Mays, who enthusiastically hawked products now found on the shelves of more than 100,000 retailers. Today, Khubani is the leader in the $20 billion direct consumer marketing industry, turning out more "low-tech" products than ever before."

read more.

5) Not all have been appreciative of Khubani's methods:

"But will anyone care about dust mites? Khubani wasn’t achieving much traction among his Telebrands staff with his bed-spray idea, when along came a proposal for an anti-dust-mite pillow, from a colleague Khubani mysteriously describes only as “a business associate.” It’s hardly a new concept—there are several such pillows already marketed to allergy sufferers and asthmatics. But so far, nobody has had the brilliance to incite a national panic around flesh-eating creatures that feast on human remains—and lurk in the pillow of every man, woman, and child. “The hum you sometimes hear at night?” Khubani asks eerily. “That’s the sound of 2 million dust mites eating your dead skin.” Or perhaps it’s the sound of one man in Fairfield, New Jersey, homing in on your next anxiety. "

Read more. 

Victor Niederhoffer adds: 

 Of course the main virtue about cheapskating is that it prepares you for such activities in your business. As the oil magnate said, "I am not smart enough to act one way in my personal life and another in my business. My margin is 8%, and if I gave away 8% on everything my 200,000 employees would be out of a job. So I make them pay for their telephone calls." Regrettably, the oil magnate was victimized by old man's disease (the same disease as the sage), and he was locked up in England for 20 years, with his retinue preventing him from going back to us for fear that he might change his will, and he was soporifisized by many nubile girls and other attractive women he would meet at museums. 

Funny. More important even then the fine posts with examples and tests of cheapskating is the query I have received from many of the younger hearted on the list. "Where are those museums that the oil magnate frequented?".

Gary Rogan suggests:

I suspect the Getty museum is a good place to start.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

I hope Gary means the original one in Malibu, the villa whose design Getty himself supervised but never saw. The monstrosity built on top of the landfill by the 405 is absolutely the worst place in LA for the amusements Getty had in mind. If he were alive today and living in SoCal, he would be going to OCMA to appraise the latest generation of lovelies.

Jim Sogi adds:

Eggs can be cooked sous vide at 144 -155 for 20 plus minutes for a wonderfully cooked smooth soft boiled egg with a consistent texture throughout.

Food grade hydrogen peroxide diluted to a 3% solution is an excellent way to sanitize kitchen and utensils and not toxic like chlorine. 

Jan

24

 "You could never know when the elephants would come back, but when they did they always traveled the same path" . And the natives (and R. Humbergola) were always waiting for them.

Rocky "Humbergola" Humbert comments: 

Let the record reflect the fact that I have never traded a single share of Apple stock (long or short), however, I told a friend on October 9, 2012 that if I were inclined to trade this elephant, I would have shorted some on the most primitive moving average cross. But I didn't. And so I have nothing to brag about or substantive to say except that I continue to consider AAPL the single most difficult investment possible — a melange of technology, fashion and retail — all of which are well above my pay grade. And I would add that there is compelling (statistical) evidence that a company is biased to underperform the index after a longterm charismatic CEO leaves the helm…market capitalization and valuation not withstanding. As for my belief that the S&P at its current valuation offer a likely return in the very low single digits with a 3-5 year time horizon (which is still better than fed-targeted fixed income right now), I am continuing to sell individual securities but replacing them with S&P calls with single digit volatility as this strategy will ensure that when the ephelumps turn, I will not be left with a steaming pile of dung.

I hear a bunch of people calling tops and looking at the 1962-1982 analogies and so on, but I see very few people who were formerly bullish turning bearish and I see many smart people lagging the index and I've learned that it's better to be right than to be smart and I have demonstrated a utter lack of ability at calling the market in any timeframe relevant to people who sit in front of screens all day; hence I am using the gift of low vix to ensure that when the trend changes it will occur in a way that I will be profitable and wise but only after the fact. One last thing: the SPY historical vol at 30 and 100 days is 13.1 and 12.5. The TLT vol at 30 and 100 days is 12.6 and 13.17. SPY calls at the money cost 10.4% vol; and TLT at the money options cost 12.5%. There is some predictive grist here but the proof and execution are left as an exercise for the reader.

Jan

15

After a long journey, one notes that platinum is back at a premium to gold this morning. As I am fond of saying, every market price (except 0 and infinity) gets seen at least twice. The only uncertainties are how long it takes… and how far prices move before being revisited. Next on the arcsine law agenda (with statistical apologies to Dr. Phil): The WTI / Brent oil spread….

Jan

7

 One recently waited 15 minutes after making a big purchase at Barnes and Nobles while they held me up because the computer went down and they couldn't take cash, exact payment, credit card. At the end, they sardonically told me that if I had a complaint about the wasted time, effort and treatment, I should talk to their manager. On the other side, I read in John Mackey's new book Conscious Capitalism about how when a hurricane hit a Whole Foods in Conn, the computer broke and a lower level operative without any feedback from headquarters gave everyone in the store free goods for the 1 1/2 hour that the computer was down. They got millions of good will and publicity as an unintended consequence. A study in the book shows that companies that cater to the customer, and employees and suppliers as well as the stockholders have better performance than the average. Panera and The Container Store are examples. I wonder whether this is a real effect and whether these companies will perform better or worse—- and the former will never get my business again and the latter will. What's your experience and view.

Vince Fulco writes:

My wife works in the textile area of Target, I have tried to look at its operations with a jaundiced eye as a financial analyst would. I've always felt welcomed and well treated there without their knowing we were an employee family.

anonymous writes: 

 I bumped into a colleague at Costco today who quizzed me about the recent tax changes. Not sure why he thought I would know, but after 5 minutes of listing the various relevant increases I asked, "Do you have time for more of these?" "Not really", he said, adding "You've already depressed me enough". "What are we going to do, raise fees?" he asked.

In the wake of recession we have not raised fees, and in many cases lowered them. It is better to stay busy and build good-will when people need it, and raise later when discretionary demand increases.

Increased taxes ordinarily reduce demand. But for businesses with existing demand, they are inflationary.

Maybe the FED gets what it wants (inflation preferable to deflation), and the agrarian organizers do too.

Rocky Humbert adds:

The chair asks a very important question; and the implications transcend business. With the caveat that I'm rather better at asking difficult questions (than answering them), I'd pose the question this way:

1. To what extent do people and organizations act in their self-interest?

2. If (1) is 100%, then any act of altruism MUST BE motivated by either reciprocal altruism or goodwill. If (1) is less than 100%, then any attempt to answer (1) is hopelessly complicated using a rational/analytical framework. And I won't go there since it's a moral argument.

3. A paradox arises because except for reciprocal altruism (i.e. keeping your counterparty in business so he can buy your goods and continue to service your needs), there is a irrationality that occurs for any action which isn't in one's self interest (for both the seller and the buyer) For example, if the customer is rational and self-interested, then ANY warm and fuzzy feelings towards a vendor are not rational if those warm and fuzzy feelings arise because of a historical and non repeating gesture (giving away goods during a power failure assuming that the goods wouldn't otherwise spoil.) However, in contrast, convenience IS rational and is part of the value proposition. That is, a vendor who doesn't make you wait in line when the cash register breaks has a superior product at the same price for SOME (not all) customers. And ceteris paribus, that should garner more business (for some, not all) customers *IF* he doesn't have to raise prices for a massive fault-tolerant computer system. If he has to raise prices for a massive fault tolerant computer system, then the customer who doesn't care about waiting in line won't shop there anymore. But the lone vendor who tries to gain a lasting competitive advantage by giving away milk and bread during a blackout will fail — since the goodwill generated by this will quickly fade and there's no lasting benefit to the customer.

Every economics question can be solved by recognizing that: 1) Incentives Matter. 2) Resources are limited. And … then it's simply a question of utility curves. BUT BUT BUT if there is a moral aspect to the question, then all of the rational analysis goes out the window. And that is, I think, what Whole Foods was trying to do.

Jeff Watson writes: 

 Right before Hurricane Andrew hit South Dade County and went across the state to hit Naples and Collier County, Home Depot was giving away 4×8 sheets of plywood……just had truckload after truckload, bringing it in to offload it to anyone who wanted it for free to board up windows etc.

Their main competitor, Scotty's was gouging, and charging $40 per 4×8 sheets. In the aftermath of the storm, Home Depot kept their prices down while Scotty's jacked them up. Scotty's did the same thing after Hurricane Charley. Much editorial space was spent discussing this in the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Sun Sentinel etc. Scotty's reputation suffered greatly and eventually went out of business at the end of 2005.

There was lots of bad karma and my builder friends avoided Scotty's like the plague. Scotty's said they closed all their stores because of the hyper-competitive building supplies market…..this was when Florida had the biggest construction upswing in history. Again, real bad karma. Home Depot is still a viable corporation. Because of Scotty's actions(and that of others), Florida passed a non-gouging law in 1993 which Scotty's still ignored in 2004.

Steve Ellison writes:

 In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely devotes a chapter to "social norms" (the friendly requests people make of one another) vs. "market norms" (you do x, I'll pay you y). People generally see social norms and personal relationships as being on a higher plane than mere market transactions. In one study cited by Professor Ariely, implementing fines for picking up children late at day care centers actually increased the frequency of late pickups. Before the fines, the parents felt bound by social norms and felt guilty for inconveniencing the day care providers if they were late. After the fines were implemented, a late pickup was reduced to a mere market transaction: I want to be late, and I am paying for extra service.

My guess is that companies such as Whole Foods that serve customers beyond the bounds of how customers expect a profit-seeking corporation to behave elevate themselves on the social vs. market scale and thereby gain much customer loyalty.

Russ Sears writes: 

People are cooperative beings, they want to feel they are in a partnership where one looks out for the other. While the individual is the driver of innovation and change, progress is made by the most connected in ideas. Arts, science and technology thrive is these highly cooperative environments such as the big cities. Ideas are one thing that the sum of the parts can become exponentially more.

If the business really is adding value, then they display it by highlighting cooperation with their customers. Because long term the good will makes them more resilient and able to grow.

Whereas if every transaction is a zero sum game, then the signal to the customer and investor is short term thinking. There is a tinge of buyer beware for the customer and an touch of desperation to next quarters results to the investor.

The entrepreneurs I know who are successful only do it because they love the business otherwise the risk the stress and the heartache are not worth the money or the effort.

I believe Jobs showed the world that at some point it is no longer is about the money, it is about making a difference, giving others what they want and of course "beating" your competitors. If you can do these 3 things well it is like having a blank check written by the world.
 

Gary Rogan adds:

 Yes, that's another way of looking at the situation. But Jobs is Jobs, and regardless: when confronted with a situation where a person (or an entire business enterprise) who doesn't know you from Adam is particularly accommodating and friendly to you, you have to decide whether (a) that's just how they are (b) they are doing this to get repeat business as a calculated move (c) they are conning you (d) they saw you and really fell in love with you. The thing is, it could be any combination of these or something else. All I'm saying is that a "they are giving stuff away" or some equivalent to "therefore I will make them by business/partner of choice for a long time" isn't always the most rational thing to do. One really should only feel gratitude to people who are doing it for un-selfish reasons while recognizing that a good businessman will often behave "nicely" as opposed to being a jerk.

Clearly almost all expressions of "good will" and cooperative behavior by businesses are self-serving. The rare exceptions are of the nature of some owner or executive clearly touched by the misery of his customers and/or employees and doing something good for them just because. Cooperative, reliable, and resourceful businesses do add value by not wasting their customer's time and money and not aggravating them, so often everybody wins. Sill in many of these situations have to be analyzed carefully because you are typically not dealing with friends or relatives. Otherwise one can become a "victim" of deception, as someone who buys a company's product because its advertising agency made a particularly effective commercial that is often in no way related to the quality of the product. 

Jeff Rollert writes:

I'd like to share a story that happened this weekend.

A number of you know my hobby is racing sailboats. Well, I'm on a number of forums and they have members that range from the grouchy to super nice and helpful.

About six months ago, a fellow I'd never met or spoken to offered to lend me a sail to test an idea I had been struggling with. There was not a request on when to give it back; in fact it was open ended. After dealing day in and day out with the squids of our occupation, the offer seemed too nice. Something worth $200-$500? Just drive over to my house and you can have it. Really? This is Los Angeles!

Well, in a race this weekend we all got to talking about boats we had owned and one of the guys had the same as mine. We started to compare notes, forums, parts suppliers etc.

It turns out he was the guy who made the offer. I was ashamed at how genuine and nice a guy he was, and what I had suspected.

I only bring this up as a probability point…no matter how pissed you can get at humanity, the percentage of genuinely nice folks is always above zero. I'd forgotten that lesson.

You guys often remind me of that lesson too!
 

Nov

30

Specs should note that a new 0.20% tax on French stock purchases goes into effect on 12/1/12. This will provide a nice laboratory experiment of the effects of a Tobin Tax in the age of HFT.

If you like to arbitrage TOT against other global oil companies, consider yourself warned! The tax applies to ADR's too.

Nov

11

 As noted previously by a spec, and confirmed in today's WSJ, trendfollower John Henry is leaving the money management business — having had his assets dwindle from 2+ Billion to well under $100 million.

JWH will be ensured a footnote in financial history if only for his purchase of the Red Sox. As to his money management, his latest disclosure document is here. Interested specs might want to download it for posterity — so the facts and track record will never be in dispute…and before he shuts his website down (which will presumably happen forthwith.)

There's a lot of grist for statisticians in his track record — including the fact that he has no visible, continuous track record from his launch in 1982 to his retirement this year. The closest thing to a track record is his financial & metals portfolio which launched in 1984 and which closed in 2011. And even here, the results have an asterisk (reminiscent of certain baseball hall of fame members' asterisks). Henry claims a 252% return in 1987, but the asterisk reads, "The timing of additions and withdrawals materially inflated the 1987 rate of return. The three accounts that were open for the entire year of 1987 achieved rates of return of 138%, 163% and 259%.

Anyway, for this fund, he claims a 27 year compounded rate of return of 19.8%. And if you eliminate the home run in 1987, I reckon his lifetime record is around 14% — which isn't too shabby. His worst years in this fund were 2009 at -17%, 2005 at -17%, 1999 at -19%. So his average 19.8% compounded return over a lifetime matched his maximum drawdowns — and that's pretty darn good in my book — certainly hall of fame material for a 27 year run.

Unfortunately, his other funds have not performed anywhere close to this fund. He shuttered a bunch of funds that were disasters (and doesn't report those results) ; and his other open funds have returns nowhere close to this fund (and much higher volatility.) So a skeptic could rightly attribute the aforementioned 27 year return to a combination of luck and survivor bias. I am agnostic. It is what it is.

More interesting to me is the fact that from 1985 to about 1996, his returns really were consistently excellent. You can see them on page 43 of the pdf. Then something happened. And so the point of this entire post is for people to consider the question: WHAT HAPPENED AFTER 1997? Did the world change? Did he change? Did he have too much capital?

I have some theories, but before I weigh in with my theories, I'll allow others to chew on this… There's many meals to be found in correctly answering this question.

Richard Owen writes:

A component seems to have been the purchase of a groin guard: Beginning in August 1992, the position size in relation to account equity in this program was reduced approximately 50%.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Some great points, because I believe trend-following died exactly when the leverage left the regulated exchange trading, which went all electronic; and moved to exclusively OTC derivative biz, which is more flexionic. An easy example, a rule that used to work well in futures of the open outcry era: surprise (i.e. big intraday price change) follows trend. Don't try to fade a market that's been gradually and continually trending, as you are likely stepping in RIGHT IN FRONT OF FORCED LIQUIDATIONS. But since electronic execution prevented over-leveraged position-taking, this rule muted up: nowadays, it may well be a profitable strategy to fade prolonged trend - as more surprises began to SUDDENLY correct overdone trends

anonymous writes:

Hard to tell without analyzing the cash flows, but I propose JWH followed the time honored tradition making great returns on a small assets base then poor returns on a much larger asset base.  The compounded annual rate of return may look very good, but in absolute dollars making a large contribution of investor funds to the market infrastructure.  Paulson is carrying on the tradition more recently.  On the performance degradation I sense from interviews I have read he developed his trading ideas in the 70s and did not modify much since then.

Nov

9

 It's now been 12 days without electricity. And unlike Bo (who lives in
boxcars), I'm still paying the highest real estate taxes in the nation.
So, turning lemons into lemonade, here is a list of things I've learned:

1. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when
you lose your job.  A storm is when your neighbor loses his electricity
for 12 days. A catastrophe is when you lose your electricity for 12
days.

2. ConEdison has a real time outage map. It is updated every 12 minutes. But you cannot view the map unless
you have electricity. Ironic. It provides the date and time of
restoration to the nearest minute. Their precision is eerily reminiscent
of companies that guide earnings to the nearest penny.

3. Beware of the weakest link. Where we live has no town gas. We have a
well. So without a generator, we can't flush toilets.  But the generator
runs on propane. And that's the weakest link.  Getting a propane
delivery is almost impossible.

4. Bad incentives create bad behavior. Our propane company told us that
they are only making deliveries to customers who have run out of fuel.
But we were running our generator only a few hours per day to CONSERVE
fuel so we would not run out. Hence our responsible behavior was not
rewarded. And profligacy was rewarded. Only after I pointed this out to
the propane company manager and threatened that I would make it a
personal mission to go door-to-door afterwards and convert all of my
neighbors to a competitor did we receive an 80 gallon delivery. (The
generator burns between 2 and 4 gallons/hour.)

5. People don't change. Our neighbor who built a 12,000 square foot
McMansion (that blocked our view) was running his generator 24/7 and
running his landscape lighting 24/7. I was looking forward to a good
night's sleep without his lights coming into the bedroom window. No such
luck.

6. Send more food gifts to our troops.  They were distributing beef stew
MRE's and water bottles at the local firehouse. After things return to
normal, I'm going to send more food baskets/etc to our troops. Those
MRE's are rude.

7. Traffic lights are optional. On the first few days, there were
horrible traffic jams since all of the lights are out. However, by day
5, a self-enforced ritual developed at 4 way intersections where people
yielded to the person on their right … and things actually
worked…not perfectly, but surprisingly good.

8. Francis Galton lives. Next week is the deadline for the Intel Science
Talent Search (formerly known as the Westinghouse Science Competition.)
My daughter is submitting the results of a 3 year research project in
an arcane and slightly bizarre topic. As we sat by candlelight reviewing
her hardcopy for typos, I discovered that she had made a reference to
Sir Francis Galton's work in her paper and she cited him. There is some
irony that in 2012, a promising young scientist is editing a paper by
candlelight that cites Galton. I pointed out the irony to her. She
didn't smile. She just said that all of her friends have electricity.

9. Some people like to complain. Some people lost a few trees. Some
people had trees crash through their roofs. Some people literally lost
their houses. Some people have no generators. Some people were annoyed
that school was closed for a week. A few people lost friends and family
to the storm. Listening to people, there was little self-awareness of
relative fortune and mis-fortune. Lots of people asked how we were
doing. My answer was: it sucks. But a lot of folks are much worse off.
And this too shall pass….
Que Sera Sera

10. Out of state line crews are nice guys. I've now had the pleasure to
chat with crews from Wisconsin, Maine, Atlanta and Alabama. All of these
guys are part of the mutual aid system. Sure they are getting paid time
and a half plus a per diem. But these guys are clearly aware of the
importance of their mission. And they are proud of it.  And they don't
bitch and moan. They get the job done. And that's what makes America
great.

Are there any market lessons here? We report. You decide.

Scott Brooks adds:

Speaking of traffic lights and/or stop signs…….

At my university, there was an intersection in one of the parking lots that was a bit of a bottle neck (actually, it was a big bottle neck). Vehicles
approached the intersection from directions. It had no stop sign, or light,
or anything. But the students developed their own system wherein each car
would take their turn pulling out into the intersection. Your turn came in
a clockwise fashion. It actually worked very well. It was all on the honor system and there were no posted rules.

Conclusion: people will figure things out on their own over time, and not a single law was passed by a bureaucrat and not a single regulator was needed
to make it work.

Nov

6

 One has to believe that the realization that we will be living with the idea that has the world in its grip from the executive office for another 4 years will become accepted today with the exit polls and that a certain revulsion will take place. Yet stocks are still very low relative to the fed model for all time frames so that the revulsion should not be catastrophic.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

As I have previously demonstrated with regard to the monthly job reports, EVEN IF one can predict the data, it is impossible to consistently predict the terminal market reaction with any statistical significance at a given/terminal moment in time. And making predictions that X price will be hit (when X isn't statistically significantly far away) is an empty statement. Hence I submit that The Chair should acknowledge that his comment below is an illustration of a statement that cannot be wrong. At any given moment in time, there is a high probability of some revulsion. 365 days per year. And the definition of "catastrophic" is a function of leverage, not price. And that stocks are low relative to the fed model is an empty statement unless he believes that bond prices cannot go down. Lastly, the Average True Range of the S&P is currently about 15.5 points. So any statement that predicts a move of up to 15.5 spu points is most likely to true. I'd say that one needs a move of more than 31 spu points to be "revulsion."

But for proof and in the Franklinian spirit — I will send a unique prize of dubious monetary value to any Spec who can predict BOTH the winner of the presidential election AND the closing SPX price for tomorrow (Wednesday) within 3 SPX points. All submissions should be mailed to the speclist.

HOWEVER, I will make a final prediction. IF Romney wins. And IF Wednesdays close is more than 16 points below today's close, then there will be a very substantial decline between now and year end. How substantial? Enough for the Chair to call "catastrophic."

Sep

27

 This site is devoted to the scientific method… expectations, the real world, actual decisions that people make under uncertainty. Any individual taking an economics course learns that consumer choice takes into consideration a myriad of expectations about the future subject to constraints and substitutions and alternatives. Please go back to the economics texts to see why prediction markets are much more accurate than polls. The prediction market is 75% for the incumbent. That's an all time high. Gentleman, does it have to go to 99% before you see that people actually making bets with their money is a much better predictor of outcomes than a poll? A good article assessing accuracy of expectations and margins of error for predictions versus polls is by Berg. Please. No more self supporting ideas about how close the polls are.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

Ouch. Since all my ideas are self-supporting, I can only confess to absolute guilt. I also have to agree that money is and should be the litmus test. Intrade is not about money, however. The current "market" for Obama is 1 share offered at $7.51 and 104 shares asked at $7.46. Their comment stream, on the other hand, is unending; it dwarfs even the Huffington Post in frequency. Polls matter precisely because they are about money. They are the only device the campaigns (including the supposedly independent issue ones) can use to decide where to spend their advertising dollars and where to schedule the candidate appearances. Professor Berg's assertions about Intrade's markets are 10 years old; they also go back to the golden age when those markets themselves were so obscure that they were, indeed, pure. They are anything but that now, even if they remain shallower than the Platte River in September. I suggest that we all look at these questions the way the advertisers and producers look at audience ratings in television and radio; the overnights matter but P&G, Colgate and the car companies all want to see the internals so they can decide where to put down their next bets. What everyone knows is that trusting the raw numbers during sweeps week is not the best way to decide how to spend the hundred million dollars required to launch a new household cleaning product.

Jeff Watson writes: 

If polling offers more predictability than incentive markets, then perhaps one should look at the paper traders for guidance in the markets.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Unless someone changed the law when I was not looking, it is unlawful for a US Citizen to bet on Intrade. When I tried to open an Intrade account several years ago, this fact was made very clear to me by the Intrade people. (And I didn't open an account.)

Hence you either have the US Election being predicted/decided by non-voters. Or you have the US Election being predicted/decided by Americans who flaunt the law.

I report. You decide.

Jason Ruspini adds: 

Liquidity used to come in during US hours and looking at just the past two days for the Obama contract, that still seems to be the case. The federal law that might be most relevant for listers is the Commodity Exchange Act. With Cantor movie futures and Nadex, the CFTC signalled jurisdiction over prediction markets, which would make Intrade an illegal commodity exchange. I guess they are busy with other things…

I have a theory that the hassle of wiring money in clips of less than $10k coupled with the margin system (you post $6 to buy a 60% contract but $4 to sell it) means that not only are the markets thin, but prices tend to be closer to 50% than they otherwise would, beyond the usual longshot issue near extremes.

EDT Hour    Volume

0                111

1                 36

2                 193

3                 60

4                 198

5                 283

6                 148

7                   22

8                  297

9                  537

10                270

11                3334

12                6621

13                1883

14                3079

15                2819

16                  262

17                8171

18                1961

19                6897

20                 101

21                 346

22                 536

23                 400
 

Sep

25

Lest all you smug one-percenters, clipping your muni coupons while sitting in your Nantucket, Hamptons and Tahoe homes, think the fiscal cliff is a good (or completely irrelevant) thing, then think again. Your muni bonds, and especially your Build America Bonds are rather naked as this sea goes out…and it's not just the airports, toll roads and water treatment plants that issued Build America Bonds. Some states (including California) issued GO's backed by these 35% Federal subsidy payments. From the Bond Buyer (yes, they're still in business): WASHINGTON — The threat that federal subsidy payments for Build America Bonds could be slashed under the sequestration process after administration officials assured issuers those payments were safe could permanently sour the muni market on BABs and other direct-pay bonds, market participants said Monday.In a report sent to Congress Friday, the Office of Management and Budget said that, of $4.241 billion of subsidy payments authorized for issuers of BABs and other direct-pay bonds in fiscal 2013, 7.6% or $322 million would be cut early next year. The cuts would come under the legally mandated process by which $1.2 trillion would be cut from federal programs across the board because Congress failed to reduce the federal deficit last year, and the "fiscal cliff" looms.

Full link here.

Sep

23

To what extent will the expansion of the Fed's balance sheet, the QE3 and presumably more when this one doesn't work cascade around and lift other markets. Will the markets that have gone up the most so far like the grains and metals go up more than those markets that are relatively stagnant? How could this be profited from?

Rocky Humbert writes:

As one of the early believers in the market-moving potential of QE1, I suspect that my response to this inquiry may be surprising to some: I think that the idea that this qe3 and more will cascade and lift markets from here is presumptuous — and quite likely wrong. I posit with only a slight bit of quantitative evidence that we are approaching the point of diminishing marginal returns for QE. This is primarily because the move from 0 to 1Trillion was an infinite growth in the Fed's balance sheet. But the move from 3Trillion to 3.5Trillion is only a 16% increase. In other words, the Fed would need to engage in exponentially increasing amounts of QE to achieve the same effects. Additionally, the institutional memory of the market has now accepted the Chair's perception as conventional wisdom, so I think the half-life of QE effects are much shorter than previously. Lastly, I note that corn peaked on August 21st (the Fed largely telegraphed QE3 and announced it on September 13) and it has declined 11% since then. Oil peaked (so far) on 9/14 (the day after the fed announcement) and has declined about 8% since then. The Chair and I disagree on the underlying proposition. Hence, all is right with the world.

Sep

6

I disagree that the Fed is the major long term source of how governments are affecting the markets. This is a short term, old school way of thinking. Not that a trader can ignore this.

The major source, I believe, is benefits to seniors and the uncertainty that surrounds them. This is a global issue. The current projectories are clearly unstable, but the politicians have turned it into brinkmanship maneuvering of Euro and budgetary fiscal cliffs.

If in the 80s we conquered inflation by finally understanding wage expectations, in the 21st century will we conquer deflation and societal extreme risk aversion by benefit expectations? Is there an answer? Are we doomed to politicians promising and giving in the short term more than is possible in the long term for the vote? If so, where and when must it all come crashing down?

Gary Rogan writes:

You say in the 80s we conquered inflation by finally understanding wage expectations. I thought inflation was conquered by raising interest rates by a huge percentage. Is that not the case?

Russ Sears replies:

Yes, that was "how" it was accomplished, I am suggesting "why" it had to be done that way. It was the wage price spiral or "inflation expectations". They had to convince people they were serious in lowering inflation long term. Not flood the world with $ every time it was politically expedient to do so.

Gary Rogan adds: 

I realize there were inflation expectations and they were blamed for inflation, but fundamentally there was just too much money being created. I don't think we disagree, I just learned to think of inflation expectations as being derivative to the money supply. Whatever the details of inflation creation, you cut the money supply and inflation will be gone sooner or later. Less money = lower inflation, whatever people believe.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

If anyone can demonstrate with any degree of quantitative rigor

(1) How politics can be quantified.

(2) How politics can be predicted.

(3) How either of these things can be useful to investing in an objective way, then I will embrace political discussions wholeheartedly.

But before you folks try to go down that path, I have to point out that if you own stocks, you should pray for Obama's re-election. (hah)

David Lilienfeld writes: 

The assumption on the Dem vs Rep analysis is steady-state, i.e, the structure of the economy is steady-state. In the age of globalization, that's probably not true anymore, so the analysis, while interesting, isn't informative about what the future might hold. Further, I don't think it will much matter which party wins the Oval Office economically since both parties are going to try to spend like crazy. The alternative is to control the deficit, which may have long-term benefits but which will have short term political pain. In an age of instant gratification, I doubt that the politicians of either party are willing to take the chance that their prescription for the economy will show its benefits before the next election. Just as Wall Street analysts live and die by the next quarter's earning, so too do politicians. Call me naive, but spend and let someone else figure out how to deal with the consequences has become as American as apple pie. I see neither political party providing any basis to suggest otherwise.

Aug

30

One has noticed anecdotally that the % of leaked announcements tends to be increasing. Many of the announcements are relayed to the media about 1/2 hour before the release, like the beige book and the employment numbers. The reason is that these media write a story about the number almost simultaneously with the announcement. Many of the stories are 500 to 1000 words and contain interviews with several people talking about the bullishness or bearishness, related to the numbers.

It's sort of like when the government calls up Upside Down, or Sage, or the Greek 4 trillion investment office for guidance on what they're thinking and what should be done. I've always said that the acquisitions get leaked because all that's necessary is a shrug of a shoulders at a squash game between an acquisitions team member and the Chinese wall separated speculator or arbitrageur.

The documented number of cases where sophisticated signaling and front running went on for years emanating from the legal offices of the targets or acquirers shows how rampant it is. One wonders if we've become more jaded, more skeptical, more attuned to this as we see the attitude towards the importance of a level playing field constantly being batter away as we become a society of equality of outcomes rather than a society based on the equality of opportunity,or as Gaynor used to say a society based on the rule of law rather than men.

How could this be quantified? And is the social trend I allude to a necessary consequence of egalitarianism and class warfare rampant today?

Rocky Humbert writes:

DOL among other data providers have allowed reporters early access to the numbers for years (to write their stories). The data & stories were embargoed until the official release time. It used to be that they (literally) had the phones in the press room turned off. That approach doesn't work too well in the age of 3G.

I'm always amused when the Chair bemoans the "unfairness" of it all, simultaneously arguing for the abolishing all sanctions for insider trading. Assuming that there is more leaking (which I have no factual basis to believe or disbelieve), it should make the markets more efficient….

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

Rocky has a good point. But ever since I wrote my article Insider Trading with Lorie in Jrl of Law and Economics, 50 years ago [Ed.: actually 44 years ago], I have never agreed with professor Manne that insider trading is harmless. It takes money away from one group and gives to another. It's a dead weight cost. As for the reporting thing, I think that the leaks are a lot more prevalent now and perhaps it's because of better ability to send info over the channels before the release. The reporters shouldn't get the stories in advance in my view because they're leaking them much better. That's my hypothesis. It's nice to have rocky back to disagree with me on all my hypotheses.

Aug

8

The Gini  ratio is a commonly used measure of income inequality. Historical GINI data by year is available here.

Higher GINI ratio is greater inequality, and has been widely discussed GINI has risen 1948-2010. This data was used to calculate year-to-year change in GINI, and yearly rate of change was partitioned by presidential party: Democrat (1) and Republican (2). Mean GINI yearly rate of change for the two presidential political parties was compared:

Two-Sample T-Test and CI: yr change GINI, D(1) VS R(2)

Two-sample T for yr change GINI

D(1)
VS
R(2)  N    Mean   StDev  SE Mean
1     27  0.0012  0.0206   0.0040   T=-0.58
2     36  0.0038  0.0135   0.0023

The mean yearly rate of change in GINI for both parties was positive (income inequality increasing). Though during Republican administrations the rate increased about three times faster than during Democrats, the difference was not significant (there is no statistical difference in the rate of increase in GINI).

The attached plots yearly change in GINI vs year. One notes the dispersion in yearly GINI change was much higher pre-1980. A possible explanation for this would be changes in the US central bank's approach to the business cycle ("the great moderation")

 

David Lilienfeld writes: 

I have a different take. Prior to 1980, it looks like there is a pretty clear positive slope, whereas after that the line is pretty flat. That strikes me as counter-intuitive.

Ron Schoenberg writes: 

I would like to see an analysis based on wealth rather than income which I believe would show a significantly greater inequality. Also, the data referred to below apparently doesn't include capital gains. I believe the results are understating true inequality. 

Rocky Humbert wonders:

And how does Ron propose to apportion the so-called wealthy people's share of Federal, State and Local debt? Of the trillions of unfunded liabilities through out the public sector?) Does he propose to allocate it based on "wealth" or per capita? And if he apportions it per capita, how does it deal with the fact that per household debt cannot possibly be serviced by per household income.

It's all reminiscent to the way that a couple going through a contentious divorce to do it: The wife says: "I'll keep the house." Husband: "Ok."Wife: "And I'll keep the dog." Husband: "Ok." Wife: "But you take the debt." Husband: "But, but…."

Aug

8

 Much ink has been spilled about the inter-generational wealth transfer required by the looming Social Security/Medicare implosion, as well as the massive under-funding of many public pension funds. But as the Ginsu Knife commercial hawker says, "Wait, there's more!"

I recently stumbled upon a Pennsylvania Court case, "Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. John Pittas." In essence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that children are financially responsible for their parent's care (i.e. nursing home bills).

Evidently, there are 29 states which have statutes which could require adult children to provide financial support for their parents, and giving the financial condition of Medicaid, this is a precedent worthy of study. Interestingly, this so-called Filial Responsibility Law could be simultaneously hailed by Social Conservatives and assailed by Fiscal Conservatives.

This could also be the first step towards multi-generational "means testing" for social benefits… and which could close the loophole that encourages wealthy elderly to distribute their assets to heirs and then receive public support. This May, 2012 link from Forbes discusses the ruling: (If you Google the court case, you can find much deeper analysis too.) One posits that Grandma may soon be leaving the nursing home and moving back to the attic… sitting in her rocking chair…proving once again that Alfred Hitchcock was ahead of his time!

Aug

3

 To my knowledge, there has NEVER before been a case (except in war or natural disaster) when a legitimate business has been destroyed so quickly — as what Knight Capital Group (KCG) experienced.

Every business takes risks. Every business can experience disasters. But in screening businesses, what are the idiosyncratic risks that can (permanently) destroy a legitimate enterprise in a time frame so short that long-term investors have almost their entire investment vaporized before they even bring in the morning paper? Does Mr. Market correctly value these low-probability risks? If one isn't Mr. Nassim Taleb, how does an investor calculate the probability of such an event (and still be a profitable long-term investor)? Are certain business more prone to (as the Discovery Channel TV show is called) "Destroyed in Seconds" ?

Here are some examples:

1. Single factory. In 2008, Imperial Sugar had their only mill explode and burn down. They had business interruption insurance, but never fully recovered and were eventually acquired by Louis Dreyfus corporation.

2. Concentrated Customer. Businesses that have more than 50% of revenues associated with a single customer can have a virtual firestorm. There are numerous examples of this, but the implosion is usually associated with a credit/liquidity event.


3.
Concentrated Lender. Businesses that are dependent on a single source of funding (e.g. Bear Stearns) can implode when that liquidity disappears.

4. Supplier. Businesses are vulnerable to the "weakest link." If a supplier that makes a tiny, but critical, widget fails to deliver — it can bring an elephant to its knees. This is an insidious risk, since investors know about the largest customers, but they probably don't know about the tiny providers on the supply chain.

5. Fraud. Employee/Executive fraud and embezzlement can go on for years with only very subtle warning signs. Unless the CEO/CFO is involved, it's rare that the fraud is sufficiently large to bring down the entire company. And I'm sure there are dozens of others. What is the theme and lesson here? Interestingly, it's the same lesson for successful investors: Diversification reduces risk of disaster. Insurance reduces risk of disaster. Multiple sources of liquidity and reasonable leverage reduce risk of disaster. Reasoned human judgement reduces the risk of disaster. But in the case of Knight Capital (in which I am not an investor), I'm left scratching my head. How is it even possible that any business could burn through their entire balance sheet before the grownups pull the plug out of the wall outlet? The only answer is stupidity. And that they did blow up is bittersweet — because it means capitalism is working. (And if you are an investor in Interactive Brokers, you should probably hope that Mr. Peterffy is a bit smarter than that.)

Aug

2

 Why is Knight Capital down so much in price, down 1/3 to 6.95?

Rocky Humbert replies: 

I was traveling for the past two days and missed this Nite saga.

BUT:

1. For all you folks who love to 'diss the HFT folks (because they have a license to mint money), here is a company that managed to lose $440 million (see this morning's press release) in about 15 minutes. That's 2.6 YEARS of pre-tax income in the blink of an eye. What the not-so-great hft folks are realizing is that the business has become crowded and seems now to resemble the old brokerage business: One leveraged client going belly-up can put you out of business. (Here, one software bug can put you out of business. And at least with a deadbeat customer, you can beat them up in the alley, so to speak.)

2. One is appreciative of the Chair's humility in using the phrase "famous last word." On a quantitative note, I wonder whether severe gap down moves IN INDIVIDUAL STOCKS have any predictive ability — for either continuation or a bounce (in a multi-day/multi-week timeframe.) Over the years, I've stopped buying falling knives of this sort as I concluded that the person hitting my bid probably knew more than me. But I've never tested this carefully, nor would I know how to test without introducing biases. (The S&P Index is very different of course…)

Jul

31

 Are there any events these days that make people inordinately happy or sad. Perhaps these would influence the market? An event like an earthquake or a mass tragedy in a theater would seem to qualify. Perhaps there are classes of events that effect particular groups like flexions that cause them to be happy or sad that have a measurable effect also, like intervention by the EC, or the Fed. What do you think? Is it worth quantifying?

Rocky Humbert comments: 

Yes, there are such events. Flying a Boeing 767 into a tall office building is one such example.

Scott Brooks writes: 

Not sure this is an event, but…..the realization that massive fraud is occurring. For instance:

The Accounting debacle (i.e. Arthur Anderson, Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, etc.) of 2001.

The Mortgage Fraud Debacle of 2008.

Jordan Neuman writes:

The 2003 rally began with the freeing of Elizabeth Smart. Certainly the market was sold out, but I thought a collective sense of gratefulness served as a catalyst. But file this one under the difficulty of setting up the study.

Craig Mee writes: 

Potentially state dinners and the like, when the flexions are busy cleaning their shoes and are getting ready for another free meal. Maybe that's why silly season (late Nov through December) appears to do ok. Plenty of back slapping, industry awards and the like. Also maybe Oscars week (or award month) is a winning combo for listed movie stocks.

Jim Sogi adds:

Here's a couple of ideas. Use facial recognition software to detect a "smile" tune in all the security camera in the world, process for correlation. It's a bit big brother-ish, but there are cameras all over in cities now around the world.

How about using beer sales? Old Chinese proverb: If you want to be happy for two hours, drink wine; if you want to be happy for two years fall in love. If you want to be happy forever, take up gardening.

Track marriages.

Track gardening sales, or farming yields. It's said one of the few real producers of wealth is farming. Good weather=good farm yield=good production=happy markets.

Jul

18

 I recently read the wiki page about The Endowment Effect.

Basically, it says the one values his possession much more than others value it.

Thaler conducted the following experiment. He randomly gave some participants a mug, which sells for $6 in a store. He then asked the ones now owning the mug to give a minimum price below which they would not sell the mug, and asked the ones not having the mug to give a maximum price above which they would not buy the mug. It turns out that the owners valued it for $5.25, while the bidders valued it at $2.75. He concluded that the very fact that the persons owned the mug made them give it a higher value.

Very interesting research. But I wonder if the conclusion is as that simple.

First, I wonder what would happen if the owners were asked to buy another mug. How would they now value it? Since it is not a critical item to have and they already own one, it is reasonable to believe that they would bid an even lower price than the bids from those who didn't own it, isn't it?

Second, what about selling short is allowed in the experiment? If the people who didn't own the mug were asked to price it if they would sell it short. I bet their price would be even higher than what the owners offered, and very likely be higher than the $6 store price.

Any input on this, please?

Gary Rogan writes:

Leo, I'm not sure it's productive to attempt to extend these "effects", and there are many of them, beyond their original definition without doing actual experiments. This particular effect seems to be as simple as "defend what's yours harder than you would attempt to get the same thing from someone else", one of the ancient evolutionary developments. Primitive (as well as advanced) animals demonstrate the same effect when fighting for territory, that's why the challenger loses most of the times. Of course someone who has a relatively useless (from their original standpoint) mug to begin with doesn't want another one. Personally I find it more interesting to think about the practical value of the original effect. In the behaviorist books it's supposed to manifest itself by "holding on to losers too long". Every time I read this I always think about whether the logical conclusion is that a rational person should always sell "losers". Sometimes they bring up the tax loss effect, and that's fair but it doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Considering this question, and all the robotic trading that goes on, how would one take advantage of this effect? 

Pitt T. Maner III writes: 

The self-storage business might be an area where this effect is felt most strongly. There is a lot of rent money being paid (by baby boomers and those who have left houses) and property used to store old things instead of buying new.

Rocky Humbert writes:

This is a fascinating subject for exploration. Being only slightly tongue-in-cheek, I wonder what effect negative real interest rates have on the willingness of people to hold onto "junk" ? To the extent that "the cost of carry" (i.e. monthly rental fees) are small, hoarding is a rational behavior. Also, there was an article in the WSJ last week discussing the effects of "clutter" on marriages and home life. Lastly, there may be a "depression-era" and "aging demographic" effect occurring here. In the situations where I've (sadly) had to empty out elderly relative's apartments, I've discovered that depression-era people hoard useless things like return envelopes from bills, archaic car and doorkeys, memorabilia from bygone days, etc. I think that there are many interesting factors at work in this trend — and there is market-related utility in thinking about them.

Jim Sogi writes:

It's really hard getting rid of one's "junk". There is a weird attachment to the stuff. Its almost painful to throw stuff away. Then there's the issue of getting rid of the junk, and then needing that item the next day. Feng Shui has some good tips on clearing the clutter. There must be some sort of hardwired effect causing one to collect stuff. Look at the bag people pushing around carts of junk.

Craig Mee writes: 

I'm with you, Jim, and in the tropics, clutter, dirt and smells brings mosquitoes, which is a very good reason to keep things clean.

On a side note. I've had a lot of trouble with mosquitoes, though I went to a friend open air villa the other evening , and when dusk hit, no mosquitoes ? I looked around and put it down to a) everything was white, walls , furniture, coverings, a well cared for garden, two ceiling fans, (some sea breeze) and importantly I thought …lights under the table we were sitting at. ie everything was clean , tidy, and white, with air.

Further, I read once, if you haven't worn clothes for a season, toss them. That's certainly worked for me.

No doubt those who make money in one particular stock , get attached, (you see it)…it clutters their mind, and they will drag any positive out of fundamentals, value, whatever to get back involved. Got to clear the clutter, or put it out of sight, to free the mind.
 

Rudolf Hauser writes:

In considering the impact of the pure psychological effect on value from ownership, one should not ignore the economic effect. The cost of the purchase is not just the purchase price of the item but the value of all the effort that went into finding the item in the first place and how difficult it might be to be able to buy it again. Then there is the risk of the replacement being defective or other problems in the acquisition thereof that might happen. One also has to consider the potential cost of needing an item and not being able to acquire its replacement in time to meet that need. As an example, I once wanted to buy a new ink eraser to replace the one that wore out. I then found that I had to run around to seemingly countless stores to find this inexpensive item –an effort countless times more expensive in opportunity cost than the price of the item itself. Needless to say, when I finally found the item, I purchased a whole box full to insure that I never would have to spend so much in search costs again for that item. Nor would I have sold those again except for much more than I paid for them.

As for the psychological impact, say one has purchased an object of great beauty at a price that subsequently appreciated considerably. The new higher price might be one at which one would not consider it prudent to buy given the overall state of one's financial resources even though it is an item one might wish one could buy. But already possessing it one has the excuse for buying it via not selling it because one already had done the deed in effect. When an item is not unique or rare and is easily replaced when a new one is needed, one would not suspect that same tendency to value the item in possession more than the same item not in possession. It would be interesting to see if this effect still persists in that case and how it compares to the former.

A stock would be of the latter type at least in small quantities. With larger quantities there is always the uncertainty as to how much such purchases might impact the price, which would the economic reason as opposed to a psychological reason. A psychological reason might be the emotional difficulty of making a decision that one is not anxious to repeat, ignoring the fact that with an investment an implicit decision has to be made every day as to whether to continue to hold or not. The difference is that to sell or purchase is an active decision whereas to hold can be a passive decision. In effect holding is also a way of putting off a decision.

Jul

3

 As Anne O'Connell, a professor at University of Cal Berkeley, said "there are important cases in which the chief justice has to put the court's interests above his own ideological or jurisprudential views. This was one such case."

One would suggest that the court acts to survive and prosper like the badger or any other organism subject to incentives and emoluments.

Gary Rogan writes: 

We may never know whether he wanted to keep getting invited to all the cocktail parties or they made him an offer he couldn't refuse, but he did change his mind at the last minute. In either case, a man with a lifetime appointment somehow has to side with card-carrying communists while making basic mistakes (like a tax law cannot be challenged until the tax is actually collected, and several others), and redirects trillions of dollars of economic activity. All this to make sure that the rest of them with lifetime appointments and no known personal threats of any kind have no chance of being marginalized? Never has so much been sold out for so little even if this subhuman was threatened. 

David Lilienfeld writes: 

Two comments:

1. It's significant how many in our country have as low regard for the SCOTUS as they do. Even more so when one has a Senator questioning whether the court has any standing to rule something as being constitutional or not. The dysfunctionalities present in our government are manifesting at the SCOTUS, and the populous is none too pleased about this. Given that we live in the iPhone Society, one might wonder when the populous would expect anything else.

2. At the time Truman desegregated the military, 65 percent of the country opposed the action. When Brown v Board of Ed was decided, 60+ percent of the country opposed integration of the schools (though this was to change rapidly in the wake of the decision). Courts and politicians are political animals, but they are also leaders–or at least at times in the past, have been leaders. Unfortunately, as we have been without political leadership for sometime, it isn't surprising that this case was decided in such a manner as to defy just about any and all expectations. (There are a lot of people on Intrade who got hosed in this decision).

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Have you even read Robert's opinion? I did. He didn't do any favors for the left in it; he takes a swipe at Wickard and he is very clear that upholding the mandate should not be construed as any expansion of government power. Essentially, he wrote that if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it's a duck. Substance over form. He blew away the government on every other substantive argument.

In the future application of this ruling, I believe that his opinion won't be used as opening the door further to govt intervention; quite the opposite is true! But unless you read the opinion, you won't know this and the MSM won't report it. I find it disappointing that the court ruled this way, but as I noted yesterday morning, this was not an easy decision and the opinion reflects that.

I find it reasonable for you to quarrel with the substance of his opinion only after you have read it. But judging from your comment, you haven't. And you comment is vacuous and snarky.

Read the opinion and then comment on the substance.

Gary Rogan adds: 

This ruling is a tortured conclusion looking (and failing) to find reasonable arguments as far as the "tax" portion of it is concerned. What is being taxed here?

It was sold as a mandate and this legal genius finds it to be a tax. If someone sells you a duck claiming to be an elephant, and you find that it's OK because you have a license to sell ducks instead of finding fraud, you are not operating in good faith. Especially if the duck isn't even a normal duck but some mutated monster resulting from an unfortunate breeding of a duck with a goose.

He cuts one type of power found in the "living breathing Constitution" by progressive activists and adds another power of similar flawed pedigree. He did no favors to the left? He SAVED the damn left, to continue their abuse of the Constitution and the country. This man is a snake.

Garret Baldwin writes:

"It was sold as a mandate and this legal genius finds it to be a tax."

Respectfully, it was sold as a mandate to the American people and to representatives in Congress. But when it went to the high-court, it was sold as both a mandate and as a tax. There were two arguments provided on behalf of the Administration. One was that the mandate fell under the commerce clause. In essence, Congress was ruling that it could create commerce in order to regulate it. They were creating a program that forced people to buy something, and that would fall under the clause. Could Congress then make you buy anything it wanted, became the question.

Roberts ruled that down. Even Sotomeyor disagreed with that logic.

But then the issue of a tax did in fact come up in discussion. Though the President said that it wasn't a tax on ABC in 2009, the administration argued in front of the court that the mandate fell within Congress' taxing power… but attempted to argue that it was not a tax… They argued that PENALTIES are within the reach of Congress' taxing power, but that this was not a "revenue generating policy" which is what a tax technically is.

What Roberts ruled is that Yes, this does fall under Congress' taxing authority, but you're not allowed to call it a penalty. It's a tax. Congress can tax whatever it wants, soda, medical devices, and even inactivity. For the optimistic on the right, and for people who have being saying this is a tax all along, the ruling isn't necessarily the worst in the world. First, it shuts down Congress' ability to create markets under the guise of the commerce clause. This was especially concerning for me because I feared they would try to create Cap and Trade through similar means. Second, Democrats are now the "Tax Party", and Roberts has given Romney ammo. This is a tax. And the President swore that no new taxes on the middle class would hit them. There are 21 new taxes in this law, and seven of them directly impact the Middle Class.

"It you think healthcare is expensive now… wait until you see what it costs when it's free." PJ O'Rourke

Rocky Humbert writes: 

This will be my last post on this subject, so Mr. Rogan et al should feel free to label me a "snake," "commie," or whatever choice epithet that he uses for people who don't agree with his self-declared (and as yet unproven) "superior" weltanschauung.

I am starting to see non-legal analyses on the the web, which may over time cause the currently-celebrating liberals to realize that by bringing this case to the Supreme Court, they have opened a Pandora's Box which they will rue. Sure, you can bitch and moan that they didn't strike down the ACA. But this ruling will have a much more important effect in the months and years ahead in terms of LIMITING government. Sure, I had hoped that they would strike the ACA down, but I'm starting to believe that what Roberts did here may be vastly superior IN THE LONG TERM.

If Mr. Rogan can turn off his kneejerk reaction for just a moment and read the following URL, I think he will begin to see that Roberts may have just proven Voltaire's Maxim: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." It's quite possible that in 50 years, the historians will look back and see this as a defining moment when the pendulum which started in the 1930's begins to swing back.

While I believe the ACA is bad economics and bad policy, I believe that the precedents which this ruling establish (and to which lower courts will be bound) are vastly more important and more supportive for freedom and long term prosperity. I am hopeful that as today's scoreboard and November's election fade from memory, the lasting positive consequences (for those on the right) of this ruling will come into focus.

Jun

21

 Yesterday's announcement that WAG will buy Boots (from KKR) provides a textbook example of the lifecycle of corporations. For decades, WAG was a mid-teens growing company (longterm return S&P500-plus 500 bp), with a stellar balance sheet and a strong competitor to CVS and other small retailers. Their growth was mostly driven by new-store openings, the organic growth in prescription demand, and the gradual expansion of general merchandise and food product offerings. Yet, the ubiquity of their stores, the evolution of the prescription drug market, and most recently, the loss of one of their largest pharmacy customers (they refused to accept the realities of the current market) left them with negative comps and all of the arrows pointing downwards.

So, what do they do? They raise their dividend. Good. They buy back stock. Good. They announce a massive lateral acquisition at a very rich 11X Ebitda. Very very very bad.

They will pay for the Boots acquisition with mostly debt, which will whack their credit rating; produce no obvious growth; and make them bigger, not better.

This smells of desperation. Not strategic vision. Boot's CDS(debt) had been trading at +428 bp ; but immediately tightened by about 250 bp on the deal. In contrast, WAG's enterprise value is about 5.4x EBITDA and CVS trades at 7.5x EBITDA. So even if one believes in a 20% or 30% takeover premium, that still doesn't justify an 11x EBITDA multiple. (WAG justifies the premium because they will have "synergies" in negotiating prices with generic drug manufacturers. But given the nuances of global pharmaceutical pricing, and their inability to cut a deal with ExpressScripts, this sounds like continued denial of market reality.)

Who negotiated this deal? Did they hire Leo Apotheker when I wasn't looking? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9o_Apotheker

One submits that WAG has decided to aggressively pursue the zombie world of no-growth companies who run faster and faster to stand still, rather than running their existing businesses better — and accepting (rather than denying) the changing competitive landscape.

And if I worked for KKR, at the same time that I was selling Boots at 11x EBITDA, I'd be thinking about using the proceeds to eventually buy Walgreen stock at 5x EBITDA.

JetCat1 writes: 

Seems like an international problem of shop front retailers, having huge internal problems trying to make massive adjustments with policy, in turning the ship around. It would appear, it shouldn't be so difficult, but one would think no one wants to make the big call that are needed, early in the piece. Just like having replays at the Euro Football championships 2012. Ukraine gets the ball over the line, still no goal against England. At what stage has technology not being up to the job, of having a TV replay settle the matter in the last 30 years, and still the rubbish of bad calls persist. It seems the larger the flexionic group, the lack of balls, for want of a better word, to stand up and say "this isn't good enough, this is the direction that needs to be taken".

Rocky Humbert replies: 

I respectfully disagree with both your metaphors and your conclusions. If WAG has simply re-negotiated their ExpressScripts deal at the market-clearing price, their stock would be north of 40. Not south of 30. Walgreens is an excellent operator. It's not about turning the ship around. It's about living in today's world. Not yesterday's. Put simply: The competitive landscape for retail drug stores have changed over the past several years. WAG used to be a price maker. But they are now a price taker. Rather than accepting this reality, they decided to pay (too much) for another price taker (Boots) with the vision of re-establishing their negotiating (price-making) power over suppliers … in the spirit of Walmart's business strategy. It's not crazy, and if they had paid a reasonable price for the acquisition, it might have even worked a little bit. But if you pay too much, you are doomed. Their transaction has all of the hallmarks of a McKinsey/Bain/Booz/BCG study on it. If I were the CEO, I would have renegotiated the deal with Express Scripts.And some day, when KKR was really desperate, I might have let them him my bid. At 5x Ebitda.
 

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