What is the difference between the "smart-beta" index built around "momentum factor" (offered by Russell or some other index provider) and a trend-following CTA? It seems to me like a lot of smart repackaging (trend-following is now called momentum since more academic research is about momentum, trading is now asset allocation, etc.)….

Aside of fees, of course :-)

Ralph Vince writes: 

All trading systems can be represented as indexes. (even your simplest, go long here, flat there, short here, has aggregatge weightings of 1, 0,1 on the various positions — cash always 1-position weight).

All portfolio models, can be represented as indexes.


Trading Systems ~ Portfolio Models ~ Indexes (~ representing "equivalent to")

It's a matter of packaging.

And further building on this edifice scratched in the walls of my darkened cave….

And all long positions ~ short put + long call of same series.

And all of this occurs within the hyaline manifold of leverage space, which readily explains things that are often not so evident on the surface (such as why a short etf will have a long-term downward drift, as well as all leveraged ones, just as with any form of portfolio insurance) and on and on and on and on.)

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Ralph articulates this well.

I would add one point:

We know as a logical syllogism that the overall return from an entire market (to all participants) is the overall return from an entire market. Putting aside the mark to market paradox, if I were the sole market participant and I owned the entire market, then my return would be the intrinsic market return (i.e. cash flow, profits, dividends, etc). And if there were two market participants, then the intrinsic return is shared between those two participants. Again, mark to market paradox notwithstanding, just as it is impossible to squeeze blood from a stone, one cannot produce a total return that exceeds the intrinsic market return. The only question therefore is how to allocate the return — which, beyond the intrinsic return, resembles a zero sum game. (Some people here call the intrinsic return, "drift", but it is really dividends, retained profits, etc.)

An academically pure index must capture the entire market's intrinsic return. And it would do that by owning the entire market capitalization of that market. The S&P500 doesn't do this exactly — the index owners exercise nuance and discretion — and that process might give some opportunities to the smart-beta crowd. That the S&P is market cap weighted further gives rise to the mark to market paradox (i.e. the starting point when one purchases the entire market cap).

But if one could actually purchase a piece of the entire market on the day of the market's creation — and own it until the end of the world — that investment will produce a return that will, after taxes and expenses — beat holding any given smart beta strategy for the same duration. This is a purely theoretical point — because during any given holding period, some particular smart beta strategy will surely outperform. Again, it's a mark to market issue. So the goal is to figure out which one will and which one won't. (Assuming that this is possible!)

So yes Virginia — there is a pure index. But it is theoretical ideal.

anonymous writes: 

I used to trade and develop "smart beta" strategies back at the fund.

I don't think there is an established "this is smart beta and this is not," but I can tell you as to what people expect. The momentum strategies are a bit different than typical CTA trending strategies (not using crossovers for example). Instead momentum is tracked by other measures such as relative performance across sectors and going long/short the best/worst performing ones.

The implied idea of smart beta, which is not exclusive to CTAs, are the other benefits of using these strategies amongst others in a way that utilizes portfolio construction or a dynamic weighting strategy (like monthly rebalancing on vol).

The goal with smart beta is to not produce alpha outright, but to accept that the majority of alpha has been "sapped" and you are now using diversified strategies that have a known cyclical alpha. This is where you get into gray area but I differ the two by saying:

alpha means the sharpe significantly deteriorates as others discover the method smart beta means the sharpe has already significantly deteroriated, but because it has, you can more easily predict the regimes in which they work/don't work. For example, AQR's paper: value and momentum everywhere discusses the idea that momentum (continuation) and value strategies (mean-reversion), tend to have negative correlations, albeit both strategies have lower sharpes (0.4 to 0.7).

anonymous writes: 

Assume, all flows as dividends etc produce an intrinsic market return of zero over some point. Trader A loses 10. Trader B gains 9 (dont forget the vig). Ok till this syllogism its a zero sum game

A sold at 100, B bought at 100.
A stopped out at 105.
B stopped out at 95.
There must be a C or a CDE.. and so on and so forth.
Still sounds like zero sum. 

But if over a length of time some stay in the game, majority keep dropping out. Then it becomes a series of zero sum games.

Next, If A,B,C,D,E…. et al become very large numbers then its a zero sum game between those who stayed in the game up to the point the non participants came in. This also explains the Lobogolas.

Market therefore is a variable sum game. People vary their exposures, they vary even their presence for prolonged periods of time. No one rides an investment bus permanently the way sage does. Normal people buy stocks with an "intention" to sell at some point.

The drift in equities is explicable by a fact that it is the only asset class where reinvestment in growth occurs. For Indian equities I have had calculated in the past it mimicks the curve of (1+GDP growth)*(1+inflation). Perhaps true for other markets too. Given in the long run supernormal profits dont exist, its the ability of businesses to pass on inflation to their customers that produces the drift in their cashflows and thus stock prices. 



 As Mr. Vince knows better than anyone, the variance of a sum is equal to the sum of the variances. I believe the market ecosystem works its magic each day of the week to do its damage and make the public lose more than they have any right to lose every day of the week without regard to levels or rest.

Ralph Vince replies: 

Which, by extension, we would expect the one-trading-day-variance from Friday to Mon to be the tamest of the five, consistent with your results, but not proof that weekends don’t matter.

If you could trade on Sat or Sunday it would be expected to get out of line compared to what we see from Friday come Monday, yes?

Victor Niederhoffer comments: 

The NYSE and many of the Asians I believe used to trade on Saturdays, and the changes on Sat were very small relative to the other days. I believe it’s because there is not as much damage that the collectivists do over the weekend.

Ralph Vince comments: 

When NYSE was open on Saturday, wasn’t that only half-day sessions? Us millennials know nothing of those bygone days.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

In the good old days, trading continued well into the evening at the fifth avenue hotel and the curb.

Anatoly Veltman writes:

Just got back from Seafire grill and I see this about the good ol’ days. Among other things, in my 1980’s better days, gold was only offered during Shabbat by HK dealers, and only a couple of hours. One memorable curb occurred after the Friday Oct.13th, 1989 Comex close. Late that Friday, following the UAL deal collapse, stock futures closed basically limit down. Gold futures that were closing full 1.45h earlier, didn’t discount any of that. I stared down a dozen screens, so I was anticipating SP technical troubles way ahead of the field. I kept soaking up gold offers all day - yet the darn contract barely edged up. My partner on the floor, who among others had no concept of what might have been transpiring with the stock market, kept a better tally: “we’re about 1,000 lots over the initial margin requirement!”

So going into COMEX closing sequence, I tell him: “We have no choice. Announce the offer of 1,000 lots, but please - no locals. Just keep yelling out “1,000 or nothing!” Don’t hit any partials.

No one took’em… An hour after COMEX close a good bank friend calls: “I heard you had some. Any market?” I give him .5% above Comex settle, he says buy’em, I say “1 bar mate”, he says “appreciate”. Half hour later he says “Aron is looking, help me out” (that’s Goldman). I give him 1% above settle, he says buy’em, I say 1 bar mate, he says “Wise. Appreciate”…And then HK quotes 1% higher and .5% wide - and no trade till Sunday…So Sunday night Sydney opens to a 1% higher bid, which I hit for my remaining 920 extra lots - and they’re thanking me! My broker calls Monday morning: “Any wire coming in?” I say you’ll hate me, but no wire; here is my 1,000 offsetting EFP shorts, I’m no longer your problem, made a quick million in the closed market, sorry mate, HOW ARE YOU DOING! He says “appreciate your concern; lots of accounts really fxxxup” I say sorry, not a freaking soul wanted them during COMEX, I be damned. He says don’t do it too often, and you owe me dinner… Guess what: I never got to buy him that dinner. Despite SP opening limit-down Monday, COMEX traded back down around Fri settle. My 920-lot Sunday opening sale was apparently passed around in Asia and thru Europe like a hot potato, with no one caring about the stock market again, like on Friday. I be damned… 



The edge in part related to the vig would be reduced to 0 if there were just 1 or 2 trades a day in  markets. Which time would be best for a non-flexion, non-top-feeder, i.e., the public, to trade if they wished to maximize their wealth?

Andrew Goodwin replies:

Mutual funds have had one price per day in most cases. It has proven difficult to keep various sharpies out of securities markets whether these markets price continuously or just once per day. The names and tactics change.

Ralph Vince comments:

You're referring to the most illiquid of times - which correspond to violent selloffs, not so much sleepy, pastoral markets. The most recent in memory was the open of 8/24/15.



I thought this was an interesting opinion piece from David Deutsch who has some creative ideas in physics theory:

"Probability is as useful to physics as flat-Earth theory"

Gibbons Burke writes:

String theory, or more particularly, M-theory, which represents a current SWAG (Scientific Wild-Assed Guess) at the grand-unifying-theory-of-everything, requires some eleven dimensions to make it all work out.

Our mortal finite deterministic mental capacities can wrap our space-time evolved brains around four or five, with instruments perhaps a few more.

Perhaps randomness is how we get a handle on behavior which defies rational explanation in our four-dimensional flatland of what seems to be the 'natural' material world; if there are eleven or more dimensions, then perhaps what seems random for us has rules beyond our ken which govern the dynamics of the other invisible, shall we say, 'super-natural', dimensions.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I think people are missing the point of the article Dylan puts here. The author of this simple piece is discussing things that are right in my ambit, what I call "Fallacies in the Limit." The fundamental notion of expectation (the probability-weighted mean outcome), foundational to so much in game theory, is sheer fallacy (what one "expects" is the median of the sorted, cumulative outcomes at the horizon, which is therefore a function of the horizon).

To see this, consider a not-so-fair coin that pays 1:-1 but falls in your favor with a probability of .51 The classical expectation is .02 per play, and after N plays, .5N is what you would expect to make or lose for player and house, as the math of this fallacious approach - and I say fallacious as it does not comport to real-life. That is, if I play it on million times, sequentially, I expect to make 20,000 and if a million guys play it against a house, simultaneously, (2% in the house's favor) the house expect to make 20,000

And I refer to the former as horizontal ergodicity (I go play it N times), the latter as vertical ergodicity (N guys come play it one time each). But in real-life, these are NOT equivalent, given the necessarily finite nature of all games, all participants, all opportunities.

To see this, let is return to our coin toss game, but inject a third possible outcome — the coin lands on its side with a probability of one-in-one-million and an outcome which costs us one million. Now the classical thinking person would never play such a game, the mathematical expectation (in classical terms) being:

.51 x 1 + .489999 x -1 + .000001 x - 1,000,000 = -.979999 per play.

A very negative game indeed. Yet, for the player whose horizon is 1 play, he expects to make 1 unit on that one play (if I rank all three possible outcomes at one play, and take the median, it i a gain of one unit. Similarly, if I rank all 9 possible outcomes after 2 plays, the player, by my calculations should expect to make a net gain of .0592146863 after 2 plays of this three-possible-outcome coin toss versus the classical expectation net loss of -2.939997 (A wager I would have gladly challenged Messrs. Pascal and Huygens with). To see this, consider the 9 possible outcomes of two plays of this game:


0.51                     0.51    1.02

0.51             -0.489999    0.020001

0.51             -1000000    -999999.49

-0.489999            0.51    0.020001

-0.489999    -0.489999    -0.979998

-0.489999    -1000000    -1000000.489999

-1000000            0.51    -999999.49

-1000000    -0.489999    -1000000.489999

-1000000    -1000000    -2000000

The outcomes are additive. Consider the corresponding probabilities for each branch:


0.51          0.51                 0.260100000000

0.51          0.489999          0.249899490000

0.51          0.000001          0.000000510000

0.489999   0.51                  0.249899490000

0.489999    0.489999          0.240099020001

0.489999    0.000001          0.000000489999

0.000001    0.51                 0.000000510000

0.000001   0.489999           0.000000489999

0.000001    0.000001          0.000000000001

The product at each branch is multiplicative. Combining the 9 outcomes, and their probabilities and sorting them, we have:

outcome             probability         cumulative prob
1.02              0.260100000000    1.000000000000
0.999999       0.249899490000    0.739900000000
0.020001       0.249899490000    0.490000510000
-0.979998      0.240099020001    0.240101020000
-999999.49    0.000000510000    0.000001999999
-999999.49    0.000000510000    0.000001489999
-1000000.489999    0.000000489999    0.000000979999
-1000000.489999    0.000000489999    0.000000490000
-2000000    0.000000000001    0.000000000001

And so we see the median, te cumulative probability of .5 (where half of the event space is above, half below — what we "expect") as (linearly interpolated between the outcomes of .999999 and .020001) of .0592146863 after two plays in this three-possible-outcome coin toss. This is the amount wherein half of the sample space is better, half is worse. This is what the individual, experiencing horizontal ergodicity to a (necessarily) finite horizon (2 plays in this example) expects to experience, the expectation of "the house" not withstanding.

And this is an example of "Fallacies of the Limit," regarding expectations, but capital market calculations are rife with these fallacies. Whether considering Mean-Variance, Markowitz-style portfolio allocations or Value at Risk, VAR calculations, both of which are single-event calculations extrapolated out for many, or infinite plays or periods (erroneously) and similarly in expected growth-optimal strategies which do not take the finite requirement of real-life into account.

Consider, say, the earlier mentioned, two-outcome case coin toss that pays 1:-1 with p = .51. Typical expected growth allocations would call for an expected growth-optimal wager of 2p-1, or 2 x .51 - 1 = .02, or to risk 2% of our capital on such an opportunity so as to be expected growth optimal. But this is never the correct amount — it is only correct in the limit as the number of plays, N - > infinity. In fact, at a horizon of one play our expected growth-optimal allocation in this instance is to risk 100%.

Finally, consider our three-outcome coin toss where it can land on it;s side. The Kelly Criterion for determining that fraction of our capital to allocate in expected growth-optimal maximization (which, according to Kelly, to risk that amount which maximizes the probability-weighted outcome) would be to risk 0% (since the probability-weighted outcome is negative in this opportunity).

However, we correctly us the outcomes and probabilities that occur along the path to the outcome illustrated in our example of a horizon of two plays of this three-outcome opportunity.

Russ Sears writes:

Ok after a closer look, the point the author is making is scientist assume probabilities are true/truth based on statistics. But statistics are not pure math, like probability, because they are not infinite. Therefore they can not detect the infinitely small or infinitely large.

But the author assumes that quantum scientist must have this fallacy and do not understand. Hence he proposes that thought experiments or philosophical assumptions of deterministic underpinnings of physics must hold and should carefully supercede statistical modeling. Hence denying the conscious mind any role is creating a physical world outside itself.

So basically the author accuses others of not understanding the difference between the superiority of probability over statistics. So he tries to use pure thought to get pure physics devoid of the necessity of consciousness to exist. Perhaps he does not confuse the terms himself. It would be better written however, if he used the terminology a 1st year probability and statistics student learns. 

Jim Sogi adds: 

I believe that the number and size of trades at a price, or the lack of density at that price lead to certain gravitational effects. The other somewhat unknown are the standing orders at those levels but the orders and trade density are related.



 Common thoughts among the masses:

Invest in bricks and mortar, you will never lose your money. Invest in banks, whenever a bank has collapsed? Buy oil. It can only continue to rise in price, considering the peak oil, etc…

Ralph Vince writes: 


Yes I did, starting in the summer of 08…buying and buying and buying and hotel room trauma in zero degree NR US city pacing at 4 am to meet margin call by 10…

My last position, Corus Bancshares, I saw print a 56 cents from a hot dog stand TV in Sarasota in the Winter of 09, and I knew my 55 cent limit was filled, my last position, exited with a profit — about enough to pay for my lunch that day after all of that!

I learned the hard way — banks aren't brick and mortar– they are bags of air, just as industrial companies are a web page with a picture of their parking lot on it, and some CNC drawings that are being used to make the product in Indonesian machine shops.



What kind of moving average of the last x days is the best predictor of current and future happiness, and how does this relate to markets?

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

The widespread misuse of MAs concept is what gives it bad name. 90% of testers and users look at crossovers, and the remaining 10% look at break of MA from above or below. All wrong

The only proven way to apply MAs from trend-follower stand point is to look at nothing else but SLOPE. (Trading Days) Is 14-day MA sloping upward? If so, then is 30-day sloping upward? If so, then is 50-day sloping upward? If so: then Shorting is forbidden! Mirror test may save you from disastrous bottom-picking.

Bill Rafter writes: 

I beg to differ. There is no way the "average of the last x days is best predictor…" It by definition is at least a coincident indicator and more likely a lagging indicator. BTW the same can be said of the SLOPE of the last x days.

However, you can construct a leading indicator by comparison (difference or ratio) of the coincident to lagging indicators. For this newly created leading indicator, there tends to be a lot of false signals, due to random market action. To guard against that you need to have very smooth coincident and lagging inputs. Making them smooth also makes them more lagged, but that will not hurt you as you are not going to look at them outside of a difference or ratio, which will be quite forward-looking.

The real problem is that investors want to identify a static x. In doing so they are insisting that the market be modeled by x periods. Well, the market doesn't always feel like cooperating. At times the market may be properly modeled by x periods, and at other times by x+N, in which N can assume a wide range of positive and negative values. The solution is to first identify the exact period over which the market should be modeled for the coincident valuation. And then go on from there. Rinse, repeat.

Russ Sears writes: 

This would be a good question to ask the trading expert psychologist Dr. Brett.

It seems that with the same brain imagery he uses is being used in the study of the science of happiness.

While I am no expert I have read Rick Hanson, PhD book "Hardwiring Happiness"/ It has been awhile since I enjoyed this book, my summary of it is "focus on the life/good in the present. Placing things in context to how it has brought you to this moment, then enjoy the moment is enjoying life."

Presence seems to be the buzz-word in studies of contentment and psychology of success. Being aware of all your inputs, your feelings and recognizing them as part of life, then celebrate living. Presence gives you the fulfillment in your life needed to be loyal and disciplined enough for what is working well in your life. Thanksgiving is a day built on this idea, But presence also gives you the courage to turn things around, admit things are not as you want, and gives you Hope for the future. Happiness is more about living your life, being in control, then it is circumstances. Some of my happiest times have been after running hard for over 2 hours exhausted after 26.2 miles, cold and totally and dangerously spent but knowing I gave it my all.

So I would suggest that MA, trend following, momentum, acceleration, nor death spirals nor reversion to the mean, value investing should not ever be the "key to Rebecca", rather judge them in the context of everything else. Some days "the trend your friend" other days "the sun will come out tomorrow". 

Brett Steenbarger writes: 

It's a really interesting area of recent research. It turns out that happiness is only one component of overall well-being. What brings us positive feelings is not necessarily what leads to the greatest life satisfaction, fulfillment, and meaning. I suspect the market strategies that maximize short-term positive emotion have negative expected return, as in the case of those who jump aboard trends to reduce the fear of missing a market move.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Too many times in life I've found myself in darkened parking lots with a small gang of characters who intend me harm, and saw how the pieces would play out enough in advance enough to get out of it, or at least to realize there was only one, very unpalatable way out of it.

Shields up.

Too many times in life, I've had an angel whisper in my ear with only a few hours or seconds to spare to keep from being robbed blind by people I made the mistake of trusting.

Too many times in life I've paced in some anonymous hotel room, wondering "How the hell am I going to do this once the day comes?"

Too many margin calls have had to be met.

Far more times than I would care to, I've found myself confronted with the proposition of having to throw boxcars to survive, and I find myself, yet again, with that very proposition in a life and death context.

Only someone who really loves the rush of the markets, could enjoy wanting a given market to move in a specific direction. I've come to the conclusion it's far better for me to set up to profit from whatever direction things move in on a given day. Those that dont move in a manner so as to profit from this day, will tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that… I need to just show up on time with my shoes on, collect on that which comes in today, sow the seeds today for taking profits on something at some future date. It's not difficult, and a lot more satisfying.

There's enough episodes in life we need boxcars to show up, and yeah, "Baby needs a new pair o'shoes."

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

I like all these untested ideas about moving averages but my query was of a more general nature. What kind of moving average, perhaps its top onion skin an exponential average, is the best predictor of human happiness. I.e. if you are happy yesterday and unhappy the day before, are you happier or sadder. I mean vis a vis the pursuit of happiness, not markets, although the two are related I think.

Alexander Good writes: 

My answer would be a medium term moving average works best - about 6 months. We're naturally geared to notice acceleration not speed. After accelerating happiness, it's virtually certain to decelerate which we would have a heightened awareness of. Thus a 5 day moving average would have too much embedded acceleration and deceleration to yield a good outcome.

I would also say 6 months is a good number because there's a fear of 'topping out'. I.e. if you're at the peak happiness of the past 5 years you might get afraid of a larger mean reverting move. 6 months is short term enough not to be victim to noticeable accel/decel, but not too long to be subject to such existential thoughts that lead to unhappiness. 2 quarters is also a good timeframe for evaluation of back to back 3 month periods which seems like a relevant timeframe to most people professionally.

My meta question would be: does measuring one's happiness with a moving average make one more or less happy? 

Theo Brossard writes: 

I would pose that happiness would exhibit similar behavior with market volatility. Short-term clustering (which makes exponential average a good choice, if you are happy today chances are you will be happy tomorrow) and longer-term mean reversion (there must be some thresholds defined by values and time–you can't be very happy or unhappy for prolonged periods of time).

Jim Sogi writes: 

A good way to study this is to rate and record your happiness each day. Also record your acts: exercise, diet, work, family, vacation, tv, meditation, etc. Over time you can correlate the things you do that make you happy. You could correlate day to day swings as Chair queries in a univariate time series.



 When I meet with prospective clients and talk to them about their portfolio, I ask multiple questions to determine their tolerance for risk.

Three questions I ask are:

"How much money did you lose in 2008?"

"How long did it take for your portfolio to recoup those losses?"

"Was that loss a lot of money to you?"

I've pretty always asked a version of those questions (i.e. prior to 2008 I asked about the same questions about the tech bubble).

As we all know, the market took a massive hit in those years and loses were rampant and widespread.

When I asked those questions in 2009 - 2013 people would regale me with tales of how much they lost (40%, 50%, 60%+). Even people that held a lot of bonds "for safety" spoke of the losses they experienced.

Almost everyone spoke of how many YEARS it took for them just to recover their losses (most took 5 years just to get back to even).

And almost everyone would talk about how the loss they experienced was a LOT of money to them and they'd rather never experience that kind of loss again.

Now, let's flash forward to 2015……And it's a completely different story.

When I ask them how much they lost in 2008, the majority of people say, "I really don't lose much". Some will say "I lost maybe 10% - 15%".

I am hard pressed to find a single person who lost any money worth mentioning.

Further, when I ask them how long it took them to gain back their losses, I hear things like, "Oh, maybe a few months, I really didn't lose much to begin with" or, "I think it took me maybe a year or a year and half".

When I ask them if the loss was a lot of money to them, I hear things like, "Oh, I really don't know, it was no big deal."

What's my point of mentioning all this to the group?

I know for a fact that the rank and file people of the world (the people that I deal with) lost a lot of money in the 4Q07 - 1Q09 housing debacle. I know this because they told me so and they told me they were scared and and that it took them 4 - 6 years just to get back to even and that they lost a LOT of money….more than they were comfortable with.

And now……..they've all forgotten.

Out of sight, out of mind.

All they see (again) is the magnificent rise in the stock market and they all just know that it's not likely to ever correct again in any appreciable way, and if it does, it doesn't matter….it will come back in a very short period of time.

Yes, I know this is anecdotal, but I can tell you that this is based on hundreds of interviews with prospects over many years.

And yes, the story I've written above applies exactly to the experience I had when I interviewed prospects from 2003 - 2007

They all experienced great losses in 2000, 2001 and 2002 that were beyond their comfort zone that caused sleepless nights…..and as time went on, the losses became smaller and smaller and the time it took for the losses to recover became shorter and shorter and the pain they experienced became less and less.

I think a line of lyrics from Paul Simon's "The Boxer" are appropriate here: "A man sees what he wants to see, And disregards the rest."

Ralph Vince writes: 

Great post Scott, thank you.

I'm astounded by this same thing. If you took everyone in early '09 who were upset that they didn't liquidate their 401k plans, etc., the percentage of those who have now is very, very small. Especially in a ZIRP world.



 From the 1960s-1982 the Dow stayed in a range between 600 and 1000, with several 40% swings. Then came the great bull market.

Is there any reason why we might not return to such a range for 20 years or more? We are off all time highs, but with quite the penumbra around 1950s. Also, it's been a bull market for 7 years.

anonymous writes: 

In real terms (adjusted for inflation) from the peak in 1966 to the bottom in 1982, that was a 75% decline in the value of the Dow, and a 29-year trough before a new high was made. The decline from 1929 to 1932 by comparison was 85%, also with a 29 year valley before the 1929 peak was surmounted.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Yes, but in August of 1982, you KNEW the lid was coming off.

On Friday the thirteenth, after a languishing bear market, things jumped. It had a different feel to it. By the next Tuesday, the 17th, it was off to the races.

I remember it well. It was a complete change in market character from what had been going on for several years before it (at least since the Summer of 1980, and August of 82 was profoundly different than that even).

My point is, you didn't have to be a contrarian to know something big was just getting going. It came in with bang,

We live in an era where damn few remember — if anyone ever knew — how to read a tape, the pace of whats coming across the Electro-Lux. I've tried to catalog this in terms of patterns of volume bars. If you go back and look at the Friday, August 13, 1982, it occurred on a low volume bar turnaround — v. bullish (assuming a descent into it).

But the real tell came later — the 18th, a high volume bar day, the end of the short term runnup, On the 18th, the DJIA dropped a small amount, on very heavy volume, marking the high that day as an interim high that should hold for a few days. Not only did the market blow through that, showing extreme strength, but the coup de grace was the following week when the market continued higher on very high volume. Often, a single bar making a high on high volume markets an interim high (there are fine points I am not mentioning here), or, even stronger still, if there is a few bars in between and another high on high volume. But a series of 3 or more bars, on very high volume, where the market continues to grind or grind higher, is very, very bullish.

There was a confluence of factors leading up to that — negative sentiment, bank failures, bankruptcies, etc. amid an environment of declining energy prices, falling rates, technological breakthroughs (as evidenced by Ipos in the 18 months leading up to it — Apple, Genentech, etc.) the pc was in its infancy , Apple was talking about "Lisa," the mother of Mac, there was by many people's accounts, a political climate favorable to business.

There are perhaps many similarities to today, and many differences. I suppose it could happen, could happen in the coming months (look at the advances in cancer treatment, and I don't think we've even begun to feel the effects of the technological advances afforded by a true, coast-to-coast high speed network drones and mass transport, or even the productivity created asa result of the handheld devices most of us use today). But if it's anything like the last, great bull market, it come in with a roar, and I would expect it to be evidenced by inexplicably high trading volume that generally persists.

anonymous writes: 

I miss the noise those Trans-Lux jets made, with those funky fluorescent black lights and those little colored pegs. They were crude, but effective. The bars around the exchanges all had jets so you could have a drink and still see the prices, real time. Nobody minded in those days if a broker went down to the bar for a quick one or three as long as they were good earners. The Germans, Irish and Italians were the ones who went to the bars for a quick one during market hours……..the Jews at the CME always wanted to maintain decorum and control, and never show public intoxication…..the drug of choice for the Jews was cocaine and naturally they didn't drink like the Germans/Irish, and the lack of good drinking establishments around the CME was evidence enough. The bars around the Merc were never legendary like the ones at the CBOT like Broker's Inn, Sign of the Trader, Trade Inn, and Alcotts around the corner. Those bars were in a league of their own and the back stories of what went on in those establishments would be worthy of Runyon or Hemingway. I have sources that have the 1970's Russian Grain Deal being worked out at a back table of the Broker's Inn. Whether or not this event occurred and is verifiable, I wouldn't say it would surprise me. I've seen 20mm tonne cash grain deals done on the back of a napkin and with a handshake.

Steve Ellison writes: 

It took the S&P 500 7 years to regain is 2000 high, but it could not hold that level for long. It was not until 2013 that the S&P 500 again reached its 2000 high, so we already had a retrospectively-defined trading range for 13 years. I have a hunch that the next "great bull market" is already here. The so-called millennial generation in the US is larger than the baby boom generation. I keep noticing things about this decade that remind me of the 1980s, including a commodities bust and concurrent strength in the US dollar and US stocks.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Steve gets my vote. Part of what happened in the 80s was the destruction of previously secure franchises. Mr. Walton's stores destroyed thousands of local "downtown" merchants who had enjoyed distribution monopolies in the villages and towns of what became known as flyover country. Even as AT&T decides that satellite streaming of NFL football games is worth $3200 a customer, the kids are growing up wondering why anyone would be so stupid as to subscribe to a service whose ability to provide programming on demand is as ancient as a Betamax recorder.

anonymous writes:

But where can rates go, Steve? Or perhaps it isn't the direction of rates, so much as their absolute values?

The other big element that concerns me is not the systemic liquidity problem (which we had a taste of on 8/24) but that volume has been tapering off throughout this run up from the 09 bottom.



 On my last haircut before moving, I gave my regular lady a $100 tip on a $17 haircut (applause line here?). That small gesture brought her to tears. She is a very interesting older woman. I've enjoyed talking with the past few years. She knew I worked in investments/trading and asked if I had any ideas for her. I asked about credit card debts and she told me she just cashed in 25K of an IRA to pay down 25K of credit card debt, yet already had accumulated 2K since then and was getting in the hole again. I might invite her down to do some murals in my kids room, and perhaps do some studies on trees (She is an artist who made a living cutting hair for the last 40 years).

The point is (perhaps? At least the relevant one?) is the deadly financial problem of never having working capital that provides the flexibility that keeps one off the spike of usurious interest.

This lady had been sold on long term investments (by her branch XYZ big box bank) in high fee mutual funds with perhaps at best a 5% yr expected value over the long term, while paying off 25% interest rates on credit cards. The scams run on the lower middle class or working class are obscene.

And it is not income. Clearly if these folks can pay these obscene high interest rates, they can afford much more than they have. The problem is that they never understood the idea of having "working capital". I told my friend that her best investment is at least 6 months of living expenses in the bank. As basic as it is, and at such a low margin for error that standard that is, for many it is an alien concept. Her recent issue was a car repair that blew up her budget and started the credit card problem again. With no working capital plus compound interest against, it is like a giant pit metaphorically with wood spikes and lions at the bottom to gobble one up.

So in trading and investing, how can we use this idea? Victor has taught "never get in over ones head" as one of the key tenants of speculation. So how do we manage our cash in our speculations, investments, life's "issues" to have the flexibility to seize opportunities and avoid pit of being bent over a barrel–while still getting a solid return.

Scott Brooks writes: 

The problem is deeper than that.

The people that Ed is referring to don't have the mentality to accumulate wealth and get rich. They are sold on the "here and now" mindset. They go into debt to satisfy the here and now. Something will always come up that will prevent them from succeeding. The only thing they are really good at is coming up with PLE's (Perfectly Legitimate Excuses) to justify their failures.

They are defined by their failures.

anonymous writes: 

Especially with respect to this site, I would wonder the data and testing behind those assertions. Otherwise, one might consider them to be presumptive, elitist, and uncharitable, with mean-spirited implication. But for the grace of god….

Ed Stewart writes: 

"presumptive, elitist, and uncharitable, mean-spirited"

Yes but who cares. I'm guilty of most those things at most times. Is time preference the essence of trading? That might be a more interesting question vs. my original one. Can it be quantified? I think so, as a hypothesis generator. Does it work better than other thought models?

Russ Sears writes: 

Sorry, I disagree Scott. Ed is correct, it's a matter of education and coaching. Have a plan, believe in the plan, stick to the plan.

The average working poor Josie is not a loser. It's the average bank has learned they are more valuable dumb and paying fees than smart with small accounts. The stats say that the fees are several hundred dollars per person in the USA. So some are paying several times that. The banks have the average poor working single parent or mom in a snap trap that they can't figure how to unsnap and lift the door.

The first thing I tell kids is that you need a minimum of $1,000 in emergency cash preferably $2,000. Have a garage sale, stop buying lottery tickets, no gambling, stop buying new clothes, stop cable, and stop smart phones, etc until you have that emergency fund. Also budget, if you can't fix the budget to the pay, downsize housing, get roommates, no car, bus, pay for car pool, whatever it takes to have a workable budget. Then save for the 3 to 6 months expenses in a cash account ready for a big expense. Only then should you invest.

Most people in this problem don't have anyone they can trust to give them the advice and perhaps the tough love they need to stop living in denial. The truth is the banks want the poor.

What does this mean for "investors". Frankly I think most investors have it wrong. It's not so much managing your risk as it is managing your cash flow first, then manage your risk. You can take a lot of equity risk if your investment horizons 20 years out.

Also the lesson to investors is just because someone is in the best position to give you advice and would make some money off you if they gave you that advice, it doesn't mean they will give you the advice that's in your best interest when it conflicts with their best interest. Their best interest is CMA (cover my …) by silence or sin of omission. Then it's to make more money by selling what gives them the most profit to "cover" you like payday loans.

anonymous writes: 

The thing I practice (and I don't know if it adds any edge that can be computed) is to always take some off after a good run. No mater what, be it trading, investing, bonus, etc. Never spend it all–or even most of it. Put it away for when SHTF, because as day follows night, it will…

Andrew Goodwin writes:

A major part of the problem is the thinking that makes the credit limit on credit cards equivalent to ones own money.

For my part, I will never willingly stop at a gas station that has two prices for gasoline with one higher for the credit card user than for one paying cash.

In a world where there are card rebates on gasoline, what is the point of acting responsibly with credit when those who did not act responsibly get subsidized by those who did. The dual pricing also serves to support a cash economy against the public interest.

Peter Grieve writes: 

I feel that I am unique on this site as having been in this hairdresser's situation for most of my life (Hello, Peter). Obviously this is not due to a lack of economic education or upbringing. I feel that the factors include a lack of skepticism regarding my own appetites, a lack of faith in the future, a certain immediacy in response to the world. These are traits associated with immaturity, to which I confess. Of course this leads to tremendous inefficiencies, even when viewed from a purely hedonistic perspective, but it does have its compensations.

I do not regard Scott's comments as elitist, presumptive, uncharitable, or any of that baloney. On the contrary, I find the the use of the word "uncharitable" to be condescending. I do not feel that people in my position are a fit object of charity.

Everyone has their irrationalities, and they are often incomprehensible to those who do not share them. Scott's words are simple, honest truths, which many people (including me) would benefit by internalizing to a greater degree.

Stefan Martinek writes:

It is good to have an emergency cash for at least a decade; locked, untouchable for trading or similar. The rest can be at risk. And after MF Global steal from client accounts (is Corzine still free?), I think it is prudent to keep as little as necessary with FCM. In case of a brokerage failure, the jurisdiction matters (Switzerland is preferred, the UK is too slow but ok, then Canada, and the last option is the US broker).

Ralph Vince writes: 


I entirely disagree; emergency cash has a shelf life which is very short, and our perspective warped as we are speaking in terms of USD. Being the historian you are, you know full well how quickly that cash can be worth nothing. (And again, a many of our personal experiences here would bear out, money is lost far quicker than it can be made).

A bag of air on hand is good for one breath.

People are taught that "saving" is virtuous, borrowing a vice. I would contend that we have crossed to Rubicon in terms of the notion of stored value — no more able to contain that vapor than we can a bottle of lightning. The circulation brought upon by a zirp world, turning all those with savings into the participants at a craps table, the currency being used the product of a confidence game, among the virtues to be taught to tomorrow's youth is that of creating streams of income — things that provide an economic benefit their neighbor is willing to pay for, as opposed to a squirrel's vermiculated nuts.

"Stored value," is a synthetic notion we have accepted and teach as a virtue. It has no place in nature, it is a synthetic construct, one that is not scoffed at in the violent, life-and-death world of fire and ice. Young people need to be taught the fine distinction between the confabulation of "storing value," and that of using today's fruit to generate tomorrow's.

Stefan Jovanovich adds: 

From the other Stefan: I agree Ralph. "Stored Value" is another part of the economist dream that platonic ideals can be found. Money is and always has been one thing: the stuff you could voluntarily give to the tax man that would make the King find another excuse for throwing you into the dungeon. The gold standard did not change that; it simply gave the citizen a chance to make the same kind of unilateral demand on the government. It is hardly surprising that the fans of authority and "government" hate the Constitutional idea of money as Coin. How can you have a permanently elastic official debt if the citizens can ask for payment in something other than a different form of IOU?

However, Stef does have a point. Having a hefty cash balance is a wonderful gift; it gives you the time to figure out your next move. The sacrifice is the absence of leverage; the gain is having literally free time.

Scott Brooks comments: 

There are a lot of companies out there that take advantage of them and the bad advice they were given from their parents. Banks certainly do. Then you've got insurance companies and brokerage firms selling them crap products as well.

But that doesn't hold water in today's society with Suzie Orman and others like her being nearly ubiquitous on the airwaves and net.

These people live beyond their means. Plain and simple.

Yes, they lack education, but even with education available, they don't take advantage of it. They are just doing what they were taught as kids. For far to0 many of these people, as long as they've got enough money for their 1-2 packs of cigarettes/day and their quart of Jack/week, they go and live lives of quiet desperation, hoping that they don't lose their jobs and are lucky enough (i.e. like not spending money on stupid stuff is "luck") to pay off their debts by the time they are in their early/mid-70s so they can live out their remaining few years (if they even make it that long) on social security.

I know. I grew up with these people. I know how they think. But for grace of God (as was mentioned earlier), I might have been one of them. But for some reason, I was blessed with gray matter that works, and I saw the error of those ways, and I was able to get out.

Ken Drees writes: 

I knew a guy–lost touch with him over the years–who exclusively dealt with hairdressers and salonists. He sold variable annuities to them since these people had no retirement plans given to them from the salon owners. I believe in his mind that he was doing them a service–and I really do not know the quality of his products–but at a glance I saw them as mutual fund annuity hybrids that came from heavy fee fund families. He was a tall, dark and handsome gent and he would actually get entire staffs of salon ladies to invite him in after hours for a group meeting/financial planning discussion presentation.

He always said that business was brisk! 

Jim Sogi writes: 

When young friends ask me, how should I invest, I give them a simple asset allocation model based on ETFs or Vanguard and an averaging model. Invest x% of your paycheck off the top each time. Doesn't matter how much really.

Russ Sears writes: 

 Scott, since this is the DailySpec let us bring a little science into the discussion, even if it is social science.

Where we differ is not what is causing the hairdresser's problem. It is in what can be done about it that I differ. I believe you can coach people to delay gratification. I coached kids that never did homework before and got "D's" and "F's" during a summer and by fall the kid was an "A" or "B" student. You probably owe a hardy thanks to the coaches in your life.

Perhaps the greatest social science finding has been the "marshmallow experiment" done at Stanford. They did test on 600 4 year olds telling them if the child did not eat a marshmallow for 15 minutes after they left, they would get a second marshmallow. 1/3rd of them made the whole 15 minutes, a small percentage ate it immediately after the others had waited various amounts of time. They followed up on these kids several time in the last 40 years. Just about every way you can think of to define success was highly correlated with the time the 4 year old delayed gratification: SAT score, college/HS graduation rate, credit scores, long term committed relationships, contentment etc. And almost any way you can define failure was inversely correlated: jail time, high school.

The correlation was stronger than IQ, social economic status at 4 years old. In other words even the dumb poor kid that delayed gratification was happy/content/successful 40 years out. He may not be making much but he is happy with it.

For a humorous view of this experiment reproduced: Joachim de Posada: Don't eat the marshmallow! 



In the past six years, we have basically seen two phenomena in stocks: 1. etf growing use, and 2. share buybacks. My theory is that these two forces combine to totally drain liquidity from the stock market. The general downward trend in volume is the proof, also probably explains persistent small upward march of stocks, and the tendency for "corrections" to be much more like "flash crashes."

With one, we have something like robotic superfunds who accumulate mass quantities of stock and hold, rebalancing based on volume in the etf. With two we have drastic reductions in float.

A bear market in that environment will bring a certain violence and toxicity never seen before. Down days are almost forced to be large. So when we talk about a bear and months of down days, it will probably be something truly awful. Etfs will dump stocks on a reduced float market that is largely composed of funds anyways.

The size of the exit is determined by volume and float. Door is getting small…

Ken Drees writes: 

This article explains ETF mechanics well.

Almost as important for the ETF are the authorised participants, or APs, which act as marketmakers. The APs, most of which are banks, help to keep the share price of the ETF close to the value of the underlying assets. Imagine that one big investor in an ETF with, say, a 10% stake, wanted to sell its holding in a single day. There might not be ready buyers for such a large holding, causing the ETF to fall to a price below the value of the assets it owns.

To avoid this, the APs act to balance supply and demand. If the ETF is expanding (more people want to buy shares than to sell), then the AP puts in an order to the fund manager for a block of new shares, dubbed creation units, in the ETF. In return, it transfers a bundle of securities, based on the index the fund is tracking, to the manager (this bundle is known as the creation basket). If the ETF is shrinking (more people want to sell than to buy), then the AP sells creation units to the fund manager and receives in return a bundle of securities known as the "redemption basket".

The AP can also keep the price of the fund in line with its assets through arbitrage. The asset value of the ETF is published on a regular basis during the day; if the price of the ETF is higher than its underlying assets, then the AP (or any big investor) can sell ETF shares and buy the underlying assets. If the price is lower, they can buy ETF shares and sell the assets.

The AP can also keep the price of the fund in line with its assets through arbitrage. The asset value of the ETF is published on a regular basis during the day; if the price of the ETF is higher than its underlying assets, then the AP (or any big investor) can sell ETF shares and buy the underlying assets. If the price is lower, they can buy ETF shares and sell the assets.

So how might this process go wrong? One obvious danger might be the role of the APs. If they fail to make a market in the security, then the price could get out of kilter with the asset value of the fund. Alternatively, they might go bust in the middle of the creation or redemption process, which takes three days to complete. That might leave the ETF short of the shares needed to top up the fund (and match its benchmark) or the cash to pay its investors.

anonymous writes: 

Larry, your analysis seems reasonable. I'm curious if you or other folks here think the lack of liquidity applies more generally than just the stock market (e.g., in the banking and currency markets). See for instance:

"Into The ‘Dollar’ Run Now More Than Illiquidity?"

"Volatility As ‘Money’; Or Really Rising Vol As Anti-Money

Ralph Vince writes: 

And the fact that leveraged and short ETFs must move stock exponentially with a drop in prices. That is to say, the more the underlying securities in the ETF drop in price, the more shares must be sold and this is not — a a drop of 2d takes more than twice as many shares to be sold as a drop in 1d. This would seem not such a big problem except that it is likely to occur during times of vacuous liquidity. 



 Since the situation may well be worse than this data suggests, my question is how can China maintain 5% growth this year, never mind 7%. Or will the economy hit a wall?

Ralph Vince writes: 

It is not like our economy at all. Whereas we panic over QE this or that, there the government owns everything. It can go on forever.



 1. How many times have you taken a position in a market and had it moved against you, and then got out pursued by a debacle only to find that the market moved in your favor 9 or the next 10 days? Please quantify the situations and see if you can take the other side. Monday, July 24 spu????!!!!!

2. The Senator loves to find a market hitting a new x day low I believe at near the open and then going above some level (I believe the previous close or some such) as a great opportunity to buy. His Japanese acolytes took furious notes and wished to make him a national icon for this. How can it be quantified for individual stocks and markets?

Ralph Vince writes: 

#1 occurs ONLY when one has stops in the market of interest. Otherwise, it just doesn't happen that way– I am Cain (the market sees me, yes, me, there, in the shadows and trying to hide anonymously in the crowds).

I have to turn away, walk away in these situations, and look back at some as-yet unknown future point. "I'll be at the Coyote Motel, with it's missing light bulbs and wax bars of little soaps and the maids that never show. I will be eating cheese and day-old Reubens and watching the markets (now pointing with my index finger) and I will return when you can act like a lady."



 David Lillienfeld writes:

Last year, Tim Melvin posted a classic piece about Memorial Day. It brought me to tears then, and it did so this morning when I went through it again. It is some of the most eloquent writing I have seen about Memorial Day, and it's a shame that it hasn't received more notice outside of this site than it has to date—it certainly merits it.

Tim Melvin writes:

They call to you this weekend. From Flanders Field, from Normandy, Khe San, Gettysburg, Concord and Lexington, the Chosin Reservoir, from the hull of the Arizona, and from all the hundreds of thousands of resting places marked and unmarked they call to you. The call to you from the depths of the Pacific and the jungle of Asia, from the deserts of the American Southwest, from the fields and cities of Europe, from Cuba, from around the world they call you with a request this weekend. Remember me.

Remember who I was and the hopes and dreams I willingly laid upon the altar of the great American experiment. Remember that like you I was once flesh and blood and I gave that up to secure a portion of the American Dream and secure essential liberties at home and even for people around the world. You may not have agreed with the rational for some of the conflicts we have ensnared ourselves in over the centuries and I am not even sure I fully understood it. But our nation called and I answered. Liberty carries a price tag and I paid it for you. Remember me.

War is an idiotic human endeavor and I wish we never had to go engage in such a wasteful exercise. But at times throughout history it has been necessary for good men to take up arms to secure our freedom from tyranny and defends ourselves against expressions of pure evil and hatred. When such times have arisen I have taken arms and defended the freedom and liberty in which I believed and for which all humanity years. Remember me.

Do not remember me with tears and sadness. Pray solemnly and shed tears if you must but that it is not my preference. Remember me in a violent celebration of all that is America. Take your families to the seashore and frolic as man has done since we merged from the sea. Go out on your boats and go as fast as you can over the waves with the winds of a free land and a free people blowing back your hair. Fire up your grill and invite the neighbors up for food, drink and laughter. This is why I laid down my life. Not so you would cry for me but so you could enjoy your life and your family, your loved ones and friends. Remember me in the laughter and joy of being alive.

Hear me in the sound of loud music coming from a dock bar. Hear me in the growling of a stock car engine taking a green flag or the whine of Indy car hitting 200 mph on the backstretch. Hear me in the laughter of a child skipping in the surf or running through the sprinkler in the back yard. Hear me in the chatter of friends around a BBQ pit. Hear me in the swell of an orchestral pop concert on a wide meadow as the sun settle over the land. In all the joyous raucous noises of being alive, hear me and remember me.

 See me in the flag unwinding in the breeze. See me on the baseball diamond, the soccer pitch the basketball court. See me at the bar with my friends raining a glass to good times gone by and still to come. See me in the smile of your wife, your girlfriend or male equivalent thereof. See me in the hammock beneath the tree taking a slow summer nap. See me in all the moments and times of that make life special. See me and remember me.

Remember me best in living well. Think of me when you are passing around the steaks and steamed crabs. Remember me as you sip the cold gin and tonic in a sweaty solo cup under a shade tree. Think of me in the fisszt of a beer bottle opening, the fizzing of soda pop in a glass, the shaking of a martini, the pop of a cork, and the tinkle of ice. Remember me in the sounds of the party of life.

I do not want you to remember me in solemn sweaty ceremonies and pompous parades of politicians. You do not need to go to the cemetery to remember me for I am not there. I am at the beach, the ballgame and in the backyard. I am at the lake, on the boat and fishing on the riverbank. Do not remember me simply because I died. Forgetting to duck or being ordered to charge impregnable positions is a crappy legacy if you ask me. Remember me because I lived and I died protecting your right and ability to live and experience all the joys and madness that is life.

I am not merely a dead soldier who died in the service of his country. I am all the things that were made possible by freedom gained and protected. I am Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Hunter Thompson and all the words written by the geniuses spawned in the America. I am the music spawned among a free and talented people. I am Robert Johnson, Miles Davis Liberace and Ted Nugent. I'm all the great scientists and inventors that have graced this land. I am Edison, I am Feynman and I am Ford. I am all the great athletes born in the towns and cities of this nation. I am Mantle. I am Unitas. I am Jesse Owens and Jim Thorpe. I am every greatness achieved by this nation born in a sea of blood and protected by rivers of it over centuries. Do not mourn me for the time has past for that, but remember me.

Remember me for I am also the future of this great nation I died to build. Remember me as you live, as you build as you work and as your create. Remember me as youprotect my legacy from the charlatans, thieves and idiots who make up our political class. Remember me when you refuse to cede personal liberties I died for to those who have good intentions and bad ideas. Remember me when you take chances and reach for your dreams and ideal. Remember me when you refuse to participate in limiting freedom or opportunity based on skin color, sexual preference or genital make up. Remember me when you dream, when you achieve and when you celebrate. These are things for which I died and for which I would be remembered.

My voice calls to you today. Life, love, laugh dream, build achieve. Do this in remembrance of me.

Happy Memorial Day. Remember me.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

 Memorial Day used to be Decoration Day — the day when the graves of soldiers were draped in flags — and there was no official Federal date. In Gettysburg it was held on November 19, the day the cemetery was dedicated. In the South it was on various dates in the Spring. It was never, ever a day for speeches until the official South decided that the soldiers graves should be part of a general uprising to justify the Rebellion — the same political movement that gave us official segregation; at that same time - the late 1880s — the states began legislating official holidays for Decoration Day, they also made Jefferson Davis' birthday a state holiday. What we now observe dates only from WW II, and the date itself was fixed in the 1960s. It is strictly a Cold War ritual that has been revived for the war against unspecified terrors.

I hope Tim finds an equilibrium somewhere between thinking that everyone who ever died in uniform as a hero and believing war is everywhere and always to be considered the worst of all things. I hope everyone enjoys the ceremonies today. If I don't, it is not out of disrespect for what people have done. I don't like official remembrances for the same reason Grant hated parades; they tend, by their very nature, to be organized lies.

They allow the people in the reviewing stands to preen and they present a picture of order that is the very last thing that wars ever are.

The truth is that some wars are worth their awfulness and some are completely stupid. The people best qualified to judge are the ones who have done the fighting; as with so many other things in life, those who know the most are the very ones who don't say much. There are exceptions, like Professor Sledge:

"War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste… The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other - and love. That espirit de corps sustained us."

"Until the millennium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one's responsibilities and be willing to make sacrifices for one's country - as my comrades did."

anonymous comments: 

I differ…greatly.

I preface by saying I have not served in the services nor in a war.

Yet I've known many…young, naive or foolish men who have answered the call. Many didn't believe in the cause and thought their superiors to be idiots. Yet they stayed and fought. I respect and remember that loyalty, and buy dinner or drinks for them and their family when I come into contact with them. I do it out if loyalty and not guilt. They upheld their end of the bargain. The least I can do is acknowledge them.

These are not the she-men that appear to surround me, those who talk about shat should be done yet are never there to do it. They have loyalty to no one.

There are pieces meant to rouse the animal spirits and conscripted ranks. I felt Tim's piece wasn't a call to enlist as other pieces.

The generation of Vietnam castigated those who were drafted and required to fight. That double bind or catch-22 has always bothered me. There's a similar thinking in DC now, where you are encouraged to break laws and obey them simultaneously.

One if the primary social contracts is to take care of your own. Tim's piece echoed that sentiment. The Chair demonstrates it too, as do many on the list.

In the Catholic Church, there are many celebrations of saints. I have learned, not having been raised Catholic, that many saints were far from perfect. There was a similar idea in his piece. Monday isn't a celebration of personal perfection or success in war. As Tim writes, it is recalling the guy who once sat in the empty chair at our table.

Semper Fi et Ductus Exemplo. 

Ralph Vince writes: 

There is nothing more inadvertently dangerous than a young man.

There is nothing more potentially vicious than a woman on her own.

One must tread carefully around these. 



 I'll just throw this out.

Intuitively, I suspect that if a fraction X gets better on a placebo, and if a fraction Y (which could overlap with X) gets real physiological benefit (as determined the by the deities), then the fraction that will REPORT being better would be something like sqrt(X^2 + Y^2). (The "reasoning" is that the real effect and the placebo effect are probably uncorrelated and therefore "add" in an orthogonal way, like the Pythagorean theorem.)

So if X is 0.6 and Y is 0.4 then 72% of people in the study would say they were better.

Of course this won't be valid if X^2+Y^2 gets close to or exceeds one.

Anyway, if that formula is right, and if 40% of people really do benefit as determined by the deities, then we'd see 72% reporting that they're better, which is not much more than the percent that "respond" to the placebo, 60%. So it's probably hard to smoke out an effect, even if it's kind of big.

anonymous writes: 

Before any marathon or ultra, you hang around in the corral of runners waiting to go, (towards the back. towards the WaaaaaAAAaay back, with the jockeys, fat ladies, kids dribbling basketballs) and ask practically ANY old guy if they take it, they will tell you affirmatively. I've done that at least dozens of times. Then look around at who has had a knee replacement and is in that category. No one.

Now that does not mean that the prevalence of old guys running marathons now (whereas two or three decades ago you didn't see that, may be a function of fad, but I remember old guys who ran two or three decades ago stopped running– almost all of them because "their knees couldn't take it anymore," or they "wore out their knees.") is a result of G&C consumption, or the fact that there are so many more older people running now, the fad effect.

There is a tendency to mock anecdotal evidence such as this– but our entire lives are spent accumulating anecdotal evidence and attempting to draw conclusions, from what we consume, what the "best" route to get to a certain destination is, what time we ought to wake up, to how we trade, etc. Everything we do in life is an attempt to solve an optimization problem based most often on a statistically insignificant number of data points.

David Lillienfeld writes: 

First, I'm a physician and among my areas of expertise is the evaluation of drugs (pharm, not abuse). If you want to use anecdote, then you must have little use for regression to the mean. Anecdotes are subject to publication bias, small numbers, inadequate control of bias, among others. It is human nature to work off of anecdotes. It is also misleading.

Based on anecdote, radical mastectomy would still be the standard of care for breast cancer. Based on anecdote, rehab after a heart attack would consist of sitting on one's butt for six months "for healing." Based on anecdote, there are any number of medications one might use for treating pulmonary fibrosis. They actually don't do much. None of them. Based on anecdote, laetrile would be the nectar for cancer. Guess what—it isn't. So if you want to run on anecdote, go right ahead. But don't be surprised if your results are random, because that's what's happened in medicine based on anecdote. It's the reason why evidence-based medicine has emerged from the shadows. And don't forget that regression to the mean. Relying on anecdote goes right up there with physician self-treatment of disease. BTW, my uncle treated himself for a heart attack. Wrote the orders for morphine (it was 1960). Managed to kill himself with an overdose. In the hospital.

Second, vitamin C has been looked at for any number of diseases. For the common cold, there's lots of hedging by the Cochrane Collaboration, but I'd hardly call it something where they see compelling evidence—at least for the common cold. Linus Pauling may have thought he was onto something. He was brilliant, some would say he was a genius. That doesn't give him a pass on evidence. Ronald A. Fisher believed cigarette smoking wasn't—couldn't be—a cause of lung cancer, and he was mystified by the increasing mortality rates from it. The same was true for Jacob Yerushalmy. There's a fellow in San Francisco, generally acknowledged as brilliant (he may even have a Nobel) who maintained that HIV wasn't the cause of AIDS. Genius isn't immunity from being wrong. Conjectures in science, even from geniuses, need evidence to be considered worthy of incorporation into the corpus of scientific knowledge.

I had two good friends, Bill Cochran (he of Cochran's Theorem and Abel Wolman talking at a symposium on the history of epidemiology. Cochran observed that "Evidence is a bitch." Wolman replied, "At least evidence is visible. It's the non-visible things that will get you every time." Wolman made his reputation in sanitary engineering (as it was then known) on figuring out how to get sufficient chlorine into tap water as to kill the cell present in it while maintaining that water's potability. Threats that weren't visible was his stock in trade, so to speak. But these were philosophies of science, not specific research questions.

Third, the pharmacokinetics of vit C do not suggest that more is better, ie, always gives a higher serum concentration.

Sorry about the length of this message, but it's worth noting that saying, "Guessing is a capital crime, and if you engage in it, you will lose your capital and become a criminal." I wish I could remember who said it. Can't though.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I don't disagree with you (more specifically, I'm not qualified to disagree with you on this even if I were inclined to), however, as infants we learn to speak, and before that even, in our earliest life hours, we learn to learn by optimization based solely on the sparse data set of anecdotal evidence.

It's a platform that has certainly served us well, should not be disparaged, but rather ought to be acknowledged as perhaps not always best when other determination making platforms are available.

Jim Wildman comments:

Properly done full squats are excellent for strengthening knees (assuming no preexisting damage, only weakness). One of the surprising things I've found since starting powerlifting 4 years ago, is that a lot of 'knee pain' can be corrected through better mobility (ie, stretching). New power lifters of all ages typically have to work on hip and ankle mobility before they can successfully squat. Once you have the mobility issues corrected, building strength is a matter of patience and diligence.

Russ Sears adds: 

My wife, a RPh, thinks it MAY help, because it does seem to increase the lubricant on the joints.

However, firstly, this effect takes 2-3 months of use to develop this effect, The placebo effect is much more immediate. And most users think it works much quicker than the measurable effect to the body.

Secondly, it may simply be self selection, since as Jim and others suggest. Those willing to stick to taking 3-5 large pills a day are usually the ones willing to exercise. Diet also effect it.

Thirdly, many drugs help cause the desired response to the body, but create other problems to produce that effect. For example lowering cholesterol, but also side effect of lower calcium/electrolyte for the heart. (this is why I avoid supplements in general)

Fourth, it is not a "cure" but a MAY prevention future flare-ups, it MAY mask the symptoms. And people with arthritis have various rate of deterioration. Hence, needing a large group to determine if it helps.

With this said, many doctors and pharmacists do recommend using it. 



 This article "14 Ways An Economist Might Say 'I Love You" seems appropriate for the day. Personally, I'll go with an orchid. No lines, no trumped up cost. (The line on 86th used to go from 2nd Avenue over to Lex before turning south for 1+ blocks back when I was living in Manhattan. And a dozen red long stems was $44. Ouch.)

Gordon Haave writes: 

The best move to make on Valentine's Day is the single red rose, presented elegantly. That way it looks like you put some thought into it to make it special when really you are just trying to save money.

Ralph Vince writes: 

But you don't just give it to her. Now, is where the REAL thought has to happen and the magic transpires. But most men can't figure that out.

anonymous writes: 

The technique I have had great success with is to engineer events so that it looks like I was not thoughtful, had no plan, forgot, etc. This causes a growing sense of letdown and frustration, which of course seems a counter-intuitive intent. The key is in the swing to euphoria that can occur from this low level. When it is discovered that rather than "forgetting", you had instead been very thoughtful and utilized foresight well in advance (the opposite of what had previously lead to her sinking feeling), the elation can be intense on the lady's part, which leads to a very solid return from the male perspective. I think in the markets, you often get this same euphoric reaction after a test lower has cleaned out the stops– nowhere to go but up.



 Here's a quick list of what I came up with but I hasten to add I know nothing about football.

1. Don't try to be tricky. The members are too enabled.

2. Slow but steady wins the race. Don't go from long to short in one day.

3. Stick with the drift. Bonds and stocks have a drift.

4. Be calm and steady. Stay away from exotic and barrier options and all prop things in markets.

5. Regression fallacy is ubiquitous. The last pass to Butler was good. Don't think it will work again.

6. Don't try to make money the same way two times in row.

7. Stay with the quants. You would think that sabermetrics would tell the right way.

8. Never force your opponent to hit a good shot. They set up a play that allowed Butler to reach it.

9. The cobbler should stick to the last.

10. Don't over strategize. Stick with winning.

anonymous writes: 

If nothing else (not being much of a sports fan), Monday morning analyses often emphasize (to me) the existence of the recency bias, or in wikipedian terms, the serial position effect.

The likelihood that the end of the game last night actually had one of the worst play calls ever is actually fairly low. I suspect that lots of decisions poorer than that one have been made in the past. Similarly, there seems to be a longstanding tendency that when the public is surveyed about their opinion of the quality of presidents' administrations in recent history, the current office holder nearly always is at one extreme or the other.

Ralph Vince writes: 

39 F Curl X-back up. Montana through that to win the 89 Super Bowl. The ball was on the 9 yard line with 39 seconds to go. It was a pass right up the middle, in the back of the end zone however, when the more obvious play would be to throw it right at the goal line, by the sidelines — that would have been much harder to intercept, and if you came up short, there was time to finish it. That up the middle pass left Cincinnatti time to try one last flailing attempt, but, most importantly, it is the kind of pass that led itself to being picked-off.

But no one second guesses the plays the worked, or the fact that every play mismanages the clock one way or the other. You never get top tick.

Andrew Goodwin writes: 

Point 9 of the Chair indicates that one should stick to what one knows. The "last" is a form that shoemakers use.

The Seahawks failed in not sticking to their "last." Their footmen were capable and the excessive trickery failed in the pass call.

The right play was run to Lynch on foot instead of to pass. Let the star who got you to the endgame be the one of who fails. You can pay him less next time even if you lose the game.

Point 8 contains the concept of never cornering the opponent in order to avoid his making a brilliancy. That encapsulates a wonderful ambiguity –Never answering but always provoking thought and sometimes provoking profitable action.

Dan Murphy adds:

It was, indeed, the worst play call in Super Bowl history for the following reasons:

1. The Patriots were almost certainly incapable of stopping Lynch from getting one yard if aligned directly behind Wilson. They were by some metrics, the worst team at stopping runs on 3rd or 4th and short this season, and Seattle the best at picking up those yards on the ground with Lynch. There was one key 3rd and 1 earlier where the Pats stopped Lynch in the Red Zone…but that is only because the backside OT pulled on the read-option and the unblocked DE (Ninkovitch) ran the play down from the backside. Straight ahead man-on-man blocking and there is little chance NE prevents a touchdown (maybe 25%) …give them two chances and the probability of success is probably over 90% (and there was a remote chance of a 3rd play with a quick time-out if the first attempt failed)

2. The explanation of “it was being done to run time off the clock” was as dumb as the call itself. An incomplete pass runs no less time off the clock than an unsuccessful run AND if the Patriots were desperate to stop the clock (it would have been running on a failed rush but stopped after an incompletion) they would have been forced to use a time-out (although seems unlikely that they would have called time-out given that they didn’t use one to stop the clock at :50 after the first Lynch run). What would have been a reasonable explanation was “We wanted to make sure that we had three chances to score instead of two.” At least there is some logic to this. With two failed runs and only one time-out, they might not have gotten off a 3rd play before the clock expired. By passing on 2nd down, they had the potential to throw an incompletion, fail by rushing on 3rd down, and then get a last play by calling time-out.

Regarding the throw itself anybody who has watched a lot of Tom Brady over the years can tell you …the safest place to throw that ball is ankle high.. where only your guy can get it. The problem with that is Russell Wilson is 5'10? and therefore throwing in the seams can be dangerous from the perspective of tipped / batted balls. Throwing the ball between the #s from the pocket is his weakest point as a QB … yet another reason why this play call was a disaster.

Personally, I thought the Patriots were going to win the SB from the pre-season…finally Belichick had the personnel to play his kind of defense on a high level (for the first time in nearly a decade), although I’ll admit I didn’t feel too good about this prediction with 30 seconds left in the game.

anonymous writes: 

Caution: Professor Phil will probably disagree with most or all of this.

Even the very best major league hitter can only cover (at most) half the hitting zone for any one pitch. He can, if he is Altuve or Posey or any of the other dozen or so HOF quality current players, cover the entire plate side to side and 90% of it up and down (hence, "high" and "low" ball hitters) with his stance and swing. But, at the speed and spin that good pitchers throw, even with 20/10 vision and complete concentration he can only cover half the plate. So, the challenge for the hitter is where to look and, for the pitcher, to do a reverse Wee Willie Keeler. Sabermetrics "works" in the same way that the having a legal tender convertible to a fixed weight and measure of gold works; it offers a yardstick that is not political. Where sabermetrics fails is in the details of a particular contest; probabilities cannot forecast a game any more than the Constitutional dollar standard could predict the credit markets. 



Finance professors teach their students that diversification is the only "free lunch" they can get. Recently, I looked at eight market groups (period 1995-2014). High correlations within individual groups could be expected. More interesting is what is happening on a wider scale over time. I recall that media were writing around 2008 that the "free lunch" is gone and that all markets behave like one big correlated monster, like Dracula. Between 2007-2012 we could see increased numbers, but recently we moved back to the normal. I have attached a figure for the year 2014 (server did not allow more pictures - 100k limit; for those who are interested all data can be found here).

Ralph Vince comments: 

Correlations have NO relevance in allocation decisions — they are not only not constant, they don't address the relationship properly (as a copula does). Using the latter, one see the effect of those oddball days of immense danger, and can then craft their allocation strategy accordingly. Straight correlations tend to mask this.

Stefan Martinek replies: 

I agree Ralph. I like things balanced between equities, fixed income, currencies, and commodities. We can ignore Markowitz + half Chicago. But it is still interesting to see where we are now in comparison to history and whether things somehow degenerate.



All the testing I have done on stops indicates they work exactly as you would expect. They reduce risk and they also reduce expected return. Sometime they reduce the return to breakeven or negative in which case its better off just not to trade. In other cases they eliminate bankruptcy risk and allow for some return, but not the expected return you get without stops. It seems to fit right in with EMT, CAPM and practical ideas on markets regarding risk and return. If you are selling disaster risk, you expect to be paid for it.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Or, expressed in terms of their effect:

Total Return = (A^2 - V)^(Q/2) - 1

Where A = Average return per trade (expressed as a multiple, i.e. 1.0 + return)

V = Variance in the A's

Q = total number of A's

When stops reduce V more than they increase A^2, it pays to use them.. I suggest conducting tests on this, it is far more revealing (in terms of the distribution of the A's) then meets the (rolling) eye(s) when looking at the simple equation.



 For those with a bloomberg professional terminal, "live" bitcoin prices are now available. The symbol is XBT <CURNCY> <GO> … so we can now run all of those essential analytics.

But standing in the way of this analysis is the fact that the forward, interest rate parity, etc. pages are all blank. Because they don't exist….

VCCY <GO> is the "virtual currency monitor" page.

Henrik Andersson writes:

Rocky, I found a way for you to short Bitcoin. is a peer 2 peer Bitcoin lending web site. If you sign up under the alias 'RockyHumbert' I promise to help fund the loan provided you pay a decent rate….

Rocky's Ghost writes:

Rocky will be heading back to the Northwest Territory shortly, but before he departs, he wants to give a shout out and thanks to Henrik for what Business Insider ranks as the single worst investment of 2014. Bitcoin declined from about 800 to 314 over the course of the year (which is even worse than Rocky's daughter's Mattel stock which she owns for the "long run". )

If Rocky were going to make a similar bet for 2015, it would be to buy calls on UUP. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2015.

1. Trade with the trend.
2. Ride winners and cut losers.
3. Manage risk.
4. Keep mind and spirit clear.

Ralph Vince writes:

Interesting post indeed. I have no predictions for 2015, other than to put as much as I can behind my trading. As there is more than one way to skin a cat, in reading Rocky's Ghost's post (and I admire his market acumen as I do his physical self) I would amend his four points, most interestingly, as follows:

1. Trade as though the data is entirely random and fat-tailed (RG :Trade with the trend.)
2. Always be taking profits (RG :Ride winners and cut losers.)
3. Manage risk. (RG: Manage risk.)
4. Shake it - but don't break it (RG: Keep mind and spirit clear.)

Point #3 bears repeating.

anonymous writes:

Some Seykota additions:

#5. Follow the rules.

#6. kKnow when to break rule #5.



 American Exceptionalism. I have always hated that phrase and the perverse doctrines that accompany it. The American Constitution is remarkably exceptional; one wishes it were still followed. But the idea that we Americans were born or (equally bad) become endowed with some special grace is one that makes me look for the Exit sign in the hall every time I hear it.

It also reminds me of the disastrous presumption that infected so much of the period that Stern writes about and led to WW I.

Ed Stewart writes:

I notice that every time I start believing that I am an exceptional trader (like I did a few weeks ago), a large loss is near at hand. Best to curtail commitments at the hint of that feeling– the opposite of what the feeling suggests to do.

Gary Phillips writes: 

Success is more destabilizing emotionally than failure.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Failure is absolutely necessary–in fact, nothing is more necessary, in all aspects of life.

For one, it teaches the individual not so much not to do what caused the failure, but how to regroup, reassess and recover from failure. The lesson of failure is about what you do afterwards.

Many things in life require failure. No one learns, say, to lift a lot of weight, to solve a differential equation, or do a backflip on pavement, without failing many, many times. There is no may to accomplish many things in life without enduring the requisite and many failures required.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Failures teach you much more than successes which can lull you into complacency and hubris (like when you have 10 successes in a row). But you must attention pay attention to and analyze the failures inside and out. You have to ask yourself "why?". Ralph hit the nail on the head with his post.

Ralph Vince replies: 

The 13-year-old boy looks around the gym, struggling to lift pipsqueak weight. Failing.

I point to all the old smellies, putting up ungodly amounts of weight.

"You see those guys - every one? Every one of them failed at every increment, every 5 pound increment between what you are failing at and lifting what they lift and they failed at every increment over and over. That had to keep trying, eventually, sneaking up on it. Failure, repeated failure, is part of the process."



 In Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, he mentions that since criminals find it very hard to communicate directly they often take their signals from vivid events and happenings like in The Godfather which is their favorite (by the way, Puzo had never met a gangster and wrote the book completely from transcripts). They adopt the language and the styles and the activities.

The top feeders in our field have a similar problem. They can't communicate their actions directly as they would be front run and also the public would not be able to weaken and succumb to give them good fills. So they wait for vivid events like today to do their stuff, first clearing the action to make sure there are no others around to intercept their messages. The horse's head was yesterday, but today FOMC was the massacre of bears.

Ralph Vince writes: 

The best bridge is played before the first trick is.

Orson Terrill comments: 

What about the ECB signaling that next year is when they'll stimulate. Was that a "FOMC, we know you're tightening to some degree soon, and this time we want to lag behind in the interest rate cycle, to get a relatively weaker currency"?



 I admit I have difficulties separating myself from the monkeys.

During trading strategy development, most of the time I have found that a 'good' strategy by many criteria can't actually beat out the performance of the random trades by monkeys. So the question is what constitutes intelligence? Is performance the sole criterion that separates intelligence from non-intelligence? If not, what else? What can make me say, "ok monkeys, I can't beat you in performance, but this thing makes me much more intelligent than you"?

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

Monkeys' investments are hypothetical; no one has really actualized this hoary supposition. Your trades are measurable and real.

Et voila la difference.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Because you think too much.

No joke.

You look for an "edge," i.e. an asymptotic probability weighted mean that is > 0.

The monkey - he doesn't. He does not posses that great big brain that leads him to believe in the delusions (see previous line) that you do.

He is only concerned with a finite time horizon, one play (get the banana! Don't worry about the small probaiblity of a chock, get the banana), in his case. You, on the other hand, have used your big brain to lure yourself into thinking you will be around tomorrow, something you take for granted.



If you're working a limit and miss the fill by 1//2 a point, and you then go to market when it's 5 away so to get the position on, the price will hit your original order limit. And of course if you don't go to market, you'll miss the trade of the year. You can put your lunch money on it.

Ralph Vince adds: 

This comports to one of a family of distributions named after Maurice Tweedie , who classified a group of distributions, incl. Pareto, as comporting to:

Variance(x) = a * ExpectedValue(x)^p, where the constants a>0 and p>=0

The various distributions that are classically known occur at certain values for p (e.g. p==2 for Pareto), which is of no consequence but what IS of consequence is that this basic form is where we see so much occur in so many events market-related, insurance-related, weather-related, etc.



 So much–once again–for moneyball.

Kansas City-9


Ralph Vince writes:

Baseball is certainly a game where you truly need at least a 7 game series to determine who is the better team. Unlike, say, football, where in most games, the better team wins, that margin is much, much smaller in baseball, given the nature of the game (truly, a game of inches…and bounces…and breezes, and tiny margins that decide the day).

Don't take my word for it, however. We can compare major league baseball, to say, basketball, where the percentage of time the better team wins, given the nature of basketball vs baseball, is higher than baseball. Here is the data for all 7-game playoff series from 1905-2013:

1905 - 2013

Series Baseball Basketball

1-0        62.7     77.3

2-0        82.7     93.7

3-0         97       100

2-1        71.1      82

3-1        84.6     96.3

3-2        69.8     85.9

So, series 3-2 we see that in baseball, the team that is up 3 games to 2 games has taken the 7-game series 69.8% of the time vs basketball's 85.9% of the time. Clearly, basketball dominates baseball in this metric, and further evidence that the outcome of any single baseball game reflects who the better team is less frequently than most other sports.

Stefan Jovanovich comments: 

In baseball the "best" team is the one that actually wins in the post season, not the one that has the "better" stats during the regular season; that is, as the coach said, "why they play the game" and why the game, which can be counted so easily, still eludes the precision that sabermetricians have promised.

What makes baseball relentlessly unfair is that the advantage that "better" teams usually enjoy - home field - counts for the least. Of all the major sports, baseball is the one has the lowest "home field" advantage - 52-48. What makes the game doubly unfair is that the "inches" even out, just as they do in the racquet sports; and the referees cannot easily, as they often do in football and basketball, decide the game.

For those of you who have not read Moneyball, the reason for my snarky reminder of the final score (Kansas City-9, Oakland-8) was that the Royals won the game by doing precisely what Master Beane has argued against - they stole bases and sacrificed - and the A's got their 8th run by doing exactly the same thing.



 Shades of Galton….


In his fourth-floor lab at Harvard University, Michael Desai has created hundreds of identical worlds in order to watch evolution at work. Each of his meticulously controlled environments is home to a separate strain of baker's yeast. Every 12 hours, Desai's robot assistants pluck out the fastest-growing yeast in each world, selecting the fittest to live on, and discard the rest. Desai then monitors the strains as they evolve over the course of 500 generations. His experiment, which other scientists say is unprecedented in scale, seeks to gain insight into a question that has long bedeviled biologists: If we could start the world over again, would life evolve the same way?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

The absence of time's arrow is fascinating. The "fittest" compete in a world where the rules are constant and invariable - "meticulously controlled" - while everything we know says that the rules are always changing in ways that even we brilliant humans fail to predict. Still worse for the purposes of experiment, the rules sometimes instantly and violently, even as they obey all of our entirely predictable laws of physics.

Ralph Vince comments: 

This has nothing to do with "fitness," and everything to do with randomness.

Take X scenarios. At each discrete point in time, they branch into one of these X scenarios, such that after Q discrete periods, you have X^Q branches.

Your "expectation," (not in the classic sense) is the sorted median outcome (whereas the classic sense expectation is the probability weighted mean outcome, and I contend that in the limit, i.e. as Q->infinity, they converge *).

About this sorted mean outcome (at QP0, in the paper this thread pertains to) there is a vast region of similar-outcome branches. It sounds to me as though this experiment has lass to do with evolutionary "fitness" and more to do with artifacts of expectation in finite time.

I am working on a proof of *, but working on it with respect to continuously-distributed outcomes (as opposed to discrete "scenarios") as well as continuous(though fininte) time, rather an discrete increments of time to Q.

It is a struggle.

Mr. Isomorphisms adds: 

This may not be what you're looking for in proving *. But the other day I worked out that you can exploit the "soft max" identity (seen in tropical geometry and elsewhere) to get analytic formulae for the median, third-from-top, etc. (only with log base ∞) which might get you where you need to go.

max = log_t ( t^a + t^b + t^c ), t going to infinity

min = log_t 1/( t^-a + t^-b + t^-c ), t going to infinity

second_max = max( {a,b,c} - max({a,b,c}) )

With recursion you can get all the way to the middle. (Now since we've turned the median into a continuous function we can take derivatives, which I haven't simplified or played around with since I realized one can do this. But I don't think that relates to your * — just hoping the method would.)

Steve Ellison comments: 

Regarding Shane's original question, yes, there is a phenomenon known as evolutionary convergence. Isolated areas with similar conditions often have similar life forms that developed independently. For example, cacti originated in the Western Hemisphere, but there are plants that originated in Eastern Hemisphere deserts that also store water and have spiky exteriors.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Clearly there are niches in the environment, just like there are in the economy, the market, the arts, sports, etc. It seems self-evident that a species that thrives on a Pacific island is likely to be different from a species being able to survive in the Arctic or at the bottom of the ocean. Not having "a single, cannibalizing species inhabiting the planet" only speaks to the niches in the environment not some complicated problem with evolution.

Ralph Vince adds: 

Perhaps we DO, in effect, have one, cannibalizing species, depending on how broad the field of view of our lens of examination.. How many animal life forms on the planet have but one eye? "Evolution" having eliminated that not-so-robust construction in all earthly environments. Is our notion of "species," which we believe to exhibit a vast array of life forms, only show us carbon-bases life forms with, at most, five senses. In that sense, is a penguin so much different from a scorpion from a human being? The notion itself of "food chain," with such biochemically similar life forms, is, in effect, an exercise in cannibalism. 

Gary Rogan writes: 

Since the evidence points to life arising or being successfully introduced to Earth just once, it's not surprising that we only have carbon-based life forms. And just because a scorpion shares a lot of genes and proteins with penguins doesn't mean they are of the same species, simply based on the definition of the word: to be so classified they'd have to be able to interbreed. I'm now no longer sure what the point is, but hopefully "descent with modifications" is not in question.

Ralph Vince clarifies: 

My point simply put, is that I don't find "evolution," or "Survival of the Fittest," an adequate model, i.e. a panacea for how life arose and differentiated (to the restricted sense that it has) on earth. I find it too simplistic of a solution, believe there are likely many other explanations (all of which are, in a limited sense, true, similar to the wave/particle properties of light) and am interested in any other explanations (there is not a debate here, aside from one which I don't believe you ascribe to of "Fitness" being an explanation for all life on earth).

For example, (to the best of my knowledge) every living thing seems to fit somewhere into the food chain. Perhaps there is an overriding-yet-undiscovered mechanism requiring this as a license for life on earth? (And if not, why not? A stupid question, unanswered, is still an unanswered question. I believe evolution seems to explain so much that we use it to explain where a different mechanism may be the driving one, yet, occluded by the seemingly-obvious-to-us explanation of "fitness"). Evolution is a powerful explanation, but it does not explain everything.Not that I have a problem with "fitness" as a driver here — clearly it is, so I am not at odds with you there (though I am not so sure life was introduced on earth only once, again, viral and fungal life is a difficult leap from living cells). So I simply wonder of what other driving mechanisms are at work here that we are unaware of.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Ralph, as it's generally hard to prove a negative, especially in open-ended complicated situation, I can't argue that there are other forces at work. As for fitting somewhere on the food chain, all carbon-based life forms eventually get weak and if not eaten at that point die. Weak or dead concentrated proteins and other valuable chemicals present too rich and too easy a food source not to be consumed by something, so this particular point doesn't instill a sense of wonder in me, but perhaps there is more to it than meets my eye.

We should keep in mind that on the average over any appreciable number of generations every existing species or otherwise categorized collection of biological creatures has almost exactly one descendent per individual, otherwise within a short span of time the group's mass would exceed that of the planet or conversely disappear. Therefore available resources present arguably the highest hurdle on the success of species, but as Hamlet said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in you philosophy."

Ed Stewart writes: 

Speaking of the food chain, I think the concept of the tropic level has some serious application to the markets, as I the chair documented in his first book. Might be particularly good model to analyze the impact of various stimulus measures - what level the stimulus directly stimulates, then who feeds on that level directly and indirectly for investments opportunity.

anonymous writes: 

There are no marsupials above the Wallace Line above Australia. Below there are the myriad odd and strange life forms in Australia. It was a function of geology creating distinct eco zones and separate paths of development of life forms.



 How many of the rich were in the lower quintiles like What's App which recently sold for 18 billion to Facebook and the owners were on food stamps the previous year. Is that bad for a society to provide such opportunity and for the mobility between classes to increase or should we be like England where once you're in one class you can never move to another.

Richard Owen writes: 

I am unsure if its really true that class barriers exist to any greater degree in the UK than the USA, other than perhaps in the mind or money of the classes themselves. A bit like Mr. Cosby's riffs to African Americans: don't perceive barriers for yourself. As my friend staying at the Knickerbocker club and being variously harassed for his attire, decorum and guests the other week reported "a certain strain of New Yorker could surely teach the British a thing or two about snobbery." Sure, we have a Conservative government with a disproportionate number of Etonians in it, but when one becomes Prime Minister, one tends to reach for trusted friends and fellow travelers. And being an Etonian is not a vote enhancer. Annunziata Rees-Mogg was asked to reframe herself Nancy Mogg for the purposes of election PR. The USA does not seem short of its own political dynasties and classes.

Ralph Vince writes: 

The chair's example of WhatsApp I believe is the exception more so than the rule.

The churn at the higher stratas sees parties leaving unexpectedly. Those arriving, arrive slowly, believing they will be there forever.

Vast sums of money are lost in a day, a minute or the blink of an eye. You see this principle play out at the baccarat tables and the markets. The new arrivals, the beneficiaries of money-begetting-money for protracted periods, often generations. 

Mr. Isomorphisms writes: 

Regarding the very long timetables, I admired both the diligence/ingenuity of Gregory Clark and The Economist for publishing that the surname "Micklethwait" has enjoyed a run of good luck, when its chief editor is John Micklethwait (graduate of Ampleforth College, and later Oxford). Miles Corak also earns a mention in that Economist piece. A short list of Americans from expensive high schools includes Dan Ellsberg, Charles Coker, Thruston Moore, Glenn Close, Adlai Stevenson, Cosma Shalizi, but not Dan Einhorn. 

Stefan Jovanovich adds: 

If you do any serious searching of genealogical records, you discover 2 things:

1. Longitudinal searches of census data by county locations, including the immediately adjacent ones, show limited "social mobility" because the people who stay where they are born and whose children stay there are largely content with their lots in life. This is one reason America scores better than Britain in the 19th century; the people who stayed in Britain were ok with their lives where as, in America, nearly everyone was moving around, even if many of them eventually came back to "home".

2. The people who leave are the ones who become very rich, by local standards, or flat broke or need to get away from the law. The very rich tend to move to the places where they can be with their financial equals (so the Rockefellers abandon Euclid Avenue Baptist Church and become Episcopalians in New York) and the flat broke know they have better chances getting help from distant relatives than from local ones (a great deal of the Northern migration of freed slaves and, even more so, their children follows that pattern). The need for people to get away from the local sheriff hardly needs explanation.

The Harvard study deliberately ignores #1 and #2. "We assign children to commuting zones based on where they lived at age 16 – i.e., where they grew up – irrespective of whether they left that CZ afterward." The study also makes no adjustments for relative costs of living as a discount factor in gauging incomes. A child who migrated from Charlotte to San Jose gained 50% in gross income during the study period; but he or she gained no wealth with the added income compared to a child of lesser social mobility who stayed back home.

There is one other fact of human nature that you learn from reading the ancestry searches people have done: Everyone with any pretensions finds a way to trace their ancestry back to European royalty, even if the parish records stop 300 years or more before the connection is made.



Crossing I-10 to the South is a most liberating sensation.



 Birds of a feather flock together includes people and dogs. Today a young Utah tourist, part of a new American wave to strike paydirt at the ayahuasca mecca of the world in Iquitos, Peru, was surrounded by four grimy youths flashing knives at his breast and throat. The scene was at Gang Corner where I've been attacked on each seven previous nights at the same hour. My assaults have not been by uprights, but by dogs dressed in the local people's clothes, with snapping canines in the yellow lamplights. The Salt Lake man had just stepped out the tenth annual International Shaman's Conference at a ritzy hotel at 11pm and walked a hundred steps to Gang Corner, on the fashionable Rio Amazon malecon, when the knives flashed. The waterfront Belen youths surrounded and demanded his knapsack, knowing it contained the tourist's valuables of camera, laptop and maybe a few dollars. They would be surprised to discover the victim's U.S. passport.

Why hadn't I been robbed at the same corner at the same time by the same two-legs gang? Perhaps the snapping circle of dogs each night dissuaded them, but more likely they knew the exact hour the Shaman's conference dismissed and lay in wait for the first unsuspecting tourist. Having a passport stolen presents a Catch-22 of needing to prove one's identity to a U.S. Consulate, and coughing up a hundred bucks without credit cards that usually accompany the theft, as well as paying for two weeks hotel in wait (unless a harsh expedite fee is paid). Since the nearest embassy is in Lima, the Salt Lake man went to the airport today in hopes of boarding without identification, and then 'throwing his feet' in Lima on the Consulate's doorstep. Fat chance.

This poor man's misfortune was my stroke of luck, and I took the tip to the police station. I must find an equalizer. This is because I must walk past Dog Corner nightly from the last day's activity here at the Cyber internet to my hotel. The sycophantic policemen urged me to take matters into my own hands by purchasing a $20 mace spray that shoots a 15' stream like a squirtgun that will 'stop a charging beast'. They instructed to aim for the chest, not into the wind much like a urination, and the spray will splatter and dispense temporarily blinding and inducing respiratory distress. The recipe is tear gas and peppermint. Then, they smiled, bring the predators turned prey to the cop shop and they'd beat them for a song. So, I got the mace.

An equalizer is required whenever a smaller person faces a larger, or armed, or group of thugs. During twenty years of world travel I have never carried a weapon for two primary reasons: it ups the blood ante of any altercation, and it cancels the mental rehearsal of the manly art of self-defense. My former equalizers have been fast shoes and quicker hands, with a swifter tongue. However, now I required something more concrete at Gang Corner. The ordinary doorstop on skidrow hotels is a baseball bat, in Manhattan the world squash champ used to jog through Central Park at midnight brandishing a squash racket, I would prefer an oversized modern racquetball racquet for the lighter swing weight, on the rails the standard is a 7" railroad spike, but now the answer was protective spray. I can take it in checked luggage to USA where it's also legal, yet in California the net weight must not exceed 2.5 ounces. A squirt reaches twice as far as an arm and knife.

The reason for my concern is that if I get stabbed it would be more hapless than the Salt Lake tourist. The protocol is that the foreigner is taken to a hospital, he is patched, but not allowed to stay if he cannot afford the bill, and on leaving is met by the immigration police to check documents and explain why a tourist can't afford a hospital stay. I couldn't pay it because of a defaulted loan before this trip to a former acquaintance. The mace is an insurance policy tonight, as I venture out to Gang Corner.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Weapons & Women….

I like the idea of a mace-style spray like that. First off, regardless of whatever anyone thinks they are capable of in terms of defending themselves, one thing is for certain, when there is more than one assailant
– and absolutely when there are more than two — you need a weapon (personally, I carry at least two anywhere, depending on the local laws as well as the context. A genteel dinner party is different than a late-night, city walk. Everyone should carry at least two, non-redundant weapons).

One of the main concern with any weapon is its range. A rifle ught be good at 100 yards or longer, a handgun from 40 feet on in. A knife, only out to about arms length (but deadly in that range). Some weapons have to be swung (bats, tire irons, batons, etc.) meaning they have to be moved in a plane
– get outside that plane and you're safe, and the plane is almost always primarily vertical or horizontal, and with a very finite range. Not only is the far extent of that plane finite, in close it is of no use. So an aluminum bat might look very imposing, but sternum-to-sternum, it's quite useless as well. The sooner you can get sternum-to-sternum, or out of the plane of that thing, the sooner you can stuff them with it or be high-tailing it away (In fact, any of these swinging-style weapons are a poor choice becuse they are plane-restricted, have a finite range in both directions, have to be chambered, etc. They do not hide well, and you can usually be quite certain any loogan carrying such a weapon has only THAT weapon. When you see the guy on walk with the golf club to fend of a loose dog, you can be quite certain he is, for all intents-and-purposes, unarmed).

Spray, is like a gun the the sense that it's range is beyond the reach of your assailants arms and legs, and works sternum-to-sternum, and hides well. It's a nice weapon provided you have something else you can get to from any practically any position.(I onceu asked a postman, with sun-cragged skin from too many years of Florida delivery, if he ever had to defend himself against vicious dogs with the can of mace at his side. He mentioned how it works well against bees in the mailbox, and vicious dogs but that you "Gotta get it right in their eyes." Maybe spraying the chest works with people but I'm not so sure about dogs!)

As we get a little older, even though we may think otherwise, we ar arme a LOT slower than a young person, andwith far less wind than a young person. The best young person fighter can perhaps take on two at once — someone older, beyond more than one assailant, you absolutely must have a weapon to have a chance. In other words, when you know you are going to be accosted by more than one person, make up your mind that they are going to be needing an ambulance here. It's SO much easier when you really WANT to hurt someone in those situations.

The most important thing to remember when being confronted by more than one assailant is that nobody really wants to be harmed. You want to plant in their mind that there's a chance things may not go right. Put some doubt in their mind that they may not get away without harm. The only reason people do bad things is they think they're going to get away with it and not be harmed. So how do you do this? They are reading your body language. They are checking you out to see if you can defend yourself — specifically, to see if you're tuned in to what is happening and if there's a reasonable chance you might hurt them.

So don't look to intimidate, and don't get all huffy & puffy. Make eye contact (You are not making eye contact, per se, but rather looking at their sternum. Solid eye contact is a challenge and you are not in as good a position to "see," specifically their lead foot which will always, ALWAYS move at you when the go to grab or strike you) with your potential enemies, in a non-emotional manner.

Marion's remark is very wise. Just as I take the incandescent light for granted and the flush toilet, so too do Western women very often (because we are accustomed to) take their individual safety for granted in an historical context. We have come to assume that is how things are when in fact, this is reltively new in human existence, and hasn't yet reached many parts of the world. When you're with a woman in a bad situation, bad people are MORE likely to come after you (a woman with you is akin to your being a wounded animal in the wild — it is viewd as an impediment to your being able to effectively defend yourself). You have to be more prepared, more ready to hurt people who are a threat in those situations.

A woman who is armed has at least a chance of inflicting harm and getting away if unaccompanied. The best situation, is to be accompanied and armed as well — Bo's idea of mace is a great weapon in the battery of weapons someone ought to have.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

When I was traveling solo in Peru, I frequently chafed at having to stay in after dark if I did not have a bunch of fellows to go out with, since I never usually call it a day until it is very very late, especially when I am a-traveling. One time high in the hills, I asked a few men I vaguely knew if they would accompany me out for a late look around the town. All were tired and did not want to risk a strange place at night.

One woman thought us silly, trying to find compadres for the walk. An attractive 20-something, she took her backpack on her back and left for her own town investigation. She returned in an hour, a wreck, crying hysterically, her clothes a mess, her hair disarrayed, dirty and unconsolable: She had been accosted by 3 or 4 men, her backpack was taken, her passport and all her money was gone, and she was fortunate she kicked up enough of a fight not to be raped. She spent the next days desperately trying to get her passport replaced, not doing anything else in Peru.

I was glad that I had not ventured out alone that night. Later in the week, I rose very early and flagged a small cab, directing him to go further up the mountain. I wanted to check on a statue that someone had pointed out to me, one he said had been given by muslims to the town in gratitude for something or other in the early 1940s. We went to the statue, 6 am, as the sun was rising, and I studied the plaque at the foot of the statue, though it revealed little that was of use to me. I reboarded the same taxi and returned to the hotel/inn, before most people had even risen for breakfast.

But traveling in such places, if I am not with several men, I do not venture out. All well and good to be a tough and adventure-seeking female, but the rest of the world does not necessarily appreciate our independence: They read a female alone as an opportunity for free money, free unbidden sex, and free harassment fun. Or worse.

One of the reasons I canceled my trip alone to Yemen, where women have simply disappeared if they did not travel in a dense group.



 I've spent the last week in Sacramento, and the week before that in San Francisco. Two things caught my attention that seem like ticking time bombs no one is talking about: sub prime auto (and other non-mortgage) loans and interest rate resets on mortgage rate resets from 2010—leading to lots of houses about to be foreclosed on. I heard a bit about these two from individual perspectives. I don't know, though, how large these two may be. Anyone know how big the sub prime auto loan market is now?

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

In my 55 years in wall street, there is always a month when there is something bad happening. From 1954 to his helpful passing for those who refrained from buying during his incessant and invariable weekly bearishness, one can merely look at the king of pessimism's column to find the bearish thing of the month– a very helpful thing for the bulls as it creates unnecessary fear and selling. After his passing, there was our friend the bearomoter who consistently found bearish things. This will save one from having to look through every days newspaper which I'm told is much easier now that you can look at it in the net and don't have to use microfilms any more, although I have not had the pleasure of doing this yet. However, Doc Lilienthal often has very helpful pessimistic things he's noticed, and the ticking time bombs mentioned above are a helpful substitute for the bearomoter with the elegant equestrian partner.

Gary Rogan writes:

But overall it seems like examining any individual piece of news, positive or negative, is pointless with respect to predicting the future market direction.  If it's out, it's already in the market, and the vast majority of them are too small to affect the market in any predictable way anyway.  Certainly something that is known by someone will affect the market, but knowing what it its among the thousands millions of candidates doesn't seem worthwhile.  The good doctor seems to have an idea that the market needs an excuse to do something.  I don't know if it does, but short of a sudden outbreak of a major war that one can't predict anyway or some well-known employment of Fed news that everyone knows, it seems pointless to look at news as a guide.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I would point to any short which shows US Equity prices and US recessions, and I would argue that US GDP is relevant when it is contracting for multiple quarters, and we should bear in mind the 1st qtr predictions, none of which were as negative as the final number came in at, and consider we have second quarter preliminary right around the quarter.

anonymous writes: 

Auto loans are not backed by the feds, while most home loans are, thus I expect fallout from the sub prime auto loan market will not get the same attention in the media or in Washington that home loan foreclosures will get.



The Mankiw Model has a great history for predicting where the weekly fed funds rate should be, using inflation and unemployment (two inputs which have enjoyed a tremendous track record in trading short-duration rates for many years).

The model started going off the rails about two months ago, and now calls for fed funds, currently at .09 to be at nearly 2.00. The data is on a tab in the weekly Barrons data I track in excel for on my website under the "links" tab there I believe. The tab on excel is found by hitting the F5 key.

anonymous writes: 

Ralph, I could not get the link on your website to work. The Mankiw model (from his blog) is reprinted below for interested readers:


The Liquidity Trap may soon be over.

About a decade ago, I wrote a paper on monetary policy in the 1990s (published in this book). I estimated the following simple formula for setting the federal funds rate:

Federal funds rate = 8.5 + 1.4 (Core inflation - Unemployment).

Here "core inflation" is the CPI inflation rate over the previous 12 months excluding food and energy, and "unemployment" is the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate. The parameters in this formula were chosen to offer the best fit for data from the 1990s.  You can think of this equation as a version of a Taylor rule.



 To what extent can Pascal's principle where a change in pressure is transmitted undiminished to all parts of an enclosed liquid or gas system, whereby a small change in force on a narrow area can move a much larger force on a larger area as used in car lifts or construction machinery, be applied to markets in certain situations? Is this a useful question?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

The Chair has asked a question that I cannot answer so I will add to my stack of irrelevant comments. What is called the Industrial Revolution was neither. Metal working and large scale enterprise were not new things. The Arsenal at Venice and the Royal Navy's yards with Brunel Sr.'s block carving automatic lathe did not need the "invention" of the steam engine. It was the discovery and application of the paradoxes of fluid dynamics that created our modern world — first steam, then gases and liquids generally.

Gary Phillips writes: 

Mauboussin likes to talk about the market as a complex adaptive system and critical points where large scale reactions are the result of small scale perturbations, the implication being that causality can be difficult to identify because it is often very subtle.

Traders tend to focus on multiple and ubiquitous agents that may not drive price, but do support their directional bias, while ignoring potential outcomes with low probability that may be driven by hidden or obscure agents. Same with systems with too many degrees of freedom and over fitting.

Gary Rogan writes: 

I often think of the market as a Pascal system or a school of fish. How do all the stocks know to move the similar direction?

Ralph Vince writes:

In the context of fluid dynamics, Gary's question leads to the (near inescapable) conclusion that the movement of stocks prices, in this context (with an isomorphism to 3D space of the varioius stocks) is characteristic of the flow WITHIN the de/compressing cylinder itself, under varying states of compression at varying times.

A study of hydraulic flows would show that fluid flow within the cylinder itself is not uniform, and is also a function of various degrees of pressure.

From this we could create such a model.

Gary Rogan responds: 

It is kind of like that, but it's almost like there are local agitators within the cylinder. This morning provides a perfect example that I can see in my own stocks. Some joint venture news in MDLZ, one of the Kraft spinoffs has provided positive agitation to the food stocks, and more so to the specifically beverage stocks, and less so to the consumer non-durable stocks. This agitation is somewhat sticky in that when the market first rose for whatever reasons and then fell likely on Yellen's remarks, these stocks seemingly have experience a smaller sensitivity to the market had the important news not occurred. It's like a decompressing cylinder with small local explosions/collapses.

Ralph Vince adds: 

 Matter in the expanding (i.e. decompressing) universe may be a better model?

But it still boils down to a feed back loop where the output of one becomes the input for the next ( in one case amplifying and in the other dampening).

Gary Rogan writes: 

That's an excellent analogy and something I've been reading a lot about! It's not perfect but likely productive.

Immediately after the Big Bang the small world was pretty uniform. But then quantum uncertainty fluctuations have added a small pattern to the Universe that was the progenitor of what we all see today. In addition sound-like wave resonated within the Universe leading to the spectrum we still see in the microwave radiation today. Gravity has dramatically amplified the initial quantum fluctuation leading to the truly observable local pattern of galaxies, stars, and planets. And of course all the following star formations, collapses, and explosions created all the heavy elements as well reshaped the local structure of galaxies. Plus there is all the dark matter and dark energy (dark pools?) that exert gravitational and expansionary forces that can only be guessed at by their effect.

Craig Mee writes:

From the back benches, I think the problem may lie in measuring the change in volatility, since under no news conditions, the environment may be ideal, for example, after news releases in Europe mid morning before the states come in. After that though, it may be difficult to separate cause from effect. 

Jim Sogi writes: 

Might a small amount of money pouring into something like gold or oil or wheat move the entire market? The canary principle might be at work rather than Pascal's causal function, and there may be a lag, complicating the relationship.

anonymous writes: 

 The use of finite-volume methods in sell-side modelling suggests it is a useful question. Market cap is a "squishy" concept of volume, as it can change when prices rise and fall. Book value is less squishy but still far from rigid.

Imagine a directed graph of trade flows among several companies, forming a trade network. Suppose there is a bottleneck somewhere. Destroying this link might be more disruptive than destroying other links.

My father used to talk about one of his coworkers who whirled about his organisation with fingers in every pot. This individual did much more than his job description suggested. When he left the organisation many projects across departments floundered.

The Allies' North African campaign of WW2 was meant to attack a "pressure point": Rommel's petrol supplies. Paraphrasing ER: "The bravest man can do nothing without guns, the guns can do nothing without ammunition, and neither guns nor ammunition are mobile without petrol."

I would also use the metaphor of joint-locks in jiu jitsu. Consider the manifold of configurations of your opponent's feet, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers. Applying pressure (vector) to the wrist and fingers in most of these configurations will not move the opponent's feet or hips. Joint locks find the configurations where a small force in precisely the right direction will cause the opponent's feet and hips to move a lot.

Saving the geekiest example for last: in George Lucas' fantasy world, certain Jedi Consulars are able to, with sufficient meditation and magic, see "shatter points" in a situation–precisely the kinds of vulnerabilities that will spread and multiply force to a wider area.



 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.



I found this blog post on game theory very interesting.

"Game Theory Is Really Counterintuitive":

Every now and then, I hear someone say that game theory doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. In a sense, they are right—game theory is a methodology, so it's not really telling us anything that our assumptions are not. However, I challenge someone to tell me that they would have believed most of the things below if we didn't have formal modeling.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

People often take aggressive postures that lead to mutually bad outcomes even though mutual cooperation is mutually preferable.

Even if everyone agrees that an outcome is everyone's favorite, they might not get that outcome.

Neither of these "insights" (sic) is a discovery that goes against intuition; children learn these lessons the first time they bring a toy to a "sharing" event with other toddlers.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Game theory is the study of what makes us tick, which means we step out of ourselves, observe our own behavior.

The danger with this is that we then draw conclusions about ourselves along the lines of our acting more intelligently than we previously thought; we ascribe to reflexive intellect that which is likely simply mere instinct.

And I would add at this juncture (and perhaps this bears consideration on every thread) intelligence which outsizes one's humility is a prescription for delusion. The smartest hamster on the planet is still just a hamster. 



 I found this 1926 paper "On Being the Right Size" by J. B. S. Haldane quite fascinating.

To the mouse and any smaller animal it presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.

Gary Phillips writes: 

That reminds me of Billy Eckhardt's comments on bet size…

If you plot system performance against bet size, you obtain a curve in the shape of a rightward-facing cartoon whale, going up in a straight line before dropping dramatically.

He said: "Trading size is one aspect you don't want to optimize: the optimum comes just before the precipice. You want to be at the left of the optimal point, in the high zone of the straight curve."

Ralph Vince comments: 

Not altogether true.

Expected growth-optimal bet size is a function of horizon, i.e. how many plays or periods.

For one period with a positive probability-weighted expected outcome (what most refer to as the misnomered "positive expectation") the expected growth optimal bet size is 1, one hundred percent.

As the number of periods approach infinity, this diminishes to the asymptote at what I refer to as Optimal f (not "Kelly," which is subset of Optimal f).

But all that is f we are discussing expected growth-optimal as criterion.

In capital markets, the criterion is often to maximize the risk-adjusted return, which occurs in the region between the inflection point less than the peak, and the point where the curve's tangent has the highest slope, which is greater than the inflection point, but less than the peak. These two bounding point for risk-adjusted return optimality are, as with the peak itself (and, as I hope I have convinced in another, previous post, the actual "expectation") a function of horizon.



 Over a decade ago, when I was speaking to VC guys (I think most of the private equity universe is in the losing money business. I am in the making money business, so we were unable to get anywhere) and how what these guys saw as the application of my creation — things like a better voice tree, or other imbecilic applications (Siri being about the best one out there yet, but even that is a far cry), I would pull my hair out in frustration. Even the world's largest transactional law firm, whose head told me "I don't know if there is a market for it, but if there is, we can market it," could not be penetrated to see the applications. And it occurred then to me– and we are seeing this manifest — that the replacement of humans by machine is happening very, very incrementally, almost imperceptibly, as opposed to an abrupt "leap" as I believe Turing had hoped.

Ultimately, dumb people are still cheaper than smarter machines, and ultimately, the investment required to make this a reality won't be decide by people, but by the machines themselves.



 In honor of Ralph who has occasionally pointed out that if risk is actually assessed the way financiers claim it is, we would never get on a plane, here is a list of activities that seem to me to have uncompensated risk embedded in them.

I have heard too many stories of each of the below, from friends, media or books, such that I would be reticent to engage in them. Can anyone add to the list, and am I being a chicken?

I was prompted to think them through by reading that Kirk Douglas nearly died twice in small planes/helicopters and twice on the set of action movies.

Horse riding

Cycling on roads

Small planes/helicopters

Motor car racing

Action movie sets

There was a line in the Ayrton Senna documentary where, in response to the accusation that he drives recklessly, Senna says "if you see a gap and you do not go for it, then you are no longer a racing driver." Sadly Senna died at age 34.

Charles Sorkin writes: 

That's more a question about decision making, as opposed to whether or not that flight improves my well-being (by getting me to a destination, and by possibly being enjoyable.)

If the risk was known to be that high, then clearly the distress associated with being on that plane (the marginal cost) would largely offset any benefit from flying. That would not be the case if the flight was in the same risk category as, say, that risk that we take when crossing the street.

Ralph Vince responds: 

Charles, I should have been clearer — the cost associated with a negative outcome on the plane, let's assume, be certain death. And my proposal on this is that being sane men, nothing is worth that in terms of risk assessment (I understand there are outliers — love of country, say, or certain death withing a finite x periods even in the positive outcome, but those aside for simplicity here) and that we get on a plane (or even cross a street) not because the risk is so low relative to what we might obtain (the risk of death being always too high a price to pay), but rather because we "expect" the positive outcome. In the limit, to continue crossing the street, to continue getting on planes, as the number of trials approach infinity, the probability of dying by such approaches 1. But in the very limited, finite space of our existence — say, x thousand flights in a lifetime — we don't "expect" a disaster, we expect, rather, to "get away with it."

And I think this notion of "getting away with it," is necessary to our survival, and we make and have been making decisions along these lines from the beginning, and the same type of assessment perhaps is present in how we trade (or, perhaps ought to be).

Take, for example, a famous big hitter commodity trader of yore who claimed that 90% of his profits came from 10% of his trades. Now, to be able to "expect" to be aboard on of those trades means you would mathematically have to sit through between 6 and 7 trades till you could have "expected" to have had one of those 10% of his big winning trades.



 I have seen many of your posts finding trading wisdom from so many other disciplines. I think they are valuable. Here is a relevant one relating to Roger Federer. "Roger Federer May be More Machine than Man". It is not current and you may know this piece already, but fyi. All the best, Fred Rickey.

Victor Niederhoffer comments: 

Very interesting consistency stats for Federer. But is it good or bad to be that consistent in trading?

Vince Fulco writes: 

As our august surfers on this site have remarked often, i am coming around to the view that trading is more like surfing. Have to watch a number of opportunities pass by until one is right for you then take the risk and stay flexible for the inherent churn, back and forth, sturm und drang caused by the newer HFT players, news/tape bombs and the over-reactors. The minor undercurrents will push you around for no apparent reason. It is as much knowing and developing one's ability to cope as it is having a strong market opinion.

Richard Owen writes: 

A Fed that never delivers surprises? I guess there's also the question of whether the stats are consistent only for Federer, or if this is typical of pro players?

Ralph Vince writes: 

Consistency, if it is the equivalent of variance = 0, is, to my way of thinking, certainly something beneficial to the trader. Given that variance, contrary to the generally-held notion that it is somehow (at least an aspect of) risk, is actually a diminishment of returns (i.e. variance is negative average return), then clearly you want as little of that as possible.



 I have been thinking about what could be a good set of criteria to measure trading (strategy) performance for individual traders.

The criterion of average return divided by the variance of the returns seems to have its shortcomings. One reason is that some large positive returns can cause the variance to go up resulting in an indication by the criterion that the performance deteriorates. But some large positive returns are good to have.

Other criteria like Sharpe ratio seem more suitable for institutions.

I think using properties of the linear regression line of the cumulative return curve might be a better choice.

Two useful properties are the slope and the "width" of the linear regression line. By "width" I mean the deviation of the cumulative return curve around the linear regression line.

A good performance should have high slope on the one hand. And if we do not consider reinvesting profits, it should have narrow "width" around the linear line.

So then the value of slope/width seems meaningful.

If we take the linear regression line as a risk free benchmark, then this value may be very similar to the definition of Sharpe ratio, but practical for individuals.

Would anyone please comment on the pros and cons of this, or any other better ways to measure performance.

Alexander Good writes: 

Great post!

I think it makes sense to measure linearity of PNL and convexity separately so I agree with you that R sq is a good one to employ. I am curious how width differs from the strategy's std though…

One thing that you can do as a cheap proxy is median return * sqrt(252)/std return and then for skew then have a (rolling max peak to trough draw down)/(rolling max peak to trough draw up).

You can benchmark your strategy vs. bonds, the S&P and a traditional 60-40 mix or your other strategies. It's very hard to beat a vol weighted portfolio of stocks and bonds so it's a good benchmark in my humble opinion assuming you're trading your PA and you don't have large retirement holdings. I assign different weights to skew and median return depending on my portfolio construction.

In portfolio construction you'll often find things with strongly positive skew have good inverse correlation to market PNL series and are typically 'long vol' (idea ripped off AQR's value and momentum everywhere).

Trending strategies frequently have very positive skew (momentum) whereas mean reversion tend to have skew that looks like the S&P (value). So if I'm net long beta my marginal utility of doing trending models is higher whereas if I'm net short I tend to size up mean reversion strategies.

Would be curious to know what other people are using/ how other people think about this/ if they have good papers on the subject. 

Leo Jia writes: 

Aren't they different?

std of returns has this term: (Ri - mu)^2, where mu is the same for all i's.

The width has this term instead: (CRi - Vi)^2 where Vi is the value on the linear regression line at time i and is all different across all i's.

Alex Castaldo writes: 

Personally I just like to look at the equity curve visually, and it is not difficult to store large numbers of graphic files in a folder and quickly "flip" through them by hitting a key on the computer.

But for automated evaluation Leo's two criteria (slope of regression, and "width around the regression" (which is also called the SEE or standard error of regression textbooks) make sense to me.

However I know there are many other criteria that have been proposed. There is one with a foreign name that I think starts with "v" but that I can't remember. I am sure some people here know what I am talking about, it was much blogged about 2 or 3 years ago.

In looking for it I accidentally googled another measure of equity quality, the k-ratio , that believe it or not has 3 different versions.

Any other ways to measure equity curve "quality"?

anonymous writes: 

As with many things involving non linear information, my experience suggests that one must mix, blend or combine different 'quantities' to form a unique and proprietary time series.

For example, some form of 3D 'curve' that combined the three quantities return, AUM & volatility that gets thicker as AUM in the strategy grows and changes colour as volatility of returns increases perhaps… 

Ralph Vince writes: 

percent of 6 month periods underwater
percent of 1 year periods underwater
percent of 2 year periods underwater

percent of time at equity highs
percent of time within 1% of equity highs
percent of time within 5% of equity highs
percent of time within 10% of equity highs
percent of time within 20% of equity highs

I have all of these programmed up in javascript which you can peruse at and click the "compare" tab. 



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: 


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. 



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.



 I follow the sports news and commentary and find it much more erudite
and analytic than the financial commentary. Try reading the NY Times
analyses of games The Knicks play, and you'll learn more about the
market and human nature than you will from Bloomberg. 

Ken Drees writes: 

I once worked on technology to automate sports reporting using "canned" or routine language. It came to nothing at the time but it amazed me how simple it would be to automate sentence and paragraph structure of a simple sport score/ game report. You would have selected templates and fill in bursts of stats to make it seem true. Anyone who listens to an athlete's interview these days hears the same old same old.

"We battled, and that's what we are about–never give up, keep focused on the game at hand." "No, I am not looking ahead towards the next series, I am focused on the day to day–what it takes to win today is what I am about".

Seriously all these athletes talk program. All the same crap every time—I can hear it before they say it!

Anton Johnson writes: 

This is the best ever basketball interview.

Ralph Vince writes: 

It is a most peculiar sport, and the great Meadowlark Lemon worth study; that someone can be so good, so adroit at what they do, which is not comedic, that they can transform it into comedy, not take oneself so seriously, and perform to perfection. Mastery occurs when someone can do something to such perfection that they can laugh about it and about themselves as their virtuosity expresses itself, carried on a wave of euphoria of their own creation.

Contrary to what I would have expected, basketball seems to have players who are more articulate and analytical. Among the worst are those who are involved in the individual sports like golf, tennis, as well as most NFL locker rooms. For whatever reason, NBA players seem to do far better in front of the microphone.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Players are not any better than actors at coming up with original lines on their own; it is the coaches (who like the writers are usually not on camera) who have the interesting stuff to say.



 Have you read Rashard Mendenhall's retirement letter. For those that haven't read it, it is worthy of your time.

Ralph Vince writes:

He got out near the top of his game.

Gramps, just before he died, a man who forgot more about the game than almost all will ever know, made a comment to me shortly before he passed away, about a running back for San Diego names Natrone Means: "A running back in the NFL these days has a lifespan of about two years, maybe three."

I found it very surprising when he said that, but have watched it occur over and over since. Mendenhall was a great running back, and his is a wise move.



 Does the hot hand exist or is it consistent with randomness?

"The Hot Hand Might be Real After All"

The authors contend there's something to it.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Fascinating article, I think he might have pursued some avenues of thought there just a little further.

Basketball shooting is not the same, say, nor the streaks one might feel in doing it, as the streaks one might sense at a craps table, the difference being the participating aspect of one's skill (unless you attribute throwing dice to a "skill," and many of us, no-doubt, have had uncles who held that view!).

So the feedback mechanism of the previous play impacts upon the next play where skill is actually involved. Where they speak of players feeling hot, and taking greater chances as a result, the player enters a different distribution of outcomes (or, at the very least, different parameters to the distribution of outcomes) than when he didn't feel hot. This is likely true in most of life's endeavors that we must perform something.

And what a lesson there, professional athletes inadvertently might be providing.

One "sport" I find pure torture is golf. Go miss a three foot putt, and the next one looks like it's thirty feet. Go get rattled and try to hit the next shot like you did X holes ago. Clearly, there are different outcomes based on how you react to immediate previous outcomes, pro and con.

Yet, professional athletes seem to be able to compose themselves such that the negative side of the coin they are able to disregard altogether. This may be the greatest facet of their skill in fact, I certainly wouldn't be the one to judge that, but I do marvel at how they can re-compose themselves and relax in difficult situations, even when things aren't going too well for them. 



 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?



 The beauty of a Martingale strategy is that we have price distributions that are bound at zero.

We are in a casino, where red can only come up on the little wheel X times in a row.

And no one in this business can get past their pre-conceived notions to capitalize on that.

No one.

Instead, the entire industry wants to focus on price direction, the immediate direction of price, which has nothing to do with what's going on after the next play. Nothing at all.

anonymous writes:

Mr. Vince, would you mind expounding on this concept of for the dunderheads like me. I get that a price of a stock is bound at zero (I'm hoping I at least understood that comment correctly), and that red can only come up a finite number of times in a row as a result. How does this help with a Martingale strategy in the real world with a limited bankroll and uncertainty over how many times in a row the wheel actually does come up red?I am obviously not looking for a grail with these comments and realize they got beyond a simple Martingale, but would like to explore your concept further if you're gracious enough to share more food for thought.

R. Vince responds: 

It gets messy quickly now, so I will try to keep it at 38,000 ft. Beyond the next, immediate play, or trade, or holding period, where <<what one has to risk is a function of what has happened to what they have to risk up to that point>>, you are somewhere on a curved line (for 1 proposition. For N propositions, you are in an N + 1 dimensional manifold. So, for 1 proposition, you are in a 2D manifold - a plane. I bound the manifolds at 0 and 1 for all axes except altitude - which is the cumulative expected return. So you are on a surface in an N+1 dimensional manifold.

Everyone is in this manifold, on this surface when the caveat (inside <<…>> above) holds, which includes those practicing portfolio insurance, any type of portfolio re-balancing, replacing components in an index, any type of short or levered ETFs, any managed programs, etc.

And I contend, ultimately, the only thing that really matters in trading (over consecutive trades or holding periods) is where you are on this surface, and possibly, how you are moving about it. Again, the most sophisticated, thorough and ultimately practical (some might argue otherwise) would be the most recent paper with Lopez de Prado and Zhu.

The point is, where we are on that surface, and how we are moving about it, we are either oblivious to or are using to satisfy certain criteria. For example, one who wishes to maximize their MAR ratio would want to be at those points on the surface that are in the sub-manifold of what we all "zeta-points" on it. Another — If one wants to begin to maximize time at or near equity highs, they traverse a path between some loci on the surface and 0,0…0 going downwards with sinning periods, upwards with losing.

Without violating the proprietary ideas of other colleagues, we can look at randomness, and at this hypothetical bounded roulette game in terms of this surface and our criteria.

What to me, at this point in my life, is most interesting about this now is not so much the trading implications, but the more broader applications of this. As a trader, we seek growth, but there are many more functions in life that comport to this same growth dynamic where we seek to diminish growth, and I find applications for it everywhere I look.



Do we have any predictions of the path of S&P in the next 5 days… based on the past 16 years, looking at the most similar moves over the last two days, I see Monday up. But perhaps a terrible decline along the road.

Alan Millhone writes: 

Dear Chair,

Is the failure of Obama care and concerns on its bailout making folks jittery ?



Ralph Vince writes: 

I don't know if it is something that conscious, Alan, but surely, whether one alludes to it as success or failure, there IS some economic impact to higher premiums, to the socialization of anything. In this instance, the bigger question, is given that there must be some diminishment in economic activity as a result of this "law," (and if that were not the case, it would be fully implemented at present rather than piecemeal) my concern is what kind of a multiplier effect is there on this across other sectors of the economy.

This, coupled with 10 billion/month less in pumping, and there is a drag out there that was not there 120 days ago. The extent of that drag remains to be seen.

Alan Millhone writes: 

I feel the drag will turn into a good dragging.

The 10B was a poor band aid to cover a deepening economic wound.

I see a big increase of street people walking thru my town. I see increased numbers of people using the Cash lands in my town. I see more U hauls on the road

My local banker CEO says last year he had more charge offs since he has been there. He also says delinquent payments are up considerably.

A local bank is closings its three local locations and basically all employees lost their jobs. Huntington Bank bought the bank.

I have rental property and renters overall having a rough time.

My gut tells me bad times ahead.

Ralph Vince writes:

My GDP models have me expecting the next leg down to be considerably worse than 2008. This is very disturbing to me.I won't delve into obamacare yet.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Funny you should say that, Ralph. I haven't taken a position in many years; but it's crazy how charting can work within some minds. When she started coming off the 2009 bottom, I had a conversation with a friend in front of a live but very long-term chart. Looking at it, I explained that penetrating the 2002 bottom by substantial amount, the SP chart has sustained significant damage. At the time, I could confidently state that the 666 low will one day brake. Alas, I added, the chart is imminently Bullish — so I will not be assuming a Short any time soon. Next question was: "How Bullish is it?" And I had to shake my head: "Possibly, new record first…" Well (I was deservingly told), you're no help Anatoly.

For full disclosure: I have since changed my mind about breaking the 666. The sole reason for my change of heart is my belief that by the time that were to come around, the measuring unit (the USD) will not have nearly the purchasing power of 2009. So in real terms, I'm holding to my speculation; but not in nominal terms. To complicate things, the lower we may go right now, the less Bearish I will become. I really prefer to be Bearish at records - and it's harder for me to believe the top is in place when the move down is already in progress. Kinda opposite to Chair's weekend topic…But when Rocky was forced and announced his market call earlier in January — I was forced into seconding him instantly. Partly because we all knew that profit takers will not act out before January, for tax reasons.

David Lillienfeld writes:

I came across some notes I made last year about an interview with Leon Cooperman. Cooperman was commenting about having taken a large position either in student loan bonds. When he was asked about the increase in student debt, the problems graduates are having finding jobs, the lack of much increase in wages, and so on, all of which suggest a coming default, Cooperman just smiled and commented that the bonds were likely to paid off at par by the US government should they default and that he looked at them as being low risk at worst. Last time I looked, student debt was north of 1 trillion, and I think it may be up at 1.3 trillion by now. I don't hear many talking about student debt as the underbelly of the economy these days, but it seems to me that there's a storm brewing there. How long would it take for a default on the first tranche or two of those loans to spook investors?



 Tennis talk is a common theme on this site, one the chair himself often engages in, and we often do so with an eye towards market parallels.

Yesterday, at the Australian open Nadal beat Federer (commonly thought of these days as the greatest player of all time, but who is now 32 years old, extremely old for a professional tennis player at that level) in straight sets 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 I believe.

At one time, this was a great rivalry, but it was quite evident yesterday that Federer may not quite be what he was a few years ago.

Craig's reference was to the notion that perhaps Federer should have hung it up rather than embarrassing himself. My reference was to Nadal, who, with a dozen or so major victories to his credit, out to be conscious of an exit date for himself, rather than the pathetic decline we see with so many athletes, who so often seem to be the last to see it in themselves.

Perhaps Mr. Manning (who, in my mind is the greatest quarterback I've ever seen) should certainly make net Sunday be his last pro game, win or lose.

That's another of my two cents now I am broke like the Ex Governor of Virginia.

Craig Mee writes: 

The fed deserved the very best after his career and being the absolute gentlemen he is, he took the risk of playing on and having his name tarnished by a defeat like he saw Friday. He was comprehensively outplayed and was at a loss for words really in the post match interview. It is unfortunate some will view this as oranges and oranges. I give credit to him for pushing his limits, but now the tougher question arises of whether to hang up his racquet now or play on for potential further pain. Ralph is quite correct. As for market parallels, it makes me think about when to give a strategy away after it being successful for years.



 One always likes to see the delphic predictions. After a market has fallen 5 % or so, a market writer will say "temporary top is in". The latest one is DeWayne Reeves an award winner. Yes, of course by random numbers it will take about 100 days. Has to be true.

Anatoly Veltman writes:

These things are different for people who must have a short or long position every day, or people who must only invest for great many years and only selectively divest at times.

I think the real question is by what percentage has the market risen (or at what rate) within the current up cycle vs. the current economic forecast vs. after-tax attraction of alternative investments. If that rate has been too fast (which I speculate), then the market may not gain in 100 or even 1500 days from here. The other matter is foreseeable drawdown, which might simply relieve one of any stake. Who can estimate the coming drag? I think the world has been subjected to more than it's regular doze of mismanagement for just enough time to teeter on the brink of critical mass, debt-wise and moral hazard-wise. So I can't exclude that we're in uncharted territory. I continue to hold opinion that so many years of ZIRP will effect the inflation/deflation perceptions in ways that were never experienced by policy makers before. Thus, I'm afraid that years and decades of markets stats have been poisoned for market application directly ahead. But of course everyone will bet in accordance to their agenda - and not every participant is in it to make money. For example, gold bugs are in it for what they believe is a strive for own freedom. There is a lot of currency uncertainty around the world; I speculate that USD will prevail, but many speculate that technology outpaced the regulators - and that alternative currencies will proliferate. Again, unprecedented.

Ralph Vince writes:

Anatoly raises an interesting point, one I have been thinking about as well: Zirp has changed our models, not just the models we are using to gauge today's market, but models in the foreseeable future will be created on data that has been zirp-perverted (and pump-perverted as well).

For example, if 90 day rates were, say, 4%, and the 3 which is currently around 3.62x%, that inversion would certainly be ominous. But we don;t get to see it. For many years, many equities models were driven in large part by rates (because, if modeled, one would have seen back then the very driving force of rates) one of the more famous and widely-followed "in the day" was that of Abby Joseph Cohen.

Zirp-n-pump has perverted these things, and the effect leaches into many other indicators I suspect (breadth, momentum, etc). I find these days we are relying far more on measures of sentiment (which is mercurial in quantification at best) and trend persistence than in the past (who, in their right mind, would have relied on trend following on equities indexes in the past? That was simply a very bad way to go, "back in the day").



 "(BSP) Novak Djokovic Upset by Wawrinka in Australian Open Quarter final"

Many market things in this one. But I like best that the last time Warinka played Djokovich he lost by a gnat's eyelash, and that was ephemeral. So this time the odds were 50-50 he would win. But even better than that, I like that Djokovic seems to be developing some character and sportsmanship as he ages.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I was watching it sans volume at the gym, and the IBM stats box kept popping up that ND had an 83% chance to win this match (not unlike many market "fights"). This 83% had me grinding, wondering, "How do they calculate that," etc. as any good systems guy or technician might.

But Jimmy Connors refers to tennis as "a fight where you are 90 feet away," and today's match comports to the notion I am constantly reminded of in life, that "In any fight, ANYthing can happen."



 One thing I notice in unsophisticated investor-traders such as myself is that the positions one takes are usually supported by an unspoken prediction: "I will know when it is a good time to sell this and I will be able to do so."

Gary Rogan writes: 

The beauty of really long-term investing is that you don't have to have this unspoken prediction.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

And to add to Mr. Rogan's "beauty", you take full advantage of the most marvelous aspect of arithmetic, the power of compounding. And furthermore, you reduce to a minimum the vig from flexionic and top feeder activity.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Can't dispute all of the beauty. The problem is that only a narrow group is willing to commit: those who set aside slow money. Most suffer from the "hot money" bug: how to make money work its hardest. Willing for the money to die trying.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Very poetically put. It also illustrates the following point: in any kind of investing or trading the problems and solutions come in two flavors, namely those of competence and those of psychology. Even in long-term investing you still have to decide what to buy and when to buy it, so it's not immune from either category.

S. Humbert writes: 

Buy and Hold (for the medium term) is not, in my view, enough to earn a living from. Please let me explain before you fry my IP address.

In the past 30 odd years alone, even the unleveraged long only holder of US stocks has had many barren years (and multi year) periods when he lost or didn't make.

In my usual, inelegant fashion, what I am saying is that if you trade for a living — for yourself (i.e. at the sharp end of the game) then buy and hold alone doesn't cut it. (Unless you start in 1982 or 2009 or some other retrospectively chosen low). This does not dilute the effectiveness of the strategy, I'm just saying an individual's perspective and starting point dictate what weight one should give to the passive, low vigorish strategies.

Frankly, a low single digit return with a very poor Sharpe Ratio over the lady two decades LESS retail friction, well… I certainly couldn't have lived off that taking into account my extremely modest circumstances when I started my speculative business in 1990. Anyway — it's at all time highs now right!

Ralph Vince writes: 

Worse–you're still going to touch that money. You're going to take a morsel, or add a morsel, you can't sit there and forget about it.

Now you're on the curve.

Now, if you are 100% invested, you are completely doomed, and it isn't a matter of if.



Some preliminary thoughts on the running median 2, 3, 4, 1, 7, 8, 9, 3.

A moving median of the first 5 is 3, of the next 5 is 4, of the next 5 is 7, of the next 5 is 8– it's a good indicator of trend. First recommended to me 53 years ago by Fred Mosteller, Chairman of Harvard's first statistics dept.

It is more stable than the moving average as outliers are removed from sample. It is easy to compute fast with computers for small running numbers like 5 or 100 by repeated sorts. For higher numbers, you can form two groups, those below the median and those above. As a new number comes up you place it in one of the two groups if higher or lower and take away the oldest number. Then adjust to make the two groups equal again. It is not used as much as the moving average so it shouldn't be hurt by front running or spikes when cross over occur. It has a defined distribution when the underlying distribution has inordinate extreme values as frequently occurs with Cauchy or similar distributions with infinite variance.

It's probably a good thing to use when using nearest neighbors as predictors, i.e using the median and running median to compute your predictors. It deserves testing in real life markets for real life applications.

Ralph Vince writes:

It is the indicator of "expectation," as evidenced by human behavior itself, and not the probability-weighted mean.

Bill Rafter adds: 

Moving medians have some distinct advantages.

They represent real values that occur. For example, taking the average of 1, 2 and 5 gives you 4, which never occurred, whereas the median 2 did occur. Continuing with the same series, should subsequent values in the series be less than 5, the value of 5 will not occur as a moving median. Hence, the moving median eliminates outliers.

One of my appliances has three thermometers to measure temperature. The value displayed is the median (and hence a series of moving medians). Should one of the thermometers be broken, or distorted by being in a particularly hot or cold spot, the median will still give me the best estimate. This elimination of outliers is very useful.

Should you have data whose importance relies upon only crediting occurring values and need to eliminate outliers, then you should test moving medians. We ourselves had experimented with them regarding price series and written extensively about them, but do not use them in our current work. Our reason is that we consider the outliers in a price series to be particularly important.

Kim Zussman adds:

The following is a plot ratio of SP500 (10 week moving average) / (10 week moving median) for the recent 5 years (SP500 weekly close data).



 Some time ago Mr. Jovanovich posted an anecdote about old man Mellon to the effect that his kids never let him pay for a bill at a restaurant because the old man felt that prices should be the same as they were when he was a young man and that they were too high today. This is a common thing one runs into in certain people of age. They are accustomed to the old p/e, the average of the last 10 years, on those rare occasions in the 1930s when Ben Graham wasn't chasing the skirts, when you could buy companies at below their liquid cash, assuming incorrectly as he did that any shares were available and they weren't losing so much that the previous balance sheets were meaningless.

Galton had a way of dealing with such things, and he was the most revered man of his age, commanding universal respect, and heading all the leading scientific and geographic societies. "Let the bygones be bygones". Don't fret about bad things that happened, or look to take back the things that you could have done that would have made you so much better off. The woman you didn't marry. The stock you didn't pick. The limit order that wasn't filled.

I recently ran into this in a business meeting where I was trying to sell a company. When negotiations started the earnings of the company were half what they were when the negotiations resumed. The buyer was stuck on the old price and old earnings. The buyer consequently missed an opportunity to make a tremendous profit, of about 10 times his investment of millions in several years.

One often makes this mistake in the market. You try to catch a falling star and you miss it. And then it goes in the direction you had hoped. But you never come in again because you are trying to catch it at the bygone price. Anatoly once mentioned that he was trained in checkers by the KGB to learn to be an amnesiac so he wouldn't regret moves that he should have made on the board, and would look to the future.

In chess, the good players always say forget about the prices that have been taken and concentrate on the pieces that are on the board. I believe this is a common mistake in life and markets, and would be interested in the scientific and empirical and life and market lessons that you all have learned from similar ruminations.

Richard Owen adds: 

 Ted Turner believes a large component of his success is attributable to the fact he readily accommodated and cared not much about what had past. The Buddhist concept of acceptance and Kabbalahist idea of cause and effect are similar.

Compare Germany and Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley ones past mistakes accrue as experience. In Germany there have been many internet start ups but also inevitably failures. Speaking to German friends, a failure there is carried like a deadweight around ones neck.

Society is destablising somewhat as the record of evidence of one's past peccadiloes becomes more extensive. Nobody can get into office or past congressional approval unless they lived a prude life of Cromwellian perfection. And its not clear one is best led by a Cromwellian prude.

Ralph Vince comments: 

There's two ways we learn things, the easy way, and the hard way.

If we learn things the hard way the FIRST time we climb up off of the pavement — that is the definition of a windfall.

Learning things the easy way is to accept facts like an obedient database. The only payoff to learning things the easy way happens when our perspective on the matter at hand altered such that we see it in its proper light and thus actually understand it, rather than merely as data.

To convey ideas to other human beings, we must amend their perspective, their point of reference on the matter, to see it anew from an entry point that they will understand it. To spare them the inevitable beatings of otherwise learning it the hard way is such a gift.

Stefan Jovanovich comments: 

In our misbegotten adventures in L.A. we had minor and almost all indirect dealings with the mouth of the South. Mr. Turner was so acutely aware of his father's defeat and death that even in casual dealings outsiders learned how determined he was to avenge/outpace/overcome his family legacy. He also was notorious, even in Hollywood, for accumulating personal grudges.

A great deal of individual success in Silicon Valley has come from the fact that the U.S. income tax code allows the tax-free pyramiding of gains through (1) buying and selling of principal residences and (2) exchanges of corporate interests. When you add the glories of carried interest, the result is a society of the well-connected in which there are very, very few failures who haven't held on to at least a respectable amount of the OPM. From the little I know of the German tax code, none of these opportunities to do a heads I win/tails you lose coin toss has ever existed in that country.

 Cromwell was many things, some of them awful; but he was never a prude. He and Elizabeth Bourchier had 9 children; and he and his wife were both, by religion, Independents. That meant they were those rarest of people who believed that Jews and (from the point of view of their Anglican, Presbyterian and Puritan contemporaries, even worse) Catholics were entitled to political and religious liberty.

What Richard may have meant is that Cromwell, as a military commander, was as piously single-minded as Joan of Arc. Like hers, his army never lost a battle once they had received proper inspiration; and each soldier literally believed in him and "the cause" for which they had a clear catechism. This was not ever going to be good news for anyone (Catholic Irish; Scots Presbyterian) who opposed him just as the Hussites (as dissidents from the true Catholic faith) would not have much mercy from St. Joan.

P.S. I find the history of Cromwell's catechism fascinating. If one were to ever come up for auction, the 1643 edition might be priced at a figure that even lovers of Bacon (the recently mentioned artist, not the writer) would respect.

For the American sequel to the story, check out The American Tract Society.

Victor Niederhoffer adds: 

One notes the Chinese proverb on a similar theme: "don't carry your hatreds into the new year" or the English variant, "you can't run a mill with water that's past". All languages seem to have a proverb similar to "let the bygones be bygones". The Jewish custom of asking forgiveness at the new year for all the harms that you have inflicted on other in the past year, and sharing a torte and tea is from a similar vein. 

Jeff Watson adds: 

One of my proverbs is to take the hit, forget about it, and move on. But then again I don't mind small losses as they are just part of my business, and I take many small losses of a couple of cents when I smell that the trade is going to be wrong. Just like surfing, where there will always be another good wave, in trading, there will always be another good trade.

Alan Millhone writes in: 

Dear Chair,

A grudge is a difficult thing to dismiss.

My Mother used to say, " I can forgive — perhaps not forget "



Gyve Bones writes: 

Oliver Cromwell was an unmitigated bastard and I find no evidence he believed that Catholics were entitled to religious liberty. To the contrary, his raping and pillaging and wholesale theft of Ireland, which was clinging tenaciously to the Catholic faith, and the Penal Laws enacted for the suppression of the faith and Gaelic language starting then and continuing for a couple of hundred years was an attempt, largely successful at cultural and racial genocide.

His puritanism certainly enforced a prudery on England. Within 50 years of Shakespeare's death, his plays could not be performed. And prudery is not the same thing as having a fruitful but chaste (no roaming to other bedsteads) relationship with one's wife.

— G.B.

Show me a Puritan, and I'll show you a son-of-a-bitch. -H.L. Mencken

The President of the Old Speculator's Club writes: 

 Though Dailyspec seems to be a great repository of Mencken fans, there were a few voices which, although agreeing with him on many items, diverged on others. One such notable was G.K Chesterton. The two quotes which follow immediately demonstrate some common ground.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." —H. L. Mencken

"We are perpetually being told that what is wanted is a strong man who will do things. What is really wanted is a strong man who will undo things; and that will be the real test of strength." —G.K. Chesterton

On the issues of science and religion, however, Chesterton suggested that Mencken was equally skeptical:

I have already noted that, if there is such a thing as religious mania, there is also such a thing as irreligious mania. Just recently, perhaps, it has been the commoner of the two. But a very interesting study of the matter comes from a country in which we may say, without injustice, that both are fairly common. I had occasion to remark recently, in this place, that an American paper had accused me of being an anti-American writer; and I commented on the curious irony that the American paper was itself an anti-American paper. But, though I may be permitted thus to parry a purely personal charge, and a highly preposterous one, I should not like anyone to suppose that I do not both enjoy and value the magazine in question.

I am quite well aware that Mr. Mencken, the editor of the American Mercury, is really doing his duty as an American citizen in being an anti-American critic. I myself have been regarded often enough as an Anti-English critic, when I regarded myself as a patriot. In short, there are immense internal evils for Mr. Mencken to attack, and he is perfectly right to attack them. All is well so long as the good citizen abuses his own city. The trouble begins when the foreigner abuses it—or, almost as often, when the foreigner admires it. But, anyhow, the chief efforts of the American Mercury have to be directed towards this howling wilderness of sectarian sensationalism.

The popular science, that rages in the American Press and local government, is simply a dance of lunacy more ghastly than a dance of death. And an exceedingly valuable and important protest against it can be found in the same number of the Mercury from which I have picked the examples of theological hysteria. The protest is all the better because it is not the sort of protest that I should write, or that any person of my beliefs would write. The critic is writing entirely in the interests of Science, and is perfectly indifferent to the interests of Religion. And he enters a virile and telling protest against that science, which is his only religion, being dragged through the mire as a degrading superstition.

From a great article: "Religion in American History: I
Hate Methodism; and G. K. Chesterton vs. H. L. Mencken: Battle of the
Monogrammed Dudes. Surprising or Otherwise Interesting Primary Sources,
Pt IV"

Richard Owen writes: 

This is fascinating stuff. The modern day argo in British English of referring to something as Cromwellian is along the lines Gibbons indicates, although at one step removed perhaps.

Cromwell instilled the Protestant Work Ethic in puritanical fashion. That still pervades much of British psyche today, and is captured in popular imagination, for example, in the writings of the Daily Mail and the books of Tom Bower, Britain's foremost hatchet biographer of businessmen (I say this with great respect; his books are well written and I suspect Mr. Bower would be glad to acknowledge his genre bias).

Thus the Protestant Ethic mentality is to be rich and industrious. But with the emphasis on the latter. As Martin Sosnoff said of his Dad, something like: *"he never thought he'd earn an easy dollar, and he never did".*

The one thing that really irritates the Cromwellian mentality is to find out, after slogging ones guts up to Vice President and exiting to early retirement with a Carriage Clock and blue chip pension, is to find out the reason for corporate downsizing was because a kid from the JFS, assorted Anglo Norman public school boys, or an Asian immigrant rustled up a grub stake into Forbes Four Hundredism. And possibly even had some good sex, bad drugs, and hella fun in the process.

Not to make light. These are complex neuroses and threaded reasonable sense given each parties bias.

Craig Mee writes: 

Victor, the point can also be made that although a potential lost opportunity arises and there are fewer pieces on the board, the situation is then more clear. Although you may not establish the solid position you initially hoped for, many more tighter risk reward opportunities now present themselves, sometimes allowing you a defiant win on the move all the same. However, this outcome may be related to your initial and ongoing foresight about what's unfolding.



 I found this article very interesting. Yet few of the investment greats have PhDs or CFAs. QED? Albeit that PhDs are overweighted vs, their population weight.

"What a Difference a PhD Makes: More Than 3 Little Letters"


Several hundred individuals who hold a Ph.D. in economics, finance, or others fields work for institutional money management companies. The gross performance of domestic equity investment products managed by individuals with a Ph.D. (Ph.D. products) is superior to the performance of non-Ph.D. products matched by objective, size, and past performance for one-year returns, Sharpe Ratios, alphas, information ratios, and the manipulation-proof measure MPPM. Fees for Ph.D. products are lower than those for non-Ph.D. products. Investment flows to Ph.D. products substantially exceed the flows to the matched non-Ph.D. products. Ph.D.s' publications in leading economics and finance journals further enhance the performance gap.

S. James writes: 

I struggle to find anything less important than the letters after one's name when assessing investment managers.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I would certainly argue that more education is preferable to less, in any field, provided such education doesn't impede someone's ability to reason things through for themselves.

Whether it facilitates thinking this way or not is not something I (nor one who does posses those credentials) can determine from our own experience.



 Can anyone explain to me why counting matters anymore?

I asking seriously and without disrespect.

How can one "count" for what happened today? Is there some sort of "the market is up 37 out of the last 42 full moons" question/equation that would lend one to believe that the the 2 pm rocketing of the market was going to occur?

Maybe there's some other form of analysis that we can do to have an edge?

What about fundamental analysis?

What about technical analysis?

What about astrology?

Palm reading?

Maybe I should convert Scientology and see if the Thetans give me any insights?

I firmly believe that the government (and let's be not pretend that the Fed is not the government) and politics are driving 98% of what happens in the markets now.

This is a BS market.

Ralph Vince writes: 

It's a GREAT market.

At the risk of being a blasphemer, my interest in market analysis is an academic one. My implementation, devoid of my personal academic failings. That is……buy low, sell high, and at the same time, sell high something else, to buy it back lower.

You should never have a move like this go by without taking a profit on something.

Yeah, I take a lot of disparagement over my bullish stance on the markets here, as I do thinking the Miami Dolphins will be Super Bowl Champs this year. I have no skins in either game you see.

Gary Rogan writes: 

If you invest long-term in good companies you don't have to be hurt and/or left out of the steady progress of the market regardless of any of this.

If you enjoy this n-dimensional game of chess than you should be like the Palindrome: smart, totally cynical and totally connected.

Ralph Vince responds: 


But the premise of buy and stay long HAS worked only because we have been in a bull market since forever. Every high of the past couple hundred years has been exceeded — long term bull market (for whatever reason).

That is a bet on that continuing.

Gary Rogan replies: 

Ralph, but didn't Victor publish some whole-world stock data from Dimson, I believe it was, that showed steady progress? Isn't it the expectation for the previous highs to be eventually exceeded simply from the nature of the beast and not being a a "hundred year long bull market"?

There are really only three risks for a diversified stock portfolio:

-Geographical concentration risk (including where the owner lives so that he can actually access his money if it hits the fan)
-Unprecedented worldwide collapse
-The future being TOTALLY different from the past in this area

Otherwise it's steady progress all the way to infinity.

The three risks are unquantifiable, but seem better than being able to outwit the flexions day-to-day.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Ralph Vince adds: 

The thing is, this isn't a big move up.

When the rain comes, it washes everything away in a hurry. Weeks worth of advance vanishes in minutes.

I don't recall, in my lifetime, a setup for liquidity disasters like we have under us here, and when this goes, it will vindicate any shorts you can hang onto.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Ralph, why would all this extra liquidity resolve itself by the stock market collapsing in a spectacular fashion as opposed to say (1) Sudden high inflation perhaps followed by hyperinflation of the economy improves, and the stock market losing value in inflation adjusted, but not absolute terms (2) Or a multi-year stagflation period with the economy not doing well in some middling fashion and with the stock market slowly drifting down or simply not rising (3) Given that we will have this extra liquidity for quite some time now, evidently, based on the recent Fed personnel developments and Ben's short term and new-found caution, a liquidity withdrawal quite a few years from now, making any shorts in the meantime unfeasible, even if there is an eventual collapse?

I really have no idea what will happen if there is a bond vigilante battle royale against the Fed and it's printing press, and clearly bonds cannot be a GREAT investment at this point, but how can you be even reasonably certain that there will be a stock market collapse unless there is an overall economic collapse (which is reasonably likely, but will make profiting from the shorts a moot point)?

Mr. Kris Rock comments: 

Counting is a discipline…like belonging to the mormon church is a discipline…

Ralph Vince writes: 

I think people look for "causes" (du jour) to explain market moves. Right now, the story is QE, and it sounds plausible, but the story always sounds plausible, but it is always a very, very specious causation there.

We're talking about equities. Puffs of smoke that only have value because people day they do, right now, that the value is X. And that is only because they don;t have something shiny elsewhere to put their money. Equities are an easy place to park money.

But they have the same value as puffs of smoke, and when we forget that, the market has a cruel way of reminding us.

Gary Rogan adds: 

The future is fundamentally unpredictable: no amount of past experimentation or data can preclude some fundamental parameter of the system changing and invalidating all the statistical evidence. We don't seem to have a choice in having to rely on the past to the extent that we understand it and extrapolating in the future. But what if a parameter like the unprecedented rise of the national debt in peacetime or the rise of socialism or the changing demographics flips the long term growth rates in profits? Or the reduction in de facto property rights or the rise of flexionism make it impossible to realize gains? I don't think there is an answer other than overall we have evolved to take the past as a consideration for the future, so we might as well stick with it for the lack of a better alternative watching out for the changes in the parameters where we do understand the causal relationships as well as (and particularly so) for contradictions.



The dreaded September effect reminded me of "Sell in August and Go Away?" but certainly bears rechecking.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I think Dr Z's study focuses on 2000-2013.

Curious and needing to do some counting, however simple, I looked at SPY monthly moves 1993-present, and got these stats.



 I have been emailing my 8-year-old grandson a daily quotation or one-line advice (about sports, learning or life in general), which he seems to enjoy.

But I am running out of quotations and pithy advice relevant to a young person. Does anyone have either a good source of these, or some particular favorite quotes or advice?

Many thanks,


Ralph Vince writes: 

Here's some for you Dan. You may want to edit them for a younger mind, plus, you may not agree with all of them, but these are some that come to mind as I sit here and thing about it:

1. Don't try making sense out of it. You're in an insane asylum – things are not going to make sense, people will do things that don't make sense, that they cannot adequately explain. People don't know what makes them tick, only that they tick.

2. Happiness, of course…is all in your head. If you don't know that, if you haven't come to that realization, you will never be happy.

3. The Bull Market Syndrome. People, when they are met with success, take personal credit for it (bull markets breed geniuses), and when they are met with failure, blame luck.

4. Actually, luck is responsible for both! If you can only die by being struck by lightning, eventually, you will die by being struck by lightning! Conversely, if a man were to live forever, and bought a lottery ticket every week, eventually, he will win the lottery, with a probability that approaches certainty. Just stay the course, keep doing today what you must do today. As Woody Allen says, "Fifty percent of success is just showing up."

Luck Trumps Brains. To get luck, keep showing up each day with your shoes on.

5. Creativity trumps money every time.

6. Fortunately in life, you don't have to succeed at everything you do, only a few things. One success often justifies all prior attempts.

7. You can buy great a education – you can not buy brains.

8. The Oswald Principle: Usually, the best course of action in life, is to take no action (and usually, the best thing to say is nothing!). The guys in jail or there not because they didn't do anything. Usually, you should just sleep in! If nothing really bad happens today, as my friend Oswald said to me in eighth grade, it's been a good day!

9. You don't have the problems you think you do. Actually, the only real problems are health and criminal problems. Everything else is just a frivolous, meaningless nuisance.

10. Never say never. Everyone, however righteous they may claim to be, however upstanding they say they are, will, under the right circumstances commit the crime. A cold morning, wet, hungry, tired, angry….they'll do things they never dreamed they would!

11. Everything is going to be OK. It always is.

12. You never know what's going on in someone else's life. Before you do or say something nasty to them, realize this. Perhaps they have just gotten some awful news of some sort. You never know what is going on in someone else's life.

13. Don't pressure yourself. Just take care of today's things today, and relax…we got all the time in the world. The proper attitude in performance of anything, be it athletic, mental, etc., is a kind of relaxed, aware, confident attitude. You see it manifest in sport all the time (Ali, Ramirez…..or hitting a gold ball).

14. Don't complain and don't explain.

15. Don't react or engage emotionally with others. There is great power in stoicisim, in a cold, blank, stare back when others are trying to engage you in a fight.

16. Similarly, if it is someone you love or must live with, trying to engage you in an argument, practice avoidance. Just try not to be around them, to avoid them. Go out for a walk.

17. Live "in the tunnel," but think outside of it. In other words, deal with the mundane, immediate issues at hand, think as out-of-the-box as you can.

18. You can always "lift" more than you think you can.

19. Women will be as bad as they are allowed to be.

20. You should pray for your enemies — you need them. You need to have some enemies to keep life interesting.

21. Treat those you love as though they were going to die at midnight.

22. Your body is a record of how you have cumulatively cared for it.

23. The easiest way to learn things in life, is through observation. Sit back, watch all the ways everyone around you will figure out to how to screw up.

24. There are two ways to learn something. The easy way and the hard way. With the easy way, someone tells you something and you learn it. The hard way is the way we usually learn things, and we usually don't learn it the first time through. So the easy way, you see, is the equivalent of a windfall. (note to teachers – you can cause the easy way in others if you can convey a different perspective on a problem, a manner wherein the person learning thinks, "Ah, I see it now."). The moral here is that there is no point lending money, time or advice to help people out if they aren't going to listen to you, if they are going to insist on remaining on their own vector, unchanged by your advice, wherein they are going to learn their lesson the hard way with or without your giving them time, money or advice. So don't give it unless they are going to incorporate it.

25. Do not succumb to the suffocating culture of comfort. If you are comfortable, you are in trouble, you just don;t see it heading towards you.

26. Remember – your best trades are ahead of you.

A commenter writes: 

The time to abandon is when you have to step UP into the lifeboat (or raft). Any other time is premature. 

Vincent Andres writes: 


A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

All philosophical con games count on your using words as vague approximations.

A refusal to vote represents a definite expression of political opinion, a rejection of the candidates & the programs offered.

Credit is not…a magic piece of paper that reverses cause and effect, and transforms consumption into a source of production

if men want to oppose war, it is statism that they must oppose.

Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. he is a contractual animal.

and many more from A. Rand here.

The highest laws of the land (America) are not only the constitution and constitutional laws, but also contracts - H Arendt

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution. - H Arendt

Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it. - M Friedman

"Governments never learn. only people learn." - M Friedman

"Humility is the distinguishing virtue of the believer in freedom; arrogance, of the paternalist."

It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty - and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.

The average man doesn't want to be free. he wants to be safe.

Sorry if not all quotes are appropriate for a 8 years old.

There are many specialized twitter accounts who deliver 1 or several quotes per day. There is one for Ayn Rand.

Anonymous writes: 

Try to always practice good manners; be particularly polite, deferential and prepared at bars, gas stations, convenience stores and parking lots for these places are fraught with others over-valuing matters and ready to imprudently defend their claim.

There will be fights, unavoidable fights, they will find their way to you, you don't need to look for them.

Paolo Pezzutti writes: 

It's not how to achieve your dreams.  It's about how to live your life. -Randy Pausch

Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.  -Ayn Rand 



Isn't it likely that anything like the current level of prices will cause a slowdown in the economy and soon we will be hearing that the tapering is not imminent?

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

I assume energy prices are meant. Maybe food, too? Any other, "input" prices?

And my second question: ok, suppose "we will be hearing that the tapering is not imminent". Will it necessarily sustain record equity prices? What about cyclical fluctuations? What about economic realities? Will stocks always necessarily go up (from ANY level) due to Fed "hopes" alone? What about fiscal issues around the world? What about geo-political strains? What about currency wars? What about old fashion profit-taking, correction…

Again, the chart looks eerily like 1987 - when a drop of historic proportions proved to be a mere correction

I think the most dangerous for the market situation will arise precisely as described by the Chair: that participants will be given more Fed "hopium"; and we'll get a lot more of them in for the wrong reason and at the wrong levels.

Ralph Vince writes: 


Don't you think that depends on the pace of events though here, doesn't it?

Conceivably, things can fall off very, very rapidly given the political backdrop right now and the history of anemic real GDP growth leading as a reliable prelude to recession (and the fact that YoY real GDP has seen successively lower troughs since 1980, the stage is certainly set for a rapid descent). And if the jawboning (which is likely priced in already) doesn't provide the support it is thought to?

A commenter adds: 

A Fed official has already bandied this idea in the media. On Friday Bullard said that the pace and duration of QE will respond to market conditions.

Gary Rogan writes: 

The costs of the rising rates are already hitting the mortgage refinancing market severely and may soon derail the housing recovery. The cost to the Treasury of higher interest payments and the lack of the profit rebates from the Fed would be enormous, while simultaneously increasing outlays for unemployment and food stamps if the Fed causes a recession. The recovery is tepid and not self-sustaining. Also getting to 6.5% unemployment is a long way off.

It seems likely that the Fed saw a stock bubble building and decided to puncture it. When the first downtrend after the initial attempt started to reverse itself, Ben jawboned some more. He probably has a target level in mind, but he can't afford to to let the rates rise too much so it's a balancing act. What may be best from his perspective is a stock market crash followed by a quick rhetoric reversal from him and perhaps even more QE to lower the rates. He needs to have stocks and bonds to move in the opposite direction by any means necessary.

Scott Brooks writes: 

IMHO, there is no amount of stimulus that ward off the coming demographic shift that is occurring in America as well as most of the rest of the developed world.

In America, the final wave (the 3rd wave) of the baby boomers have exceeded their peak spending years and are refocusing their money. Generation X is not yet ready (nor do they have the numbers) to replace the spending of the baby boomers.

Spending is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) driver of our economy. Spending peaks at about age 47/48.

If one were to look at an immigration adjusted birth index, one would clearly see that the baby boom peaked in 1961 then leveled out (with an ever so slight increase increase) thru early 1964 and then off precipitously after that. Add 48 to 1964 and you get 2012.

Spending will decrease for the boomers. The big index companies that sell to the boomers will see their profits further erode. The secular bear that started in 2000 will continue on for several more years.

It will be a traders market with several bear market rallies and opportunities to make money on the short side. I predict higher than normal volatility.

Old "buy and hold" dinosaurs like myself will have to adjust our portfolios and be more nimble. It will be a great opportunity for the day traders and option/future traders of this list to make profits (that is if you profit off volatility). Smaller more diversified positions, low leverage (you don't want to get burned by big moves in volatility), and hedging will be the hallmarks of the day. The long only crowd may experience more pain they are accustomed too, unless the volatility increases the premiums enough on OTM puts that it makes them worthwhile to sell without getting burned on the downside.

Although the potential exists, I don't see big moves down (like 1987)….I see more of a slow bleed like we saw in 00/01/02.

The combination of statist entitlements based on unrealistic assumptions are going to put excessive pressure on governments to deliver on their promises. The same pressure is going to be put on private pensions, many of which are currently underfunded.

This won't last forever, though. Things will get better. Watch demographic tables for those countries which see their demographic start to move positively and buy there when demographics make their positive move. Don't look at typical "index stock" type companies though. When demographic changes take place and the younger generation starts to move into power, they will innovate. Look at smaller companies for profits.

Of course, I've been wrong many times before so it may be best disregard everything I've said.

Ed Stewart asks: 

Scott, where do productivity increases fit into this type pf analysis? After all, isn't this what boosts living standards over the long run? Rather than think in money terms, what about the creation of real goods and services that improve lives.

If it is just "spending" that is needed, they could just poof cash into everyone's bank account in the same way that today they "poof" cash into the QE programs.

Scott Brooks replies:

Ed, it's more than just spending that drives any economy. Innovations that improve productivity do play a role.

As to real goods and services and improving lives…..I am very excited about that. Difficult times are often the fertilizer needed to cause innovation. As one generation (the baby boomers) moves off into the sunset of their lives, the next generation (GenX) moves into power and gets to apply their new ideas and innovations.

Each generation builds on the work of the last….and even comes up with brand new ideas along the way.

We saw it happen from 1968 - 82, 1929 - 48 (with a hiccup due to the war), and I could go back even further. Generation shifts occur and we are in one now.

Carder Dimitroff writes:

Your argument makes sense. Unfortunately, this is not how the system has been working. Worse, those advocating for the good 'ol days do not realize they are asking for more government guarantees, a la Solyndra.

Utilities love these guarantees. Given the choice of free markets or government controls, utilities pick government controls every time.

Look at the southeastern states. They had several opportunities to create a free market, called "Grid South." They rejected that idea, preferring instead to remain centrally planned by comrades in state utility commissions.

Almost two decades ago, liberal states began implementing free-market systems for New England to Virginia and all points in between. Soon after, California jumped in. Late to the game was the Midwest. Even later was Texas. Of course, utilities operating in these states were not pleased when their generating assets exit the state's rate base.

It gets better. For decades, gas and electric utilities operated a "cost-plus" enterprise. From time to time, utilities would visit their regulators, present their [prudently acquired] costs, seek an adjusted rate to recover those costs and then asked for a modest margin.

It's like milking your neighbor's cow.



Is there ANY reason on earth why bank free reserves would be up over 25 percent since the beginning of the year?

The last time we saw such acceleration was to stem meltdown.

What in the world is this about now?



 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.



 Hello everyone,

I note even more metal roofs being applied to residential roofs. I have kept a close eye on a few that are a few years old. I note them now dulling and one funeral home roof is faded and now beginning to peel.

I asked my banker how appraisers are looking at value and he indicated there is now some concern over valuations of metal roofs.

I feel the newer metal roofs, like some investing methods, are untested. I readily admit my strength is in residential construction and apartments.

For now I will take a 30 year dimensional shingle roof over metal until positive tested methods show me otherwise.



Ralph Vince writes:

I was just in Punta Gorda, Fl., which was spit-shined, pristine and caught my eye. I notice all of the homes there have metal roofs and came to learn that it is the result of Hurricane Charlie a few years ago that came ashore there. Those roofs DO look a lot less wind-peelable than their shingle-based counterparts.



We have had numerous discussions on this venue regarding stop losses. Part of the surprise from those discussions is that using a stop loss will double your odds of having a loss in the amount of the stop loss.

However the same is true for a profit target. Using a profit target will double your probability of having a gain equal to the target gain. The reason for both phenomena is that in a random walk half of all such trades will get reversed after hitting the target or the stop. The fancy name for this is the Reflection Principle.

Larry Williams writes: 

In a random walk, half of all stops/targets get hit, so if that is not true in several trading systems, does it suggest the market is not random?

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Electronic markets are far from random. Your broker's HFT frontruns your orders, and non-broker largest HFTs parallel run your orders. Thus your limit (profit-taking?) order is played against by unabling, and your stop-loss order is played against by triggering. Random? Not to your account.

Ralph Vince asks: 

But can non-random ticks, sampled on a bigger time frame, degenerate into randomness?

Anatoly Veltman replies: 

In the sense that all those orders, magnified by HFT mechanism, will carry markets somewhere - sure. The other question is: OK, so 70% of executed trades resulted in robbing the outsider spec - but the HFTs and the brokers have not fully benefited by your loss, because of their high overhead (the arms race, et al). So ok, the wall street salaries, the IT salaries get financed out of your pocket. Then the only way to keep you in the game is to inflate your remaining funds…So the mechanism will continue on…but to what end, if the economy is not picking up? So the result may well be non-random: all prices will go up.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Clearly the natural drift and/or inflation-driven accelerated drift will result in an upward bias that will make a random walk impossible. In addition, if there is an HFT-induced tendency to hit stops and not hit limit orders (by the way are there any objective statistics that prove that?) the question becomes: would an independent observer looking at the data tick by tick, but who is not himself placing limit/stop orders be able to tell that the statistical nature of the tick distribution has changed?

Jeff Rollert says: 

No, HFT is attacking your behavioral biases. Not the academic ones ones. Your bids show your hands.

These are modeled after high yield bond trading patterns.

How would you trade if the book was open and public? That is the point. Trading systems are rational, and your systems are easy prey…seriously, inject the random. To borrow a sports analogy, you can't bore a machine into an error.



 Many bearish things about gold lately. That it doesn't go up with no inflation, that we're in recession. That the dollar is going up. That there is great overhand of stocks. I am reminded of a question that I always ask when we hear rumblings that we are going into recession and someone suggests that it is bearish for stocks. I always ask, "what does that have to do with the likely outcome of the stock market? Will the drift be lower or higher?" Oh, I haven't tested that is the unspoken answer. Same for gold. I have not been averse to considering speculative buying of it on all the dips and one is not averse to upholding the spirit of Gavekal idea that it is good to consider things of that nature when caught in Africa by natives, or in large deposits by flexions. One notes a 20 day minimum and is not averse to considering expectations thereafter even before Dr. Zussman runs it on small tab.

Kim Zussman writes:

Using ETF "GLD" daily closes (12/04-present), new instances of 20 day lows were defined as the first 20 day minimum in 20 days. For these new 20 day lows, the return for the next 5 day interval was positive but N.S.:

One-Sample T: next 5D

Test of mu = 0 vs not = 0

Variable   N   Mean    StDev   SE Mean          95% CI            T      P
next 5D   32  0.0012  0.0317  0.0056  (-0.0102, 0.0126)  0.22  0.828

However 7 of the last 10 instances of new 20D lows have been followed by 5 day periods which were down: 

Date next 5D

02/11/13 -0.027

12/04/12 0.007

10/15/12 -0.005

06/28/12 0.018

05/08/12 -0.040

02/29/12 -0.004

11/21/11 0.021

09/22/11 -0.067

06/24/11 -0.009

01/07/11 -0.007

07/01/10 0.011

03/24/10 0.025

01/27/10 0.020

12/11/09 -0.003

06/22/09 0.017

03/10/09 0.022

01/12/09 0.047

10/16/08 -0.109

07/30/08 -0.032

03/20/08 0.022

08/16/07 0.010

05/10/07 -0.014

03/02/07 0.008

12/15/06 0.011

08/17/06 0.012

06/01/06 -0.026

02/13/06 0.026

12/20/05 0.050

10/20/05 0.026

08/30/05 0.031

07/06/05 0.002

03/22/05 -0.001 

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Fantastic work, as always. Now, I will ask a few skeptical questions:

1. So you test a historical period which saw the price move from $400 to $1600. Wouldn't you expect bullish historical results of a purchase made just about any random day?

2. So we're having a market in 2013, bouncing around on any piece of planted news from Cyprus, from EU, from Putin, from Japan, from Fed, from WH, from investment banks, from fund characters (the ilk of the upside-down), etc. How will one adjust one's timing of statistically catching the falling knife - given that the timing of such leaks (releases) has significantly changed from the test years?

3. Also, the market mechanism has changed in those 8 years, on two fronts:

-the increased weight of ETFs vs. bullion/futures
-the increased prolifiration of HFT exploratory orders

My gist: it's good to have a study, but there are plenty of caveats that call for increased amount of discretion.

In fact, here is my idea: I've observed this to work at an increasing rate  since the transfer of investment capital from public into the coffers of the banks and funds has been initiated by the Central authority.

So Gold drops too quickly from $1600 to $1563, which rightfully piqued the Chair's interest in the wee hours. So this is what investment banks, playing with unending public capital, do (for a 24-hour play): they buy momentary cheap Gold and sell Oil against it (got to get the quantity mix right). Oil could not be considered cheap following last week's straight rise. Works plenty of times. And when it doesn't (really, once in a blue moon), a short term spread position becomes a longer term hedge, then the books may get cooked, then a rogue trader is disclosed, etc. who knows…But a good statistical trade to be sure. I like it.

Jason Ruspini adds:

If it seems like HFT is degrading certain strategies over time, there might be testable differences between different futures exchanges that support different order types. For example CME supports stop-limits without any additional software, but Eurex and TSE do not. ICE natively supports ice-berging, most don't. HKFE and SFE only support limit orders natively. Does the performance of benchmark momentum or reversion systems on equity contracts differ between these exchanges (without applying slippage assumptions)? They aren't apples-to-apples of course but if HFT has polluted the microstructure for certain strategies, it seems like something should show-up here, even if many participants have ways to create the other order types.

CQG Order Types Supported by Exchange

Ralph Vince writes: 

Interesting points Jason. Timely too, I believe.

When market meltdowns occur, the technologie du jour is the scapegoat. In 1929, it was margin accounts. In 1987, program trading. Tomorrow, HFT.

Not that HFT caused the meltdown, but the fact that they stepped aside and enormous air pockets formed in the faveolate theatre of perceived liquidity.



 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?



 I would encourage every child of college age, and parent, to NOT do it.

I have niece at Miami of Ohio. She studies accounting to eventually take her CPA.

She can take all of her accounting classes from better institutions, online and for free. All the content — the very best of content — is available online and for free. Why not take the classes offered by Wharton?

Why not learn about differential equations from those teaching it at MIT?

The major colleges and universities are very disturbed by this trend, wondering when the dupes who keep paying to send their kids to their schools will wisen up — they KNOW they need a new business model, it's only the relentless nature of human momentum that keeps them going here. They are well-aware the only reason people are attending in person and paying is to get the diploma — the content is available for free. (The kids end up taking most of their classes online anyhow.)

It's the 21st century. I look at the nonsense at Florida Atlantic University, and other second tier colleges, and they appear to be an utter waste. I cannot speak for the Ivy league schools or other top academic institutions, though, as an outsider, they DO offer their content for free and online.

To bypass this I think is a sin, and that doesn't just pertain to college-aged young people, but to the rest of us as well.



Look at this site and this article "are you a compulsive gambler" and substitute the word "speculating" every time you see the word "gambling." What do you think?

Ralph Vince writes: 

Sure! Here's how it differs:

1. We have more complicated math….
2. We use OPM a lot more….
3. We tend to dress better than those greezers at the tracks…
4. We have better, more sophisticated software…
5. Kids don't have to live in their father's station wagon in a church parking lot because he blew the house…

I can go on and on….. as you can see, this domain has NOTHING in common with that one!



 I suffer from the affliction of loss aversion. I believe this is part of Prospect theory which say that one experiences more negative utility from losses than positive utility from gains which leads to non-optimal behavior in decision making. Maybe one could combat this simply (though not easily) by ignoring entry points, paper profits or losses, past booked gains or losses and focus entirely on the evidence and conviction one has at that moment in regard to the future expectation. It would be the Zen trading equivalent of living in the Now.

As an experiment for the last 4 years I have maintained a paper trading account along with my real money account. In the paper account I am largely ambivalent to losses or gains for obvious reason and just focus on what the research is saying at this moment in time going forward. I am embarrassed to confess the paper one has outperformed though with greater variation.

Ralph Vince comments: 

Non-optimal in what sense, maximizing profits?

It actually is optimal in the sense of acquiring beans, Not optimal in acquiring mountains of beans, but optimal in being able to acquire some beans — and it has deep, evolutionary roots.

There's nothing wrong with you or any of us in acting this way.



 It takes a lack of intelligence to leap to higher intelligence. I've written about this and demonstrated it mathematically. The decisions early humans made were not well-founded by criterion we examine decision-making with today, although we make dozens of decisions, innately, every day along those same lines — it's how we are wired. Our poor decision-making has been our genius — the monkey who plays roulette and wins a banana.

Had it not been for this, we would still be cowering agoraphobically in the shadows of a primeval world.

Similarly, and this is not addressed in drakes equation, higher intelligence, at least the kind required to have formed on earth, requires, initially, a poor (or, when viewed in another light, brilliant) sense of decision making which is not evident in the conventional methods we employ in modern decision making.



 Today, I stopped by the local Apple Store to buy an Apple TV–it allows my wife (who is hearing impaired) to see captions on streamed movies. When I walked into the store, it was difficult to notice how empty it was. This was on a Saturday afternoon, no rain, moderate temperature, and over half the store was empty (the last time I was there–a few months ago–you could barely get into the store). Over half of the sales folks in their blue shirts were standing around talking with one another. It wasn't as though there was anyone waiting to speak with them, or even anyone being asked if someone could help them–there were those sales folks going around the store, as well, and they were looking for things to do too–no one had questions for them or needed help. I was stunned. In the three years we have been using this Apple Store and this was the first time I've had this experience. I don't know that what I observed today isn't just an aberration. That said, are others on this site observing the same at their local stores?

Ralph Vince comments: 


I think it's more than just Apple. I live by a popular vacation beach in FL. Access to the beach (free) is jammed, mobbed. Go out to a restaurant, they are empty. However, go to one that is running some kind of promotion and they are jammed. The roads are jammed, but people seem extremely price sensitive.

On the one hand, things have the feel of a boom, and on the other, of a bust. Very peculiar. I think Apple, however, from the looks of their stock, and evidently their stores, is certainly feeling the bust side disproportionately.

Thomas Miller writes: 

The Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg Illinois outside Chicago was extremely crowded today well into the evening. Temperature was mid 30's a little cold for this date. All the restaurants were very crowded particularly big chains like Cheesecake factory with huge waits.The Apple store in the mall was fairly crowded but less so than at other times I've been there particularly with the amount of people that were in the mall. I didn't see a lot of people buying anything while I was there. I also observed that very few people in the mall had shopping bags and the ones that did were fairly small. Also, I can't remember a time when I've heard so many different languages being spoken and seen so many kids there. The kids play area was absolutely packed and must've been teeming with bacteria and viruses. I started getting flashbacks of the mouse's house in Orlando. Felt like I was at some kind of United Nations mall. Maybe all the Aryans were out starting their St. Paddy's day libations early. Not very scientific, just unusual.

Ralph Vince adds: 

I notice a huge regional differences — though this has persisted throughout this protracted period, only now, become even more polarizing.

I think it's vulnerable, the only drivers of wealth here are those tied to very specific fields and/or government (and some workers in those sectors have been cut back severely, military in particular) and the stock market. Here's where the implications arise for us.

NO ONE has cashed out. Everyone crying about their investments and their pensions in 09, has their moment to find redemption now. Have they? Every major pension fund has a large allocation to equities now. Everyone feels safe. Teh fed will keep pumping — but they have such short memories, it was the very sound and fury of the igniting pump in Oct 87 that turned it around. If (when) this goes — when everyone tries to get out within the same span of two or three hours, who will save it and how?



These are still "nothing" days. Breakouts, new highs….nothing days. These are not outlier days. These kinds of days give shorts a chance to cover, longs a chance to add (or reverse) etc. They are not make-or-break days.

It's the kind of days that erase X days of action that are the make or break days. The higher X, the more the day makes or breaks. (The larger X days have historically been to the downside, those there are plenty of large upside days erasing X days of {downward} activity).

Interestingly, if you plot these days, you find that the probability of an X days retracement in a single day is Poisson-distributed (named after the statistician founder, Simeon Denis Poisson). In one of those great moments of serendipity in human discovery, the probability of catching a fish (un poisson!) is — you guessed it!

If you're short, the consolation is that a day which reverses X days of activity IS coming — the "when" part of that is distributed such. If you're long, you need to realize the same thing.



 I found this video fascinating and mesmerizing…….especially the ending.

Ralph Vince writes: 

"The intricacies of designing a proper portfolio can often balance on the weight of a feather."

There's a LOT in that statement. The generally-practiced mean-variance style portfolio constructions miss this point however — that a single component can readily offset all other components in the portoflio over time — even if that single component is profitable!




 One of the mantras of those who would convince us individual investors to buy and hold is "you can't time the market". The slogan seems to mean that you can't precisely time the exact bottom and exact top of any given market cycle. But that's a strawman: you don't need to buy on the very day that the market bottoms and sell on the very day that the market tops. Instead you only need to avoid buying when the market is overbought, overbullish, and overvalued, when cyclically adjusted P/E ratios are high, when the Q ratio is high, etc.; and similarly for selling.

Other than broker marketing materials, does anyone here have a good citation for the source of this old bit of market "wisdom"?

George Parkanyi writes: 

It's the mantra of the mutual fund industry (a) they want you to stay put so they can keep the fee stream going (they make money whether you win or lose), and (b) don't like you moving the money around from fund to fund because then they have the hassle of redemptions/re-balancing and/or parking your money in lower MER funds such as money-market for extended periods of time.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I've met people who can time the market.

And I would also say that it isn't necessary to do so.

There are many ways to be successful at this. It's a matter of finding what works for the individual, to find his groove. And it is precisely THAT which is the hard part.



 Aside from the obvious answer which is to make money, what do dailyspecs think is the key to managing money? Is missing a big up move better/worse than missing a big down move? Meaning, if a long equity focused fund manager was flat in 2008 but underperformed in the recent move is that good or bad? It seems that if you play strong defense you often times don't catch the big moves. Similarly, if you are all offense your drawdowns are far greater. There are, of course, specifics to each style, but I am thinking more generally regardless of method or style.

Ralph Vince writes: 


If I may….

"the obvious answer which is to make money"

Is a crazy, amateur answer. Anyone who claims THAT, is here just for entertainment (which does not mean they are playing just nickel dime either, but likely playing TOO heavy).

The number one rules is to answer what you ARE here to do. If you were running the LMNOP corp's pension…how would you define that?

If you were in a trading contest, you would have a different criteria. What would it be?

If you were managing money for granny, wouldn't that be different than a 22 year old kid with a little grubstake's criteria?

How can you have a plan, a map to get somewhere, when you don't know precisely what you are trying to accomplish, where you are trying to go. I know it may sound trivial, but that's step one. Otherwise, you just flounder.

By the way, when people say ".. to make money,: I have found that usually means they need to "make money," to cover their obligations, which is a LOT different than making money to increase their capital (i.e. their obligations are already covered). Those are tow different ballgames, and to me, to have to trade to cover your nut, is not the way to trade. Not for me anyhow, it;s a tough enough game without that on top of it!

A commenter writes: 

My first thought, FWIW, is discipline and hard work. It's like much else in life. There are naturals, to be sure, but for the rest of us, in any endeavor in which one seeks success, there's nothing like discipline and hard work.

Timothy Collins writes: 

If I HAD to choose, then capital preservation wins out. Fear and greed drive just about everyone, but I've found fear outweighs the greed. There isn't one right answer. It depends, but here is what I can tell you. If you start managing money during a time where we've had sideways action or a very slow climb or even very bullish action, folks are going to want you to outperform. If there hasn't been a recent correction or scare, then greed takes over. If you underperform, they will leave you. You can survive the first major downside move, usually, and keep most of the assets you manage. However, there will be a heighten expectation of communication, hand holding and reassurances that they next drop they won't lose as much, if anything.

If you start managing money during or shortly after a sharp decline, then most of those individuals are probably looking to make a change because they were hurt badly. They will want capital preservation, so underperformance in an up market is somewhat tolerated. Clearly doing 1% when the total market does 15% won't be acceptable, but if you deliver a decent up year during those times (say 6-8%) but avoid losses during 5-10% downswings and greatly minimize during big drops (15%+), they will be very loyal even if you underperform on the upside for several years in a row (3-4 even). People tend to remember and be loyal to protectors.

Just my view of course.

a commenter writes:

This is a superb question and one could fill an entire career answering it. It is the money management equivalent of "Does God Exist?" for a theologian. Belief in one sort of God on one sort of Continent will get you high praise, many parishioners, and a spanking nice Cassock. On another you'd be branded an Infidel and your kippah kicked in the sand. Although the asset management industry has a tendency more towards the Heaven’s Gate end of the spectrum than the Abrahamic.

another commenter writes: 

Capital preservation is very similar to when one is playing a strong defensive game and in top shape. Even a player with a weak offense, if he has a strong defense, that and fortitude can grind the opponent down.

Alex Castaldo writes: 

The business of money management requires two separate things: first the ability to attract (and retain) Other People's Money (OPM), and second the ability to successfully invest/trade. In my experience it is rare for one person to be good at both, so to have a successful firm you probably need some people who are good at one and some who are good at the other.

Raising money involves marketing skills and also good communication with the clients so you understand what the client wants and so you keep the client informed/reassured about what is going on (even when they should be worried instead!). Basically these are people skills.

For investing/trading on the other hand you need the ability to see things differently from others (so called "variant perception", seeing things that are true but that other people don't see). This skill is partly an intellectual skill and partly guts/courage to do things your own way rather than follow the consensus.



 Does anyone know anything about housing values in Detroit? Of particular interest are empty lots.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

30 bucks will get you a good abandoned big home without the copper. Reason has a very good video on the bargains among the abandoned and its causes from excessive service rates and unionization. Chicago is the next Detroit I'm told.

David Lilienfeld writes:

I ask because a good friend of mine, a little older, is an ophthalmologist who bought four adjacent lots off of Woodward (?) near the center of town. The cost was practically nothing. Two of the lots are empty, the other two have abandoned homes (he compared them to Ridgely's Delight (in Baltimore) in the 1960s–that area of the city was in pretty poor shape at that time. The lots themselves are "big". Marty's thinking of when he can turn his practice over to his son and retire. (I can't picture Marty retired. The man runs on adrenaline and his great rapport with his patients. He would have gone into cardiology, but he thought ophthalmologists were paid more and didn't have to work as hard–leaving him time for his woodworking and a bunch of other hobbies.) He hopes to build a "large" house on the property sometime in the next 5-10 years as a summer home. I think he's crazy, but given his investing record, which is pretty good, I have to wonder if he's just really early, nuts, or onto something. Hence, my question.

GM and Ford do seem to be on the rebound, though. What's on the rebound in Chicago, except for gun sales?

Ralph Vince writes: 

I imagine it is much like Cleveland, where you can buy property for the back taxes owed. Young people not taking advantage of this are silly.

The mineral rights under most of these places, eventually, exceeds the cost



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

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

Does anyone have any experience or thoughts in this approach?

Gary Rogan writes:

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

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

As Kerouac put it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Rogan replies:

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

Ralph Vince replies: 


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

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

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

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

Leo Jia adds: 


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

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

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

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

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

Leo Jia asks: 

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbons Burke writes: 

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

Leo Jia comments: 

Hi Ralph,

Thanks very much for the inspiring posts on this thread.

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

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

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

Would you kindly explain?

Ralph Vince responds: 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newton Linchen writes: 


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

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

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

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

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


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

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

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



 Driving through the Owens Valley on a beautiful sunny clear day, the entire 150 mile stretch with 14000 peaks towering above showed the geological effects of immense glaciers that filled the entire valley during the past ice age. Ice could have been 3000 feet deep gouging up mountains. Even Mauna Kea in Hawaii has clear geological evidence of glaciers! The last ice age was as recent as 10-20,000 years ago and ice covered a large part of North America. Global warming is the end of the current ice age and has provided good weather and prosperity and the growth of civilization and the human race for 20,000 years. The reverse of global warming, namely cooling, is not an attractive alternative. Imagine if cooling began. It would mean summers with snow that did not melt lasting through destroying crops. 4 years of snow on the ground through summer would wipe out most of the world population. 4 years of 40 foot snow accumulation would erase most signs of civilization under a layer of ice. When Krakatoa went off in 1883 the ash plume circled the world and there was no summer in the US that year. Imagine the impact on gnp and the markets if cooling commenced. Its awful to imagine. So its a case of unintended consequences or be careful what you wish for should they figure out how to reverse global warming.

A commenter writes:

Cold weather crops like rye and barley would come back in vogue if we had an ice age which is not unthinkable. The zones for planting crops would change drastically. One would expect that researchers might do some genetic tinkering with corn, wheat, and soybeans, allowing them to flourish in a colder climate. Quite a number of scientists are predicting a Maunder Minimum at the end of this current solar cycle, which coincided with the "Little Ice Age.".

Steve Ellison writes: 

Quite a long time ago, I reviewed Evolutionary Catastrophes: The Science of Mass Extinction by Vincent Courtillot. Every one of the 7 mass extinction events identified by M. Courtillot was caused by global cooling. Therefore, I agree that global warming (which I see no reason to doubt) is the lesser evil.

David Lilienfeld writes: 

In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the asbestos industry maintained that "there was reasonable disagreement" among scientists about asbestos as a cause of lung cancer; no asbestos-related regulations were needed. In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the same was true of the tobacco industry for tobacco and lung cancer (and other sites, too). In the 1980s, 1990s, and last decade, many in the social conservative school of thought maintained that there was little evidence, or at least controversial evidence, about the role of human papilloma virus in the development of cervical cancer (I won't get into the matter of hand and neck cancer and HPV). In the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s, the US salt industry insisted that the data linking consumed salt and hypertension were controversial and that no regulation of the salt content was needed. The argument against the consensus view holds only so long as additional data do not validate the view of that majority. With Copernicus, that was the case. It was the same with the role of bacteria in the development of peptic ulcers.

Absolute certainty and uniform conclusions by all members of the science community shouldn't be needed for policy formulation. If they were, then the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel would still be roaming the ranges and desserts of our television screens.

Ralph Vince comments: 

What a logical stretch David.

In the tobacco litigation, we found secret emails amongst the defendant employee's indicating a nefarious conspiracy to keep their methods and activities secret.

The East Anglia emails are similar in that regard.

I can tell you, from firsthand observation of the computer code that was in the email trove (because I have been writing code since the 70s, and I can tell you from examining someone's code what nationality they are, what mood they were in when they wrote it, and often what they had for breakfast). The code that was dumped was utterly damning to their cause. Not only does it show that the data does NOT sufficiently show that we are experiencing (anthropomorphic or not) temperature rises, but taints the issue because it raises the question of motive. We're left knowing that CO2 in the atmosphere has increased, a seeming understanding that this should have caused temperature rise, and the facts that do not comport to this, and as-yet no legitimate scientific reason (there are some theories, but that's all) to account for this.

Scott Brooks writes: 

I suggest that we look at the motives of the people involved in perpetuating what I believe is a giant con job.

Let's say the earth is warming. Is this a man made phenomena or is it just a normal cycle that the earth goes thru from time to time? Who stands to profit from these suggestions to stop global warming? Al Gore and his ilk?

Why do we trust these idiots in DC to make decisions that are common sense based and "special interest group" based?

If we start down this path that global warmists like yourself want us to go down, what happens when the earth keeps warming up (i.e. let's say it's really just a cycle the earth is going thru and not man made)…….what will happen then? Do you think the politicians will say, "Well, it's not mans fault. So let's roll back all the regulations", or do you think that they'll bloviate about how they need even more power to solve this horrible problem?

Why are you so willing to give more and more power to the government when they have a LONG history of abusing that power to their own selfish ends?

If you chose to go down that path, you will find people like me standing in your path actively trying to stop you.

Garrett Baldwin writes: 

I wasn't going to jump in on this, but I wanted to shadow something Scott said.

With regard to motives, pay attention to the way that the hearings and the solutions to solving this problem are handled. Some of us want the market to solve the problem. For example, let's say that the biggest threat in the world were something that is hard to measure, like the earth is running out of fresh air.

I'd argue that if that were a serious problem, a man would come a long and invent a machine to solve it. We'd rely on human ingenuity. We'd beat back that threat…

But the people who stand to profit through centralized alchemy only want to do it one way — their way. And any solution that is market based, creates competition, and doesn't enrich allies or decision makers or centralize more power with the government is either demonized, destroyed or regulated from the conversation.

The reality is that central planners can't solve this problem. They claim that they invented the internet, but if the government were still operating the internet, it would just be two dudes from DoD playing pong back and forth between New York and Camp Pendleton. This entire hype has evidence of scam all over it. Naomi Klein has demanded that the U.S. distribute $2 trillion to third-world nations who are "victims" of the U.S. and our energy policy. Ironically, the nations that are demanding the money are also the ones that are near the bottom of the Heritage Economic Freedom Index. Countries that aren't developing because they keep they limit their own people's ingenuity and production are going to get $2 trillion and then do what with it? Usher in a green economy? Come on…

So, when I hear the idea that we have to "do something" and do it fast without exploring the data, without asking questions, and without being allowed to have a debate because doing so would cast the distrustful of government as people who don't care about the children or the future or humanity. Meanwhile, the alarmist will have a moving wardrobe of children follow him as he spouts off how important his intentions are and how we are monsters.

Beyond that, we also ignore one thing in this discussion.

What are the positive benefits of global warming? After all, Greenland had a booming farm trade 1,000 years ago. I'd like to get some beach front property in Greenland. I'd also think that trade through the Arctic Circle would be nice and reduce shipping to Asia in half. Why is global warming such a terrible thing? Is it because we refuse to embrace the challenge, and because there's profit to be made by saving us from ourselves?

So, I will say from my perspective this. I don't consider climate change a big deal, and it's not something that I worry about. Humanity will adapt after government spends trillions of dollars chasing this dragon..

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