Apr

30

 "Those well-known experts who had pulled off a big windfall by going against the tide and winning were, over the long term, the worst at forecasting."

That sounds understandable to me, and there is a research to prove it.

The original article on Harvard Business Review requires registration.

Victor Niederhoffer writes:

This article provides confirmation of the idea that has the world in its grip. Egalitarianism prevails. Especially at Harvard. I will have to read the article to see all its biases. But it was guaranteed to be published in the HBR.

Rudolf Hauser writes: 

Not having read the HBR article, I cannot comment on that particular study. But I would note that the nature of the forecast and time frame are important considerations. The news article did note that the study only looked at three years of data. If the forecast related to only quarterly trends the conclusion that it might have just been a fluke forecast could be valid. But say someone had predicted the financial collapse we saw in 2008 with valid reasoning but was off in timing. In that case his or her forecast would be wrong for part of the time but someone who acted on it might have had some years of underperformance but avoided the debacle that was to come. That forecaster might be someone to listen to in the future. But even being right once for the right reasons does not mean that the person will be correct all the time on such major calls or even that they will ever be right again. In the end, one should listen to the reasoning but make one's own decisions.

Apr

29

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

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

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

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

PLEASE!!!

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

Leo Jia writes:

Thanks for the wonderful argument, Rocky.

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

Stefan Jovanovich adds: 

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

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

Apr

26

 "Bringing People Back From the Dead" :

"While 45 minutes is absolutely remarkable and a lot of people would have written her off, we now know there are people who have been brought back, three, four, five hours after they've died and have led remarkably good quality lives,"

"after the brain stops receiving a regular supply of oxygen through the circulation of blood it does not instantly perish but goes into a sort of hibernation, a way of fending off its own process of decay."


It would be very interesting to know how long the brain can stay in this hibernation state. 

Apr

26

"How Knowledge Can Make You Stupid" :

Being unable to assess somebody else's beliefs with 100% accuracy is a problem, and if it's your own knowledge that get in the way, that means it's even more important to ensure the beliefs you hold are the correct ones.

This research is very interesting. How can we know better where the market will go? Does it pay for one to know more than what the market does? Or is it worth it for a trader to spend all his effort to absorb all the information? The research seems to say no. Knowing more doesn't make one more correctly predict what others would do.

Another situation to which this may apply is financial bubbles. We believe that bubbles are caused by people's irrationality. But perhaps that understanding is not enough. A bubble may just be caused by people's inability to judge others' thoughts. Since mostly everyone knows something that others don't, that information gets magnified in the bubble when people who know it assume that others would also use it to value the situation when in actuality those others don't really have that information.

Apr

1

Does anyone feel like an idiot when your system encounters a series of losses? I know it is not warranted, but subconsciously I have that feeling and I don't have a good way of getting rid of it. Any advice please.

Mar

22

"Computer Simulations Reveal Benefits of Random Investment Strategies Over Traditional Ones"

There is a link at the end of the article to the original research paper.

Would love to hear all dailyspec readers comments.

Alex Castaldo replies:

This article is written by some Italian physicists who like to play with stock market data. It does not tell me anything about real world investing.

The title of the original paper is "Are random trading strategies more successful than technical ones?". Somehow in the news article "technical strategies" was changed to "traditional strategies", distorting the meaning. The specific four strategies considered are 7-day momentum, RSI (relative strength index), reversal of the previous day and MACD (Moving Average Convergence Divergence).  (How many traditional investors such as mutual funds or pension funds use MACD etc. to manage their billion dollar portfolio?).

The paper measures "success" by the percentage of times the subsequent direction of the market was correctly predicted (a number between 0 and 100%). In the real world success is measured by the amount of money made, not just the success ratio and it has to be judged in view of the level of risk taken (which the paper does not consider at all).

This is an example of an impressive looking paper, with beautiful figures and charts, numerous (55) footnotes but *SIGNIFYING NOTHING* and having no value to investors or traders. It does not even tell us whether the technical rules would have worked or not with real money.

Mar

13

 I spoke with a dear friend in the SF Bay area. He's a real estate agent on the peninsula south of San Francisco. He indicated that the housing market there is so hot, it's hotter than it was in 2006-7, and rivals that of 1998-9, when houses on the peninsula and in Silicon Valley were sold within hours of listing. This seems to me to be unsustainable, except he said there's lots of demand from Chinese immigrants paying in cash, as well as other Asian immigrants putting down 60-70 percent of the purchase price and financing the rest. I don't think this will have a pleasant ending.

Leo Jia writes: 

It looks the Chinese buying will continue for sometime. They are crazy about housing. The decades or centuries of housing shortage must have altered their genes. And now when some have some money, they will chase at any price what they feel missing mentally. America (particularly the west coast, traditionally with more Chinese) clearly is a top choice for many.

Mar

12

One of the most valuable things I learned from the Chair is how not to do a study.

Let us summarize how to do a study. First define a pattern or event of some type. Then calculate the expected return subsequent to that event when the event happened. Then compare that return to the returns for all other non-event time periods. Do a t-test to establish significance at the 95% level.

That said the real problem is how can we insure ourselves against the possibility of biasing our study or otherwise completely messing up. the first thing that comes to mind is to never include data in your decision process that was not known at the time. For example Enron went bankrupt and then several years later after an audit the financial results were released showing that the original releases had been fraudulent. You cannot use the adjusted data based on the argument that it is the best data. Only the original data was known at the time so you must use that.

The same thing goes for price data. You have to use the prices that were known at the close if you are doing a buy at the close study. You cannot use retrospectively adjusted prices when the data is adjusted later than the supposed decision was made.

Always use tradeables. For example the S&P 500 index does not trade as an index. The S&P futures do and SPY does as well so one would use either of them as data for your study. The reason is that individual stocks can have stale quotes. Some of the smaller stocks in an index do not trade nearly as often as the larger caps. Thus the index can be behind the true position of the market. The tradeables trade and thus are subject to arbitrage that tends to keep them in line with the real market level.

This is a short list of things not to do. However it is representative of the fact that it is harder to learn what not to do than what to do. Other contributions would be welcome.

Victor Niederhoffer adds:

Always simulate what the chances were that your observed results were due to pure luck and take into account the path that your results would take and what that would have required of money management.

Consider the impact of retrospection on your results. The human mind is capable of ascertaining many regularities that occurred in the past, and is good at uncovering them in a study after the events occurred, but not very good at uncovering predictions based on new data that they are not already privy too. Never use range forecasts as they don't tell you whether you would have made or lost. Be aware of the difference between description and prediction, and statistical significance versus predictive distributions.

Never be overconfident. Do take account of the drift in your data, and the shape of the distributions you are drawing from. Mr. T, is not very good if only 2 or 3 observations removed from your sample would change the results.

To what extent are the regularities you believe you have uncovered been extant in the literature or the knowledge of shrewd fast moving traders. That changes things. What is the extent of regression bias in your results? 

Alston Mabry comments:

Something else, basically another riff on the Chair's comments: I find that statistics like means and correlations are, of course, useful, but they almost always hide important, idiosyncratic structure in the underlying data. In a sense, summary statistics are "intended" to do that, but I find it useful to unpack them and examine the structure in the data series, how the summary stats change over time, etc.

Anton Johnson writes: 

A couple of important things to consider.

Large changes in outcome resulting from small adjustments of a parameter is a sign of over-fitting and usually bodes badly for real-time results. Sometimes eliminating or finding a suitable replacement for the sensitive parameter will result in a more robust and usable model.

As a general rule, the number of parameters used in a study should be FAR fewer than the number of resulting trade signals.

Ken Drees adds:

Coach Bob Knight's new book The Power of Negative Thinking mentions "NO" being safer than yes. You can always more easily change a "no" into a "yes" versus the opposite–deciding to change your mind from positive to negative.

The gist of the book is to tamp down the uber positive thinking crowd–no, you can't do anything you want, no, you can't magically power your way to a fine end. PONT, Power of Negative Thinking is how Knight coached. He explains it that you must limit faults, limit mistakes–if we don't do these things then we have a chance to win. He keys on dealing with negatives to achieve a positive. He must have come across a lot of less disciplined approaches to coaching in order to come up with an against the grain type philosophy (PONT).

A lot of his points are probably already in the quiver of the sharpened spec. His hyper worried routines, careful study of the opponent, downplaying of good fortune and constant moving of yesterday's win into the rearview mirror broadens out into that persona you conjure when you think of him–that brooding face, those searching eyes–never smiling. The idea of "can't do it" was probably the most different from what we hear today–most are afraid to say "can't–that it means "I won't". Knight loves the honesty of a player saying I can't understand that assignment, or I can't push myself any farther. I would not recommend the book to cross over into speculation, but it's a quick read and there are more than some items to enjoy.

During it, I thought about player health in relation to speculating. I am my own coach. It's a luxury to have someone call your number and sit you down for a breather, to know you may need rest over more drill. How do I know that I am playing/ trading fatigued—only after a poor result? Knight seems to have the keen memory still in gear. There are some interesting stories about his games and Big 10 accomplishments.

Coach Knight will definitely tell you "No".  

Leo Jia writes: 

Very interesting, Ken. Thank you for sharing.

There seems to be some rationale in being positive. As I understand it, when one says "yes, I can do it" and envisions the actual doing, he actually plants a seed in his subconscious brain. The subconscious brain can be more powerful in many ways than the conscious. So planting a seed there is to use the additional powers of the brain, which are not accessible by the conscious mind normally, and thus increase one's chance of achieving a goal.

Mar

10

Here is another inspiring article for musicians, artists, and everyone else including traders.

"When You Win, Don't Atop: Tips for classical Musicians" by Cesar Aviles

Mar

6

"3D Printed Car is Strong, Light and Close to Production":

The car is strong as steel, half the weight of a conventional vehicle, and can be manufactured in a warehouse full of plastic-spraying 3D printers.

The teardrop-shaped 3D-printed car is an ecologically sound hybrid, and it looks cool, too.

Aerodynamic and futuristic, this car could be a total game-changer for the automobile industry, leading to a rise of small-batch automakers.

Mar

6

 You may be extremely upset by serious troubles just happening, but in 10 years, you will be feeling just fine about the current events.

"Persist until you bleed — otherwise it's not hurting enough." This article is for musicians, but I think it applies well for traders as well.

"Fly First, Then Land: Tips for Classical Musicians" by Cesar Aviles

Mar

4

 Complicated things of high quality don't just break down in a big cataclysm. Take a modern car. They are well built. The engine will last for half a million miles if properly maintained. However it is the little things that start breaking: the plastic ashtray falls out, the rubber seals wear, the bearing start getting loose, the fabric tears. These little things can get more serious. If the seal leaks, and the oil is low, the engine can wear prematurely. The shocks wear, and the ball joints go. The steering gets loose. Small things can lead to bigger problems. Take a modern city, like New York in the 70s. First it's some graffitti, then some broken windows, soon vagrants move in, garbage piles up and the city head to bankruptcy. It's the small things first. Take a huge economy like the US. The GDP isn't going to fall apart. Employment probably won't go off a cliff. It's going to be small things first. Take a corporation. The earning won't collapse right off. It will be receivables up, inventory up, sales down, or even smaller things. Maintenance up, or down. Take a market like the Nasdaq.

Leo Jia writes: 

These are very insightful. Our bodies are about the same. And while the destruction process happens this way, it is interesting to note the creation process is also quite like this. First, small trivial things get created, then the large more significant things. All things seem to move like this in circles. Bubbles start small, grow big, then shrink a little, then burst.

Jim Lackey adds: 

Hold on ther' hoss. The first thing we do, it wash, feed and stable the horses before the cowboys. This car post caught my eye. If the simplest part breaks, a mass air flow sensor, the engine runs rich and bad things happen. Yet we have a dummy light! Even back in the day we had dummy lights for high temp, or low oil pressure. These little 25-200 dollar parts break on brand new machines. Take the worn out 100k 7 year old car. Yes what you say is true. 35 years ago the 100k car may be dead in the crusher for scrap. Today what people thing of the heart of the car is the engine. With CNC , CAD and CAM all short for, computers do not have UAW contract for, tired nor sick nor go out of whack and slap together the last V-8 at the end of bowling night. Therefore the engines are designed and build and installed to Engineer spec. They do last for 250k. Most but not all of them do 250k except for the short cut copy cat Far East red flag waiving commies BYD my 6.

The little things that are build to spec yet cant possibly last for 7-12 years as you say rubber O rings, Balls joints, tie rod end,s brake rotors struts all must be changed or maintained. The most complex and weakest link of the chain on new cars is automatic transmissions. I made one the of the worst mistakes trading this week. I was taught about racing cars bikes and anything with an engine, failures. In a way we kept track of the max min wait time on a failure of a part. We change them at or before the median failure time. I forgot all about that for our trading. Didn't lose, it was much worse than that to a racer not winning is as painful as being on fire.

One spec posted a customer service report on cars and diamonds weeks ago. The gist was one man said change all parts. The other man said wait 5,000 miles. The implication was the second man said wait, and was best. What wasn't taken into account was two things. The performance of the car and his safety and time of a second trip to the shop. Other was the parts probably were not in stock at dealer B. There fore the guy simply told what most want to hear, no money today rather than we will have to keep your car over night as the parts are coming off the ship from Japan.

The discussion also goes to medical. too much of medicine is based on illness. When talking to my Docs and their ranges for normal I burst out and said, your kidding right? How do basic stats escape Medical training? How much better can we all feel if we did X and Y do the the people all wait until a breakdown and see the Doc for solution which prescribed as X. I know why. I did the same thing last week on my trading. I didn't consider wellness. I was waiting for the market to become sick then do trade X. My trading doc even warned me and kept me from having a bad loss. He was focused on wellness ( is best I can describe) I was looking for the illness. (Okay so the markets went 1530 to 1490 and I said why not wait for 1475 to come in? I pull my racing pits cap over my head and tell the wife, at least I didn't lose short)

How much better will a car perform with New tires brakes and rotors vs a car with 5,000 miles of anecdotal testimony to wait. I can give you the stats on new vs 20k or 40k miles and after one race on a real car. Racers change brakes and tires after each and every weekend. We rebuild engines most every weekend depending on class. In some pro classes we rebuilt engines after every single 1/4 mile run, new pistons, rods and bearings, Valve sprints and retainers, all seals and gaskets.

What the anecdote above states is the engine will run for 250,000 so then to should the car. Yet the car will not move with a broken ball joint. The engine will die with a broken timing belt and over heat with a bad water pump, that now last to 110,000 miles. So the engine system is still only good to run for 110,000 miles. The trans and rear end gears all die at 125-150 and the fuel pumps and all do the same. The catalytic converters die way before this. Most cars have a 5 year 100,000 mile warranty on the drive train. Its only 3/36 or 5/50k on bumper to bumper.. The emission control systems or parts are now only good for 80,000 miles.

So in theory your car is now worse than a 1969 model. It will break down and be non drive able 20,000 miles before the 1969 model died and went to the crusher. Yet your correct, at 80k miles your car will be fixed for 1,000 bucks and in 69 you needed a new engine trans and every hose belt and switch was dead.

This entire deal of failures was burned into my trading memory banks for life. I used it in some ad hoc way since MR Vic showed me in 2004. Yet the advances in his technology on how to quickly repair the trading engine and have it on the road to profitability was lacking by lackey.

The story I wrote about my teenager failing to appreciate the need for trans fluid made me dump the BMX van for 25% above scrap rates to a new friend. I am now shopping for a good used van. There is also a meme on pricing of used vs new cars. We try not use never always when it comes to life. Yet the financial advice out there has man a never and always do.

Too many men are all over the past 10 year return of stock at or about nil. The we are in a range trader calls have been falsified many times this decade. The SPU made a high in 07 the Russel or what ever made a high this year. Yet its true and maybe always is tr that not all stocks make a new high as the joke is many stocks fail to exist, survivor ship bias. Its all mumbo as they use all or this or that index.

Then to say all new cars have engines that run to 250k miles and do not fall apart all at once.. is also false. A brand new car has the ability to shit down or go into safe mode. Its broken according to our ladies who drive. It can only be idled at 35mph to your local shop. With palladium and platinum are such high prices the emission control systems are too expensive. The cars heart is not the engine, it never was the brain. It used to be the driver and the mechanic. Now its a computer. We have fire trucks that will not start if the diesel engines emission system is on soot burn mode.

Now we have computers in control of making markets for the global stock and futures markets. All economic reality seems to be lost in the short term. If political hack from Berlin says A and EU hack said confirm A and US is about to have a press conference you can forget about the next four hours prices being predictive. The markets computers go into safe mode. They will move and shut down quickly and we must, as traders idle at 35 MPH to our local dealer of data to find out what happens next after that part failure.

For what ever reasons I have gained my passion for markets back. Of course we know where we lost it. What makes men take risk? What makes risk takers skip a generation? Is that true? I had a friend as me this week about becoming a spec. I asked him to answer this one question. Would you rather trade your money and take risk per 500k account to eeke out a living or use another mans money and take 20% of profits yet no fees? I have asked this Q so many times and it reveals much about a mans capacity to take risk, yet most important to take pain. Ya see racers, we do not care about losing crashing or getting hurt. Its part of the game. We do not like losing, yet not winning that is so painful, like I said we wear fire suits and not winning is as bad as completely destroying your car on driver error and being on fire.

The gist of the answer is if your rather trad OPM you do not belong in the hours 1/2 day markets, ever. Do not do it..It has to be the hardest way to make a living. The easiest way if you have any capacity to sell or raise money is ride the tides and collect a fee. I am sure you can find a way to make a firm stand on the middle ground. Some fine research and pick some fine stocks and short some over plus commodities after the bubble has been busted and hold that roll that for years. Now you have the ability to take down a small fee and a profit incentive.

What has changed my attitude is being certain about one thing. These markets change direction and patterns change so quickly its fast, like racing and Fun! Where in the hades have I been the past few years not to look at all of this as a positive thing for, me. I love to go fast. lack

My motivational quotes for this week attached.

August 1908 issue of a periodical for bicyclists called "Bassett's Scrap Book". A short item contrasted the modern age to ancient times and presented a variation of the epigraph:

"Naram Sin, 5000 B.C. We have fallen upon evil times, the world has waxed old and wicked. Politics are very corrupt. Children are no longer respectful to their elders. Each man wants to make himself conspicuous and write a book."Johnson's often-quoted definition of genius, "the infinite capacity for taking pains."

"genius is inspiration, talent and perspiration." Kate Sanborn

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

I seem to recall the name

Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" idea took his peers by storm at the very moment the great school transformation began—the idea that the wealthy owed society a duty to take over everything in the public interest, was an uncanny echo of Carnegie's experience as a boy watching the elite establishment of Britain and the teachings of its state religion…Since Aristotle, thinkers have understood that work is the vital theater of self-knowledge. Schooling in concert with a controlled workplace is the most effective way to foreclose the development of imagination ever devised. But where did these radical doctrines of true belief come from? Who spread them? We get at least part of the answer from the tantalizing clue Walt Whitman left when he said "only Hegel is fit for America." Hegel was the protean Prussian philosopher capable of shaping Karl Marx on one hand and J.P. Morgan on the other; the man who taught a generation of prominent Americans that history itself could be controlled by the deliberate provoking of crises. Carnegie used his own considerable influence to keep this expatriate New England Hegelian the U.S. Commissioner of Education for sixteen years, long enough to set the stage for an era of "scientific management" (or "Fordism" as the Soviets called it) in American schooling. Long enough to bring about the rise of the multilayered school bureaucracy. But it would be a huge mistake to regard Harris and other true believers as merely tools of business interests; what they were about was the creation of a modern living faith to replace the Christian one which had died for them. It was their good fortune to live at precisely the moment when the dreamers of the empire of business (to use emperor Carnegie's label) for an Anglo-American world state were beginning to consider worldwide schooling as the most direct route to that destination.

Mr. Krisrock writes: 

This happens when there is a world price for labor…that American foundations arranged for 100 years.

Jack Tierney responds:

I'll go along with the parts played by American foundations, but not the 100 years. In a recent book by David Horowitz, "The New Leviathan," he points out that many of the great foundations we still hear so much about have wandered substantially from the goals envisioned by their founders.

Among them are the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, as well as those of Pew and John MacArthur. Each accumulated substantial fortunes in very capitalistic endeavors…and expected their trusts to continue to promote efforts in that direction.

At first this worked as the initial appointed trustees were chosen by the benefactor. Over the years, however, (and this relates to my initial post) subsequent trustees went off in their own, very contrary direction. inevitably, they labeled these modifications as "progressive," a catchall phrase that seems to excuse almost any perversion of original intent.

Most of these changes in direction have occurred over the last 50 years as the original trustees passed away or retired. Only Olin was prescient enough to "sunset" his trust to forestall this drift.
 

Mar

1

 Irving Kahn is the oldest trader on Wall Street.

Here is a picture of Irving Kahn included in special free section of Nature on aging.

Mr. Kahn is now 107.

Correction:

World's oldest Value Investor. Duly noted (hat tip to Mr. Melvin) that Irving Kahn is a former Ben Graham assistant and likes to buy and hold for long time– and not really a "trader" per se.

From the WSJ:


Discipline has been a key for Mr. Kahn. He still works five days a week, slacking off only on the occasional Friday. He reads voraciously, including at least two newspapers every day and numerous magazines and books, especially about science. His abiding goal, he told me, is "to know much more about the stock I'm buying than the man who's selling does." What has enabled him to live so long? "No secret," he said. "Just nature's way." He added, speaking of unwholesome lifestyles: "Millions of people die every year of something they could cure themselves: lack of wisdom and lack of ability to control their impulses."

Here is a link to his current portfolio (he includes a land-based driller). 

Leo Jia adds: 

Wondering if the strategy of buy-and-hold can make one live longer than the strategies of short-term trading. It may seem to have some merit in the sense that a buy-and-hold'er has a very long-term prospect, and the long-term mind in-turn affect his body in ways of body-mind interaction.

Feb

26

 "What These Ants Can Teach Us About Problem Solving"

Swarm Intelligence: a single ant or insect probably isn't very smart, their colonies are.

Perhaps one can learn from this for trading in that one trading system might be somewhat dumb but a group of those can be intelligent.

Gary Rogan writes:

The way I look at it is this: the goal of most (although definitely not all, but the vast majority) of the market participants is to profit from the difference between the current price and some future price. As such, their collective goal is to discover the future price. While certainly they have no desire to willingly cooperate, their use of error averaging and cancellation and applying any real information to the goal is little different than some ants trying to move a large piece of food towards the colony.

Feb

1

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

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

Does anyone have any experience or thoughts in this approach?

Gary Rogan writes:

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

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

As Kerouac put it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Rogan replies:

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

Ralph Vince replies: 

Gary,

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

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

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

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

Leo Jia adds: 

Gary,

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

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

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

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

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

Leo Jia asks: 

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbons Burke writes: 

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

Leo Jia comments: 

Hi Ralph,

Thanks very much for the inspiring posts on this thread.

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

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

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

Would you kindly explain?

Ralph Vince responds: 

Leo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newton Linchen writes: 

Ralph,

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

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

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

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

Ralph Vince writes: 

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

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

Leo,

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

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

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

Jan

30

If you look at it in a slightly different way could it not also suggest that you buy stocks NOT based on publicly available information on some upcoming near-term changes (that if you are not yourself privy to some difficult-to-get information) but instead based on negative sentiment coupled with some well-known value parameters.

How can that be an advantage for individual investors? I am sure many contrarian funds also do that. They have the advantages of visiting the company, calling the CEO and analyzing the entire industry for instance, which are only possible for perhaps large investors but clearly not possible for the ordinary individual investors.

Gary Rogan writes:

An individual investor isn't "graded" every quarter, he/she may hold forever instead of trying to get in and out. There is a well-known asymmetry (in individual investors' favor) that for many institutional managers constantly approximating the metrics they are graded against is preferable to swinging for the fences because reliable mediocre performance isn't likely to result in two or more bad quarters in a row that may get the manager fired. This may or may not be relevant in this case, but if a manager can figure out what everyone else is doing it may be in his interest to just follow that. Also the point is, that after a long time the bet may stop being contrarian and with enough diversification the portfolio starts behaving more index-like but with a built-in positive bias that may take years to play out. The survivorship bias also will eventually favor the winners over the losers, if there are enough of both. Over the long term at least.

The individual investor doesn't get hit by additional decision-making without much information. And finally, negative sentiment is sometimes more powerful than all the buying by all the contrarian funds put together.

Jan

30

 I thought that there had been some consensus emerging that China wasn't headed for a hard landing. Maybe it isn't landing at all? I don't know China that well, but there are many who I think do. Any thoughts?

Leo Jia writes:

Hello David,

I don't have much in-depth analysis to offer, but based on the experiences in China, I don't see much evidence of landing lately, let alone a hard one, though there were worries about it a year or so ago. Things seem OK now. Real estate is picking up speed. The multi-year depression in the stock market seems coming to an end, very likely reflecting some optimism on the new leadership's capability in handling the social issues that threaten the ongoing economy. In any regard, the worries about a hardlanding are being pushed forward.

I can't read Prof. Pettis's post as his blog is blocked lately. But here is a post by Stephen Roach on the same topic, which argues that a reform is still critically needed in order to avoid crashes.

Jan

28

 I have been doing auto trading of Palm Oil futures for some time using a self-developed system. The system works on the continuous data of the contracts and trades on the most liquid contract.

One morning last week after I started the software before the market open, to my surprise, I discovered the prior day's data was of the wrong contract month. It was not the same as that during the prior day's trading session. Seeing an anomaly of the data, I disabled auto trading prior to the market open.

When the market opened, I saw the system gave a short signal that I believe was due largely to the influence of the wrong data of the prior day. But gradually, it turned out to be a good signal. By the close of trading when the system signaled to closeout the trade, it was a 10% profit. Although I understand that it should not be my expected profit, I was feeling a little upset for not taking the trade.

Then the next day when I started the software, the data was corrected. With the corrected data, the system showed a trade on the past day of actually a 4% loss. I felt a little relieved.

Kim Zussman writes:

This is where the mistress speaks to us. In between the rationally testable segments; where the discretion of experience, discipline, and morality are challenged every day.

Jan

20

 The book Rational Herds: Economic Models of Social Learning by Christopher Chamley has many stories, models, and algorithms, that are helpful for gaining insight to markets. The stories start with the penguins standing on the edge of the ice, needing to get food but not knowing whether a killer whale or seal is waiting for them underneath. The first penguin to dive in provides much information for all the others. But it's not advantageous for him. The asymmetry between what's in the interest of the individual and the group and the advantages of social learning are readily seen by this example. The solution is for the other penguins to push the unlucky one in. The analogy of running the stops in markets with the first one to do so possibly losing money, but the others all gaining from the information is seen.

Another story is based on yellow cabs being 90% probable in a city. But an accident happening and the observer saying it was a red cab that caused it. Problem is that the observer's is only right 4/5 of the time. Bayesian analysis shows that after the first observation it's 9/13 that the yellow cab hit him. But after two reports the probabilities drop to around 48. The rate of convergence to red versus yellow follows a definite process which leads to all sorts of implications for cascading, herding, randomness, and social learning. Many examples of investment decisions based on following the leader and false decisions making from random events are given.

One wishes that the author would have followed some of the stories that motivated the book and shown how all the formulas would work for the simple examples above. The book is intended mainly for economics, social psychologists, finance people, and statisticians. But it's also relevant for anyone interested in how information travels. It's not easy reading and requires pencil and paper and working out a few examples to get much benefit from it.

I alternated reading it with modern times, and books on plants in my recent visit to Chicago. Glad to be back with you.

Jim Sogi writes: 

Sitting in LA traffic a few days ago got me thinking about individuals in a group. Ants probably think they are pursuing their own individual interests to be fed, to be safe, to have friends. But looking down on them from above shows a different picture. Each car in traffic has their own individual desire and plan but looking down at traffic patterns shows a different picture. Each investor or speculator has their own reason to buy or sell, for ex, personal reasons, business, family, taxes. But looking at the aggregate shows a different picture.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Worker ants can't reproduce and cant think. Their only genetic purpose is to help the colony survive so that the queen propagates her genes by producing a relatively small number of fertile descendents. Human beings can think and reproduce, thus even genetically they have a very different purposes, closer to the ant queen but with thinking abilities. Their natural goals are not those of the collective. 

Leo Jia comments:

I've come to think that perhaps no human can step out of the herd no matter how hard he or she tries. While there are many who realize the disadvantages of herding in a modern society and try to break free, they nevertheless follow another herd, trying to break away from the traditional ones.

I was thinking about this the other day. We understand how cells serve the functioning of our lives. They are alive themselves but work selflessly in ways defined for them to serve the body and mind. Can they be said to be herding?

Are we here to serve some upper life like ants serve the colony? That is a hard question, but if it were true, perhaps herding would be not only inevitable but also necessary. It would ensure we live by the rules, which are the only basis for our lives. By that logic, being selfish would only serve ourselves negatively.

Dec

31

 Just learned there is a severe shortage of natural gas in many cities in China.

In a large southwestern city with a population of about 10M and near huge NG fields in the country, the NG usage is up 400K cubic meters per day over same period of last year. As a result, the municipal NG company has a shortage of 300K cubic meters per day, and has to cut off services to various sections in the city everyday.

The increase of demand is likely a major trend for the coming years. More and more people's homes in cities and towns are furnished with NG pipes in recent years for home cooking. A major reason in my view has to do with winter heating. The country provides public heating only to towns and cities in the northern part of the country, leaving those in southern part (roughly half of the country size) and all villages with no public heating. That has been the case all along the many decades. The northern villagers generally have to burn in house whatever they can find cheap (usually wood).

In northern cities, partly due to calls for better air quality in recent years, some public heating facilities have switched from coal to NG. Take Beijing for example, the NG usage for the city on December the 24th is 62.57M cubic meters. Shandong province has seen the annual NG usage reaching 4B cubic meters, an increase of 20% over 2011.

Traditionally, all southern people spend the winter in the cold (temperatures may stay in the single digit or 10'es Celsius for various length of the time in a year, usually a few months) without any heating. This was not because it was not cold enough for them, but because they could not afford any heating without government's provision. Only in recent years, as city people get richer and move in to their new housing, many install in-house burners for winter heating (in place of or in addition to air conditioners). A predominant choice of fuel for these burners is the NG as it has been very cheap relatively (on average, the residential price is about 2.3 yuan per cubic meter).

NG price in China are priced in cubic meters, which is argued to be abnormal. One report cited the wholesale price in China is about US$3.34 ~ US$6.81 per million BTU in 2011, much lower than US$11.15 in Germany for instance in the same period.

Dec

20

 It is called in China "Shizi", in Japan "Kaki", and in Isreal "Sharon fruit".

I generally have liked the fruit since my childhood, but until recently, I had never had any special feelings for it.

Don't know for what reason, but there are a lot of high quality persimmon fruits on the market this year. They are large, delicate, beautiful, colorful, bright, shiny and almost translucent. Put in the mouth, they are so tender, meaty, sweet, and have no seeds or core.

The Greek regard them as "divine fruit" or "the fruit of the gods". I feel they well deserve the titles.

a little about the health benefits from wikipedia:

The Sharon fruit was found to contain high levels of dietary fiber, phenolic compounds, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and manganese. They are also rich in vitamin C and beta carotene. Regular consumption of the fruit is believed to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis heart attacks. A separate research project showed that a diet rich in Sharon fruit persimmons improved lipid metabolism – the way the body copes with fat – in laboratory rats.

The fruits of some persimmon varieties contain the tannins catechin and gallocatecin, as well as the candidate anti-tumor compounds betulini acid and shibuol.

So ladies and gentlemen, bon appetit et bonne sante!

Dec

17

Attacked, from Leo Jia

December 17, 2012 | 1 Comment

 This article is an incredible story, likely being told by a neuroscientist, on how the fear mechanism in the brain helped a woman escape from the jaws and paws of a mountain lion.

A few lessons are quoted below:

1. When the fear brain's responses align with the crisis at hand and we follow its instincts, we can become virtually superhuman.

2. In the first flush of terror, the body releases two powerful substances into the body: cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol prepares the muscles for vigorous activity by releasing their key fuel, glucose, into the bloodstream. Adrenaline further prepares the body by revving up the heart rate, constricting blood vessels and opening airways. In the brain, a variant of adrenaline wipes out pain and fatigue and focuses concentration on the threat at hand.

3. When panic is triggered, it overrides the complex reasoning of the logical mind and switches on a suite of automatic behaviors. These can feel so overwhelming—and so un-willed—that it's like being taken over by an outside force.

4.
Tonic immobility, better known as playing possum, is an ancient behavioral strategy that's designed to fool a predator into believing that its prey is already dead and therefore not palatable. Tonic immobility is a long-shot strategy. The only way it will work is if it lulls an attacker into letting its guard down.

5. Somehow during her blackout, her midbrain had switched to a fourth panic mode. Now every fiber of her being was geared up to fight.

6. One of the many incredible powers that the fear response unleashes is imperviousness to pain.

7. Gone was the mental fog of panic that had gripped her just a moment ago. Now she saw everything with crystalline clarity, as if the world were moving in slow motion.

8. Still, the one part of that day that Groves holds valuable is the insight it gave her into her own resilience, into the powers of her own fear mind, a part of herself she'd never experienced until that day.

Dec

10

 Jeff's coin proposition bet illustrates a nice lesson for me when applied to trading. That is, even if probability is favorable, there can and will be streaks against. So, there needs sufficient N and staying power for probability to work in trading. So all the seasonal or studies that trade once or twice a year probably don't have a statistical edge.

The inverse lesson is that sometimes it is good not to trade when the probability is not in favorable, as in never take a proposition bet against a Florida surfer with a low handicap, (humor intended).

Jim Sogi writes: 

I read that in a sample of 10^10 binomial chances, there can be a run of a 1 million 1's.

The idea that in an infinite random time series every possibility will occur, such as the history of the earth, kind of worries me. There seem to be laws of nature, but are they? Will they change? Do they?

Ralph Vince writes:

James,

Yes, and it is man's innate ability to asses such probabilities (and hence, the fallacy of Huygens and Pascal — that risks should be assessed based on mathematical expectation) that is the most fascinating thing about the entire story of evolution (again, to me).

Why do you get on an airplane when it can crash? Why do you get in your car and go out to buy a quart of milk? We have evolved over eons to pursue often time-critical rewards on a risk-laden planet — it IS how we operate or we would be still cowering agoraphobically in the shadows of a primeval world. This notion fascinated me (and the reason I wrote a book on it in 2011), and the more I dove into it, the more I saw that the answer to it — i.e . the fundamental equations we posses innately for assessing risk, pertains to all other mathematical decision (game theory is rife with concepts that are tuned to the Huygens/Pascal model, not our innate model) and ought to be reassessed under the lens of our superior, realistic model (and yes, it is superior, or we would all be looking for termites to eat up in a tree some place.

Leo Jia writes: 

Ralph,

Your notion about man's innate ability to assess probabilities is fascinating to me. I hope to read your new book soon (I presume it is Risk-Opportunity Analysis.)

It is clearly phenomenal that the human species was able to advance over other species. It is not as clear though whether it was man's special innate ability that made man evolve or it was the evolution process that gave man the innate abilities. Regardless of whatever came first, I think many of man's innate abilities that exist today were largely fostered by the evolution process. While this was wonderful, it is perhaps also very discomforting to learn that many of our innate abilities were more meant for the environment of the wild, not really for the modern times as the modern couple hundred years is far too short in evolution terms. It begs the question of what of the very innate abilities are really useful and what are not. Whether we realize what abilities we have or not perhaps is not a big issue as we naturally use them in life. It does become more important for us to know what of our innate abilities are actually harmful to ourselves today.

Leo Jia adds: 

I did a test. It went like this:

1) toss a coin 10 times,
2) if there is 5 heads then add 1 to a record do the above 2 steps 1 million times.

The chance that in ten tosses one gets exactly 5 heads and 5 tails is 24.5539%. 

To be more comprehensive with the test results:

4 heads and 6 tails: 20.4194%

6 heads and 4 tails: 20.5125%

3 heads and 7 tails: 11.7019%

7 heads and 3 tails: 11.7010%

2 heads and 8 tails: 4.4018%

8 heads and 2 tails: 4.4145%

1 heads and 9 tails: 0.9783%

9 heads and 1 tails: 0.9830%

0 heads and 10 tails: 0.1004%

10 heads and 0 tails: 0.0968%

Easan Katir writes:

Thank you, gentlemen. This is good info to ponder and apply to trading. For my part, I found a shiny Lincoln-cent and spun it 10 times. Result: 7 heads.

Jeff Watson writes: 

But there is also another trick of spinning a coin very fast, get down to coin level on the table and observe carefully, and if you get a blurring image of tails, call tails…same thing if you see heads, call heads. Since the coin spins at a slight angle, the side that you can see the image will be what lands.

Ralph Vince adds: 

Gentlemen,

As far as coin tosses and trading — and this may be redundant information to many of you — to me, personally (in my sciatica and failing vision nowadays) I find the largest implication pertains to the nature of the equity curve and expectations, and the deceiving nature of randomness.

We know if we plot out the equity curve of consecutive coin tosses (with heads +1, and tails, -1, say) and we plot this out, we can then draw bands around the mean expected value (0 in this case) of standard deviations. Thus, we can draw a one standard deviation band above and below.

Such a band will be parabolic, like a parabola resting on its side, rightward-facing, opeining up as time or trades or plays go by. That is, the upper band will always be ever increasing albeit at an ever decreasing rate. Thus. to be ahead of the expectation by play number X to the tune of 1 standard deviation, is below being ahead of the expectation by play X+1 or X + N where N is any positive number.

Couple this now with the Second Arc Sine Law*, which pertains to such randomly-generated equity streams and tells us (the essence of The Second Arc Sine Law) that we would expect both the peak and nadir of equity stream to occur least likely towards the center (time-wise) and most likely near the start or finish of such a stream.

These two principles, take together, warn us that in a stream of randomly-generated outcomes (coin tosses, or trading if/when the outcomes occur with randomness) we should expect the rightmost endpoint to be at or near the very top (or bottom) of the entire equity run, deluding us into conclusions, "This works!" or "This fails," that have no basis in a causal existence, but are merely the artefacts of randomness.

*The First Arc Sine Law buttresses this further, this law being that we should expect the ratio of the cumulative equity line (comprised of X number of plays) least likely to be above the expectation X/2 number of times, and most likely to be above or below X or ) number of times — the same Arc Sine distribution as the Second Law. Thus, say, if I toss a coin ten times, it has an expectation of 0 (given the caveats mentioned in this thread!) and I would expect with highest probability that ten of those tosses see the cumulative equity line above (or below) the expectation line of 0 and with the least probability, see 50% of them above and below the expectation (0) line.

Dec

7

As one enters a trade, one is making a bet– he is not sure if it is a good trade. My question is then after the entry, what would make him more sure that it is a good trade so that he would add to his positions? Is it the condition that the position is in profit, or that it is in a loss, or regardless? If regardless, then what else?

The conventional wisdom seems to say that one should never add to a losing position citing martingale reasoning on random bets. While I understand the logic, I don't know how to accept the reasoning in trading. Perhaps my question is whether trade results are really random or not. The evidence that with the right strategies many are making consistent money trading clearly says no to that. My own test also can not prove that adding to a losing position would clearly lead to failures.

So how should one really determine how to add to his positions? Would someone kindly advise on this matter?

Dec

6

 A beautiful book "The Earth as Art" is available for free download:

"This book celebrates Earth's aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the land, oceans, ice, and atmosphere. The book features 75 stunning images of Earth from the Terra, Landsat 5, Landsat 7, EO-1, and Aqua satellites. Sensors on these satellites can measure light outside of the visible range, so the images show more than what is visible to the naked eye. The images are intended for viewing enjoyment rather than scientific interpretation. The beauty of Earth is clear, and the artistry ranges from the surreal to the sublime. "

Nov

29

 I found this interesting post on Seth Robert's blog:

"The Emphasis on Education in China"

One of my students grew up and went to high school in Nanjing,
population 8 million. Her acceptance to Tsinghua was such a big deal
that when her acceptance letter reached the local post office they
called to tell her.  The post office also alerted journalists. When the
letter was delivered to her house, there were about 20 journalists on
hand. One of them, from a TV station, asked her to say something to
those who failed.

Russ Sears writes:

I found it a very sad piece of social commentary. At some point it becomes not about your ability to think, but only about what you know they want. It becomes less about answering the question than knowing what questions the test giver will ask and answering it strictly as they want. You begin by eliminating the questions that cannot be tested.

Where are the questions that take a lifetime to answer?

Where are the questions that do not have a standard knowable answer?

Leo Jia responds:

 Well, it surely does not find an Einstein.

But society is not all about geniuses. It requires the performances of normal people on a much larger scale. In that regards, one shouldn't underestimate the advantage of someone's ability in passing intensive multi-disciplinary tests on high scores.

It takes tremendous discipline, dedication, and hard work. But it is not simply about memorizing answers. More importantly, the abilities to plan, to achieve, to think smart, to always be confident, to stay away from distractions, and to beat out stresses along the way are all crucial. It is about winning a game, a mimic to some of the games that are crucial at various stages in life.

Is it worthwhile for all the kids to spend all the efforts in order to pass the tests? Definitely not to those who lost — a high percentage of the people involved actually. They are clearly not good at the game (perhaps they have learned a lesson through the failure). So overall, the society has wasted quite substantial energy — the energy spent by those on the wrong game. But perhaps that energy can not be saved anyhow. It is just like the market where there are winners and losers, and the losers are required there to supply the liquidity and to make the winners winners.

I fully agree about the deficiencies of the education system, in the sense that it does not serve individual talents very well.

But unfortunately, the modern education system since its inception in the Industrial Revolution is more on social conditioning than anything else. We perhaps shouldn't expect more from it. The Chinese, finding that it fits well into its own tradition, have just pushed it more to the extremes. I don't know how to abolish it all together and what to put in its place. Would a system that only focuses on producing talents (we have to define the meaning here) work? It most likely would for the talented individuals. But overall? Certainly, a lot people have various kind of talents. But don't we agree that a high percentage of the population don't have much talent? If a system is only for talent, then what to do with these people? Moreover, talented people generally tend to be somewhat eccentric. Can a society endure too much eccentricity?

Oct

12

Thie largest building in the world is expected to open right before Chengdu, a city in the southwestern Sichuan province of China, hosts the Fortune Global Forum in June of 2013.

This video is a virtual reality tour of the compound.

Steve Ellison writes:

It will be the largest building, not the tallest building, so it may be exempt from the Chair's theory that constructing the world's tallest building is a sign of hubris (for example, the Empire State Building was begun near the end of the 1920s boom and finished just as the Great Depression was intensifying).

Oct

10

 I just found a tuition and fees announcement from an Ivy League website:

The Board of Trustees announced today that undergraduate tuition for the 2012–13 academic year will be $43,782, an increase of 4.9 percent (or $2,046) over the current year's tuition rate. Undergraduate tuition, room, board, and fees for the coming academic year will be $57,998, a 4.8 percent increase from the current year.

What I found more interesting is the following:

Tuition, room, board, and fees cover about half the full cost of the education, with the balance met primarily through gifts, endowment income, and other revenues.

I think we should all be grateful to those who contributed to this second half. This is about the best part of America's higher education. Because of this, many can afford to attend. Because of this, the American universities are free to teach what they believe is important (not like their counterparts in some other countries where communist propaganda are mandatory courses). And because of this, students can choose which schools best fit them. All these I believe made the America's higher education to stand out as the best in the world.

Like many others, I am doubly grateful because my first half was also paid for by scholarships.

But, people's enthusiasm about their beloved alma mater isn't about the money they paid or received. Just as I, a scholarship recipient, am proud of having attended the schools I love, others seem doubly proud as they often wear college sports shirts with "Tuition Payer" printed below their beloved college name.

What we have decided to study in college is not that critical looking back through life. I don't deny there are some fortunate ones having set their life's path on a straight line starting with their college education. But most of us have an experience of life that is unexpectedly dynamic. To rephrase Steve Jobs, one can only connect the dots looking back through life.

The real things people learn are certainly not through mindlessly attending college courses. They are through clicks in unexpected moments in life when one's mind is clearly present. It is mindlessness that makes everything worthless.

I now think that people's enthusiasm about their beloved alma mater is more about passion, perhaps not really the passion to study, but that of one's belonging, a belonging to a famous heritage, a prestige, a powerful network, a mental foundation, an incubator, a statement about life, and a perfect blossom basin.

In this sense, the $57,998 per year expense is cheap if that is what one needs, not because the other $57,998 per year is paid for by contributions, but because fulfilling one's life passion is priceless.

Sep

27

 The markets will be closed from Sept. 29th through Oct. 7th. It is a combined holiday of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day.

Apparently a stimulus for consumption, the government issued an order that all toll roads (which include nearly all highways) in the country are toll-free during this period. Many famous tourist sites lows charges also for the period.

All this is highly cheered by people everywhere. A lot of places (cities, hotels, travel agencies, tourist sites, restaurants, shops etc.) are looking forward to the upcoming huge crowd. It is reported that some rent cars have doubled the normal prices for the feast.

Sep

21

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

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

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

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

Tim Melvin writes:

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

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

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

Phil McDonnell writes: 

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

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

Leo Jia writes: 

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

Steve Ellison writes: 

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

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

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

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

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

Anatoly Veltman writes:

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

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

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

Laurence Glazier writes: 

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

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

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

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

Gibbons Burke writes: 

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

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

Jason Ruspini writes: 

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

George Parkanyi writes:

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

Sep

19

 As precious metals continue their ascent, yesterday evening I enjoyed an award-winning movie, Empire of Silver, a historical account of Confucian banking clans in 1899 Shanxi, China, which tells the tale of silver-based economy, government-issued paper money, human frailty and greatness.

In that era, the Confucian bankers were trained from age twelve, and expected to adhere to high moral and ethical principles. All in Chinese with subtitles, this viewer found the story fascinating.

Leo Jia adds: 

Empire of Silver can be watched online here.

Shanxi used to be home to many of China's riches (not counting the royals and the officials). It is very interesting today the people there are no longer good at the game of banking. Instead, they mostly rely on mining coal, which made Shanxi not a very pleasant place to visit. Unfortunately, coal can not restore their old glories for being very rich. Today, Zhejiang (on the eastern coast just south of Shanghai), which mostly relied on making something cheap to export, is home of many China's riches (also not counting the royals and the officials).

In case others outside of China can't view that link, a search on Youtube with the Chinese title "白银帝国" results in the following 8 parts of the film:


Part 1/8
 

Part 2/8 

Part 3/8 

Part 4/8 

Part 5/8 

Part 6/8 

Part 7/8 

Part 8/8

Leo Jia adds: 

 There are quite a few scenes in the film showing an amazing road with tunnels running on the side of a cliff. I believe it is the famous Guoliang Tunnel Road located in Henan Province, south of Shanxi Province. That road was just featured in "10 Gorgeous Roads For The Drive Of A Lifetime", of which the Guoliang slide (Slide #10) is quoted below (with a correction of the province name).

Googling for "Guoliang Tunnel" yields more pictures of it.

Using this road in the film clearly presents a dislocation in time, because the road was actually built between 1972 and 1977. The Wiki page about it is Guoliang Tunnel Road, China.

It was built by only 13 local villagers in just five years! Located in the Henan province of China, this can be considered to be a sacrificial road of sorts. Many villagers lost their lives due to its construction, but the work went on. The tunnel itself is 1,200 meters long, 5 meters high and 4 meters wide.

It's called the most dangerous road in the world despite its scenic beauty and as a wise man once said, 'the road does not tolerate any mistakes.'

Sep

11

 I think we can all agree that pursuing one's conviction in life or even a demonstrated talent is hard. Most successful people would contend that the key is through perseverance, resilience and so on. In other words, one should not give up during hard times. I think this should be true for most successful people on this list who have indeed withstood some hardship in the early career but never given up.

This is in sharp contrast with the mostly agreed approach for trading, where quickly admitting mistakes and reversing course is very key. I don't deny that someone may be doing it through perseverance (is Buffett doing this way?). Even Soros has remarked that admitting mistakes is key for his success. It is interesting here that admitting mistakes only applies to every single trade, but not really to the hardships in one's career.

There is the saying about when to hold and when to fold. For career success, the focus seems to be "hold" on, but for trading success, the focus is to "fold" quickly.

How would one reason about the two different approaches or philosophies (perseverance vs. change)? Is one of them wrong?

Craig Mee writes:

Leo, I would humbly say, one is a number game, and the other is what you do…and with that you can certainly do some fine tuning. Problems may arise from a number of things not central to what your preferred "business" is.

Russ Sears writes: 

As a marathon runner who use to be national class, it has been my experience that persistence is only part of the battle. It is very easy for a proclaimed prodigy to persist. What is hard is learning to turn a short term loss into a long term lesson for life. If you watched the Olympics here are a few things that the athletes seemed to do differently than most people.


1.
They embraced the pain. Training and hard work was enjoyed. But they also learned from their losses, injuries and general hardships in life. Perhaps these fires are the purifying necessary part of the upbringing that the prodigy misses. Learning to believe in yourself despite what others say, turning losses into a chance to strengthen weaknesses. Things whose first order effect is negative but whose second order effect can be positive are highly favored.

2. They were optimistic about their chances, with a healthy dose of realism about their abilities, their current condition and plan. Before and after the event there were no excuses. They had a plan, believed in the plan and stuck to the plan.

3.
There were very few people's opinion that mattered to them, their coach, their immediate family (Dad, Mom, Husband or Wife). They did not care what the critics said, they did not depend on crowd support and were not disheartened by disfavor.

4. There were many opportunities from competition. They found their niche from competing more. While the Olympics may be the showcase for their event they were not dependent solely on its outcome. Worries melted in abundance of gratitude to coaches, training partners, family, other supporter, G_d, and country

5. They were focused on the task at hand. They knew how to avoid the distractions and discount the hype. Yeah, this may be the defining moment in their lives and how they may build their fortune, but as the song says "there will be time enough for counting, when the dealings done."

6. There appeared to be admiration for their fellow competitors. This Olympics were notable in that there were fewer accusation of doping, tainted judges (with a few exceptions about some referee) and general cheating scandals. The badminton scandal being the biggest scandal, suggests to me that the athletes were into the competition more so than the best way to game the system. Perhaps this is an inverse reflection of the markets. Or perhaps simply the media has become part of the cover-up captured by the hype, rather than the watch-dog.

Sep

4

 There seem to be some noticeable changes from last year. Below are data on a few 5-star hotels in the same city. All numbers include tax and service changes. US$1 = 6.3 CNY.


Kempinski Sunday brunch
: 298CNY including alcohols including some American wines and Qingdao beer (the draft Paulaner is extra). 216CNY not including any alcohol. Seems not much change from last year.

The Holiday Inns Crown Plaza
: No Sunday brunch is offered. The regular lunch buffet is 129CNY not including alcohol - a change from 99CNY of last year but not much change with the food.

Shangri-La
: The Sunday brunch was about 240CNY last year, but they stopped offering it this year. Only regular buffet lunch is served for 159CNY including some basic domestic beer.

Sofitel Sunday brunch
: 219CNY (same as last year) including basic domestic beer. The food is largely worse than last year. The very popular seafood section with lobsters and crabs is reduced to have only some small fish. The fine roast beef is replaced with roast pork. Appetizers and desserts are much poorer. The coffee remains the best among the peers though.

The diners are generally very light (perhaps one fifth full). Although I can't conclude about the comparison with last year as I don't go to them regularly, it does appear that there are fewer people (who are most Chinese) this year.

Aug

29

 Heraclitus said, "everything changes except the law of change" and "you cannot step in the same river twice."

The river changes every second and so does the man who stepped in it. Life is ceaseless change. The only certainty is today. Why mar the beauty of living today by trying to solve the problems of a future that is shrouded in ceaseless change and uncertainty–a future that no one can possibly foretell?

-Dale Carnegie

Leo Jia writes: 

I have also been studying the topic of change lately.

Just as Heraclitus said about the river, the ancient Indian Veda teaches that even the human body does not have the same flesh and bones as those a moment ago — it is constantly changing. This constant change has made the concept of death (as we know it) less dramatic. Because death happens at every moment as the change of the body goes, the final physical death becomes no more a distinguishing event.

The very nature of change has led Gautama Buddha, who started as a Hindu monk, to believe that there is no self, contrary to the Hindu belief that there is the eternal soul which is the self.

I believe this ancient concept of change has very good reflections in modern sciences of molecular biology and quantum theories. At the atomic and molecular levels, the body is constantly reshuffling and exchanging, at a very fast rate, the atoms and molecules with the surroundings. This has not only made one body not containing the same atoms and molecules from moment to moment, but also made one body to share the same basic components of life with others in the surrounding. At the subatomic level, the change is even more profound, as quantum theory teaches us. The particles become waves or energy and the waves or energy become particles at all times. With this, the body is no more that physical as we see and feel it. It becomes more of a congregate of energy. And the energy is not in closed form - it is open and exchanging with all in the universe. In this sense, the separation of the bodies amongst us becomes less meaningful.

Isn't there the new concept that information is the change of energy? With that, we no longer need to search or absorb information, the information becomes us and we becomes the information.

Why is it hard to believe? Because we confine ourselves to only rely on our physical perceptions. The physical perception is just that — physical. How do we perceive otherwise? That is what I need to learn, and I look forward to someone enlightened sharing the wisdom.

Aug

27

 The news of Neil Armstrong's death hit me hard. He played an important part of my life and it was like losing a close friend, although I wasn't a close friend but rather an associate.

As a teenager I read about Neil's Korean War flying mishap in Popular Mechanics. Somehow I remembered his name probably because I was a fan of the radio serial, Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy.

I was an engineer at NASA in Houston when the second group of astronauts was announced and I learned that Neil was selected. I was selected to teach the group about flight mechanics with emphasis on launching into orbit. Neil had a great grasp of the subject. All the astronauts were active duty military and Neil was the sole exception. He was a civilian NACA/NASA test pilot who was famous, within aeronautical circles, for piloting the X-15 rocket powered research vehicle.

Neil and I crossed paths at various times within the context of mission planning for the Gemini and Apollo programs. I was pleased that he was selected to fly on the first lunar landing mission. I believe he was the best choice out of the very talented and capable group. My faith in his ability was validated with his successful mission performance.

Looking back, I see how the manned space program changed the trajectory of my life in a good and wonderful way. Goodbye Neil Armstrong, you are someone I admired and respected.

Victor Niederhoffer comments:

Inspired by Mr. Cassetti's post, I have a Neil Armstrong letter I wold like to share.

Dear David,                                                      Sep 12, 1986

"I am saddened to hear of your illness. Your father told me you are interested in the mission of Apollo 11. Apollo 2 was of course the high point of my life. When the rocket lifted off the launch pad I must confess that I was not sure I'd have the distinction of being the first man to step foot upon the moon. In every flight there's the possibility of risking one's life. As you may have studied, I had a close call aboard Gemini 1 when the craft started to roll violently. It could have ended in disaster. But Dave Scott and I lived to tell about it. The good Lord had something to do… being on the moon was somewhat like standing on the high desert of new Mexico on the night of the full moon, only it was much brighter. Looking back on the video tapes of it, earthlings didn't quite get the breathtaking spectacular of it, on their tv sets. The moon's surface was very powdery with fine granules that made beautiful footprints. And since there's no wind on the moon, my footprint will last much longer that I will. Maneuvering around on the moon was tricky at first. While the gravitational pull is only a sixth of the earth's, it was a bit of a trick keeping balance. It was a skill we mastered quickly. David, you asked me if there was any funny moment on the moon. The one thing that stands out is the fact that with all the engineering and calculations that the lem would sink more than it did into the moon's surface. The last rung of the ladder was about three feet off the ground. I remember wondering if this first historic step was going to be a big flop before the whole world. Later, I recall how ironic now that big first step was then accompanied by, "that's one small step for men, one giant leap for mankind. It's been over 17 years since Apollo 2 and while the details of it are vivid in my mind, it's still quite hard for this Ohio boy to believe he actually made the trip. Through a telescope, I can pick out the spot on mars transquilliitatis where the eagle landed. I'm still very awestruck in retrospect. The excitement of actually being there was overshadowed to a great degree by the the overwhelming tasks that were required of Buzz and I. I wish you well, David. You are a very brave little boy. I will keep your well being in my thoughts and prayers, keep up your studies and I'm sure you'll get to visit the moon someday.

Sincerely yours,

Neil Armstrong

Easan Katir adds:

Neil Armstrong should rightfully be remembered as a world hero, along with—far beyond actually— Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan.

Leo Jia replies:

Wasn't the greatness of Columbus due to the fact that he had a vision and then acted upon it which led him to realize that vision? The land he discovered is a treasure to mankind which later nurtured a great country and wonderful people. I am not sure if he would still have obtained the prestige if the land were a totally uninhabitable piece of waste, or if the land were still unreachable by people by a long shot.

Aug

24

 A common mistake that stock people do I think is to pay attention to the increase in sales numbers. What does this have to do with future profits? I would think there is zero correlation given the earnings change since sales are so easy to manipulate by such things as discounts, pre-orders, and incentives for early buying, and reducing inventory et al. How did this ridiculous emphasis on the sales increase become as or more important than earnings relative to expectations in affecting stocks after the earnings report? I recently met with a pairs trading outfit and gave them 100 reasons I don't think it works, but it was from the seat of my pants. The main reason was of course that it goes against the drift. It hedges against the 10,000 fold return.

Gary Rogan writes: 

If sales increase while profits are decreasing, that's a bad sign. However when profits increase while sales are decreasing, this may be very good, but it can't go on too long. Sales trends gained influence as a counterbalance to profit growth being fudged. When you have profits, sales, and cash flows all increasing in unison and indebtedness not increasing, that's as good as it gets. 

Jeff Watson comments: 

Profits increasing while sales are decreasing are usually a sign of increased productivity, better inventory management, better management of labor, and better management of capital. Although Gary says this scenario can't go on too long, it really can go on forever. 

Gary Rogan replies: 

Well clearly it's mathematically possible to decrease sales by .1% per year and increase profits by .1% per year close to forever so "too long" was perhaps a bit harsh, but at some point in the real world gross margins become so high as to make further advances impossible due to competition or substitution. My statement was prompted by not being able to recall a real scenario of sustained profit growth and sales decline resulting in a good outcome having looked at hundreds of income statements, but I've never made a study out of it nor have I looked at multi-year trends. When customers are buying less of your stuff year in and year out that usually means they are not excited about your stuff, because they don't like it but perhaps in this case because the price is too high for them to use more of it. When customers get into the habit of using less of your stuff, that's hard to fight. 

Jeff Watson adds:

The Chair is 100% correct. Going back to Sears as an example…their aggressive pricing will only squeeze their retail operation out of business(if continued long enough), as prices this low are unsustainable in the long run. If a store has a 30 percent increase in sales after implementing a big sale, but it's gross profit goes from 22% to 6% or less, is that a good business plan? Even though Sears is not increasing labor to handle the increase in sales, the model is still badly flawed. I understand that one of the most important things in retail is buying right, but I suspect that most of the things Sears is selling is a loss leader. Maybe they are subscribing to the old cliche, "We might be losing a little money on each sale, so we'll make up for that with the increase in volume."

Russ Sears writes:

Coming from the world of insurance, when things sell unexpectedly well the actuaries double check their pricing. The agents and the market will quickly spot when you are selling $1 or risk coverage for 99 cents. When I started, before rate books were online, a printing error cut-off the $1 handle of 70 year old women term life insurance rate per $1,000 (this was highest age we sold term to). The month after the book went out we had more 70 yr. old women apply for insurance than we had in the past several years combined.

In other words sales increases often indicate increase in claims volatility. Sales increases make me wonder if management really knows what they are doing. One wonders if this rule holds for the retail and stocks in general. 

Carder Dimitroff adds: 

I may be naive, but in some sectors I believe the top line could be critical for long term investments. I'm thinking of regulated and capital intensive companies like electric utilities, gas utilities, water utilities, pipeline companies, transmission line companies and MLPs. In a different way, I'm also thinking of non-regulated utilities, such as independent power producers, refineries and REITs.

In all these cases, if the top line falls, the bottom line is plagued by fixed costs, such as interest, ad volerem taxes, depreciation and amortization.

The second derivative of revenues in such cases is capacity factor. Low revenues suggest low capacity factors. Low capacity factors suggest troubled assets and long-term challenges. The assets could be partially stranded by market conditions.

An example is marginally efficient coal plants. With low market prices for natural gas, many coal plants find themselves out of merit and not dispatched (zero earnings for producing energy). When natural gas prices return, marginal coal plants are again deep in the merit order and they are dispatched frequently or continuously.

Julian Rowberry writes: 

An internet marketing equivalent of over valuing sales figures is over valuing social media subscribers. Twitter followers, facebook likes, page views, ad clicks etc are all very easily manipulated.

Leo Jia adds: 

Here is my two cents regarding growth vs non-growth.

The present value of a business without growth is much lower than that of a similar sized growing business. So one obvious question to any business owner is whether he would like to receive more money or not if the business is to be sold today. The answer is obvious. But one may counter: since he is making good profits on the business, why would he sell it today? Well, isn't that the beauty of modern finance produced through Wall Street? To sell it today, the entrepreneur can collect today all his future earnings projected based on the best periods of his business performance, and with that reward, he can move on with his life, rather than be tied up by the business which may turn sourer later and cause him to suffer.

Why would Wall Street care more about growing businesses? Those people who bought out the entrepreneur have an even higher reward outlook than his and would seek higher profit on the investment.

Art Cooper writes: 

An example of this currently in the news is Hormel Foods, described in the article "Spam Sales Boost Hormel's Profit" on p B4 of today's WSJ.

The article notes that Hormel's Q3 earnings rose 13%, led by strong growth in products such as Spam and Mexican salsas, continuing a trend of higher YoY earnings. "Even so, rising commodity costs and shoppers' resistance to higher prices are pressuring its profit margins, which could affect its results in future quarters."

HRL's price has been roughly flat for a year.

Aug

8

 Talk about putting statistics on the table. New York once had 25% of the Fortune 500 headquarters in the city. Now it has 3. They've lost countless jobs and become totally dependent on the financial industry, a total risky bet bound to lose because they chased all the big corporations out with their high service rates and union rates. Steve Kagan, the chief economist for the Pataki administration authored those studies, and has followed it up. What a tragedy. Please …. check your premises.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

I've noticed even trading firms moving to FL. One of new factors: trading is performed by servers co-located at the exchanges; there is no longer any need to keep traders and researchers near the exchanges.

Leo Jia writes: 

Since the mid 90s, people have been imagining the impacts of high-speed networks on business and people's lives. It was argued that some day it wouldn't matter if one was located in New York or the remote Vermont (or the remote China in my own case). That day seemed to have mostly come to pass. For trading, particularly. People may argue that for high speed trading, one (or at least his servers) has to be located at the exchange. But even that is no longer a good choice. As the following article explains, "the most advantageous position to be in, if you're trying to wring a profit from tiny discrepancies in price between two distant trading centers, is at an intermediate point between them" - not at the exchanges.

Aug

3

 Even granting the the Elliott stuff is garbage, the opposing linear forces of buyers against sellers subject to a vig forms wave like patterns. All other waves can be modeled. Why not market waves?

Leo Jia writes: 

I'd love to hear others' comments on this. My take is as follows.

The market waves are actually constantly measured and modeled by market participants. These people then use their models to conduct trades on the market. This very action, as performed by many, then causes the underlying market wave to change its attributes, which then fades the models in use and causes the people using the models to lose money. This gives many the impression that market waves can not be modeled.

Perhaps akin to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which was initially mistaken as the observer effect, the above view of the market might be misconstrued. The uncertainty principle was later understood to actually state the matter-wave dual nature of quantum objects, regardless of the observation.

Aren't market participants very similar to quantum objects in this sense? What is the dual nature of people? Can't we say greed-fear?

Jeff Rollert writes: 

I would argue the periodicity, or perhaps wavelengths, vary as do ocean wave patterns reflect long distance, off shore storms.

Long ago, I read somewhere that polynesian males hung over the side of boats naked, so their "sack" could sense current vs waves for navigation.

Perhaps the model should include waves and divergent currents.

Jul

31

 I read a recent Op-Ed piece in the NY Times which asked "is algebra necessary?". His opinion was that it wasn't. In my understanding, algebra is the foundation of physics and engineering, and all three were the very foundation of the Industrial Revolution, which shaped our modern lives. Without the fortune of having algebra, ancient countries like China missed the boat of the industrial development and had to suffer for hundreds of years. Sure it was long ago, but are we at a stage where it can be thrown away? I seriously doubt it.

Let's face it. Most of the things in our lives were created in its wake or on its foundation, be it cars, airplanes, electricity, and in the broader sense, modern ships, missiles, rockets etc. Are these things about to die so that we can dust off the old memory and move on? Not to me - these things are still a necessity of our lives or the society (I hope we could do away with the military) and still under constant improvement.

Let's look at the stuff in our modern era. Without algebra how does one get about the following things? A program that draws price charts on the screen, a financial calculator, algorithmic trading, CAT scan, digital video, Google Map, GPS, all communications, digital TV, weather forecast, touch screen inputs on the iPhones and iPads… Anyone please add more.

Are we taking all these for granted? Sure not everyone has to learn algebra. But if only a minority of the people learn it, it would a tragedy for us all, wouldn't it?

Plus, an added benefit to any individual learning algebra (or math as a whole) is that reasoning ability gets sharpen.

Another post on Scientific American also discusses about this: "Abandoning Algebra is not the Answer"

Bruno Ombreux writes:

China knew something about Algebra as soon as around 200 BC. Matrix representation is a direct offspring of the Chinese counting board.

Source: chapter one of "Matrix analysis and applied linear algebra".

I do not think China missed centuries of industrial development. It missed only about 150 years. And it was more because of political upheaval and communism than because of a lack of algebra. China remained a powerhouse until the early 19th century, with about 30% of the World's GDP. Then its share went down as low as 2%. Now it is in the process of going back up to 30%.
 

Jul

24

There is much pessimism on the site about the stock market. One thing I always like to ask is suppose it were true that the economy is really going to be weaker than people expect. Like we'll have 1 or 2% growth rather than 2 or 3. Why should this affect stock prices? What is the evidence that stocks do worse during periods of below average growth? Why should it matter? How does the rate of return on capital of businesses compare to the 30 year rate as stocks are valued based on discounted value of expected future earnings adjusted for risk, with the growth rate of earnings being determined by the rate of return on capital less the pay out on dividends rate. Is it better to buy stocks when people are pessimistic or optimistic?

All these things must be tested. I'm not saying that I'm bullish or bearish on stocks or that one should be. I'm just questioning the glue and the weakness type of stuff. Assuming it was true, which I doubt, why should that be bullish or bearish? Testing is required.

Steve Ellison writes: 

A regression of the 1-year S&P 500 return from 1981 to 2010 against the US unemployment rate reported the previous December shows a 16% positive correlation, with the regression line for the next year's S&P 500 net change being -1.9% + (1.9 * unemployment rate).

t=0.86, p=0.40

Leo Jia writes: 

I often ask myself similar questions but can not answer them. Perhaps one has to answer this question first: what percentage of the people in the market are rational? Or rather, what percentage of the money in the market is rational? Though I don't have an answer, I tend to believe that there is more irrational money than rational money in general. The clear problem is that the degree varies all the time.

J.T Holley writes: 

With the std dev of 18% and annual rate of 8-9%, I'll order a double helpin' of "drift" with a side of "thank you".

If that meal doesn't fill you up then you must question where you get your meals and disregard the gratuity the next time you sup.

Tim Melvin writes: 

Drift only exists if you have a 100 year time frame in my opinion. See 1970s and 2000 to present. Much of investing success last fifty years for most investors is result of membership in lucky sperm club.

Craig Mee writes: 

Doesn't one new variable in a mix during the testing period influence the outcome– QE, no QE, etc etc…(sure, there's been other ways of doing it). But how to judge what has the over riding influence on the outcome? This could vary under certain conditions. How much of the US equity recent rise is in default of Europe, just like EURGBP taking the heat…and how much of the current price is underpinning based on QE to come?

What has recent price action illustrated, if anything at all…

How should weaker growth effect share prices? I would argue that this would just be a further nail in the coffin, when all the ducks are lining up, but how can we say it's got more weight currently than some other significant half ? It's tough. Are the number of running variables any different than twenty years ago? Maybe not. Are market conditions, HFT, leverage, number of participants in the market any different? Certainly. Has this influenced price action? Maybe Richard Dennis may have some views here.

When does the variation in conditions influence the ability to test? I suppose this might be the question.

Jul

24

 I have a lot of friends on Wall Street who are losing their jobs and/or are concerned they will lose their jobs imminently. Most of these people are 30-50 and have financial responsibilities, wives, kids, etc. Most seem to hang on and try to find jobs but the time to find work has been growing and growing and hearing someone is out of work for 12 or more months isn't that shocking anymore. The business is shrinking. Regulation is expanding. Jobs are scarce. Qualified applicants are plentiful. Incomes are dropping. Technology is replacing the need for people. Arguing the financial industry is in a jobs depression is not that far fetched. Reports are that for every opening there are thousands of applicants.

What do you think? Will the industry rebound or is this the end of Wall Street as we have known it. How does this jobs environment compare to the 70s recession or before, were those times equally as daunting? What are alternatives for people who are forced out of the business?

David Lilienfeld writes: 

Are you sure you're not talking about the 1930s? or perhaps the 1970s? Or the 1890s? or the 1850s? (See the pattern here?) There will always be a need for financial services in a capitalistic economy. The problem these bankers are having is that given the oversupply of them (or relative lack of demand, if you prefer), and given their lack of wealth creation in the society (industry creates wealth, services create QoL), I don't see where the problem is. Financial services is overstaffed the same way retail is. 7/11s and digging graves sounds like it has more value-add. Maybe they'd like to work picking crops in central California? I understand that since the crackdown on the border took hold, the San Joaquin Valley farms are short-handed. The wages aren't great, the sun's a bitch, and occupational hazards abound, but there are jobs, and those holding them do get paid. But I grant you, it's hard to pay for a Porsche SUV on a farm-picker's wage.

Leo Jia writes: 

Perhaps I can offer some sort of soothing message.

They at least have some very good unemployment benefits.

I remember years ago (perhaps the same now) the state regulation on the unemployment benefit for all domestic people working at so-called "wholly foreign owned enterprises" (WFOE's) in China is as follows. All of one's personnel issues are registered at one of the state-owned so-called "personnel management companies". The company withholds a certain percentage from the employee's salary every month. By regulation, the unemployment benefits it offers to the employee are: 1) it first tries to find a job for the person if unemployed; 2) if no job can be found, it pays the person certain percentage of his original salary (for 3 months?); and 3) if one doesn't want to take the job it finds, then no unemployment payment. Sounds not too bad. But the key is the job it find you. It literally could be a street sweeping job, and they always find one for you. 

Dan Grossman writes:

A person knowledgeable about business (and as talented as most finance professionals seem to regard themselves) can think of a needed product or service and start his own business to provide same. I am always surprised how few do, even after many months of unemployment.

Or, instead of just "looking for a job", a person with such background and talent should think of the way he could bring new or significantly increased profits to an existing business, large or small. And then go to that business with a proposal that he be engaged (whether as an employee or at-risk contractor) to bring about those new or significantly increased profits. As a business owner, I would be very interested in such a proposal, far more interested than in "giving someone a job".

Jul

18

 I recently read the wiki page about The Endowment Effect.

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

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

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

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

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

Any input on this, please?

Gary Rogan writes:

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

Pitt T. Maner III writes: 

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

Rocky Humbert writes:

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

Jim Sogi writes:

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

Craig Mee writes: 

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

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

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

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

Rudolf Hauser writes:

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

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

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

Jul

15

 We often hear from the media of some financial analyst saying "there is some uncertainty with that situation. …". It is quite obvious that they are telling investors to hold back with their money. Uncertainty is always bad, as the majority of the people always say.

How does one really deal with it? Is there any certainty in anything really? Seasoned investors generally would say "we are not talking about certainties, we are dealing with probabilities". Then how does one decide on investing based on probabilities? A general way of dealing with probabilities for instance would be when "there is a 70% chance of that happening" (I know, there is the concept also with expectations, but for the simplicity of this discussion, let's disregard it now as it is not that relevant here). It sounds very good. But the question then comes "are you certain that there is 70% chance of that happening?". To that, one perhaps would answer "there is 70% chance that there is 70% chance of that happening". Well, it sounds not too bad either. But why stop here? One could keep asking "are you certain that …". As it goes on, the answer becomes "there is 70% times 70% times 70% times … times 70% chance of that happening". When getting to the infinite loop, it becomes ZERO percent chance of that happening.

So it sounds that even one dealing with probabilities would invest on something when there is 0% certainty or 100% uncertainty.

What is going on here? Does one's reasoning matter at all in making decisions? How then really should one decide?

Jul

13

This is amazing. "Wind Powered Car Travels at Twice the Speed of Wind".

I am thinking perhaps a trading model can be generated with a similar idea. Why trade with the trend? Why buy low and sell high? Why can't one go fully against the trend (not in the sense of mean reversion) and still make money? Say one is long in a down market, for instance. Wouldn't it make sense to have something propelling one's account equity to increase at double the speed of the downward move of the instrument?

Jul

8

 This 4-part BBC series about psychoanalysis is amazing and eye-opening to me. I didn't get to watch it on BBC, but got it on YouTube (here's the link to the first part of The Century of The Self ) and I've finished Part 2 so far.

One obvious question is what social-economic effects can it generate by itself?

Another question is, since psychoanalysis theories have been used in public relations with respect to mass consumerism, have they been or are they used in finance on the markets?

Jun

28

 I thought this was a fascinating article: "To Improve Kids' Chinese, Some Kids Move to Asia"

But before one commits to a relocation, here are some of my thoughts on the characteristics of the language.

1) The pronunciation and writing of any character are totally independent - requiring double efforts not only in learning but also in maintaining the skill of the language; In this computer age, due to phonetic typing mechanisms, many natives often forget the actual writings of a lot of characters.

2) Every word, normally combined with two characters, has a lot of words with same or similar pronunciation but totally different meanings; This results in constant misunderstandings or the need of verifications in daily life. As an example, a recent laughter amongst a few friends was like this: the first guy mentioned there are a lot of huihuier (an informal word for a Muslim ethnic called Hui), the second guy responded he did't see any wenwuier (mosquitos), then the third guy said where are the kuihuaer (sunflowers). They were not joking but simply misunderstood one another.

3) The language is not well structured - meaning that many sayings can have different meanings resulting in people constantly having to rethink what the other person really meant. Writers throughout history have made use of this character in their works.

4) The nature of ambiguity from the language has actually become a tradition in ordinary communications, totally ignoring the very purpose of communications.

5) There are so many dialects, some of which are nearly of total independence. Even though most speak the official dialect, Mandarin, people from regions of different dialects don't communicate intimately.

6) In spite of being an old language, it had a big makeover during the last 100 years or so, resulting in ancient literatures nearly not understood at all by the modern contemporaries. Don't expect to understand Confucius or Sun Tzu at all after you learn the modern language for 10 years or even longer.

7) I speculate one amongst other well analyzed reasons why the industrial revolution didn't happen in China is fundamentally because of the language. The language, not being alphabetic, prevented algebra, which is basically a natural extension of an alphabetic language, from coming about in China.

8) Not getting algebra was an old pity. Not being easily handled by computers as well as by the entire IT systems for automatic processing then is the current one that the speakers of the language have to swallow.

Jun

8

My instinct tells me that when in drawdowns I should reduce my trading sizes. However, historical testings don't seem to indicate that is a good thing to do in general. The key is that I can't easily distinguish long-term drawdowns from the short-term ones. Reducing trading sizes at certain levels of drawdowns, though saving me from the long-term drawdowns, often ruins the chance of quickly recovering from short-term ones, which occur more often.

On the other hand, I tried to increase trading sizes when in moderate-level drawdowns. Unsurprisingly, historical tests indicate that this largely improves trading performance. Even so, I sense that this might be a dangerous thing to do in reality. It still comes to the point of not being able to distinguish long-term drawdowns from short-term ones.

What are your experiences and thoughts? Much appreciative of any sharing.

Jun

5

 Paul Zak has authored a series of papers showing that oxytocin, a hormone released when you're hugging can make people more generous. He can inject people with it, and make them more generous, and find that those with more oxytocin are more generous. He finds that hugging releases oxytocins and encourages hugging in the work place, and follows this practice in the day and fray. The studies seem to be very biased and inconclusive. What is your view of this chicanery or unusual ant like behavior?

Kim Zussman writes: 

Volatility is a collective hug.

Daniel Grossman writes: 

It probably generates more of that hormone if you have sex with everyone you want to be generous with.

Laurel Kenner writes: 

When the Chair and I visited NYU to give a presentation several years ago, the president approached. He started to give Vic a bear hug. Vic stopped him. "You don't need to bother — I've lost all my money." The president looked him over carefully and then said, "I'll hug you anyway."

We later learned that such presidential hugs are often distributed to potential donors to NYU. It is of course immeasurable how much this technique has contributed to the rapid expansion of NYU's campus under his reign, and the question of whether oxytocin is involved is one for the biochemists. I merely note the president's name — Sexton — and speculate in innocent wonderment whether particularly well-endowed dowagers come in for particularly vivacious oxytocin production.

The Chair further speculates that since he had in fact not at that time lost all his money, that oxytocin may have predictive qualities.

Leo Jia adds: 

It has been widely debated that the Chinese rich are not generous at all. One strong evidence is that the philanthropic dinner meeting with the Chinese rich hosted by Gates and Buffett received little response. So, the very tradition that Chinese don't hug plays a big role. It was a pity that Gates and Buffett didn't give them big hugs at the meeting.

Jun

4

 Have you heard of Synergy? It is an open source app that allows use of one keyboard & mouse to move across multiple machines

Leo Jia writes:

Synergy is great. I have been using it across two of my Linux laptops. Very convenient.

The other two nice little open source software I would share are Redshift and Calise. Both are great help to the eyes.

Redshift
automatically adjusts screen color temperature according to one's geographical location and time of day.

Calise
automatically adjusts screen brightness according to ambient brightness that is obtained from the camera on the computer. This is only needed if one's computer screen doesn't have light sensor.

Jun

4

The rumors says that the Chinese online retailing giant 360buy will be IPO'ed in NY this September.

One other thing that makes online shopping very attractive to Chinese is the overall product quality concerns and the lack of a product rating like the Consumer Report in the country. It's a trust issue. Online shopping, however, gives shoppers a way to see the sales ranking as well as other shoppers' ratings and comments about any product. These are very important, and make online shops a revolution away from the brick-mortar shops.

Jun

4

 I'm reading Trading as a Business by Charlie Wright. Pretty good book profiling the evolution from discretionary trader to systematic trader. One of those books where I found myself laughing at having been down the paths. More trend following oriented but I think it is a pretty good synopsis of the systematic world and he covers some bases that added value in terms of elements to consider in one's trading (or at least mine). Decent set of checklists.

Do systematically inclined speculators recommend similar books (besides Victor Niederhoffer's and Larry Williams books).

Also, Tradestation seems to do most anything a trader would want in terms of trend following testing. I have never used it though.

Thoughts?

George Parkanyi writes:

The only flaw I find with systems is that they immediately stop working as soon as you try to use them. I think people need to do more research on fading systems.

Christopher Tucker writes: 

Where's the "like" button on the Speclist?

Steve Ellison adds: 

Yes, even systems I developed myself stop working when I try to use them because of data mining bias. Even if there legitimately is an edge, some component of the good backtesting performance is better-than-average luck. 

Leo Jia writes: 

The word "enlightened discretionary" is very appealing. The reason for it, I guess, is because of the word "enlightened" more than the word "discretionary". Everyone hopes to be enlightened in someway. Being enlightened seems to be a spiritual consummation. But I guess that is not the first and real reason why people are after being enlightened. The real reason is that it is mystic and mostly unattainable. This coincides with a human nature of always craving for what they don't have, which is among the reasons why most people are persistently unhappy.

I feel preferring discretion to system is quite illogical. Aren't whatever rules one uses as a discretion by nature a system? It perhaps is not explicitly sketched out, but it by all means is a system of rules that resides in one's head. Couldn't that be phrased and then programmed? I agree some are not very easy. But are they really impossible?

Gary Phillips writes: 

I've been doing this long enough to instinctively know what works and what doesn't. I only need to look at my P&L for empirical confirmation. If in doubt I just try to see the market for what it is and not what it appears to be. One needs to understand market structure, liquidity, and price action and develop a framework for analyzing the market, somewhere between bottom-up & top-down lies the sweet spot. This allows you to see the market in the proper context and provides you with a compass, which will keep you from feeling lost and will show you the way.

Craig Mee writes: 

Aren't ?

Hi Leo, you probably could say "whatever rules one uses as a discretion by nature is a system", but a system may not have the ability to load up once the move kicks (obviously it can be programmed) but at times the opportunity may appear intuitive, and  a trader can do that on relatively short notice, whilst keeping initial risk limited.

Interesting, Gary, the issue with systems seems to be at times data mining against price action and structure which gives strength of understanding. The HFT may work on massive turnover, low commissions and effectively front running, and unless you have those edges then it appears difficult to succeed from a data mining basis (and relatively scary trading something that you don't effectively understand from a logical point of view). However classifying a markets structure, and working off 3-4 premises no more, (as I believe more would allow any edge to be diluted across a range of options), and the ability to leverage once on a move, appears to be something you can work with. This is purely from a hands on execution basis, no doubt the pure programmers can weigh in.

I remember speaking to a guy who professionally programs for others… (admittedly a lot of retail), and we were talking about what are the laws in place for him to not front run me after developing a system I gave him…and he was like "mate, to be honest (probably insinuating "dont flatter yourself") 97% don't make a dime." That was certainly probably expected I suppose, but to hear it in technicolour was confronting and I was surprised he said as much.

Gary Phillips writes: 

I really don't believe that discretionary trading today, is any harder than it used to be. The emotional aspects, and risk management, have essentially remained the same. Methodology is different, because algorithmic driven HFTrading has forced intra-day traders to change from momentum chasers to mean reversion traders. And as you stated, there are countless global/macro concerns as a result of the financial crisis and continued global easing. So, it does demand a broader universe of knowledge, and revamped techniques and benchmarks, but it still boils down to identifying what is truly driving price and how it is being driven. 

I guess this is what gives you the elusive *edge*. But, as we used to say the *edge* can sometimes be the *ledge.* That being said, trading doesn't have to be about being right or wrong the market, or predicting where the market is headed in the next moment, hour, day or week. Trading can be nothing more than a probabilistic exercise, and a trade nothing more than a statistical data point - the next event in a series of events governed by the statistical random distribution of results.

 

Kim Zussman writes: 

"Trading can be nothing more than a probabilistic exercise, and a trade nothing more than a statistical data point - the next event in a series of events governed by the statistical random distribution of results."

One would suggest that trading is a waste of time if your historical or expected mean are random.

Jun

1

 China will soon become the largest online retail market in the world.

China had 119 million online shoppers, with total online sales value rising 53.7 percent year-on-year to 782.56 billion yuan at the end of 2011.

Quoted from capitalvue

I believe the key for this big change is the ease of payment now widely adopted by many online retailers in the recent years. Most retailers had used complicated online payment systems that gave shoppers a big headache and deterred most shoppers in the past. Now what is very welcome is payment upon delivery (Amazon seems to be vital in first developing a large coverage nationwide). With this payment system, one can pay with either cash or credit card to the courier (most go by motorcycles and carry a mobile-phone capable credit card device). Most retailers void shipping charges if the purchase is above 40 yuan. The delivery is fast, too - around big cities it takes about two days.

Reportedly, the largest retailers are: tmall.com, 360buy.com, and amazon.cn. Tmall is the largest and basically a remake from the old house-of-small-retailers taobao.com. In my opinion, it still carries some of the old headache and credibility issues to shoppers. Amazon is a distant 3rd. Although it is very shopper-friendly, it doesn't have the variety of goods as big as the others. To me it is a shame that it doesn't try to leverage its overseas strength to bring in more imported goods. Being the second, 360buy seems to be doing very well in balancing user-friendliness, variety and credibility.

I am a keen online shopper in recent years and do that whenever possible. I believe this trend should cause serious damage to the businesses of brick-mortar retailers a few years down the road.

May

24

 I've had a terrible head cold for the past week, and it's made me think about what a weak approach the world takes to the common cold. Doing a little wiki search you'll find that people are out of commission for something like 2 weeks per year. Tens of millions get poured into some cancer drugs that are viewed as successes because they increase life expectancies from one month to three months. But when you go to the pharmacy for your cold, 80% of what you see is junk, and what's not junk is just barely. (I'm making up a lot of the actual numbers in this post, but you get the idea.)

Here's a rundown on some of the pharmacy items:

Long-last 12-hour nasal decongestants, inhaled (like Afrin): This stuff works for awhile and provides actual relief, but 1) it doesn't work for 12 hours–more like three, and 2) they tell you you can only use it twice per day and up to a maximum of three days. OK, well I'll just have to make sure my cold only lasts three days! If you consider how people treat the warnings about drugs like crystal meth, I would imagine that a lot of people use Afrin for longer than three days and more than twice per day and don't get badly hurt. The CVS pharmacist kind of hinted that that was the case. But on the other hand, I don't want to get a permanent stopped-up nose and Afrin addiction.

Short-last nasal decongestants, inhaled (like Neo-Synephrine): These are supposed to work for 4 hours, but of course they don't. There are scattered hints that they don't pose much dependency risk, but the label says otherwise–use no more than once every 4 hours and not for more than 3 days.

Oral pill nasal decongestants — phenylepedrine — These don't do diddly. I discovered this on my own, but later the pharmacist told me that everybody pretty much knew it.

Oral pill nasal decongestant — pseudo-ephedrine — For these, you have to go to the pharmacist and show your drivers license so that they can check that you're not making crystal meth. Usually I don't want to go to that kind of trouble, but word on the street is that phenylephrine, which is the new pseudo-pseudo-ephedrine, like the one that Mother gave Alice, doesn't do anything at all–you have to get the REAL pseudo-ephedrine. Anyway, I got some 12-hour slow-release capsules of pseudo-ephedrine. They seemed to have some slightly helpful effect, but not nearly enough to give comfort.

"Nite-time" stuff — There are literally dozens of varieties of this at CVS including multiple store-brand versions of the same thing. They're all equal to Tylenol+Phenylephrine (useless) + Dextromethorphan HBr + Chlorpheniramine Maleate. The Dextro… is described as a "Cough Suppressant" and "Chlor…" as an antihistamine. I know what Tylenol and Phenylephrine are. I don't really understand the last two drugs, but I think their real purpose is to put you to SLEEP. That's not the worst thing in the world, but they only last for about 4 hours or so. So then I wake up at 3am and want some more, but I worry about taking more because I've been reading that it's easy to overdose on Tylenol and mess up your liver.

Various Zinc stuff, acidophilus, Vitamin C — I already pretty much know that Vitamin C doesn't work, since I already take a lot of it, having read Linus Pauling's book years ago, but I still get plenty of colds, and they last a good, long time. It's possible that some of the other stuff could work. The typical story is that one study showed good results in 1996, but it had some kind of flaw in its setup. Of the remaining studies about half showed something good and half got nulls. Well gosh, 1996 was 16 years ago, and we're talking about alleviating the common cold, which keeps the entire world out of commission for two weeks per year. Why in the heck doesn't somebody do the definitive study? Meanwhile, I have the option of paying the toll to what I suspect are charlatans.

I read about a real company called Biota in Australia that supposedly has something that pretty much cures the common cold, though it's not on the market yet, and it will be very expensive and perhaps only available to asthmatics [I will apply to become one]. However, in the best of circumstances I can't imagine the FDA approving something like that in less than two decades because it will be argued that since nobody dies from the common cold, it's fine for us to just suffer.

I'd be very interested to hear helpful tips.

Leo Jia writes:

Prolonged exposure to negative psychological states such as fear, tension, anxiety and etc, which seem to be inherent but unconscious to most traders, can make one's immune system weak. The immune system is key in fighting cold and other abnormalities in the body. Best things to me that help strengthen the immune system and alleviate negative senses are physical exercises combined with meditation, Yoga or Zen practices. For me personally, playing the violin helps a lot also as the dedicated playing puts one into a concentrated mental state that can be close to meditation.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

To what extent do we catch most of our colds from the classmates of our kids at school or our coworkers at work? Is one of the great advantages of home schooling aside from the fact that the kids don't have to spend every weekend with a wasteful birthday party, that they are healthier and don't catch colds as much? And similarly for work at home. 

Bill Egan writes: 

We homeschool six children. The kids tend to be less sick than the kids of my colleagues at work. Ours still manage to contract a sufficient number of plagues from other kids in our homeschool network, the YMCA, choir, etc.

May

24

The average American trader is basically insecure due to among other things a 120 point continuous drop. In other words, just from waiting around for that plain little market to go into the gold today, a trader could develop a cold.

May

9

 I have recently started to get into tea. I bought a few yixing pots and I am doing the whole gongfu cha thing.

This is a very interesting area, because tea is even more complex than wine. I am getting used to it, but I just read something which is so funny and serious at the same time, that I would like to share it.

With wine, I am used to strange comparisons. For instance, some wines are described as having a "flintlock" flavor. And they do.

But read this about tea:

Mineral impression makes up bulk of flavor. Mixed with liquor aroma it is highly reminiscent of the taste and smell of the air on a cold foggy summer morning on a beach on Mendocino's coast. I suppose Monterey is similar, but the beaches tend to be a tad coarser sand and the combined smell of cyprus and redwood is a bit more prevalent farther north.

This goes a bit beyond wine addicts descriptions. And this is not snobbery, this is actually sincere and authentic.

Leo Jia replies: 

I concur with Bruno on teas.

I drink tea everyday and have drunk many varieties: black, red, green, white, pu'er, oolong, herbal etc. Yes, one can find a lot of senses from them. One even can find different senses of the same tea at different moments.

Through the experiences with teas, coffee, wines, etc, I realized that one actually can derive sophisticated senses and feelings from just about anything one encounters in life. Be it water (from different streams, different environment/surroundings, different altitudes, and at one's different moods, etc), and likewise, air, earth, color, sound, bread, rice, etc. Very amazing.

But more amazing I think is that the very senses one gets from the things reflects, manifests and realizes one's own life. It is the fact that we can sense about these various things that makes us alive. It is also true to me that how much senses one gets actually indicate how much life one has lived - the more one has been into life, the more one can sense about the things.

With that, I am always curious about what senses I don't get, because what I don't get are what I have not got and hence are unknown to me. I am always joyful at the very moment when I suddenly sense something new, because that means I have just got something more in life.

Apr

10

 I remember having read somewhere about the philosophy and objective of the modern education. It originated from the industrial revolution when disciplined, organized, and time-abiding people were needed to work in unity. Farmers were quite opposite and were not suitable for the new era. So then the modern education system was created to serve this very need. The actual knowledge or skills it taught were quite secondary.

I think up to today the education systems worldwide have all inherited the original purpose and still have not deviated much from it. They all stress that students think and behave uniformly. Psychology has long been promoting that we human have all lost large part of the creativity and originality of our childhood due in big part to the education we get. It seems quite true that the more school education one gets, the fewer outlier ideas he could come up with.

I believe that in order to be oneself and to live one's own valuable life, one needs to somehow undo some of the school education, and release the fixation on the mentality. There are more real things to learn for the benefits of ourselves and on ourselves. Fortunately also, trading permits us and requires us to be ourselves.

Charles Pennington adds:

 The book Crazy U is very good.

Here's an amusing passage from it on legacies at Harvard, and on the contortions that the school goes through in order to avoid telling anyone anything useful about their admissions.

The setting is an informational meeting for prospective Harvard undergrads with the Director of Admissions:

(Condensed version below is from this site:

A Chinese parent stands up and asks:

“What about legacies?”

“What do you mean?”

“How many of class are legacies?” he said. “Their parents went to Harvard.”

“Oh, I don’t have that information,” she said. “I’m not sure we even keep that information.”

Just a guess, then, the man persisted.

“I wouldn’t want to guess.”

“So you have no way of knowing?” he asked, with exaggerated incredulity. “The numbers don’t exist?” His wife, short and stocky, stood next to him, staring at the dean. Their son bowed his head and closed his eyes.

“Legacy is just one of many factors that Harvard considers,” the dean said. “I like to say, ‘legacy can help the wounded, but it can’t raise the dead!” She laughed uncomfortably but the father and mother still stared.

“Answer the question,” another father called out.

“Maybe I can get that information for you afterward,” she said, twisting one hand with the other. She moved one foot backward.

“Come on,” said another parent, with just a hint of insurrection.

She was quiet a moment before surrendering. “If I had to say,” she said, “thirty, maybe thirty-five percent.”

There was a shock before the murmuring began. The number was hard to square with the egalitarianism of the video we’d just seen. The number suggested the traditional Ivy League primogeniture.

Another takeaway that I had from the book (and this is not original; e.g. Steve Sailer has suggested something like this) is that society has a need for more TESTING. Instead of studying once for an SAT, kids and adults should have the opportunity to study and be tested on subject matter throughout their lives, and they should have the option of posting their scores publicly. There is much testing that's more or less pass/fail, on basic things, like the Series 7 or the bar exams, but there is room for testing for higher levels of accomplishment and creativity. For mathematics, for example, one could have the option of taking an N-hour exam similar to the Putnam. Programmers could take language-neutral tests in which they tackle coding problems. It seems like there could be a market for much more testing. The benefits arise both from "signalling" AND from the fact that people could truly build their skills by preparing for the tests. So it's not just about how to divide the pie, but also about making the pie bigger.

One puzzling thing — the book mentions that it has become more or less illegal to test prospective employees, yet I keep reading about the spontaneous tests of creativity that Google and other elite techie companies give to their applicants. How do they get away with it?

 

Mar

30

 The MegaMillions Jackpot is now $476 million. The odds of winning the jackpot are about 1:175 million. The odds of breaking even are about 1:74. This is a record jackpot for this game, and close to a record jackpot for any lottery game. The jackpot value is based on an annuity value over about 26 years. The cash value jackpot is "only" about $341 million. Some food for thought:

1) The odds of winning are the same whether the jackpot is $1 million or $1 Trillion. Presumably the odds of sharing the jackpot increase with the size of the jackpot (as more people play), but this is unknowable in advance. Hence at some point, it makes sense for every rational personal to "play" … but what is that point? (I've written about this subject previously.) Is it a jackpot of $500 million or $5 Billion or ???

2) If one structures the purchase inside of a tax exempt foundation, the payout can be tax free.

3) It is unclear to me whether a donation to the US Government (to pay down the deficit) would be tax free, as the Govt isn't a 501c(3) non-profit.

4) At what point does the jackpot stop attracting interest because of the tree-growing-to-the-sky problem? For example, there is some chance that the jackpot could just keep growing and growing and growing. Can the jackpot reach $15 Trillion and be the size of the entire US GDP? Could the Megamillions jackpot become a BLACK HOLE for the economy … sucking all liquidity into it???

5) If you won the jackpot, what would be the first thing that you do? (For me, it's call my Tax Attorney. For other people, it might be to call their Divorce Attorney.)

Just some things to think about …

Leo Jia writes:

People in my city (perhaps across the nation as well) have developed secondary betting systems on lotteries. People buy the official tickets, but instead of waiting for the official win, they bet on the numbers amongst themselves. With those, local groups can have totally separate win/loss chances to themselves. Guess they are tired of the extremely low chance of winning the official lottery. But the secondary systems do make the official lotteries significantly more popular. 

Mar

27

Have there been thoughts about creating daily contracts (in place of monthly contracts) to be traded at exchanges? By daily contracts, I mean futures contracts that expire on daily bases rather than by the months. Then there will be 200 (number of working days) or so contracts in any year, instead of the 12 contracts in a year. I guess this can be done very easily in this digital age - I take it that the monthly contracts are for practical reasons in the old times. This new contract structure would then eliminate the large discontinuity problem, and also create some nice arbitrage opportunities for the large trading parties. Any problems with this?

Mar

22

 What is the best recipe for leverage? Is it safest to backtest models and find the worst points historically and measure leverage accordingly? So if a model would have gone down 20% at the worst point in its history unlevered I know 5x leverage would have equaled a wipe out and thus use less always mindful the system could see that point (or worse) again? Or best to factor historical probabilities using counts or scans to do so? For example if 12/14 days my model has lost and based on history there is a 2% chance of tomorrow being a loser should I then up the leverage? Conversely if I have won 12/14 in a row should I decrease leverage or is it best to let it ride when in the black upping the leverage?

On a related note in the options market, I find most models eventually reach ruin. If you buy options you run into prolonged periods of no vol and are so depleted by the time the high vol periods return your are in trouble. If you sell options unhedged you run into crash problems. Spreads (put/call) seem interesting but the most optimal points to employ them generally result in taking in 5% or less of the capital at risk and if you up the leverage you risk ruin here too. If you don't lever up you don't make much.

Employing no leverage makes for stability and lesser concern but then a reasonable AUM is necessary to generate $$ amounts that make the game worth the effort.

Leo Jia writes: 

Hi George,

IMHO, I don't use the historically worst point to determine my leverage level. I consider that event not statistically robust. What I do is that, assuming I have a profitable model, on each trade, I determine the leverage level based on the risk level according to the model at the entry price and how much I am willing to lose for any single trade. To minimize the impacts of large and prolonged drawdowns, I sharply reduce my position sizes during those periods.

 

Feb

24

 I take the view that most market predictions don't produce statistically sound results.

I believe market condition is a result of human behavior. Although many fundamental human behaviors are predictable with the advancement of behavioral sciences, the market involves more than the fundamental human behaviors. The key to it lies in the varying derivative perceptions of market participants.

Let's say the view "since condition A, then the market will rise" is the fundamental perception. A first derivative view, for instance, can be "since all believe the market rises due to condition A, it will fall". A second derivative can then be "since all believe the market falls due to (…), it will rise". And so on.

If the market participants all adhered to one of the principles above, then it would be very easy to predict the market. The thing is that is never the case. The big hands shift views along the derivatives all the time. That is what makes most predictions today unsound.

If we have a way (the big winners should have this talent) to predict which derivative view the big hands take, then the prediction would be more accurate. But then, if many could do that, the game changes again.

Before that happens, let me raise the question here on how one can develop that talent.

Steve Ellison writes: 

This is the principle of ever-changing cycles, as described by Bacon in Secrets of Professional Turf Betting and elaborated on in the Chair's books.

One of Bacon's approaches was to look for good horses that had lost in their most recent races. The memories of the recent losses caused the public to have negative opinions about those horses.

George Parkanyi writes: 

Market movements (which way, how far, and when) cannot be predicted by DEFINITION. The financial markets are a non-linear system. More than three non-correlated variables, and you cannot predict a specific price at a specific future point in time — a mathematical certainty.

However, like many natural cycles, markets exhibit a powerful tendency to revert to the mean. Now that mean moves around and will have its own wobble, but around it there is definitely a clear sinusoidal pattern — actually short and longer term patterns within patterns. Look at any index or commodity chart over an extended period of time. Individual securities will have the same tendency, but the longer term impact of low-probability outliers is more pronounced — your Microsofts or your Lehman Brothers'. The more narrow the influences — the greater the risk (one-trick pony, or bad management risk for example.) If you apply portfolio theory (diversification basically), the risk (and reward) of outliers is significantly diminished, and I believe you can develop successful strategies simply based on price and on the concept of reversion to the mean using indices, sectors, and commodities (anything always economically necessary to greater or lesser degree, that has an extremely low probability of going to zero. Even there it's not quite blow-up risk-free (asbestos didn't really work out.)

You can then more safely use leverage and modulate the range of returns with same. Reversion to the mean requires a large sample size, so you need many sources acting on the main influences on price (large underlying product markets, liquid financial markets), and time. The larger the sample size and the longer the time frame, the more reliable a reversion strategy should be.

The psychology of what Steve alluded above to is reflected in the aggregate behavior (influences on price) mentioned above. If you're going to go for the "bad horses" though, buy several in case one keels over and dies. Now if they all contract a contagious disease from each other…

George Coyle writes:

The 86th episode of Seinfeld was called "The Opposite" and involved George Costanza's experience in cycles.

The plot goes as follows (from wikipedia):

George returns from the beach and decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be. George tells this to Jerry in Monk's Cafe, who convinces him that "if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right". George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally."Of course everything goes right for him from then on (until the end of the episode). While funny it brings up the interesting idea of the Costanza trade. Out sample seldom replicate in sample (probably due to ever changing cycles). How can one figure when to follow the trend of profitability and when to apply the Costanza trade to a perceived winner. 

Feb

15

 I was playing Texas Hold'em Poker online yesterday. For about an hour, I had some very good wins. Then my wife came in from outside, and we had the Valentine's greetings. It was for less than half a minute. During this time, someone called all-in. When I discovered, the software followed the bet for me when my response was timed out. So I lost it all.

Things of this nature happen more often and more easily than we think. This is just another alarm for me to take the lesson seriously.

Jeff Watson writes: 

The real lesson here is to not play NL poker games. The risk of ruin in any NL game approaches 100%. Limit poker is much better for your longevity and bankroll….provided you are a good enough player to have an edge. If you don't have an edge, stay away from the game. This applies to any game, market, sport, or activity that is competitive in nature and has a win/lose outcome.

John Netto comments: 

Jeff, I have a different perspective in the limit vs. no-limit game discussion. As you hit on, much like trading, issues like bankroll, rake, skill of opponents, and ability to extract the greatest amount of expected value all play a roll. When discussing the risk of ruin in a No Limit game, it is important to qualify one game vs. a career. Limit hold'em can impede the ability to extract bankroll from weaker players who will egregiously overpay to chase draws or call after they have been beat. Over the life of a professional speculator, forsaking this volatility can come at a cost of giving up even greater alpha (we are trying to push the efficient frontier up and left, not down and right)…

In fact, playing no-limit tournament poker vs. no limit cash games is a different discussion all together, considering the variance as a professional tournament player vs cash game player (almost akin to being long gamma vs short gamma strategies in the market).

The reason why I am a professional sports bettor, former cash game no-limit poker player, and commodities trader is the ability to put myself into asymmetrical bets and judiciously control my bankroll. In fact, as unfortunate Leo's misfortune was, operational risk is a part of trading and poker. Many poker sites will give the option to check or uncheck the "call" button. There are benefits and drawbacks to both situations.

Sam Marx writes:

 Can you imagine the damage a Flash-Crash would do if it occurred on an Option Expiration Day.

The previous Flash-Crash caused damage but much of it was later straightened out. But on an Option Expiration Day the damage might be insoluble

Ralph Vince writes: 

On a similar note, given this creeping-up market of recent weeks, Prechter's prediction (which, I am not discounting one speck) I was thinking this morning how the 2008 crash closely correlated with Obama's imminent election (please, I am not arguing political idealogy here. I do not care one joy who is in charge of the Magic Kingdom and it means nothing to me at all).

Rather, given the landscape of the political backdrop here (and making the giant assumption that a large part of the drop of 08, planet-wide, was a consequence of Obama's imminent ascent) should I be en guarde for perhaps a replay of this into the Summer? Does anyone concur to a recent complacency regarding a rapid, precipitous drop similar (or worse) than '08 ?

Enjoy the etouffee,

Ralph Vince

Stefan Jovanovich adds: 

These Presidents did not lose reelection during a war, but they did choose not to run again: Polk (the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed in February and the last troops left Mexico in August 1848 but Polk had already announced that he would not stand for reelection), Johnson (Lyndon, not Andrew) and Truman. Eddy's Mom has the 30 months and out rule; if a war lasts more than 30 months, the incumbent President is in trouble. It seems to apply. The military winners have been Jefferson (Franco-American naval war), Madison (1812), McKinley (Spanish-American), Eisenhower (Korea) - none of whom had a war last more than 2 years while they were in office. That leaves Lincoln (who only won because of the votes of the Union soldiers themselves), Roosevelt (by 1944 everyone in America knew it was Roosevelt's last term and the Republicans invented the Michael Dukakis of their history - Dewey) and Bush I (which I think has to be discarded because 3+ person races throw out all the rules - vide 1860 and 1912). The only winner who has clearly violated the 30-month rule was Bush II. My explanation for that anomaly is that the Democrats lost because John Kerry was still trying to prove to himself and the world that he really earned all those medals he put in for. (Of all the issues on which to base a challenge, why would anyone choose: Incumbent reservist draft dodger vs. fake war hero?)

That leaves Obama. I agree with Prechter in his thesis about social mood; the arrow of causation runs in the opposite direction. The markets will tell us the fate of the President. So, if Ralph is right, elephants will be dancing in the streets in November.

 

Feb

9

 In the past few years in China, I have experienced multiple times insufficient oil fill-ups at oil changes. That happened in different provinces at various so-called 4S dealerships of a premium foreign car brand. The oil was filled up only to the min on the measure. Every time this happened, I reported it to the manufacturer. It seems to be better in recent couple of years.

It shows that there is a general distrust of dealerships in the country. In recent years, many "good" dealerships offer to display customers' old parts on a shelf so customers can inspect them for themselves. They also would ask before the service confirmation whether the customer would like to take away their old parts. Many also offer large windows or even electronic displays in the waiting lounges in order for customers to see what the technicians are doing with their cars.

Feb

7

 Does the pressure of being in the lead make you take greater risks to maintain it, or do you feel like you have to prove yourself, and show everyone you're a well deserving winner, allowing hubris to rear its ugly face.

In Golf, Kyle Stanley bounced back from a bitter defeat to win the Phoenix Open on Sunday, erasing an eight-shot deficit to claim victory a week after his last-round collapse at Torrey Pines.

Alan Millhone replies: 

Hi Craig.

I have had the honor of being referee at several world title checker matches. The top Grand Masters when in the lead will be content and play for draws and thus force their opponent to take chances to get a win.

Leo Jia writes:

Being in a leading position is generally tough. First, the leader in a group doesn't automatically get enough motivation to advance. Secondly, he is in an unfair situation where the next win is generally considered a nonevent while a slip to the second position is considered a disaster.

In Chinese idioms, there are some that promote leading. Such as:

First argument occupies the mind; Act first to get the advantage; Voice up the strengths first to forestall the opponent; Be like a crane standing among chickens;

Then, there are many that are against leading:

Sticked-up head gets shot; A man dreads fame as a pig dreads being fat; Protruding rafters rot first; The outstanding tree gets destroyed by wind; The excellent craftsman gets most denies from all craftsmen;

Generally there are more negativity toward leading. Looking back to historic events, a crown prince (a leader of all princes) is perhaps the most dangerous position one can get. From similar reasoning, one key teaching of Confucius is the doctrine of the mean , which basically tells everyone not to stick his head out.

The relative advantage of the leader from the rest (the second and the third for instance) is also very interesting. Consider A, B and C to be the leading, the second, and the third parties respectively. The difference between B and C relative to the difference between A and C is a determining factor in relationships. If B is closer to C (than to A), then generally, B and C will form a union to fight A. Conversely, if B is closer to A, then A and C will very likely form a union to fight B. In either situation, C always has an illusion of being the most advantageous to form a union with A, which as a matter of fact is the most detrimental to itself as well as to B.

A famous ancient novel based on real history called Romance of the Three Kingdoms depicts the above relationships very well. The story happened between 169 AD and 280 AD, when the three kingdoms within the current China's territory: Wei (A), Wu (B), and Shu (C) dealt and fought amazingly amongst themselves, with incessant conspiracies and strategies, all seeking to conquer the entire territory.

Here is the Wiki Page about the novel.  An online English version of the entire (long) novel apparently can be read here.

Jan

31

 Let's play a little game — it's called “Baron Rothschild” — who once said “I made my fortune by selling too early” (a comment also made by Bernard Baruch)… Suppose that the dealer lays cards down, one after another. Each is an annual market return. At any time, you can call out “Baron Rothschild” and go to a defensive position, or you can gamble and get the entire market return the dealer shows next. The gain cards read, say, 15%, 20%, 25% and 30%. If you're defensive, you lag the market by 10% when the market return is a gain, but you get, say, 5% if the market return is a loss. There is one -20% loss card. Once it appears, the game ends and everyone counts their dough, compounded. It turns out that if the loss comes anytime before the 5th card, you're almost always ensured to beat or tie the dealer by immediately blurting out “Baron Rothschild” even before the first card is shown. For example,

20%, 20%, 20%, 5% beats 30%, 30%, 30%, -20%
15%, 15%, 15%, 5% beats 25%, 25%, 25%, -20%
20%, 10%, 5%, 5% beats 30%, 20%, 15%, -20%
5%, 5%, 5%, 5% ties 15%, 15%, 15%, -20%

You can easily prove to yourself that even for a six-year market cycle, you still generally win even if you call out “Baron Rothschild” after year two. It just doesn't pay to risk the big loss. The point of this isn't that investors should always take a defensive stance — some market conditions are associated with very strong return/risk profiles that warrant substantial exposure to market fluctuations. The point is that the avoidance of significant losses is generally worth accepting even long periods of defensiveness. Because of the mathematics of compounding, large losses have a disproportionate effect on cumulative returns. Remember that historically, most bear markets have not averaged 20%, but approach 30% or more. A 30% loss takes an 80% gain and turns it into a 26% gain. It's difficult to recover from such losses, which is why the recent bull market has not even put the market ahead of Treasury bills since 2000 or even 1998. So again, the point is that the avoidance of significant losses is typically worthwhile even if, like Baron Rothschild, one is defensive "too soon." With regard to present stock market conditions, it would take a correction of only about 10% in the S&P 500 to put the market behind Treasury bills for the most recent 3-year period. That's not an empty statistic given rich valuations, unusual bullishness, overbought conditions, rising yield trends, and a market long overdue for such a correction. Given the average return/risk profile those conditions have historically produced, it makes sense to call out "Baron Rothschild" even if we allow for the possibility of a further advance, in this particular instance, before the market inevitably corrects.

1) Let's assume that one's goal is to beat some passive index (it doesn't have to be stocks; it could be the Yen or Natgas) over an X month period. And let's further assume that one is willing to engage in "selling early." And lastly, let's assume that "selling early" is sometimes the "right" thing to do due to the essay above. As a statistical matter, what is the likely minimum value for X … that permits the speculator to beat his passive index?

2) Let's assume that one's goal is to beat a passive index (again, it doesn't have to be stocks) over an X month period. And let's further assume that one is willing to exit the market "early," but also "buy early." Obviously, if one exits, re-entering is a necessary thing to do. As a statistical matter, what is the likely minimum value for X … such that the speculator can beat his passive index?

3) As a purely statistical matter, which should be better/worse : Buying early and selling early? Or, buying late and selling late ? And, again, what is the minimum X month performance period where either strategy has a chance to beat the passive benchmark.

William Weaver writes:

1. Disposition Effect

2. Great essay and the observation of defensive over aggressive is very good but I can't agree with purely taking profits unless there is a reason to exit. Assuming sufficient liquidity, in my humble opinion, it might not be bad to tighten stops (volatility historically has fallen as equities rise - though high levels in the late 1990's - so stops based on standard deviation should tighten anyway) allowing one to lock in profits but continue to profit from any trend that develops or continues. This seems to be a prominent trait of the most successful traders I've met; allowing profits to run by controlling for risk instead of picking a top.

3. The saying "There is nothing wrong with taking small profits" is a great way to lose everything if you don't also control for losses. In this essay there is only an early exit for profits.

4. His analysis of the equity premium to Treasuries is very insightful but I will leave that to the list for independent testing.

5. Every trader is different and must play to their own personality. For me, when trading intraday (which I am new to and still not the biggest fan of but am coming along) I will take off part of a position when anything changes, and this helps manage risk (leads to a larger percentage of profitable days). But will wait for long term momentum to reverse before exiting the last half as this is where the majority of my monthly profits come from. This way I can be a wuss and still profit.

6. Read The Disposition Effect if you have not and are interested in any type of trading/speculation. (To add to things to do to become a successful speculator: know, understand and be able to identify behavioral biases both in your own trading, and in the market).

Leo Jia writes:

I don't fully understand Rocky's 3 questions at the end. Guess they are meant for some real speculations, rather than for the Baron Rothschild Game, right?

If so, then I take Will's approach as described in his Point 2, except that I don't exit on instant stops, but on closing prices of certain intervals (30 minutes for instance for position trades) if the means of the intervals trigger my stops. My feelings about instant stops are that 1) they tend to have more execution errors (due to price chasing), and 2) either they get triggered more often or I have to set them wider (meaning more losses). I don't have concrete results about this and would love to hear other opinions.

I can't see how the game closely resembles trading. From what I understand about it, there seem to be many more winning cards than losing ones. So a strategy of simply selling on random cards gives one an easy edge to beat the dealer (though not necessarily achieving the best result). Am I missing something there?

Steve Ellison adds:

Turning to writings from 100 years ago, a friend found this book in his attic in Montana and gave it to me: Fourteen Methods of Operating in the Stock Market.

The first article in this book was A Specialist in Panics, which has been discussed on the List before. This method is to buy when there is a panic.

There was another article by H.M.P. Eckhardt, "Plan for Taking Advantage of the Primary Movements". He advised buying during steep market declines, as the Specialist in Panics did, but also suggested selling if a rapid rise brought profits equal to the interest the investor could have earned over three or four years. Mr. Eckhardt surmised that, with his money already having earned its keep for at least three years, the investor would probably get a chance to put it back to work in less than three years when another panic occurred.

For these sorts of techniques, Rocky's X is the length of a business cycle, which is unknowable in advance, but would normally be at least 48 months.
 

Alston Mabry writes:

Let's say you start at January, 2004 (arbitrarily chosen start date, but not cherry-picked, i.e., not compared to other possible start dates), and you go to January 2012. You have $100 a month to invest. You can buy the SPY and/or hold cash. You have a total of 97 months and thus, $9700 to invest. If you buy the SPY every month (using adjusted monthly close), you wind up with:

$11,451.37

But being a clever speculator and wanting to buy the dips, you come up with a plan: You will let your monthly cash accrue until SPY has a large drop as measured by the monthly adjclose-adjclose; each time the SPY has such a drop, you will put half your current cash into SPY at the monthly close. To decide how large the drop will be, you compute the standard deviation of the previous 12 monthly % changes, and then your buying trigger is a drop of a certain number of SDs. Your speculator friends like the plan, but disagree on the size of the drop, so each of you chooses a different number of SDs as a trigger: 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, and the real doom-n-gloomer at 4.

The results, showing the size of the drop in SDs required to trigger a buy-in, the final value of the portfolio, and the average cash position during the entire period:

SD / final value / avg cash
0.5  $11,522.13    $543.03
1.0  $11,328.42    $737.77
1.5  $10,885.80  $1,351.02
2.0  $10,884.15  $2,083.36
2.5  $10,655.96  $2,711.34
3.0  $11,005.72  $3,704.12
4.0   $9,700.00  $4,900.00

You, of course, chose 0.5 SDs as your trigger and so come out with the biggest gain. But your friend who chose 3 SDs says that he *could* have used his larger cash position to invest in Treasuries and thus have beaten you. You say, "Coulda, woulda, shoulda."

Mr Gloom-n-Doom cheated and bought the TLT every month and wound up with $14,465.56.
 

Jan

30

 I am often asked what ten steps one should take to become a successful speculator.

I would start by reading the books of the 19th century speculators, 50 Years in Wall Street, The Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Markman, and others.

Next I would read the papers of Alfred Cowles in the 1920s and try to compute similar statistics on runs and expectations for 5 or 10 markets.

Third I would get or write a program to pick out random dates from an array of prices, and see what regularities you find in it compared to picking out actual event or market based events.

Fourth, I would read Malkiel's book A Random Walk Down Wall Street and update his findings with the last 2 years of data.

Fifth, I would look at the work of Sam Eisenstadt of Value Line and see if you could replicate it in real life with updated results.

Sixth, I would start to keep daily prices, open, high, low, and close for 20 of so markets and individual stocks and go back a few years.

Seventh, I would go to a good business library and look at the old Investor Statistical Laboratory records of prices to see whether it gave you any insights.

Eighth, I would look for times when panic was in the air, and see if there were opportunities to bring out the canes on a systematic basis.

Ninth, I would apprentice myself to a good speculator and ask if I could be a helpful assistant without pay for a period.

Tenth, I would become adept at a field I knew and then try to apply some of the insights from that field into the market.

Eleventh, I would get a good book on Statistics like Snedecor or Anderson and be able to compute the usual measures of mean, variance, and regression in it.

Twelfth, I would read all the good financial papers on SSRN or Financial Analysts Journal to see what anomalies are still open.

Thirteenth, of course would be to read Bacon, Ben Green, and Atlas Shrugged.

I guess there are many other steps that should be taken that I have left out especially for the speculation in individual stocks. What additional steps would you recommend? Which of mine seem too narrow or specialized or wrong?

Rocky Humbert writes:

 All the activities mentioned are educational, however, notably missing is a precise definition of a "successful speculator." I think providing a clear, rigorous definition of both of these terms would be illuminating and a necessary first step — and the definition itself will reveal much truth.

Anatoly Veltman adds: 

I think with individual stocks: one would have to really understand the sector, the company's niche and be able to monitor inside activity for possible impropriety. Individual stocks can wipe out: Bear Stearns deflated from $60 to $2 in no time at all. In my opinion: there is no bullet-proof technical approach, applicable to an individual enterprise situation.

A widely-held index, currency cross or commodity is an entirely different arena. And where the instrument can freely move around the clock: there will be a lot of arbitrage opportunities arising out of the fact that a high percentage of participation is inefficient, limited in both the hours that they commit and the capital they commit between time-zone changes. Small inefficiencies can snowball into huge trends and turns; and given the leverage allowed in those markets - live or die financial opportunities are ever present. So technicals overpower fundamentals. So far so good.

Comes the tricky part: to adopt statistics to the fact of unprecedented centralized meddling and thievery around the very political tops. Some of the individual market decrees may be painfully random: after all, pols are just humans with their families, lovers, ills and foibles. No statistical precedent may duly incorporate such. Plus, I suspect most centralized economies of current decade may be guilty of dual-bookeeping. Those things may also blow up in more random fashion than many decades worth of statistics might dictate. Don't tell me that leveraged shorting and flexionic interventions existed even before the Great Depression. Today's globalization, money creation at a stroke of a keyboard key, abominable trends in income/education disparity and demographics, coupled with general new low in societal conscience and ethics - all combine to create a more volatile cocktail than historical market stats bear out. 2001 brought the first foreign act of war to the American soil in centuries. I know that chair and others were critical of any a money manager strategizing around such an event. But was it a fluke, or a clue: that a wrong trend in place for some time will invariably produce an unexpected event? Why can't an unprecedented event hit the world's financial domain? In the aftermath of DSK Sofitel set-up, some may begin imagining the coming bank headquarter bombing, banker shooting or other domestic terrorism. I for one envision a further off-beat scenario: that contrary to expectations, the current debt spiral will be stopped dead. Can you imagine next market moves without the printing press? Will you find statistical precedent of zooming from 2 trillion deficit to 14 trillion and suddenly stopping one day?

Craig Mee comments:

 Very generous post, thanks Victor…

I would add, in this day and age, learn tough typing and keyboard skills for execution and your way around a keyboard, so you don't wipe off a months profit in the heat of battle. I would also add, learn ways of speed reading and information absorption, though these two may be more "what to do before you start out". 

Gary Rogan writes: 

Anatoly, I don't think really understanding the sector and and the niche is all that useful unless one knows what's going on as well as the CEO of the company, which means that in general understanding quite a bit about the company isn't useful to anyone without access to enormous amount of information. It's the subtle, little, invisible things that often make all the difference. There are a lot of people who know a lot about pretty much any company, so to out-compete them based on knowledge is usually pretty hopeless. It is nevertheless sometimes possible to out-compete those with even better knowledge by sticking with longer horizons or by being a better processor of information, but it's rare.

That said, it has been shown repeatedly that some combination of buying stocks that are out of favor by some objective measure, possibly combined with some positive value-creation characteristics, such as return on invested capital, do result in market-beating return. Certainly, just about any equity can go to essentially zero, but that's what diversification is for.
 

Jeff Watson adds: 

 In the commodities markets it's essential to cultivate commercials who trade the same markets as you(especially in the grains.) One can glean much information from a commercial, information like who's buying. who's selling, who's bidding up the front month, who's spreading what, who's buying one commodity market and selling another, etc. When dealing with a commercial, be sure to not waste his time and have some valuable information to offer as a quid pro. Also, one necessary skill to develop is to determine how much of a particular commodity is for sale at any given time…. That skill takes a lot of experience to adequately gauge the market. Also, in addition to finding a good mentor, listen to your elders, the guys who have been successful speculators for decades, the guys who have seen and experienced it all. Avoid the clerks, brokers, backroom guys, analysts, touts, hoodoos etc. Learn to be cold blooded and be willing to take a hit, even if you think the market might turn around in the future. Learn to avoid hope, as hope will ultimately kill your bankroll. When engaged in speculation, find one on one games like sports, cards, chess, etc that pit you against another person. Play these games aggressively, and learn to find an edge. That edge might translate to the markets. Still, while being aggressive in the games, play a thinking man's game, play smart, and learn to play a strong defensive game……a respect for the defense will carry over to the way you approach the markets and defend your bankroll. Stay in good physical shape, get lots of exercise, eat well, avoid excesses.

Leo Jia comments:

Given that manipulation is still prevalent in some Asian markets, I would add that, for individual stocks in particular, one needs to  understand manipulators' tactics well and learn to survive and thrive under their toes.

Bruno Ombreux writes:

Just to support what Jeff said, you really have to define which market you are talking about. Because they are all different. On one hand you have stuff like S&P futures with robots trading by the nanosecond, in which algorithms and IT would be the main skill nowadays, I guess. On the other hand, you have more sedate markets with only a few big players. This article from zerohedge was really excellent. It describes the credit market, but some commodity markets are exactly the same. There the skill is more akin to high stake poker, figuring out each of your limited number of counterparts position, intentions and psychology.

Rocky Humbert adds:

I note that the Chair ignored my request to precisely define the term "successful speculator," perhaps because avoiding such rigorousness allows him to define success and speculation in a manner as to avoid acknowledging his own biases. I'd further suggest that his list of educational materials, although interesting and undoubtedly useful for all students of markets, seems biased towards an attempt to make people to be "like him."

If gold is up a gazillion percent over the past decade, and you're up 20%, are you a successful speculator?If the stock market is down 20% over a six month period, and you're down 2%, are you a successful speculator?If you have beaten the S&P by 20 basis points/year, ever year, for the past decade, without any meaningful drawdowns, are you a successful speculator?If you trade once every year or two, and every trade that you do makes some money, are you a successful speculator?

If you never trade, can you be a successful speculator?

If you dollar cost average, and are disciplined, are you a successful speculator?

If you compound at 50% per year for 10 years, and then lose everything in an afternoon, are you a successful speculator?

If you lose everything in an afternoon, and then learn from your mistake, and then compound at 50% for the next 10 years, are you a successful speculator?

If you compound at 6% per year for 10 years, and never have a meaningful drawdown, are you a successful speculator?

If the risk free rate is 6%, and you are making 12%, are you a more successful speculator then if the risk-free rate is 0% and you are making 6%?

If you think you are a successful speculator, can you really be a successful speculator?

If you think you are not a successful speculator, can you be a successful speculator?

Who are the most successful speculators of the past 100 years? Who are the least successful speculators of the past 100 years? 

An anonymous contributor adds:

 In conjunction with the chair's mention of valuable books and histories, I would append Fred Schwed's Where are the Customers' Yachts?.

While ostensibly written with a tongue-in-cheek hapless outsider view of 1920s and 1930s Wall Street, it has provided as many lessons and illustrations as anything by Henry Clews. In this case, I am reminded of the chapter in which Schwed wonders if such a thing as superior investment advice actually exists.

Pete Earle writes:

It is my opinion that the first thing that the would-be speculator should do, even before undertaking the courses of actions described by our Chair, is to open a small brokerage account and begin plunking around in small size, getting a feel for the market, the vagaries of execution quality, time delays, and the like. That may serve to either increase the appetite for such knowledge, or nip in the bud what could otherwise be a long and frustrating journey.

Kim Zussman adds: 

The obligatory Wikipedia* definition of speculation is investment with higher risk:

Speculating is the assumption of risk in anticipation of gain but recognizing a higher than average possibility of loss. The term speculation implies that a business or investment risk can be analyzed and measured, and its distinction from the term Investment is one of degree of risk. It differs from gambling, which is based on random outcomes.

There is nothing in the act of speculating or investing that suggests holding times have anything to do with the difference in the degree of risk separating speculation from investing

By this definition one must define risk and decide what comprises high and low risk — which may be simple in extreme cases but (as we have seen repeatedly) is not very straightforward in financial markets

*Chair is quoted in the link 

Alston Mabry writes in:

I'm successful when I achieve the goals I set for myself. And rather than a target in dollars or basis points or relative to any index or ex-post wish list, those goals may simply be to act with discipline in implementing a plan and then accepting the results, modifying the plan, etc.

Anatoly Veltman adds: 

And don't forget Ed Seykota: "Everyone gets out of the market what they want". I find that everyone gets out of life what they want.

Plenty a market participant is not in it to make money. Fantastic news for those who are!

Bruno Ombreux writes:

This will actually bring me back to the question of what is a successful speculator.

In my opinion success in life is defined in having enough to eat, a roof, friendships and a happy family (as an aside, after near-death experiences, people tend to report family first). You can forget stuff like being famous, leaving a legacy or being remembered in history books. If you are interested in these things, you have chosen the wrong business. Nobody remembers traders or businessmen after their death except close family and friends. People who make history are military and political leaders, great artists, writers…

So you are limited to food, roof, friends and family. Therefore my definition of a successful speculator is a speculator that has enough of these, so that he doesn't feel he needs to speculate. I repeat, "a successful speculator does not need to speculate."

Paolo Pezzutti adds:

I simply think that a successful speculator is one who makes money trading. Among soccer players Messi, Ibrahimovic are considered very successful. They consistently score. They experience short periods without scoring. Similarly, traders should have an equity line which consistently prints new highs with low volatility and a short time between new highs. Like soccer players and other athletes it is their mental characteristics the main edge rather than knowledge of statistics. One can learn how to speculate but without talent cannot play the champions league of traders and will print an equity line with high drawdowns struggling losing too much when wrong and winning too little when right. Before dedicating time to find a statistical edge in markets one should assess his own talent and train psychologically. In this regard I like Dr Steenbarger work. In sports as in trading you very soon know yourself: your strengths and weakness. There is no mercy. You are exposed and naked. This is the greatness and cruelty of markets and competition. This is the area where one should really focus in my opinion.

Steve Ellison writes:

To elaborate a bit on Commander Pezzutti's definition, I would consider a successful speculator one who has outperformed a relevant benchmark for annual returns over a period of five years or more. Ideally, the outperformance should be statistically significant, but market returns can be so noisy that it might take much of a career to attain statistical significance.

Jeff Rollert writes:

I propose a successful speculator dies wealthy, with many friends. Wealth is not measured just in liquid terms.

Should a statistical method be preferred, I suggest he is the last speculator, with capital, from all the speculators of his college class.

In both cases, I suggest the Chair and Senator are deemed successful, each in their own way.

Leo Jia adds:

If I may wager my 2 cents here.

I would define a successful speculator as someone who has achieved a record that is substantially above the average record of all speculators in percentage terms during an extended period of time. The success here means more of a caliber that one has acquired which is manifested by the long-term record. Similarly regarded are the martial artists. One is considered successful when he has demonstrated the ability to beat substantially more than half of the people who practice martial arts, regardless of their styles, during an extended period of time. It doesn't mean that he should have encountered no failures during that time - everyone has failures. So, even if that successful one was beaten to death at one fight, he is still regarded as a successful martial artist because his past achievements are well revered.

With this view, I will try to answer Rocky's questions to illustrate.
 

Julian Rowberry writes:

An important step is to get some money. Preferably someone else's. [LOL ]

Jan

20

 Inspired by Vic's grandfather's advice "people will never stop wearing hats", I wonder if perhaps shoes will lose favor with people. This seems to have occurred to me. I used to love shoes and bought many. Now since I work mostly from home, a pair of socks or sleepers are what I wear the most. Then since I mostly live in warm climates, sandals are what I wear the most for outdoors. The next is sport shoes for working out. Formal leather shoes, which I have a bundle of, are rarely worn. What is going to happen 50 years from now?

Victor Niederhoffer comments:

This will be very bad for China. There is not one manufacturer of shoes left in America. They're all in China an India now. When I worked in Wilkes Barre 50 years ago as tennis pro, there were at least 30 shoe manufactures in the Scranton Valley alone, all of whom where members of the club. Alas, Poor Yorick. 

Leo Jia replies: 

Hi Vic,

Yes, that would be very bad for China. But I tend to think that it would also not be easy for the world either.

Simply looking at the iPad shares in the world, we can see how big an exaggeration are China's GDP numbers from its real economic contributions/benefits. In the iPad case, China records the full $275 while its real contribution is only $10. I presume the shoes industry (and all others) would be similar only in varying degrees, with many American and European brands taking the big shares.

Look from the other way, China's economy is not as big as we think it is.

Best,

Leo

Jim Sogi writes:

 In Hawaii, everyone wears slippers and goes barefoot often. The feet get tough and the toes spread out in a more natural position which is wider. City feet get cramped in misshapen in the form of the latest fashion almost like Chinese foot binding. Native kids who have gone barefoot their whole lives have wide feet with space between their toes.

There is a new trend in running shoes towards a less structured shoe with a flexible sole that allows the foot to naturally flex during the running motion. Prior technology in running shoes put a large and rigid heel which forced a heel strike, which unintentionally caused greater impact on the knees. The flexible sole allows the foot arch to naturally flex and absorb the impact resulting in less impact to the knees and back. A popular shoe is the five toe design, similar to ancient Japanese toe socks. African runners run long distance barefoot.

Jan

14

 I'm thinking of giving 1,000:1 odds that the world won't end in 2012. If you send me $100 I will give you a certified voucher for $10,000 to be paid to the bearer on January 1, 2013. Stand by for further details.

Now that is a great investment. Anyone want to sponsor an infomercial?

Leo Jia writes:

The idea that the world will end in 2012 is not easily dismiss-able from human psyche. Whether it will happen or not is not the point. What is important is the course of event, or the path of time, leading to it. The collective human nature will make something big out of it (even though the "it" might be nothing). As an individual, we have all experienced worry. We know that while some worries may have merit, most simply come out of nothing and for nothing. I am sure this event will be something around which many different worries will be generated amount human beings. Those are what will move the things for this year.

I understand the "end of the world" is a concept not easily imaginable to most people. Many believers of the event could simply take it as some disaster that has a big harm to part of the world (the movie seems to be depicting this view). The likelihood for that should be substantially higher than the real "end of the world". In this sense, the number of believers (including the derivative ones) should be influentially large.

Jan

14

 This one is Eddy's fault. She wanted to know about the gold standard.

The authors of the Constitution had two concerns about money - first, they wanted the Federal government to be able to collect taxes to pay veterans' benefits and the cost of future wars; and, second, they wanted no one - the states, private individuals, the Federal government itself - to be able to deal in funny money. They thought they could solve both problems by giving the Federal government a monopoly on legal tender and then requiring Congress to limit the Money used in payment in the United States to Coin - i.e. precious metal. What is fraudulent about our present system is that the Federal government still has its legal tender monopoly but it no longer follows the rules laid out in the Constitution. Instead of using gold coin, the Federal government uses its own bank-created Credit as Money and requires all of us to accept it as the sole legal tender for all debts public and private.

The authors of the Constitution were so suspicious of what Congress might do that they did not even allow it to have a monopoly on Money. They required Congress to allow Foreign Coin to used as equivalents for the United States' own Coin. The authors of the Constitution knew from bitter experience that Congress was capable of being a fraud about money; country had seen the Continental Congress during the Revolution issue IOUs and then require people to take them in payment of the government's own debts. By allowing Foreign Coin to be Money, the authors of the Constitution were assuring that people could refuse to take any funny money that Congress tried to pass off in the future. This is why the Constitution has its specific provisions requiring Congress to "regulate" the Weight and Measure of both U.S. and Foreign Coin. "Regulate" does not mean "make up whatever rules we like" as it does now; it meant "make regular" - i.e. make equal.

Where the authors and the first Congresses made a mistake was in thinking that they could regulate more than 1 kind of precious metal as Money, that they could set by law the ratios of the prices of gold and silver and copper could be fixed, by law. They made this mistake because everyone in the world believed that Money had to have an official Price; it could not be left to the market to decide what Money was worth. (A few oddballs - the Frenchman Cantillon, the Englishman Gresham - knew better. They both observed that Money has to be unitary; otherwise, the smart people will always be swapping the cheaper metals for the more expensive ones.)

Even with this mistake of multi-metalism, the authors of the Constitution succeeded in achieving their aims for U.S. money. Congress was able to be extravagant - to start wars when they did not have the money to pay for them - without permanently destroying the value of the country's savings because no one could be forced to accept anything other than Coin as Money. If Money became short because people and/or the government had used too much credit, the people who had saved Money would find bargains. If people and/or the government became too cautious and hoarded Money, then the rewards for lending and granting Credit would go up. The interchange between Money and Credit would be the fundamental check and balance against future Congresses overreaching their financial authority. Under the Constitution Congress would be free to borrow on Credit like everyone else but it would only be allowed to coin Money or have Coin accepted as legal tender.

What the authors of the Constitution could not imagine is that future Congresses would allow the Federal government to use its own bank-created Credit as Money. That would have seemed to them against all common sense. Everyone in the country had known, from direct experience, that allowing Credit to become Money produced ruin. Savings became worthless, people abandoned work for speculation, and enterprise was destroyed. If the government's Credit was required to be accepted as legal tender, then everyone could go to the government to get their free Money. "Cash" would have no meaning because people could never be required to pay up in Coin. The authors of the Constitution knew that Credit was wonderful stuff. It was easier to use than specie and was flexible; people's ability to promise to pay was not limited by the coins in their pockets. But there had to a limit to how much people could promise and borrow, and that limit was Money; and Money had to be actual stuff that people could demand when they did not want paper, when they doubted that other people's Credit was good. Almost all of the time people would use Credit for trade; they would buy and sell things using Notes because it was the better way to do business. But, in the background of everyone's mind there still had to be the understanding that people could decline further exchange of credit and demand actual payment instead. With Credit there was always going to be the risk that one was getting a devious, suspect instrument of exchange. If people were free, they would trade; and, in trading, they would be certain to deal in all kinds of promises - some of which will be completely ludicrous. These rules would apply equally to the government and to private business. The Constitutional gold standard would not prevent people or Congress itself from committing fraud and folly; but it would assure that they were punished and not rewarded if Money was the stuff that was impossible to counterfeit and impossible to multiply with the stroke of a pen or the turn of a printing press (or, today, the click of a keyboard).

We now live in a very different world of Money and Credit. Foreign Coin is no longer a check and balance on Congress' monopoly authority over legal tender; every government in the world now uses its own IOUs as Money. That leaves only the Constitutional gold standard as a restraint on the government and people's ability to expand Credit without limit. The country has been here before. During and after the Civil War, the Federal government's IOUs - its Greenbacks - were made legal tender, by law. Many people thought this was fine and wanted Congress to keep printing Greenbacks to pay for rebuilding the country after the war. What Ulysses Grant understood was that if Congress kept spending Money as it had during the war, it would turn the country into a nation of monetary alcoholics. The demand for Credit would never be restrained. Almost single-handedly Grant forced the Congress to commit itself to restoring the gold standard, to promising to redeem all paper money in gold Coin. Many people were horrified by the idea; the New York Times (surprise!) predicted that there would be complete panic. Speculators tried to buy up all the country's gold. But, on the actual day when the Federal government resumed the convertibility of all U.S. Bank Notes into gold coin, the world did not rush to the Treasury to swap its paper for specie. The monetary day of judgment failed to appear and was, in fact, a big yawn. The very act of committing the U.S. to restoration of the Gold Standard had sufficiently re-established the credit of the U.S. government that people were content to continue to deal in the credit notes as if they were as good as gold - which they were.

The same result would happen today if Congress adopted a new Specie Act. I know this is a fantasy; but imagine that Congress enacted and the President signed a Specie Act that legisltated that, after January 1, 2013, U.S. Money would be a Liberty Coin of a fixed Weight and Measure of gold and all government Credit Notes - the paper currency called Federal Reserve Notes printed by the U.S. Treasury - would be convertible into Liberty Coin at the value set by the market . The market would instantly value our current Greenbacks at their worth would be in gold. A dollar whose fluctuating value would be fixed by the market's dealings would not, by itself, save the credit of the United States; but it would instantly end the further abuse of that credit by the Congress and the Federal Reserve. That might, by itself, be enough.

 A promise to pay can, as the original J. P. Morgan said, only be valued by the character of the borrower. As long as Money itself is solid, people can accept the risks of Credit as the price of its convenience and opportunity for gain. The very argument used against the gold standard - its inflexibility - is true; when one is well established, the price of gold itself becomes monotonously steady. It is the price of Credit that fluctuates. After President Grant's demand for resumption was enacted into law, the infamous Gold Room closed; and stock and bond markets and bank clearings in the United States exploded with a boom that was so real that it produced enough wealth that the country could, for the first time in its history, afford broad "higher" education.

It will not surprise you and it would not have surprised the authors of the Constitution that the first thing the new generation of professors and well-educated (sic) students did was decide that the archaic system of the gold standard had to be improved. The result was the funding of two World Wars and other systematic tortures that the world is still living under in the name of Progress.

Leo Jia comments:

 Thanks Stefan. Here are my thoughts on what you wrote.

From economic point of view, the functions of money are: 1) medium of exchange, 2) unit of account, and 3) store of value.

The biggest problem with fiat money (as we experienced) is its obvious inability to store value. On the other hand, commodity money is hard to transport. Recognizing these, many are inclined to accepting some kind of representative money, such as the gold standard.

It is understandable that people put more trust in things such as gold for a better store of value than in fiat money, simply because they are more real and can't be created from thin-air. This might be very true in simple or primitive economies. But is there any false reasoning here for modern economies? It is true that they can not be as easily created, but this in no way could necessarily lead to a conclusion of their better ability to store value or perform other money functions. My observations are as follows.

1) Any real thing (such as gold) changes value vis-a-vis other real things as economy develops through time. This is determined by the varying needs of human activities. In this sense, a lumber producer for instance may have good reasons not to trust gold to reserve his value of work (as gold could get cheaper while lumber gets dearer during some period of time).

2) The economic developments, following technological advancements or wars for instance, come in steps, which at many times are interruptions to old developments. After each step of development, the values of many thingsare largely re-adjusts. With the automobile invented for instance, the horse wagons lost substantial value. On the other hand, with a large gold mine discovered, gold's value vs. other things dive.

3) In the case of a step-up of the economy (due to an important technology break through, for instance), the requirement for capital jumps up. If the money is based on some real thing (such as gold), the money supply seriously lags in a way to hinder the economy development. Gold's supply has its own course of development. Except for a few large discoveries in history, gold's supply has been largely a gradually growing process, and this contrasts the nature of economic development, which often jumps, particularly in the modern age.

4) In the case of gold being a money base, the real question is why people would always treasure gold. Could the attitude change? From the nature that gold is of little real use, this is very likely somewhere down the road. All it needs is one country's abandoning the gold standard to wreck the whole world's economy. Before that happens, is people's pursuit of gold quite similar to a fool's game, where everyone owning gold is just hoping to sell it to a bigger fool?

In the modern world, when we have various developments in fast gears, we don't really have a money that meets the functions we want. It is very unfortunate. Perhaps the desire to have a store of value in something is generally a fallacy. Sure, the modern finance provides some possibilities for that desire, but modern finance is not for everybody.

Question: is it feasible to form a money based on some financially structured instruments?

Stefan Jovanovich replies: 

Leo, Thanks for the reply. I don't think you can support the notion that Money is a primary "medium of exchange" any more; it is, for the limited population of drug dealers and others wanting to hide their wealth from "the law", but the volume of credit transactions so completely dwarfs cash dealings now that I am afraid the standard textbook definition of money has to be retired from our discussions, even if it will always remain the correct answer for an Econ 1 class. The "store of value" notion has always been a canard. The notion of "value" itself is one of those Platonic ideas that it is impossible to abolish, precisely because it is never defined well enough to be tested or disproven. It is part of the equally bizarre idea of Capital - the notion that certain stuff and paper (in our age, digital entries) represent a "store of value". Once you accept the circularity of these terms, you never find the exit door into what people are actually doing. (Yes, yes I know about marginal utility, etc. but all of those wonderful theories can be reduced to something the money changers sitting outside the Temple knew - price is always a matter of quantity and time.)

Having endured the interminable sermons of their era (and decided, like Washington, that God existed outside of church as well as in), the authors of the Constitution were well acquainted with the theological approach to discussions about the economy. But, being practical men of business (even the lawyers among them were traders), they knew enough of the world to know that commerce would always rest on the foundation of credit. When counter-parties began to worry, "the economy" was in trouble, no matter how much gold was in the vault. They also knew that Money - specie - would always be the measure of the fundamental economic fact of life - scarcity. They counted on the fact that Money is always in short supply to be the principal limitation on the size of government itself. As the Founders knew, money is the spoil sport - the stuff that is unalterably real and cannot be talked into existence. Americans used to know this instinctively. There is the classic remark of t he real estate speculator in San Diego in the 1880s who got caught long and telegraphed to his partner back East: "Lost $100,000; still worse, $800 was in cash".

What the Founders and a majority of Americans in the 19th century did not think was that the government could somehow protect people from the vagaries of the market itself. They certainly did not think that gold - i.e. Money - could do that. The claims made for gold by the Paulistas - Don Ron made it again last night in the Republican primary debate in South Carolina - are specious. Gold is not a "store of value" and it has never protected people from the fluctuation of prices. As you noted, gold's exchange value fluctuates dramatically even under a Constitutional gold standard. Gold as Money is no more immune to market variation than Credit; both are subject to the vagaries of trade. What Gold as Money is not subject to are the manipulations of the government as ruled by faction. When George Washington warned against "faction", he was not cautioning people about political parties; he was cautioning them about the ability of people to use the government's monopoly au thority over legal tender to create credit in their particular favor. All gold offers is the assurance to the holder of Money that he/she has only one financial risk - the fluctuations of the market - and that he/she is safe from the cheats of government action in the name of the common good.

P.S. Your history about gold mining needs revision. The great discoveries - California in the 1840s, South Africa and Alaska in the 1890s - did not see "gold's value vs. other things dive"; on the contrary, the gold discoveries led to credit booms that saw general prices rise and specie become inexplicably tight. The Panic of 1907 arose because the London insurance companies were unable to pay their American claims from the San Francisco Fire; gold - within a decade of the greatest discovery in history - became so incredibly short that JP Morgan - for the first time in its history - agreed to join the New York Clearing House so that the banks would stop pulling each other down to ruin by acting like lobsters trying to climb over each other out of a barrel.

P.P.S. The notion of a Monetary base is beyond my capacity to argue with. If you accept the illusion that IOUs are Money, that the entries on the ledgers at the Federal Reserve and the Notes printed by the U.S. Treasury are somehow more "high-powered" than other forms of Credit, then the Ptolemaic system of modern academic economics seems to work fine - until, of course, it doesn't. The modern world has no problems with its system of Credit; its difficulties are with the absurd notion that the Unit of Account can be multiplied at will by central banks in the name of stability.

The questions of money and credit were not intellectual novelties for the founders or their contemporaries. They were - literally - the common coin of civil discourse. Hume's Essays - which were in the library of everyone who attended the Constitutional Convention - raised the issue directly:

"It is very tempting to a minister to employ such an expedient, as enables him to make a great figure during his administration, without overburthening the people with taxes, or exciting any immediate clamours against himself. The practice, therefore, of contracting debt will almost infallibly be abused, in every government. It would scarcely be more imprudent to give a prodigal son a credit in every banker's shop in London, than to impower a statesman to draw bills, in this manner, upon posterity. What then shall we say to the new paradox, that public incumbrances, are, of themselves, advantageous, independent of the necessity of contracting them; and that any state, even though it were not pressed by a foreign enemy, could not possibly have embraced a wiser expedient for promoting commerce and riches, than to create funds, and debts, and taxes, without limitation? Reasonings, such as these, might naturally have passed for trials of wit among rhetoricians, like the panegyrics on folly and a fever, on BUSIRIS and NERO, had we not seen such absurd maxims patronized by great ministers,(Robert Walpole) and by a whole party among us (the Whigs)."

Peter Saint-Andre comments:

 And hence there runs, from the first essays of reflective contemplation of a social phenomena down to our own times, an uninterrupted chain of disquisitions upon the nature and specific qualities of money in its relation to all that constitutes traffic. Philosophers, jurists, and historians, as well as economists, and even naturalists and mathematicians, have dealt with this notable problem, and there is no civilized people that has not furnished its quota to the abundant literature thereon. What is the nature of those little disks or documents, which in themselves seem to serve no useful purpose, and which nevertheless, in contradiction to the rest of experience, pass from one hand to another in exchange for the most useful commodities, nay, for which every one is so eagerly bent on surrendering his wares? Is money an organic member in the world of commodities, or is it an economic anomaly? Are we to refer its commercial currency and its value in trade to the same causes conditioning those of other goods, or are they the distinct product of convention and authority?

From On the Origin of Money by Carl Menger

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

 Menger was the leading figure in the Austrian "Währungs-Enquete-Commission, the Monetary Commission called to deal with the problem of the Austrian currency. (Hayek: "Towards the end of the 'eighties the perennial Austrian currency problem had assumed a form where a drastic final reform seemed to become both possible and necessary. In 1878 and 1879 the fall of the price of silver had first brought the depreciated paper currency back to its silver parity and soon afterwards made it necessary to discontinue the free coinage of silver; since then the Austrian paper money had gradually appreciated in terms of silver and fluctuated in terms of gold. The situation during that period — in many respects one of the most interesting in monetary history — was more and more regarded as unsatisfactory, and as the financial position of Austria seemed for the first time for a long period strong enough to promise a period of stability, the Government was generally expected to take matters in hand. Moreover, the treaty concluded with Hungary in 1887 actually provided that a commission should immediately be appointed to discuss the preparatory measures necessary to make the resumption of specie payments possible. After considerable delay, due to the usual political difficulties between the two parts of the dual monarchy, the commission, or rather commissions, one for Austria and one for Hungary, were appointed and met in March 1892, in Vienna and Budapest respectively.)

According to Hayek, "Menger agreed with practically all the members of the commission that the adoption of the Gold Standard was the only practical course." What the Commission did not do was adopt the approach taken by the Americans a decades earlier. Instead of simply setting the weight and measure for Austrian Coin at an equivalence to the British pound - the reference point for all international transactions, the Commission debated "the practical problems of the exact parity to be chosen and the moment of time to be selected for the transition". That, by itself, did no great harm; but it established the principle - now universal - that the state, not the market, would be the ultimate arbiter of the content of Money. It is foolish of me to expect them to have done otherwise. Even though (or perhaps because) Menger was the author of utility theory, his political economy had an unshakeable belief in "essences", in the notion that political economy could be reduced to laws of motion, just like physics. The result was the Franco-Germanic idea of the "universal bank" - the Creditanstalt that would literally "manage" the economy and do away with the need for those messy people - the brokers and the dealers in stock - and their volatile exchanges.

For Menger there could be no difference between "the disks (and) documents" because all money was a creation of the state's authority. The American idea that you could bring bullion to the Mint and demand that they reduce it to legal tender - for free - was anathema.

Jan

12

 Just did some searches and found 6 apocalypse theories for Dec. 21, 2012.

Though they can be judged by many as BS theories, they are not trivial ones, and should have many believers.

A search on Amazon for 2012 yields these popular books.

There are also some analysis from the scientific side regarding likely potential disasters that could happen at any time, including the strengthening solar storms, the earth's weakening magnetic field, the super volcanoes both under the sea and on land, etc. All this strengthens people's belief about the incoming apocalypse.Depressed feelings from world economies will also exacerbate for the belief. Further on that, people's herding instinct will tremendously increase the number of believers.

What is more important is how people think others believe in it, and more, how people think others think others believe in it, and so on. My feeling is that these derivative expectations will be very strong. The two sides (believers and non-believers) will become polarized as we move on in the year, with the believers dominating as we come closer to the date.

Is it reasonable to expect the following for this year and beyond from all this?

1) Ordinary investment assets will have high volatility (due to large fights between believers and non-believers), resulting in a depressing trend (possibly a panicking one) for later part of the year (believers win). This should apply to real-estate, arts, antiques, many commodities, and the overall stock markets.

2) Some consumption will see large increases in both price and volume, including entertainment, pleasure, food-drinks, tourism, transportation, luxurism, exoticism, etc.

3) Related equities and commodities will increase in value, but market will still remain downward biased. Most commodities will face backwardation.

4) Interest rates will likely go up, and banks may face liquidity problems.

5) If the world doesn't end as anticipated, world economy will likely have a big recovery in 2013 as a result of all the 2012 activities.

6) Prices will shoot to new highs starting at the end of 2012 for many assets.

Anyhow, with this stone cast, I beg for the real jade.

Jan

12

China is building 44% of the 50 skyscrapers to be completed worldwide in the next six years, increasing the number of skyscrapers in Chinese cities by over 50%.

Burj Khalifa, at 2,716 feet, should remain top dog for several years, but the Shanghai Tower, at 2,073 feet, and Wuhan's Greenland Center, at 1,988 feet, will take the world No. 2 and 3 spots in 2014 and 2015.


source

Leo Jia writes:

Not only the number, but the speed of building is also shocking. This story tells about a 30-story hotel being built in 15 days.

Jan

8

 Thinking about Kahneman's loss aversion theory (a loss has about two and a half times the impact of a gain of the same size), I feel that there might be a good reason for it.

A loss generates a fear, and a gain generates a joy in a person. The nature of fear in human is that it is recursive: a fear, a fear of the fear, a fear of the fear of the fear, and etc. Joy on the other hand doesn't seem to have this feature. So based on this thinking, fear has a growth effect which can be expressed in terms of the level of recursion n as (1 + 1/n)^n. We see that as n=5, (1 + 1/n)^n = 2.48832. So, if the joy from a gain is 1, the fear from a loss after 5 recursions is 2.48832, which is perhaps just what Kahneman determined through experiments.

Well, why only 5 recursions? That is exactly the question. If the above theory holds, then the theoretically correct number should be the mathematical constant e, which is (1 + 1/n)^n when n approaches to infinity, yielding 2.718281828459. The reason that 2.5 shows up through experiments might be because 1) it is just a rough approximation; 2) recursions in human brains don't really go to infinite levels, a level of 5-6 might be realistic.

Anyone cares to comment?

Kim Zussman writes: 

Is there not joy of joy?

If I make a bundle, I am happy. So is my wife, and her happiness makes me happy. And so on with children, friends, business associates, etc.

Another aspect is that you can spend profits any way you like, whereas losses you can't spend in any way.

Leo Jia responds: 

My basic understanding of psychology and neuroscience is this (hope someone could help clarify).

The fear is associated with a sub-conscious part of the brain, called amygdala, which takes precedence over the conscious brain in receiving an outside signal. Once this area determines a threat, it could first short-circuit the conscious brain and then sends commands to the body to fight, flight, or freeze. This is a process that could put a normal person under strict arrest. As to how it performs all this, I feel like to think that recursive fear processes (in computer's term) were generated so that it can be powerful enough to override most other bodily needs.

Joy doesn't have this mechanism. It is more of a full brain process involving the conscious brain. So its impact should understandably be limited and single-event, unless of course it is an overjoy.

 

Jan

7

 We perhaps have all heard about the following coin toss experiments on people. On each experiment, people have to choose either to play Game A or Game B.

Experiment 1): Game A: the player wins $1000 if head; wins $50 if tail. Game B: the player wins $500 regardless.

Experiment 2): Game A: the player loses $1000 if head; loses $50 if tail. Game B: the player loses $500 regardless.

With Experiment 1), people like to choose Game B.

With Experiment 2), people like to choose Game A.

While I understand this from psychological terms (humans have biases, are not rational etc.), I don't quite understand naturally or fundamentally about what really makes us do this. Hope someone can help explain.

An interesting thing I want to share here is the TED talk (July 2010) below shows that monkeys do in the same way.

Phil McDonnell writes: 

These sorts of thought experiments are played on student volunteers at college campuses. Students are notoriously impecunious. Assume a net worth of $300 or so and then calculate the log of the wealth ratio for each outcome. You will find that the most popular outcomes all follow the log utility function.

The mistake the experimenters make is to assume that $1000 is worth twice as much as $500 to a poor student. In fact it is worthless than twice as much. They assume a linear utility function when a non-linear log function is how humans really value things. 

Gary Rogan writes:

To understand why any of these biases work the way they do it's best to imagine hominids barely making it in terms of survival rather than even poor college students. There were long stretches where there were more than enough food or other resources, but there were also "funnels" where there were barely enough resources to make it through. We are all descended from the ones who made it through the "funnels". The ones who made the wrong bet left no survivors (or fewer as the case may be).

So if you've got just enough or almost enough to sustain yourself for the next few days but not after that, you realize that you need to do something soon or else you'll be history after those few days. You need to take a risk, but the weather is really bad, it's cold and stormy (or exceptionally hot, or whatever) and you can't venture out. To make matters worse though, a mildly menacing counterpart shows up and "asks" to share your meager resources. Losing half of what you have with great certainty may very well mean likely death, because you will probably be not in a position to "play" again after the weather gets better. If you calculate a 50/50% chance of winning the fight with your "friend" you will probably go for it, even if it means either a complete loss of your resources (and perhaps your life, but those are now equivalent anyway) or a mild injury.

And now a few days are gone, and your are out of resources anyway. The weather is a little better and you are now faced with walking towards a distant meadow where you are certain to find enough berries to sustain yourself for a few more days or pursuing a large but elusive prey (or trying to take something from a leopard resting in a tree with a fresh catch, or trying to fight it out with a different "friend" for his resources, but all of this uncertain), you go for the berries. You take a certain smaller gain vs. an uncertain larger one when getting enough resources means the difference between life and death.

As for how it comes about, we have neural networks in our brain specifically dedicated to evaluating rewards and costs. That's as proven of a fact as anything in neurobiology. Whatever biases worked based to get our distant (and not so distant) ancestors through the "funnels", that's pretty much what we have today.

Phll McDonnell adds:

I think one point that is overlooked in this discussion is that insurance companies do not prefer big bets. Instead they prefer to spread the risk and average out on many small bets. It is also the same reason that earthquake and hurricane insurance is so overpriced. They simply do not want highly correlated bets which increases the risk of serous capital impairment. If they write a lot of earthquake insurance in an area and the big one hits all policies come due at the same time.So they either ration the insurance by charging too much or they simply refuse to sell more than a certain number of policies in a given area.

In a way managing the insurance portfolio is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. You want to avoid bets with large possible negative outcomes and you want to avoid correlated bets. Rather you should take many smaller uncorrelated positions so no one position can wipe you out.

Leo Systrader comments: 

 Great points here. Many thanks for all the thoughts.

Question to Philip (maybe to everyone) about the non-linearity of human value. It is understandable, but I wonder if there is any scientific conclusion about it.

Let's see if we can use this theory to re-construct the experiment. Let's also assume the net worth of the players is $500. For simplicity, let's just try Experiment 1).

Experiment 1): Game A: the player wins $X if head; wins $Y if tail. Game B: the player wins $500 regardless.

We hope we can come up with an X value that is attractive enough for the players to choose Game A. Also we need to make sure that Game A does not have a significant favor of probability, so we choose Y in such a way that the expected value of Game A is not much more than that of Game B, which is $500. Apparently X will need to be much larger than 1000, so that means Y will have to be a negative number to balance out.

As the theory suggests, to make log(X) = 2 * log(500), X is about 25,000. Let's make the expected value be 600, we get Y to be -23800.

So then Game A becomes: the player wins $25000 if head; loses $23800 if tail.

Would that make people choose Game A? Not to me. Anything wrong in the above analysis?

On the other hand, we know that Kahneman has a theory saying something like "a person's magnitude of pain from losing amount D equals that of his joy from gaining amount 2.5*D".

So let's use this theory to reconstruct Game A.

Let's first decide for Y to be 300. Comparing with the 500 in Game B, the player considers a loss of 200 in Game A. So we need to make X a gain of 2.5 times 200 from 500, so we get X = 2.5*200 + 500 = 1000.

So now we have a new Game A: the player wins $1000 if head; wins $300 if tail.

I guess now it is very likely people would choose Game A over Game B. But we note that the expected value of Game A now is $650

If we make Y to be 50. It is a loss of 450 from Game B. So we make X =
2.5*450 + 500 = 1650.

Game A becomes: the player wins $1650 if head; wins $50 if tail.

Would they play it? Probably, right? In this case, the expected value is 837.5. 

Phil McDonnell responds:

Assume a starting net worth of 500.

Game A analysis: ln( (500+X) / 500 ) + ln( (500-Y) / 500 ) = expected utility.

Game B analysis: ln( (500 + 500 ) / 500 is the expected utility for both outcomes.

The thing is that we need to think in terms of wealth ration of the different outcomes. Take the natural logs of the wealth ratios. The wealth ratio is the wealth you start with before the bet divided by the wealth you end up with for the given outcome.

I took all the early propositions in the Kahneman and Tversky paper and calculated the logs of the expectations and found that in every case the participants were using log based utility function and were actually choosing quite rationally and correctly. It was the learned professors who were wrongly trying to analyze the problems using binomial probability analysis instead of utility theory.

In other ares of psychology there are various log based perceptions that have bee discovered. For example there is the concept of a just noticeable difference (jnd). For example you do not notice a sound is louder or softer until it changes by a certain amount governed by a log law. Same thing goes for brightness of light. One might add boiling live lobsters to that list.

Dec

2

 Good afternoon everyone,

Would anyone be able to suggest any alternatives to the US dollar that I would be able to put my money into? What currencies or commodities would be worth using to reduce the risk of dollar? I must admit I know very little about this particular subject. I'm not necessarily looking at this as an investment in which I'm trying to get rich, I'm just looking for something that will hold its value better than the US Dollar. As I put money aside for various things in life, I would hope there is something I could have that would be worth the same ten years from now as it would today. Any insights or suggested reading material would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Corban

Tyler McClellan comments: 

If you want to buy things in dollars in the future then you'll want to hold dollars.

Gary Rogan counters: 

That's like saying, "if you want to put gasoline in your car in the future you need to own gasoline today". Given the 90%++ loss of purchasing power of dollars in the last 100 years there just could be better alternatives than holding them today. If the point is that nobody knows what they are with any degree of certainty, that's a valid point. 

Anton Johnson writes: 

Inflation protected (at least to the extent of official figures) US series I savings bonds seem to be a decent savings vehicle, especially when they are accumulated over time. Unfortunately, there are minimum ownership periods and the maximum annual purchase is limited to 10K per person.

Craig Mee advises: 

Beware of selling the low, Corban, effectively adding size in a market that's been trending south for some time.

If Euro goes to the dump, and USD goes bid a la 2008-09, then that may be a nice way to offload USD then and say buy Aussie at 60c to the USD. (We do have stuff in the ground that helps, although with interest rates cuts just coming through, it appears some goodwill that was present at the start of the year is being priced out of the market against the USD).

Good luck. Oh…beware of the Fed, or in this case FEDS, to up end things at any time…. though if history only always repeats to the letter, it would make investing a wee bit more straight forward…

Alston Mabry writes: 

With a decent time horizon, you could put some money into corporate bonds and good divvy-paying stocks. That way you get the divs and also exposure to cap gains. just happen to be researching some recently, so here is a diversified group of sample tickers:

IVHIX
PIGLX
PAUIX
NLY
MAPIX
IDT
TEF
HPT
CQP
MSB
VIV
CINF
RDS.A
PM
KMB
SYY
JNJ
ABT
INTC
PSB
PEP
COP

Leo Jia adds: 

Corban,

This is an age of vast changes. For that reason, we can easily lose our vision into the future in terms of what will be more valuable. Even though there are many discussions around the topic, I can't decide easily if the US dollar will be more valueless than any other currencies in the future. Many argue that it will lose more value, but I tend to think that it perhaps will be more valuable than most other sound currencies, for the very simple reason that the US has a more fundamentally solid mechanism of being a most promising country. The very fact that the people with big money are not running away from the US demonstrates it.

There is the notion (as Gary Rogan pointed out) that the dollar has lost 90% of its purchasing power over the last 100 years. While I agree that there has been a devaluation process going on, I don't think the notion should really be understood literally. Many things around any purchase (including venue, environment, safety, transportation, etc) have vastly changed from 100 years ago. All these add legitimate values to the product and hence cost for the purchaser. One can argue that the egg he buys today is not that different from that his grandfather bought 100 years ago. Yes, sure, but things in a social economy can not be taken separately. Many things in it are vastly different from 100 years ago: farmers' lives, air-condition for the chickens, refrigeration along the transportation, etc.

As to what can hold value better for the future, I would like to have agricultural commodities (hope to hear other arguments). I buy into the view that because people in China and India (accounting for nearly 40% of the world population) are getting richer, they will be demanding more higher-scale food like meat which then will demand more amount of lower-scale produces like corn or wheat (I have been actually experiencing the above view personally for the last 10 years in China). Sadly, the production of these lower-scale produces can not be increased easily, so these prices must go up. In the long term, the pressure for the price rise due to the imbalance of demand and supply will be added to the legitimate price rise (as I seasoned in the last paragraph), resulting in much higher prices in dollar's term. One note to add is that the inherent volatilities associated with these commodities along the way should be carefully considered.

Additionally if I may add as an option to where to put your money, it should be into your life, your personal and business interests, and perhaps some interests of any community you are in. My feeling is that this might be more important than anything else.

Laurel Kenner writes: 

 There are no safe havens any more. People have been remarkably complacent about the obvious rigging and zombization of financial markets, the transfer of power to lawbreaking elite firms, the restrictions on capital movement out of the country, the baldfaced lies about the nonexistence of inflation, the steady fiscal confiscation of personal assets, The fact that we still can have a meal at pleasure and joke about our plight means nothing in terms of economic freedom. Unfortunately, the one point that holds true is that the foundation of individual liberty is economic liberty. We have merely slipped back into the iron pattern of historical kleptocracies. Maybe that is why there has been so little effective resistance. Those who protest are marginalized by the mainstream propaganda machines. Case in point: Did the Fed just bail out Europe without anyone blinking an eye, and what does that mean for the global future?The only advice that I have found to make sense at all lately is "Be flexible." We are playing against a relentless statist enemy. Some Specs recommend Australian and Canadian currencies. That's merely a play on commodities. I need not remind anyone here that in the past century, the U.S. government made it illegal to own gold, and that a few upward ratchets on certain margin requirements would kill the commodities market. I don't speak from lack of experience. We are all traders; we all like the freedom that brings; and our livelihoods are in jeopardy.

Good luck to us all. The world has changed, and continues to speed with reckless blindness toward a future that I doubt will turn out well.

Alston Mabry writes:

Here is a question that might elicit some interesting answer:

Let's say you have $X (USD) that you must commit for the next five years. Where would you put it? Leave it in dollars? (Though a 5-year Treasury would make the most sense for "cash" with a 5-year lockup.) Gold? Stocks? Some other currency? Norway bonds? And why?

I don't have a good answer to that yet.

Steve Ellison writes:

My starting point on this question would be that diversification, including international diversification, reduces risk. The US economy and the Eurozone have roughly equal GDPs. Japan and the UK are smaller but still quite significant. China is tied to the US dollar. Therefore, a diversified cash portfolio might be 40% US dollars, 40% euros, and 5% each of yen, pounds, Swiss francs, and gold (in recognition of gold's historical role as a form of currency). One could fine tune this allocation to include small percentages of currencies such as the real and Canadian dollar. I would think of this allocation as the equivalent of an index fund, before considering the insights of the many on this list that know more about currencies than I do.

 

Nov

29

 Hi everyone, this is my first post. Very honored to be here. Sorry I haven't really introduced myself yet. I will do so shortly afterwards.

Regarding Goldman's recommendation, I think that it could be a very late call.

In this year, the HengSeng index started at about 24,000 and moved downward to the current level of about 18,000, a drop of 25%. That is also a drop of 45% from the 2007 high of 32,000 and a rise of 68% from the 2008 low of 10,700. Comparatively, the S&P started the year at 1270 and is now at 1200 (a 5% drop). The drop from the 2007 high of 1580 is about 24%, and the rise from the 2009 low of 670 is 79%.

I know that it is not very useful simply comparing the points in history, but what I am trying to say is that for about 4 years the market has been reflecting the bearish situations of China's economy. I am not sure whether there is anything really new at this point.

While I agree that the market could see some further leg of the fall, I am more looking at a somewhat more upside move starting in the next few months. As to what could be the trigger to the upside move, I am not sure now but feel it will manifest in the near future.

Best,

Leo Jia

P.S. I currently have no position (long or short) in either Hong Kong or mainland Chinese stock markets.

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