Markets Like Water, from anonymous

September 17, 2015 |

 Water is unstoppable. Given enough time, it will defeat all the mortal ingenuity of the best and the brightest.

Two atoms of Hydrogen bonded with one atom of oxygen.

How can something so powerful in one context also be so weak in another. Jump off a high diving board and hit the water abdomen first and tell me it doesn't hurt, but sit next to the pool and you can effortlessly push your finger into the water.

I think it is very helpful to think of relationships between financial markets in this way.

There are circumstances under which past conditionality allows one market to predict another for a given holding period with much greater accuracy than normal. In this context the weak bonds between molecules that allow you to push your finger into the water correspond to those occasions when leading correlative effects are absent and vice versa for those fleeting periods when regularities are plentiful.

It makes some measure of sense to look at what situations might make the molecules (predictive relations) hold closely together and those times when the mistress collects her dues from market protagonists.

Clearly having the predictive relations is enough. But some measure of 'meta-understanding' does not hurt, even if such classification is elusive or futile.

There really is nothing to lose by doing so.

Jim Sogi writes:

The speed of water or the object over the waters will determine the interaction. Anonymous's belly flop example is good. A slow moving stream is easy to cross, but a raging torrent will knock down huge trees. A small little wave tumbles gently, but larger waves move faster. In the surf, the lip of the wave as it pitches out and over on an 8 foot wave can be over a foot thick moving at 50 miles and hour and is enough to snap your board in half. In surfing, one of the worst things that can happen is getting "axed" by the lip as it crashes over on hits you directly. The tactic to avoid this is first, don't be there, or second, on smaller wave is to duck dive, with your board, under the the water, under and below where the lip hits. A big wave will penetrate deeper than you can dive, so that doesn't work big waves. The strategy is to wait for a lull to get in the water. We time the sets, their period, and the amplitude in order to time entry.

The analogy to the market is that a fast moving market carries some momentum. Big waves, like we are having now can wash through. Measuring amplitude, period seems helpful. Expecting wash through can save some wipeouts.

Jeff Watson writes: 

One must be very careful when describing the characteristics of water or any other molecular compound. While bonding is of utmost importance, temperature is the main determinant of the characteristic one will observe. Water temperature at -50 degrees C is ice which can be as hard as a rock. Water at the triple point can have the lowest co-efficient of friction which is close to zero somewhere around .02-.05. Water above 100 degrees C assumes a gaseous nature and contains a latent heat of vaporization of somewhere around 2600 Kj/Kg which means it feels hotter at 100C than liquid water at 100C. At around 11,750 degrees C water can turn into plasma….But when describing compounds, one must take into account the temperature and pressure.

Temperature and pressure are important in the markets also. One might think by the looks of things an easy splashdown of a trade will occur because it's a soft landing in water. It could just as well crash into solid ice, land into steam and cook you, or it might land into plasma where very interesting things will happen to your electrons.

Metaphorically speaking, one must find the sweet spot where it will be easy to get out of a trade with an minimum transfer of energy. Ideally using water as an example, that sweet spot would be at the triple point (0C depending on pressure) where the ice on ice has a co-efficient of friction of 0.02. The nice thing about this analogy is that there are more sweet spots than one depending on pressure differences. Always go for the gentle landing, it's easier on your account balance. It would be interesting to study other (triple points) and learn some market lessons.

Sushil Kedia writes: 

With so many interesting insights into markets relating to the molecular chemistry of water, here are my two cents on the table.

This derives from a Chemistry exam term test in the 9th year of my schooling. We had an awesome new teacher in Chemistry Mr. A Das come into teach us. The entire school was swept over its heels with his intellectual purity and his natural charms as being a fantastic teacher. The term exam paper he set had maximum 50 marks and Minimum 20 was necessary to earn a pass. None but yours truly got exactly 20, several ended at 19 and no one could cross the boundary of 20. His entire question paper was to tear everyone apart and push everyone to go to the library and read far beyond the textbooks.

That game changer question where I "managed" to earn that 1 mark was as follows:

If Sulphur is a heavier compound (Its in the row after where Oxygen is in the Periodic Table) then how come H2S is a gas and H2O is a Liquid at the same room temperature and same atmospheric pressure.

This question was poking a hole into an "anomaly" into an "irregularity" of the almost divine knowledge that we felt we received in learning the Periodic Table.

In battling with that very humbling question paper, I didnt want to leave any answer blank. This H2O is a liquid and H2S is a gas question I made a "Story-telling" answer:

The true molecular structure of water must be (H2O)n where n is a random unfixed number creating large coalescing molecular structures of variety giving a lighter compound as H2O the properties of a liquid while a heavier compound as H2S is only a gas and I believe this number n is an unfixed (I didn't know how beautiful the word random was at that age so used unfixed) varying number due to which there is no specific colour or odour water has since colour and odour of any compound is an intra-molecular property and not an inter-molecular property and because water has no odour or colour the varying value of n cancels out all intramolecular frequencies to produce a null colour and null odour.

This question had 2 marks. I got 1 from the 2 possible, because I was almost right, it so turned out when our answer papers were discussed by our teacher! My teacher penalized me in not giving the entire 2 because I wrote unnecessary additional mumbo jumbo about how n must be a varying quantity.

Morals of the story:

When faced with an irregularity, ingenuity in your response does work at least often enough and there is something called luck we knew back in school and today I love to call it as randomness.

When you are still able to make an effort to pull yourself out of a pile of horse-manure be brief and to the point. 

Jeff Watson writes:

We were never lucky enough to get essay questions on chemistry tests. It was either multiple choice, or solve a problem with showing your work and getting the correct answer. Our teachers were sadists. they never gave partial credit.

Sushil Kedia writes: 


Is the glass half empty or half full? Yes, it depends.

An Essay Type test has an undefinable probability of scoring on guess-work. A multiple choice test does have a definable probability of 1/n if n is the number of choices! If teachers never gave partial credits the also could not deduct 1 out of 2 marks possible for telling more than required! Glass is half full and half empty, always. 

anonymous writes:

A final note on this subject:

I accept that a multiple choice exam can test the ability of a student to possess and regurgitate basic and essential factual information. And a well-written multiple choice exam can do somewhat better than that. However, I have met and worked with endless numbers of people who score in the 99th percentile on standardized tests and have perfect grade point averages and despite these "successes," these people lack the ability to differentiate between facts and knowledge; they never learned or acquired critical reasoning and creative problem solving skills. I believe that these things cannot be probed on a multiple choice exam — they requires a free-form response. (Some might say that these things cannot be taught, but I believe otherwise.)

Just for amusement, let's imagine a multiple choice exam for the Presidency:

Question: If Russia invades another country while the President is on vacation what should you do?

(a) Instruct the Defense Secretary to move the 6th fleet to the region and have US fighter jets engage in skirmishes near the border

(b) Call an emergency session of the UN Security Council

(c) Recall the US Ambassador to Russia and boycott the Olympics

(d) Launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Moscow

(e) Continue with his golf schedule because the President must appear calm and in control.

And here's one for a hedge fund manager:

Question: If the stock market suddenly drops .8% on an unconfirmed headline of a terrorist attack in New York City, what should you do?

(a) Immediately reduce all open positions by 30%

(b) Immediately cancel all stops to avoid getting stopped out.

(c) Immediately increase all exposure by 30%

(d) Do nothing because you are a long term investor

(e) Check Twitter and if the subject is "trending", then (a). If the subject isn't "trending", then (c).

And here's another one for a hedge fund owner:

Question: If a new employee is producing P&L results that are remarkably good and vastly superior to expectations and everyone else in the firm, do you:

(a) Give the employee more capital to manage and a pat on the back?

(b) Call the employee in and ask him probing questions about what's going on in his portfolio?

(c) Have another employee study the new guy's trading records and positions to figure out what he's really doing?

(d) Reduce the employee's capital because you think he's just lucky and his hot streak will end?

(e) Retire and hand over the firm to the new guy.

Now imagine what a free-form essay response would be ….





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