Aug

23

 Aaron Brown on 1820s Northwest USA and poker's role in the invention of futures markets

Aaron Brown laying out his ideas on currency (also available in chapter 10 of RBR or part 7 of The Physics of Wallstreet: "The Physics of Wall Street: The Most Arrogant Book in the World? Part 7")

The most notable part of his thesis is that the standard story of futures markets (farmers love them) is false for farmers, centered on the wrong parties (should be centered on processors: millers, cleaners, shippers of grain), and backwards.

Brown claims that, instead of borrowing the cash to run a business, running the business, and repaying the creditors in cash, futures markets allow businesses to borrow something much more like what they will produce (wheat, electricity, FCOJ), and then pay back in kind—thus hedging currency risk. (This was especially important in the days of wildcat banks and soft paper monies—the wild west had little coinage.) Someone who transports wheat from St Louis to Chicago could short a location spread, for example.

Crucial to his point is that July 23 #2 soft red winter wheat at Minneapolis is *not* what I produce—it's merely similar enough that by rolling a series of short calendar spreads, I can continually borrow in terms *similar* to what I will actually produce.

In AB's world, not only are bonds, bills, notes, and corporate equity alternative currencies/numeraires –so is, with thick enough markets, each short spread on a commodity market. What's more, he claims that futures markets were not invented by anyone; they arose bottom-up out of a poker-playing culture, which had developed "clearing-houses" between 1820-1850, so that hedging credit risk/ currency risk in this way felt obvious.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

As another Brown would say "AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!"

No one in 5th century Greece or 18th and 19th century Atlantic America thought that you "borrowed cash to run a business". If you could not deal in credit, you had no business to run.

The use of the term "money" seems to defeat almost everyone's understanding of these periods. There was no "paper" (or clay or parchment) money. Those were, like the Federal Reserve's small pieces of art, bills and notes - forms of IOUs. Coin - cash on the barrel head - was what you demanded from people when you no longer trusted their credit on any terms. Coin was valuable because the demand for gold and silver jewelry, plate and other forms of ornament was real and because, when there was a credit collapse, anyone holding coin could find great bargains by being willing to surrender their cash in exchange for - wait for it - bills and notes.

"Wildcat" banks were local credit merchants; people who lived within a day's ride or canal boat journey (also dependent on horses) had a pretty good sense of what the local wildcat's IOUs were worth. The conventional histories pretend that this produced a crisis because they were all written by people who found the anarchy of local credit dealing offensive. They wanted a nice, neat world run by proper people named Biddle.

anonymous writes: 

I have not read the book. But I just read Aaron Brown's review. If he submitted that essay to an accounting professor, he would get an F. It is obvious to any objective observer that the proximate cause of the Bear Stearns and Lehman blowups is the same thing that blew up all of the S&L's in the 80's, Mettelgeselschaft, and countless other operating companies: they held illiquid long-term assets that were financed with short-term funding. Period. End of story.

Aaron Brown evidently has a large brain that is similar to Nassim Taleb's but he lost my respect when he wrote: "But everyone with a brain agrees that (a) derivatives are at the heart of things and (b) the essential aspect of derivatives is not contracts that reduce risk by specifying prices in advance but the system of exchanges, clearinghouses, and standardization that replace credit risk with liquidity risk."

Absent a surprising development since his last medical exam, Rocky still has a brain. And with that brain, he has written several laws — laws that have served him profitably over the past decades. One of those laws is that when a market becomes dominated by arbitrageurs and second-order instruments (whether it's merger arb, convertibles, mortgage backeds in 1994 and again 2007, CMO's etc etc etc) — it will blow up. Always has. Always will. And there are many many reasons for that. Note to Aaron Brown: (1) DERIVATIVES ARE NOT THE HEART OF THINGS. THAT IS WHY THEY ARE CALLED DERIVATIVES. (2) There is nothing remotely interesting, novel or insightful about your (b) observation. Anyone who has taken an introductory course in Finance understands there is a difference between Solvency and Liquidity.


Comments

Name

Email

Website

Speak your mind

1 Comment so far

  1. Ed on August 23, 2017 8:21 pm

    Stefan is 100% correct. Written history is 88% bullshit. To get insights one must read between the lines and use logic.

Archives

Resources & Links

Search