# A Zero Sum Question, from Agustin Gonzalez

December 29, 2006 |

I am a big follower of your writings and philosophical thoughts. I have a question that I have never gotten a good answer to, so I decided to pose it to your brilliant minds!

Are trading gains and losses considered a zero-sum situation? For example, when Amaranth lost \$6 billion in less than one week, does that mean that investors on the other side of the trade made \$6 billion?

This might be a very simple question but I can’t really seem to figure it out, nor do I get a consistent answer from any of the people that I ask.

Dr. Janice Dorn comments:

I found a paper on The Winners and Losers of The Zero Sum Game, from Larry Harris (author of Trading And Exchanges).

I have always believed that trading futures is a zero sum game. If this is incorrect, please be kind enough clarify, and thank you.

Steve Leslie offers:

Something can only be a zero sum if it is frictionless. There is no perfect machine, they all expend energy of some sort.

In a private transaction I sell you something and you buy it then it is zero sum. 100% of the money transferred hands

Einstein said all matter in the universe remains constant. That is not to say that it does not take intermediate forms.

Although I do not trade futures, the chair and others are the experts there. I believe in his book he mentions that it has the least costs to it. In the world of intangibles it is the “cleanest of transactions” as it eliminates the spreads. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. The big boys screw the little guys by manipulating the markets eloquently, described once again by chair, when the Bank of Japan would put in buy programs and sell programs on currencies. My guess is that the Federal Reserve can do same by adding money and taking it out of the system.

Forex has its costs in the form of pips.

In securities of course there is a transaction cost. You pay commissions, and in stocks there is a bid and an ask. Spreads are killers in options. A 2.4 bid and a 2.6 asked is approximately 10%, right there. Tack on handling fees and the math is rough.

Forget real estate, seemingly everybody in the world gets a piece of that action, be it from title searches, broker fees, impact fees, etc.

Also, do not forget taxes! You sell something for a profit and governments, state and Fed. want a piece of the action.

The rules of engagement are against the player from the start. that is why the investor needs to be wary and not overtrade — To control costs and taxes.

Exchanges are like poker games in casinos. For every hand there is a “rake”, for example, in a \$100 pot the house may drag \$5 of it off the table. Put in a dealer tip of \$3 and the player who wins the pot. gets \$92 of the \$100 that was in play. If no new money is added to the table the game will eventually fold due to lack of funds. It will have all ended in the house’s coffers. In a house game you win a \$100 pot you keep the full amount “no rake no toke”. There you have to guard against team play, cheats, and slippage due to betting mistakes.

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