Oct

6

 The book Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto, the best book on nature I have read, is a 1 1/2 year chronicle about the connection of a naturalist and artist who lived as a turkey, the most human of birds. It teaches you about the life of humans, the relation between romance and affection, the beauty and artistry of nature, the connections between all things including animals and humans, and how to be part of and leader of a group. One comes away from it with a reverence for the turkeys and Joe Hutto, and many ideas for how to trade the markets better, and live a better life.

Hutto imprinted himself on two dozen wild turkey eggs when they hatched, a thing he has done with foxes, deer, monkeys, waterfowls and many others. He lived and foraged, dreamed about, and protected the turkeys each day, until they grew into independent adults. There's mutual love between them memorialized in such passages as "I have never kept better company or known more fulfilling companionship. Our communications although somewhat abstract is completely satisfying and out interests are identical: plants, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals. We are driven by the same engine, and in spite of our divergent morphology, and intellectual approach, I find that our similarities are greater than our differences." Hutto mixes scientific knowledge and studies about animal behavior with the documentary so that one gets an education about ethology, ecology, psychology, and geology seamlessly and painlessly from a reading.

The Turkeys, spend most of their time on the ground walking on two feet, communicating and sensing like humans, and grow to be close in size to our size. They contain within them the instincts developed from 20 million years of evolution, and all it takes is a trigger from their daily life for them to know exactly the right thing to do. They are totally exuberant and enthusiastic and teach us to enjoy the present moments with gusto. As Hutto says: "They are more alert, sensitive and aware, they are vastly more conscious than I. In many ways, they are more intelligent… Every day I see that the most important activity of the turkey is the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge. They are curious to a fault, they want a working knowledge of every aspect of their surroundings, and their memory is impeccable."

 Hutto himself is an admirable person. He is a can do person who loves nothing more than building things, eating a grasshopper along with the turkeys, painting a scene about nature, and picking up a dozen rattle snakes with a garden hoe and transporting them to a new home. I particularly admire his ability to withstand the thousands of insect bites from gnats and Florida black bugs, the constant wetness from perspiration that cause him all sorts of pain and soreness that arise in the day and fray with the turkeys. Yes, this life was difficult, but he notes it was easy compared to his previous imprinting study of water fowl where he lived with them for 6 months, submerged half way in tide pools, with alligators stalking him and his charges 8 hours a day. Without further ado, but recommending the book and accompanying PBS documentary wholeheartedly, I turn to the 15 or 20 things I took away from it that should help us with our trading.

1. Seriousness

The turkeys are the favorite prey of many animals, and parasites, and have to be very careful from birth that they don't die. As a consequence, they are very serious about learning at all times, and never allow anything out of the ordinary to escape them. While they are exuberant and enthusiastic, they don't have time for frivolity. Like the turkeys, the market person is always prey to disaster, and must not be distracted during the fray.

 2. Sense of Place

The turkeys like certain places and will speed up to get to them, and once they get there just relax and admire the beauty and majesty of it. They especially enjoy ponds and edges. The market person has certain landscapes that they should look forward to, and should expedite their passage to them, and take full advantage of their beauty and profits potential.

3. Interconnections

The turkeys often join flocks of other species, including jays, chickadees, woodpeckers, cardinals, wrens, gnat-catchers. The birds are attracted to the movements of other birds. On occasion, the market person must know that all markets move together. The normal negative correlations don't work. The bid moves in one market carry over to the others. Try to find the mechanism that creates this, but also be alert that one big move can presage another.

4. Curiosity

Nothing escapes the turkey's attention. Nothing new can happen without them investigating it and assimilating it into their daily life. They won't move on until they understand it. They never forget once they have uncovered it. The market person must be alert to all new things, all unusual moves, all crazy events that cause big moves. For example, on Tuesday, the market dropped a 1/2 % in a minute on news that one man in Texas had contracted Ebola. It was meaningless for its impact on the total economy but the move itself was a preamble to one of the biggest drops the next day in market history.

 5. Edge areas

The turkeys loves to forage in areas that are between forests and farmlands, wetlands and drylands, pastures and creeks, pines and oaks. The edge lands are more interesting, provide a better variety of food, and provide more areas of escape. The edge of markets are great opportunities for us. The time between one market open and another open, the moves that occur during and after the fixings, and reopenings, the times that pit markets close and electronic markets open, the times between work and lunch, are all grist for an opportune study and alacritous attempt to profit.

6. Acquisition of Knowledge

The turkey's main business during the day is gaining knowledge. Any object that they haven't met must be assimilated. All new things must be examined by each turkey. The market person should have a wide canvass. He should study science, economic, psychology, politics, and turkeys. Whenever a new relation occurs, whenever a new crazy reason for a market move is on the cusp, the market person must pause to understand it.

7. Fossil Ancestry

The turkeys have 20 million years of evolution to teach them about all things that have ever been life threatening to them. They instinctively know which reptiles are dangerous, which insects are edible, which places they are safe. They rely on instincts leavened by knowledge of the current environment. The humans have fossil ancestries and instincts also. When you feel your color changing, your hair raising, your sense of fear arising, know that your tens of thousands of ancestors are sending you a warning, and pay attention to your instincts.

 8. Color

The turkeys will try to remove any clothing on Hutto that they don't like. Blues are their favorite color, and reds their most hated. Market persons should wear colors that are not distracting to their colleagues, and don't interfere with their quiet contemplation.

9. Skirmish Lines

The turkeys move in a line so that when one turkey harasses an insect but doesn't catch it, and the insect flies away, the turkeys behind it are able to catch it. They maintain that order all the time so that they are optimally formed for the flock to capture the maximum of prey. The humans who trade markets maintain a line of trades so that if the first one doesn't lead to the desired move, the trades right behind it perhaps on a scale down or scale up will do the trick. Similarly, the big market operators can't move the markets by themselves. They form a skirmish line with their colleagues by having meetings where they agree that the market should be down or up, and then go to the old stream media now the new social media to broadcast their views, and make sure that the personages in the line next to them can move the food in the desired direction.

 10. Sensory abilities. The birds can detect movement and smells and color to a discrimination level that is almost supernatural. They can spot a hawk at 2,000 feet above. They are always alert and never rest without the protection of cover and their leader. They can smell all their predators and prey and investigate all new things with their beaks. The market person must always keep his eyes and ears open and should never wear headphones or any other distraction.

11. Herding versus Following

The turkeys like to be together at all times. They have numerous calls to assemble. And when they can't see their brothers and sisters they are unhappy and nervous. They never wish to be alone. And yet, they know that Hutto is their mother and leader. They wish and know they should follow him, but he must never do anything that disperses or confuses them. Hutto's relation with the turkeys is similar to many trading mangers, and leaders on a trading floor that I have seen. He stands at the front and reports various ideas and opportunities, and trades that he is doing, and the herd of traders and salesmen follow him in a flock of related activity. Never forget that humans have the herd like tendency of birds in a flock, and as Galton points out the mentality of oxen who will never lead but follow a leader with blind ambition. Okay, that's a start.

Steve Ellison comments: 

In point 4 you write: "For example on Tuesday, the market dropped a 1/2 % in a minute on news that one man in Texas had contracted Ebola. It was meaningless for its impact on the total economy but the move itself was preamble to one of the biggest drops the next day in market history."

This is a very interesting example. I suspect the 10-point decline in the S&P 500 after the unemployment report on July 8, 2011 was in the same category. The S&P 500 fell another 130 points in the next month and did not regain its pre-July 8 level until late October. I generally think most news is discounted before it happens, so any market reaction to news is likely to be reversed. However, there may also be cases in which a reaction to news exposes an underlying supply/demand imbalance. Finnegan moves, such as the 2010 "flash crash" and quick recovery (only to have the S&P 500 drop back to the flash crash low 3 weeks later and continue down), may be in the same category.

Jim Sogi writes: 

Viciousness. I've heard turkeys can be vicious. I believe trading takes a bit of viciousness. The reality is you are taking money from someone. You may be ruining someone. It takes a certain attitude to do this. It's abstract as you are screened from the other side in anonymity behind the screen. But I've seen the reality of it. A trader needn't have a vicious or a terrifying mien. Take the Chair, for example: he seems mild mannered in person, but underneath there is a drive that makes him a good trader. Please don't take this wrong, I don't mean he's vicious. He's the most magnanimous man I've ever met.

Andrew Moe writes: 

I know HFT people who unquestionably take money from someone every millisecond. They are extremely intelligent, geniuses of sciences, seem to be kind; yet they're dedicated full-time to the most direct "taking money from someone" a fraction of an inch behind Bernie Madoff

The only reason they are able to do this is that they provide a necessary function for the market at the lowest possible cost. Perhaps one should take heed of the original brilliant post in this thread and examine the why and the where of how HFT fits into the market ecology. What do they eat? How do they hunt? What do their tracks look like (nanex will show you some pretty pictures)? Do they herd? What are their defenses? When are they weak? The turkeys undoubtedly know all this and more about anything that might be stalking them. Once you understand the predator, it is much easier to avoid being the prey.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

"You are taking money from someone" And do you say the same about someone who is perpetually long stocks?

It's interesting to hear your opinions on the subject. I'll tell you one thing for sure: I know HFT people who unquestionably take money from someone every millisecond. They are extremely intelligent, geniuses of sciences, seem to be kind; yet they're dedicated full-time to the most direct "taking money from someone" a fraction of an inch behind Bernie Madoff.

anonymous writes: 

My 2 cents

The investor's wealth ultimately comes from flows that derive from the real economy such as eventual dividends, buybacks, etc. I would include the return of leveraging equity which is financed by "real" economic activity. This is particularly true when the finance rate is in some way subsidized by state intervention, which is frequently the case.

Trading and speculating -if successful- takes advantage of the money flows of other traders and market participants. Many of these strategies (at least what I am familiar with) are based on the concept of "urgency." My finding is that ideas with persistence are in effect "giving the market what it wants" even if what it wants is mistaken if viewed from an X period(s) of time later perspective, which is where the profit is made.

In the real world there is much overlap, however I see these as two distinct sources of potential return.

If one believes (as I do) that the primary purpose of financial markets to price things (equity, debt, commodities, currencies), it makes sense that there is a competition to set prices and achieve equilibrium (which is never reached). If one does not want to participate in this contest they can hold for very long periods and seek to get the investor's return that derives from the "real" economy and leveraging equity.

My way of seeing HFT is that it occupies the space the floor used to have. They are consistent (the good ones) because they get massive scale and turnover beyond what an individual could achieve trading manually. This is why (once again, the good ones) are so consistent, it is a law of large numbers type effect.

I had the opportunity to invest in such a firm when it was just getting started and the principles were looking for backing. Upon reviewing their business model I felt I could not get a handle on the extreme blow-up risk do to potential operational error. It was outside of my competence level to assess accurately or prudently. I passed and still feel I made a good decision, even though with hindsight the guys were very successful and I would have made a large return. My point in mentioning it is that the great HFT return stream can hide things that are not obvious - particularly operational risk that often appears to be huge (…or at least I tell myself that rather than kick myself for passing). 

Andrew Moe writes: 

I'm glad the thread lives, and it will hopefully develop in a few directions. But one point I raised was very pointed: I was not implying HFT as a sector. I was questioning the moral aspect of a handful, who managed to place themselves into a no-risk pocket within the ecology. Their only risk is CAPEX committed and personal freedom, should lawmaker flip on them one day. But their conscious choice is to operate daily as nothing more than a tax on all participants.

When Mr. Sogi said "taking money from other human", he merely implied competing (and prevailing) within the risk-taking endeavor–not within 1:1000 day risk of loss.


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  1. david higgs on October 6, 2014 5:29 pm

    The Farmer’s 2015 Almanac has a good article on the Chemistry of Color, and its just about that time of year that Autumn shows it’s colors as the leaves begin to fall. A Biology Professor, Howard Neufeld, from North Carolina Appalachian State Univ., has spent much of his career in the study of, and occurs inside the leaf tends to show whats outside and when. The colors are a product of a complex chemistry of growth inside the leaf. We should be thankful in that Nature has favored North America with the largest number of deciduous tree species on earth, Professor Neufeld goes on to say. August seems to be the determining month on who the colors of Autumn play out. Too much rain, too much heat, too many clouds, and drought being the worst enemy to a beautiful show of colors. www.facebook.com/fallcolorguy is a place for more information on the science and forecasting of Autumn colors. All this talk on the turkeys make me think of this article and turkeys loves trees.
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