Ken Burns Says Current Times ‘Equal’ to Civil War, Depression and World War II: ‘It’s Really Serious’

Historian and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said that the present day is one of the worst times in American history.

Burns made the remark while on the “SmartLess” podcast, hosted by Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes, comparing current events with the Civil War, the Depression, and World War II.

“It’s really serious. There are three great crises before this: the Civil War, the Depression, and World War II. This is equal to it,” he said on Monday’s episode when asked about the direction the United States was headed.

Peter Saint-Andre offers:

Perhaps he's been reading The Fourth Turning by Strauss & Howe. Highly recommended.

It does strike me that the recent run of presidents rivals the likes of Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. Stefan can provide a more informed perspective for us.

Leo Jia writes:

The Fourth Turning sounds very interesting, thanks for sharing. I had similar senses in recent years, hope I had read it earlier.

According to Wikipedia [Strauss–Howe generational theory], our current turning is crisis starting in 2008 and ending in 2020 (+a couple years perhaps). The last crisis was between 1929 and 1947 (depression and ww2 together for 17 years). The crisis before that was between 1860 and 1865 (civil war for 5 years).

As one turning generally lasts 20-22 years, the current one is coming to the final years.

The next turning following a crisis is termed high. It's like 1946 - 1964, and 1865 - 1886, for which we can be hopeful.

I am not sure if the authors discussed about the not fully synchronous nature of the turnings through the world. For instance, America didn't suffer ww2 so much as Europeans or some Asians. Europe didn't have the depression, though it had ww1 earlier. Also, even in the same crisis turning for instance, different groups or countries can take differently: winners get more benefits than losers for instance.

So the podcaster talks about a worst crisis we are in, well that may be true, but the good news is that not everyone has to suffer.

Vic adds:

presumably that fellow traveler who has never believed in american excetionalim is referring to the negative feelings about president biden which i happen to agree is bearish as the masters 1000 and the big tech and the bilious billionaires will have less chance of capturing the rake from being one with the lokis.

Henri Huws suggests:

If you’re enjoying The Fourth Turning have a look at Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. He was a history teacher by trade that wrote extensively on the coming decline of the west. Spengler’s cyclical theory on history is very interesting. He famously predicted the fall of the third reich, 9 years before the end of the war. All of his work is fantastic, but has a much longer time horizon than the 4th turning. In vol1 he focuses on how culture in civilisations throughout history changed as their civilisations grew and declined. In vol 2 He puts more emphasis on politics and economics. Its a dense read, but well worth it.

Duncan Coker recommends:

For geopolitics I recommend Peter Zeihan. His latest is due out next year, and the title is provocative: The End of the World is Just the Beginning. It could be taken as negative or positive depending on your time frame. As much as I like Ken, his comparisons to other points in history seem way off the mark.

Stefan Jovanovich

Mr. Burns left out the wow finish with Jesus and George Washington - always Lincoln's favorite bit of stagecraft.

Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.–Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON. Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."



Trouble ahead?

August 13, 2021 | Leave a Comment

Jeff Watson writes:
The market weathermen, self described sage like realists, always see trouble on the horizon and are compelled to give all knowing, logical reasons the market will get hit. Sometimes even invoking "science." To them the pressure is dropping hard, the seas are building, and we're about to get hit with sustained gale force winds. It's always doom and gloom to them. They want the little guy to get scared, pitch his position and make the broker money, rinse and repeat. Meanwhile, Steve provides some perspective and his chart lists 49 reasons for the market to get hit…while the S&P went up 35X during that time. Unfortunately the brokers don't want their clients looking at charts like this or reading Dimson.

James Lackey agrees:

Jeff says what we all learned the hard way. The market in stocks is an engine designed to go up. Any business decisions based otherwise are in between risk-based conservative - which in most cases is a good thing - and ruinous, as the vigorish will grind you to a long-term guaranteed loser.

Michael Cook responds:

I broadly agree with this but let’s not take it as written on tablets of stone.

One of the nastiest human failings in my opinion is recency bias and for investors in US stocks, an entire career (unless a very seasoned investor indeed) has been a basic bull market tempered by the bear markets of 1997, 2002 and 2008 and whatever the hell March last year qualifies as. Recency bias on steroids.

But it doesn’t mean it must always be like that. Just ask eg the investors in the Japanese stock market 40 years ago who pretty much are still waiting to be making money now…

Leo Jia adds:

Even if there is a sharp drop, it will only be shallow and short term. This is not a big bubble and there is no euphoria yet. If one suspects big money are selling, the question is what is the alternative to the US market. Perhaps the worry will be legitimate when Turkey and China become out of any concerns.

Nils Poertner writes:

what makes the difference between folks who are in the market - and trade successfully in the long-term and those who don't is often the acquisition of implicit knowledge. Things we know are true on some level, and that we need to experience personally many times to know that they are true - not in the absolute sense but more intuitively - and percentage-wise.

we live in a very explicit world now everything needs to be spelled out. but the "absense" of something is a better guide than the appearance of an event.

an example would be that SPX drops by 3pc one one day (after months of overheating) - AND the financial press is somwheat quiet aout the drop. as long as they are loud…one can normally relax a bit more.

not to be confused with long-term investing. eg, some of my English friends who bought prime real estate in the 90s in London, and levered up every year with new flats, are all fabulously rich now. was it being lucky or smart? who knows? implicit knowledge is underrated - was my point to say.

Leo Jia comments:

Even if there is a sharp drop, it will only be shallow and short term. This is not a big bubble and there is no euphoria yet. If one suspects big money are selling, the question is what is the alternative to the US market. Perhaps the worry will be legitimate when Turkey and China become out of any concerns.

Duncan Coker writes:

Agreed, it's worth noting that the 00's were the worst decade since the 30's for stocks. I'd propose there was a bearish recency bias going on during the 2010s.

I liked the video about carnival scams. I recall "winning" an album at age 13 from a darts game on the boardwalk at Asbury Park, NJ. No doubt I overpaid. It was a vinyl from a band I had never heard of at the time called the The Allman Brothers which forever changed my life in music.



Leo Jia asks:

Any thoughts on the prospect of Turkish economy? Is Turkey a good buying opportunity now for holding 5 years?

Larry Williams clarifies:

Is the Turkish economy about the same as the Turkish stock market?

Some references:

The CIA World Factbook: Turkey/economy

iShares MSCI Turkey ETF (symbol: TUR)

Nils Poertner responds:

as we know from other EM countries, listed equity can be really a good play - even with fx tanking. see Latam and many Asian countries. a vast "play" on the USD (as lots of banks are financed in USD - and EUR) and a bet on the faith in the current regime. cap controls an issue.

understanding EM requires study of previous bull-and bear mtks for EM mkts itself- doing the tedious work - building implicit knowledge over time, cycles, mass psychology, whateever it takes - it is worth it, Jia  and a lot of fun - as one learns from it and can share with others.

John Floyd writes:

Larry has somewhat taken the words out of my mouth on the economy and stocks in Turkey.  I would expand on that somewhat given the unorthodox nature of the current Turkish administration and the expanding Taliban presence and thus likely growing chance of further friction with the US, following recent and historical comments by the head of Turkey on the topic.

As economy and FX it does sure have the potential to get things right and turn for the better.  But, the odds of that happening and the headwinds against it seem rather large at the moment.  The current path is one of further unorthodoxy in policy and leadership combined with expanding debt that will likely lead to a default or restructuring and FX going from 8.6 north of 10.

Reserves are tenuous at best, local capital outflows a perennial risk, and the need to continue to pump up the economy through credit, tourism headwinds given COVID, current account deficit of 5%, etc…

Given the circa near -20% returns for the Turkish indices there may be some gems within the them with careful selection, as is needed in China given the P-like oligarch crackdown there as the aim by X is to stay in power for life and control data and tech to do so.

James Lackey suggests:

As John clearly said the news risk..what about the derivative of the big Mac index and or the hot dog stand.

If I'm forced to value a stock on foreign exchange correctly, I'd go to Turkey, rent a flat, and open a food stand and sell Harley Davidson T Shirts. The McDs index of brands is HOG. I can sell merchandise like a roadie at a show and let's use the most recognized brands in the world.


Sell shirts for 6 weeks and my guess is you're going to learn exactly what's going on.

Larry Williams adds:

Bring lots of NIKE stuff to sell.

Jayson Pifer provides local insight:

Fwiw, I can offer some boots on the ground perspective.  I spend a few weeks a year in Turkey and have done so for the past 15 years, missing last summer due to covid however please take the below comments with an appropriate amount of salt.  Each time the conversations come up on investing in real estate there.  And each year, I come away boggled at the lack of progress and steadfast in keeping money away.

If I were to hazard why the Turkish economy isn't more than it could be, I would suggest that it is the general absence of faith in any of the government constructs.  Without commenting much on their current 'populist' leadership, I mean to say that the average person has little faith in the police, courts, and laws and work around or without them.  (plied with a bit of scotch and I could relate some Keeleyesque tales of my encounters there with these systems :) )

Absent true legal financial recourse, trust stays in small personal circles that are difficult and slow to grow and this has various and deep side effects.  As an example, if one were to meet a VP of a bank in the US or UK, you might assume they had interviewed for the role from a range of candidates and/or had been in the role for a while and knew the business and their area. One would likely be correct in those assumptions.  In Turkey, you do not have that assurance as they will probably have gotten their role through a circle of acquaintances.  They may be qualified or not, but they are almost certainly in somebody's inner circle.

The low trust and inner circle workings are seen in both the political and business environments.  When new leadership comes in, it is typical and considered normal to bring in their trusted group, reward them for their loyalty and displace anyone they do not trust.  Partisanship there compounds the issue, similar to the partisan wars in Google but with more serious consequences if one supports an out of favor party (eg. non-AKP). 

Wrt the stock market, my impression is that it's a lottery.  There is money to be made, for sure, by smarter and luckier people than me.  But the risks are real.

I don't have numbers, but my anecdata shows a worsening brain drain with talented turks leaving the country and those that have returned are struggling.

Taking a further step back for the five year horizon posed originally, my impression like Mr. Floyd's is that Turkey has headwinds and not much to stop it from falling.  My questions are what could change to reverse this trend?  A change in leadership is often cited, but it would not create an overnight increase in trust.  I could barely speculate how long it might take, but would guess decades if all went well.  While it's not exactly fair and I'm out of my historical depth, I compare it with Iran when it went down the path of Islamic leadership in '79.  How will Turkey not fall into the same trap?

Theodosis Athanasiadis comments:

Historically real exchange rates have been a good predictor of emerging market economies and equities through the mechanism of cheap exports, labor, external investments etc. they are a form of valuation for the whole economy. I see them currently at multi-year lows which has been bullish for equities in Turkish lira for the long term.

John Floyd responds

Yes, on real rates in Turkey that is true and can be seen in the standard OECD PPP, but that has been like that for ages and you need the positive catalyst for change…..move to orthodoxy one way or another….monetary, fiscal, and geopolitics…should gradually grow confidence in varying degrees and speeds and drive capital flows in a positive fashion if it occurs and given valuations you can find some gems I am sure…perhaps on well capitalized companies that can benefit from the inflows and cheaper FX…plenty of meals for a lifetime if you look at Argy, Venny, Russia, SA, Zimbabwe, etc…

If anyone is bored, I did an interview on Turkey last August - it somehow has gotten just under 20k views that highlights both contemporaneous points at the time and some of these longer term issues.

Alex Forshaw writes:

Erdogan is in bed with the asset heavy industrial elite of Turkey… this is China but with very ineffective capital controls (mainland Chinese stock performance has been terrible for 12+ years btw, altho indices don't include juicy dividend yields). They're all massively overleveraged, and basically long and wrong The only way is devaluation / financial repression (forcing inflation >> cost of capital) until they deleverage… but Erdogan can't really let them deleverage because the economy would implode, Turkey is poor, the opposition is highly organized with high recourse to violence (Kurds), so Erdogan would be dead. So they just keep building and building, but who's going to come?

Seems to me that Turkey is uninvestable until Erdogan is gone…but he's a de facto dictator…so he can't go.

Leo Jia offers more data:

Turkey housing index

New home sales are down lately, which may be caused by the pandemic:
Turkey: new home sales

But existing home sales shot up sharply in recent years:
Turkey: existing home sales



Jeffrey Watson writes:

I've been thinking a lot about the old physics demo on how metronomes will sync up. I'm wondering if there are any market lessons.

Leo Jia writes

More explanations here:



Stefan Jovanovich  writes:

Drachinifel has just released a video essay with the charming and accurate title: "The Royal Canadian Navy - Sinking You, But Politely"

Leo Jia writes:

Strange also to me that the list stays in absolute silence for a few days once in a while lately.



For the past few months, I enjoyed a few satellite channels out of Europe.  Two outstanding are Arte and 3Sat, both public broadcasting with no commercials.  Not sure how well-known they are outside of Europe - I had not seen them before.  3Sat is German and in German (  Arte is a joint operation of Germany and France ( and in both German and French.  Both have excellent programs of nature, culture, art, science, history, music and fine films from across the world.  For instance, 3Sat had a full day of operas on New Year's day.  And what's best is they have subtitles for operas, so one gets understanding of the dramas.  Last night, it had Monteverdi's opera L'orfeo with excellent performance.  I had not much experience with music that early, composed some 70 years before Vivaldi's birth.

For outside of Europe, they both have apps on Android (not sure about Apple) providing past and even current programs.  Arte app also allows English subtitles.  Some programs are restricted to certain regions, but perhaps one can access them via VPN.



Leo Jia writes: 

Underspecification.  Observed effects can have many possible causes.  So when you have say 50 models that analyze the causes from various prospectives, and all worked well in tests, but in the real world on a specific case, they present different results, and you are faced with uncertainty as to which one to take.  This also relates to our mind and life experiences, doesn't it?  In life, one has learned how to do all this and all that, but when faced with a situation, one struggles on what approach to take.

Dendi Suhubdy writes: 

It’s not fundamentally flawed at all. I’ve been working with a Turing award winner in deep learning since 2016 and built multiple startups in the field of deep learning.

I can say it relies on the backpropagation algorithm, which means it needs to have the function (linear or non-linear, nonlinear for deep neural networks) to be differentiable (what we call the backward pass). When we do inference (or the foward pass) it’s just simply matrix multiplication of (weights * prev_input) + bias.

Now to achieve a better understanding of how our world works, we need to have to learn from few-shots, or zero-shots. Also we need to be able to quickly learn from a smaller sample size. This problem is hard and I believe we (the deep learning people) are working on it.

Larry W writes: 

I have spent a lot of money developing AI trading strategies and so far…none of them are better—or even close —to man-made strategies



So everyone is looking at the technicals: the polls?  How about the fondamental part: the scandal?



From Chinese Netizens

September 15, 2020 | Leave a Comment

Leo Jia writes: 

They teach us to be patriotic, to follow the leader to study communism, sing communist song, and swear by the communist sign.  But did you know, the author of communism was a German, the composer of the communist song was a French, and the creators of the communist sign were Russians?  Did you also know, while teaching us to be patriotic and communists, they deposit their huge amount of money in Switzerland, send their wives, lovers, and children to America, and buy houses in Canada and Australia?

Peter Ringel writes: 

Its good to be patriotic.

The dirty little switcheroo the China gov does (and similar regimes have also done in history) , is to link patriotism to communism and the party.

Obliviously China's culture is millennia older than Marx and his intellectually confused followers.

You hinted at the hypocrisy. Did you know that Marx traded and failed doing so ?  Growing up in the east-block and learning about this fact late - I got an erection :) ! Of course the bastard did .



Leo Jia writes: 

If you are in the right factions of the New Class,  it's time to celebrate as you can expect to get a piece of the pie soon. 

Kklaw writes: 


That happened in 2017. He was snatched from Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong.  All of his bodyguards could not save him from armed CCP agents. The entire CCP is just like a giant mafia. His way to riches is of course through a lot of illegal deals via a whole bunch of connections within CCP. Rumor was that he shorted the Chinese market during 2015 and that pissed Xi off. Therefore Xi wanted to take him down and nationalize his financial empire.  There have been a number of Chinese billionaires who either died mysteriously or were jailed. The morale of this story is the lieutenants of the mafia can get rich and stay "free" until the head of the mafia feels the person is a threat. If Xi feels any of those billionaires is a threat to his empire, the person could be be whacked (i.e., died accidentally) or jailed. And the person's fortune would be the country's (should i say Xi's or his cronies') possessions.



Leo Jia writes: 

Jayson Pifer replies: 

There has been a series of those videos coming out, pre-covid anyway.   I believe propelled by the eruption of MMA in China and it's suppression there by the traditional martial arts.

Turns out the winner of these bouts are consistently the ones who train for the ring against actual opponents rather than their rank achieved in their Art.

I'd suggest the same answer applies to the Special Forces versus Martial Artist question.  The answer wouldn't be their employed technique, but the effectiveness of their training and it's applicability to the rules, if any, of the fighting arena.



I really can't believe the recent behaviours of Wall Street. Look, the virus situation intensified since later January. But the Dow kept climbing to all time highs. Though the earlier official infection numbers from China were not high, no one on Wall Street questioned about the validity of the numbers. No one started to sell stocks because of the virus? What, they didn't have to pay attention to China? Come on! China still occupied large shares for global supplies (however low end they may be). Then what happened during the last couple of days? I know, there start to be outspreads to other countries. But no one foresaw it? Huge money to be made on Wall Street! I know my questioning here is postfactum. But were there prophets to profit from all this?

Ralph Vince writes: 

A time that followed the one that the world was listening to just prior to about the Fed's balance sheet never allowing another drop.



America sees the absurdities—she sees the kingdoms of Europe, disturbed by wrangling sectaries, or their commerce, population and improvements of every kind cramped and retarded, because the human mind like the body is fettered 'and bound fast by the chords of policy and superstition': She laughs at their folly and shuns their errors: She founds her empire upon the idea of universal toleration: She admits all religions into her bosom; She secures the sacred rights of every individual; and (astonishing absurdity to Europeans!) she sees a thousand discordant opinions live in the strictest harmony



 In Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco alike, they come to you with the most determination. As you wave, they go around and still come to you from other angles. On you, even when you shake, they don't fly away simply. It's very different from elsewhere.

Not getting it this time? — No problem, I will do it again!

What if not again next time? — No problem, I will do it again!

What if not getting it all the times? — I will get it eventually!

What if getting killed? — I will die anyway!

So they have in instinct what we humans learn about success?

How did they get that?

Well, maybe because they take you as a cow or a sheep who pose no danger to them.

Or maybe because there have simply been far more cows and sheep than humans in the region.

Or maybe because the people here have not been active in battling them.

Or because the people here are not as determined.

Or simply because they are enlightened.

On another perspective, look at the statuses of the flies around the globe, maybe we can learn something more. In developed world, flies are very much suppressed. In other somewhat less developed areas, Asia or East Europe for instance, flies are very wary. Is that an indication factor of human success? Can't we say on an evolutionary basis that the determinicity of the people vs that of the flies in the region reflects the success of the people (or of the the flies).



 Since learning French for over a year, I needed to read a book in French. Somewhere on the net, L'Étranger was recommended as an easy and good book to start with. I read briefly that it's a story taking place in Algier, which intrigued me because I travel around that country, in Tunisia and Morocco. So I decided to read the book and started without first reading any in-depth introductions. It did turn out that the vocabulary and sentences are relatively easy in most parts, so I could grasp the ballpark meaning (80% perhaps). But I must say that it's not like any easy novel I am familiar with that usually tends to have a clear theme and story line.

L'Étranger starts with the protagonist Meursault going to his mother's funeral, where he did not look at his mother (a first striking feature to me), but rather conversed with some staff members of the retirement home, had some smoke and coffee near his mother's corpse, and observed in detail the elder attendants' behavior at the funeral. It's a very strange instance, so I tried to anticipate what might develop from this.

Then, it's a story the next day back near his work place where he met a former female co-worker during swimming. They then had some romance. Later when she asked him if he loved her, he surprisingly said that if she would like him to love her then he would love her. Unrelated to the previous story. But OK, then, I felt, then it will be a love story.

Then about his work place where his boss intended to send him to work Paris, for which he was not too eager. Then he encountered his neighbor, an old man who constantly abused his disobedient dog. Again, all unrelated stories.

Then another neighbor, Raymond, invited him for a meal and drink. Raymond wanted Meursault to help him to deal with his unfaithful Arab mistress. He agreed to invite the girl to Raymond's apartment where Raymond had sex with her and insulted and beat her. The police intervened on the violence, and then Raymond asked Meursault to testify in court that she was unfaithful, and he agreed. Another unrelated story.

So it was now more than a third into the book and I had no clue what the book is all about. So I started researching on the net and learned that it's a classic with profound meanings. Absurdism!

According to wikipedia: "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.

So Meursault was a natural dweller of Absurdistan, where things are purposeless, meaningless and irrational!

Later on, Meursault killed an Arab, brother of Raymond's mistress, and was thus jailed and tried for murder. He was sentenced to public decapitation mainly due to his unsocial nature and lack of remorse.

With the philosophy behind, it's a very interesting book.

The Absurd exists on a broader extent as we think.

The human mind is not wired for understanding randomness and probability.

Quantum physics revealed the random nature that contradicted to the belief that the physical world is supposed to be deterministic.

Haven't we had enough debate on market efficiency: i.e. humans are rational or irrational by nature?

What about the fights between fundamental analysis and technical analysis? What are the mumbo jumbo?

Is the market predictable or on a random walk?



Watch "Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Discusses the Impact of China's Growth on the World Economy" on YouTube

Watch "Gordon Chang: On Hong Kong Protest, Chinese Economy, Trade War, & Trump's New Tariffs" on YouTube 

Very distinct views. What is yours? Btw, any news on Jim Chanos' latest China results? Seems like he backed out his short earlier?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

When Cantillon shorted "France" - i.e. John Law's system, he went to the Bourse in Amsterdam and bought gold with a promise to deliver assignats. The difficulty with shorting "China" is who are your buyers? Cantillon's counter-parties were not AIG fools; they needed Law's paper to pay their French taxes, which could only be done with Law's paper legal tender. But who outside the jurisdiction of the PRC has a need for the delivery of Yuan?

Mr. Chanos' shorts, to the extent he disclosed them publicly, were derivative bets against exporters to China that did not touch the currency at all. Kyle Bass' hints at his short position, which he has closed, involved the exchange between renminbi and the Hong Kong dollar. A question for the List: where, in fact, can a sizable bet be made right now that shorts Chinese legal tender? A bet against the dollar in BitCoin can be laid on in volume but not Yuan. The price CNBC puts on its screens is no more a market quote than the exchange rate for Venezuela's money. Or, have I answered my question already. A purchase of BitCoins in China with the domestic currency would seem to be, for now, as good as selling assignats for future delivery in Holland in 1719. 

Peter Ringel writes: 

Hi Leo, I don't see necessarily a contradiction between the two.

Dalio seems to highlight opportunities in the Chinese private sector. Chang points to the many issues and question marks, that arise from the behavior of the Chinese government.

Anecdotally, I only hear of foreigners exiting China's "physical" sector. I don't know what foreigners are doing in the financial sector in China.

Isn't Dalio concerned about the rule of law? Will he get his money out at some point? I believe Dalio talks a bit to his book and to ears in China. His historical analysis of past global powers, which was also posted on his blog a little back, is aimed in this direction. I do see contradictions mid and long term. With all due respect to China's culture and idiosyncrasies, how can an economic power house and a police state coexist? (Mainly corruption will rip any economy apart).

What do you think the prospects are (in case as an analogy)? The ear on the ground is always the best source.

anonymous writes: 

Hi Peter,

I have been quite negative since a few years ago, and so started long term traveling outside the country since 2015.

I feel quite the same that Dalio was talking to his book and the top ears in the country, and suspect that might be a precondition for him to take his money out now.

His data presentation looks convincing, but it seems dated without considering the country's abrupt shift to the far left in these few years. One may argue that he is looking at a trend on a century level and a few years time can thus be well neglected. Well, people in the West really lacks the experience of what "far left" means. That alone, not to mention about other big issues in the country, will cause a deep and likely long hiccup in the near term, which might well expire everything imagined for the long term.

Larry Williams writes: 


Never forget: the Long Term Trend Is Up…do not fear the future. Fear does not create death. Fear limits life.



 I happen to be working in this area the last few years, and I am sold on the insights from current learning science.

Very useful and practical.

This book is an excellent summary by some of the leading researchers:

"Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning"

Leo Jia writes: 

Spaced repetition of concepts from both directions are the most efficient way to me for learning new things.

I wonder what more he offers with a full book.



 Say something costs you 100 units of your currency in your residence country. Now you travel to the following countries where the cost of the same thing is listed in the local currency.

In country A, it costs 3 unit;

In country B, 20 unit;

In country C, 600 unit;

In country D, 10000 unit

Say that you know the costs are mainly caused by the exchange rates.

In which country would you, perhaps subconsciously, have more tendencies to buy the thing, and in which country would you have more hesitations to buy it?

In my travels in the past years, I sensed that I am in some way affected subconsciously by these numbers. The effect doesn't seem quite linearly related to the cost numbers. For instance, when it's 3 unit, I might want to buy more because it feels so cheap. When it's 20 unit, I may feel that it's too expensive given a good knowledge of the exchange rate in mind. And when it's 600 unit, it feels expensive because the number seems really big. But when it's 10000 unit, it may feel cheap given the knowledge that the currency is very cheap.

Zubin Al Genubi writes: 

I'm in New Zealand and the nzd/usd is .67. My thinking is that everything is 1/3 off so I spend like Everything is on sale. Many things are cheaper but most things aren't. So its a delusion. Services, hotels, food is cheaper absolutely but imported products are not. Tipping is limited so restaurants are cheaper. 



"There's No Safe Place to Hide from the Biggest Bubble Yet"

If one looks at the differences in the chart between now and 1999 from this article, stock plus real estate don't seem to add up to the total wealth. Americans now seem to have more assets beyond stocks and real estates. What are they?



 The town of Srirangam is on a river island adjacent to the city of Trichy in the state of Tamil Nadu in south India. The central function of Srirangam is the thousand-year-old temple Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dedicated to Vishnu, a principle deity in Hinduism, the preserver in the Hindu trimurti that includes Brahma, the creator, and Shiva, the destroyer. The temple is said to be world's largest functioning hindu temple with seven enclosures, and is on the list of becoming a UNESCO site. On the other side of the river in Trichy there is a rockfort with 7th century temples dedicated to Shiva and his son Ganesha.

For our Trichy visit, we decided to stay in Srirangam as there appear to be a few good housing choices on Airbnb. We booked a two-bedroom apartment that is probably within the fourth enclosure of the temple. The hosts are two young fellows probably in their upper twenties. Upon our arrival, they welcomed the two of us in the apartment, and while introducing the space, they informed us that this is a complex of brahmin families, and thus as a rule non-vegetarian food should not be consumed on the premises. Well that was fine with us and we respected it. They also told us that when we meet a guard at the gate we just needed to tell him that we are the guests at this apartment. So, that's noted. The two hosts also belong to the brahmin class.

The two-bedroom apartment with a living area, a dining area, a kitchen, and two bathrooms is on the second floor of a three-storey building. The interior decoration and furnishing was basic but neat and clean and enough for all living needs. There are windows on three sides. The design is that the windows mostly face into the shades, or gaps of walls, making the interior relatively cool but sacrificing any view. There are ceiling fans in all areas, and there is an AC in each of the bedrooms. Actually, AC's were not quite necessary even when the outside temperatures falled between 25 and 38 degrees celsius.

Inside, we were not seen by anyone, and though at times we heard conversations from other homes and as a matter of fact, some women did talk quite much, we did not make much noises to be heard by others. We did quite some reading and browsing in the apartment. The hosts prepared us a 4G wifi dongle that worked very well.

Out from the door of the apartment is a half open corridor with homes fully lined up on one side and half on the other side which has the open stairs. There is an elevator by the stairs but it was not in use. Outside the building there is not much yard space, just a walkway to the gate between the wall and the building. The ground floor apartments have doors open to the walkway. That was where we often saw some mid-aged women sitting outside. Every time, we gave greetings and a genuine smile. That is my attitude first acquired when studying in northern New England but fortified three years ago travelling in Sri Lanka where the buddhists believe authentic smiles giving other people happiness will also gain oneself credits for future lives. We are not buddhists but took this as a good way of life because smiling while giving other people a happy sense also at the same time makes ourselves happy on the subconscious level.

In the Srirangam complex, it was our first time discovering that smiles do not always give other people happiness. The women, though fixing their eyes on us while we passed by, had very numb eyes and faces. There were no reactive expressions to our smiles and greetings. I tried a bit to discern if there was any happiness behind the expressionlessness and actually found none. It just so appeared that happiness is not in their desire, "Is it perhaps a stage of enlightenment?", we questioned ourselves. We didn't know the answer, but kept doing our way of life during our limited times going in and out.

At times, we also saw men, the brahmins, always shirtless, riding motorcycles going in or out, not as idling as the women though. They generally ignored us, giving us not much chance for interaction, although during a couple times when we forcibly greeted some of them with our hands firmly folded, they did give us a nod back.

Coming back in the first evening from outside, we met the guard at the gate for the first time. We greeted him while walking in, but he stopped us. He did not speak much English, but appeared in a way that we the tourists were going into a place that is not for tourists. We explained in English that we were the guests at an apartment inside, but he didn't understand it, then we had to show him the key, though not marked with anything, he started to understand though still feeling confused that we stayed in there. He hesitantly let us in. As we walked past him, he showed a gesture much like a thumb up but with his thumb at his mouth while looking at us in a confused expression. We saw that similar gesture from Laos police while driving in Laos. It meant asking for a bribe for drinks. We couldn't believe that this man drinks, so just shaked our heads and walked away. At some later occasions and even at the time of our departure, he made the same gesture again, and I still don't understand what he meant.

We booked for four nights at the apartment. In the third morning at about 7am, someone rang our bell. I didn't have proper clothes on, so having said "coming", I went to put on my shorts and t-shirt. Before I finished with the clothes, there was the second ring. Then I hurried to the door. It was a man probably in his sixties, shirtless, (why did I hurry to put on my shirt?), certainly a brahmin, with a face not too happy, a bit angry actually, Just as I opened the door, he said to me simply "who are you?" with the three words nearly equally toned but a bit accent on the "you". What a question?! By a stranger? How should I best answer it? (Can anyone here make a suggestion?)

A thousand answers then came up to my mind. Leo Jia, probably the most obvious. But I knew then he would ask "who is Leo Jia?". So that wouldn't do. An investor? A speculator actually? A quant trader? He won't understand it, I am sure. A doctor of philosophy? A former business executive? Well, does he really care? A world traveller? A life-long learner? Well, that sounds too broad to him. A Gandhi ji admiror ("Live as if you are to die tomorrow, learn as if you will live forever" is my motto)? Well what if he doesn't like Gandhi ji (I was shocked to learn some Indians don't)? A Shiva enthusiastic (been through a third into the wonderful TV series "Devon Ke Dev Mahadev", we were deeply touched by Shiva)? Well, he is most likely a Vishnu devotee. A newbie Vedanta learner? Well, does he learn the Vedanta? Or do I have enough to talk with him about the Vedanta? I just got started.

Or just to be dangerous enough, as Vedanta teaches: "A god, just as you are one"? I actually have been learning about the question "who am I" since many years ago, and recently came to realize that this is the most proper answer: I am a god. Well, that's very likely too dangerous there. He doesn't seem enlightened enough. Or he wouldn't have asked this question, and he definitely wouldn't show anger in his face.

So I chose a most practical answer: "I am the guest of this apartment".

As if not understanding my answer, he asked again, in the same way, "who are you?"

I answered again: "I am the guest of this apartment".

Then he said: "no foreigners are allowed in this building". (Well, should I have chosen a different answer? And I hadn't come up with the answer as a foreigner) Anyhow, I told him then I need to contact our host, then he nodded and left.

The young host came very shortly, and apologized repeatedly for the old mind. The older man turned out a leader of the community.

So we agreed to leave. As we were waiting for our Ola auto outside the gate, the guard showed up with his mouth-thumb gesture again, and we had to ignore him on that.

It was an exceptional experience. However one can make out of it, I chose to believe that God sent the old man to quiz me. Even though I didn't give the correct verbal answer, the answer in my mind leads to the correct one.



"When You're Cold, You Make Decisions in the Heat of the Moment"

anonymous writes: 

Not the way SAC does it.



"We often shorthand our explanation of AI bias by blaming it on biased training data. The reality is more nuanced: bias can creep in long before the data is collected as well as at many other stages of the deep-learning process. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll focus on three key stages."

"This is How AI Bias Really Happens–and Why it's so Hard to Fix"



 Should billionaires be permitted? This question came up recently and reminded me how we fit uneasily with other animals of our world.

I admit to being jealous. I can probably beat them in target shooting, mountain biking, or maybe some arbitrary measure of decency. But whether we admit it or not, they are the winners of the big game we are all playing.

Someone close objected to the unfairness of many who live on very little because of genes or other involuntary factors. I told her that cheetahs are fast, and we have to accept that. And elephants are more powerful, and we can only stop them with tools of our minds.

Then I thought of birds. During recent storms here there were gulls soaring in roaring rain and whipping winds. They didn't have to. They want to because they can. Who doesn't wish they could fly?

Aren't we jealous? Why shouldn't we kill them away, so we don't have to see how they inexplicably achieve what we only dream about?

Reminds me of the Elton John song "High Flying Bird".

Leo Jia writes: 

Reminds me of "The Song of the Stormy Petrel" by Maxim Gorky

Up above the sea's grey flatland, wind is gathering the clouds. In between the sea and clouds proudly soaring the Petrel, reminiscent of black lightning.

Glancing a wave with his wingtip, like an arrow dashing cloudward, he cries out and the clouds hear his joy in the bird's cry of courage.In this cry — thirst for the tempest! Wrathful power, flame of passion, certainty of being victorious the clouds hear in that bird's cry.

Seagulls groan before the tempest, - groan, and race above the sea, and on its bottom they are ready to hide their fear of the storm.And the loons are also groaning, - they, the loons, they cannot access the delight of life in battle: the noise of the clashes scares them.

The dumb penguin shyly hiding his fat body in the crevice . . . It is only the proud Petrel who soars ever bold and freely over the sea grey with sea foam!Ever darker, clouds descending ever lower over the sea, and the waves are singing, racing to the sky to meet the thunder.

Thunder sounds. In foamy anger the waves groan, with wind in conflict. Now the wind firmly embraces flocks of waves and sends them crashing on the cliffs in wild fury, smashing into dust and seaspray all these mountains of emerald.

And the Petrel soars with warcries, reminiscent of black lightning, like an arrow piercing the clouds, with his wing rips foam from the waves.

So he dashes, like a demon, - proud, black demon of the tempest, - and he's laughing and he's weeping . . . it is at the clouds he's laughing, it is with his joy he's weeping!

In the fury of the thunder, the wise demon hears its weakness, and he's certain that the clouds will not hide the sun - won't hide it!The wind howls . . . the thunder rolls . . .Like a blue flame, flocks of clouds blaze up above the sea's abyss. The sea catches bolts of lightning drowning them beneath its waters. Just like serpents made of fire, they weave in the water, fading, the reflections of this lightning.

-Tempest! Soon will strike the tempest!

That is the courageous Petrel proudly soaring in the lightning over the sea's roar of fury; cries of victory the prophet:

-Let the tempest come strike harder!



 So the traditional way of trade wars is to levy high tariffs on goods imported from the opponent country. The logic is that the higher tariffs result in higher prices in the market for those imports, so the compatriots will buy less of those, resulting in less exports by the opponent country, and hence damaging the economy of the opponent country. A critical condition for the traditional way of fighting is that there is sufficient competition in the market for the targeted imports. Otherwise, the compatriot consumers will end up paying more and get hurt. In many cases, this latter case is true. This is why many say there is no winner in a trader way.

So can't a trade war be fought better with a better strategy? Instead of imposing tariffs alone on the imports, the policy is to force reduction of import prices on goods from the opponent country, and then levy the tariffs. The percentage of reduction can be deviced according to market conditions in the imposing country and in the opponent country. Should we term this as "managed pro-dumping"? With the price reductions and tariffs, the prices of the imported goods will likely stay relatively the same as before in the market. This way, the compatriot competing indutries don't get hurt much, the compatriot consumers don't get hurt as much, but the opponent country bleeds if they continue to export.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

There tariff question was one of the 3 issues that Americans disagreed about enough to make them a constant political argument. The others were (1) the expansion of slavery to new states and the Federal territories and (2) the currency question which was about everything from internal improvements to national banking. Neither side argued that there should be no tariffs, just as neither side argued that all slavery should be instantly be abolished. The question was whether tariffs could be protectionist or had to be for revenue only. In the current debate the revenue question has been largely ignored. I doubt that it will be much longer. For 2016 total U.S. imports were roughly $2.25 trillion. The average rate for the Walker tariff - written and passed by the revenue only side of the debate -was 25%. Applied to total imports a modern Walker tariff would produce $550 billion - 55% of all the employment taxes collected last year. I doubt very much that I am the only person who has made this back of the envelope calculation, and the geezers among us remember the last time a non-establishment Republican President considered tax changes based on numbers that could be scribbled on a napkin. What no American in the 19th century disagreed about was that foreigners should pay the taxes and leave Americans to worry about the costs.

anonymous writes: 

All taxes are (pick one or more) fascist, communist, democratic socialist, Gaullist, Whig…..They are, as the Libertarians justly remind us, enforced at the point of a gun. The question that must always be asked is which official theft is least threatening to citizens' individual liberty. Direct taxes are everywhere and always the worst because they are imposed on people directly (hence the name) and not simply on their transactions and property. That is why the Constitution did not allow them until the party of slavery, segregation and socialism and the theocrats (aka Prohibitionists) made their evil bargain. Tariffs work, for the same reason sales taxes do; the rates can, in a political economy not wholly corrupted by wage bribery, be set low enough that cheating is not worth the bother - as Amazon's recent conduct illustrates. (Collecting sales taxes has not affected their volume of trade, contrary to what do many analysts once feared.) The fundamental point to be understood is this: income taxes and employment taxes, in particular, demand the greatest oppression because individual extortion is built into the process of collection. People will cheat much more on direct taxes because they reward cheating. The rate differential is enormous (25% is the minimum) and the taxpayer has the "freedom" (sic) to characterize his/her/its transactions. (Contrast the enduring simplicities of the Uniform Commercial Code with the exponential mushrooming of every income tax law.). Like the drug laws and other forms of outright prohibition, direct taxes are guaranteed to be an abomination. No wonder Marx loved them.



 1. Bicycles.

There are a LOT of shared bicycles on sidewalks in many cities. It's now very easy to use them. Pre-registration or deposit are no longer needed. With either Alipay or WeChat apps on a smartphone, one needs only to scan the two-dimensional QR code printed on a bike to unlock it. One can basically leave it anywhere when finished. Locking it concludes the rental. For basic bicycles, the rent is 1 yuan per half hour. Considering the cost of a bike is about 500 yuan or less, the rate can make the business very profitable if usage is high. It looks now that there are just so many bikes available. In addition to basic bicycles, there are also electric bikes, for which the rents are higher.

2. Cars.

Car rentals are nearly pervasive in cities. The easy way to rent one is by an app like Ctrip where electronic payment is conducted. One surprise to me is the rental rates. The rate can be as low as 25 yuan per day for an economy car with unlimited mileage. Cars are not brand new though, usually with 50k kms on them. A rate of 60 yuan is fairly common. The cars are of all major brands, not only chinese. What's odd with the low rates is the high cost of mandatory insurance. About 40 yuan per day for the basic coverage with about 1500 yuan deductable is required (one's own personal car insurance policy doesn't cover rental cars). This is way too expensive given a similar but better covering mandatory policy for a private car costs only 1000 yuan per year. One should note that car rental companies are all private and the insurance companies are all state-owned. So the low rental rates vs. the high insurance rates illustrate quite well about the business environment in the country, where state-owned companies command higher prices.

3. Ride.

With the exit of Uber a couple years ago, there is basically just one car hailing company: Didi. The cost of calling a car is up: now more expensive than calling a taxi. And oftentimes, either the system or the driver play some tricks jacking up from the estimated amount, citing things like congestions. Although the cars are in better condition than taxis, the experience is far poorer than when the competition was here.

4. Housing.

Airbnb is still here. There are also a couple domestic companies. Short-term rentals are quite abundant. A 3-bedroom apartment that easily sells for over 1 million yuan can be rented for about 300 yuan per day with nice furnishings included. Many places as required by the government only accept Chinese nationals, though.

5. Trains/flights.

Most trains are now bullet trains with top speed around 300km/h. Prices are set by the government, and are roughly 150 yuan for about 300km for second-class seats, which is about 3 times higher than the old train. First-class seats are about 250 yuan and business class seats (higher than first-class) are 500 yuan for the same distance. Old trains are mostly out of service. Trains are mostly full. Despite being owned and operated by the government, the trains are not without competitions. Flights, controlled by a different department of the government, set in to compete, albeit slightly. For a 1000km trip, a flight taking less than 2 hours was discounted to be a bit less than the train taking over 5 hours.

6. Places of interests.

Every place a bit interesting, from city park, temple, mosque, to natural site and certainly historical site (original or man-made), charges an entrance fee plus other fees like internal transportation, guides and performances. There is almost no interesting place in the country that is not encircled up for money collection. Entrance fees range from 30 yuan to as high as 400 yuan. Around 100 yuan is fairly common. Take the famous terracotta warriors museum in Xi'an for instance. Entrance fee is 150 yuan. Guide is 90 yuan for a group up to 6 people. Earphone to listen to the guide is 8 yuan per person. Bus for 1km is 10 yuan. Self-photo in front of a nice scene is 20 yuan. Self-photo without waiting in-line is 100 yuan. There is a large shop in a big exhibition hall which sells a lot of over-priced items. After visit, one has to walk through a 1.5km shopping street to get to the exit.

7. Cashless payments

Again, with AliPay or WeChat, one now can pay almost anything electronically, from from small snacks on the streets, to buses and taxis, to groceries, to any tickets (either on the spot or online).



 I have a cold and so not much energy for anything other than watching tv. I'm catching up on Michael Woods' show about China, and in episode three there is an incredible story about the siege of Kaifeng and the destruction of one of the dynasties in the early 1100s by northern invaders (vid cued up to that point). If you watch it, be sure to get to the poem that is read, "On the Defeat of the Nation" by Li Qingzhao.

I can't find an online version of that specific poem by Li Qingzhao, but I did find this group of translations of some of her other poetry, and there is some really striking stuff with such a clear voice from nine centuries ago:

A sample:

Last night, dead drunk, I dawdled
While undoing my coiffure,
And fell asleep with a sprig of
Faded plum blossom in my hair.
The fumes of wine gone,
I was woken out of my spring sleep
By the pungent smell of the petals,
And my sweet dream of far-off love
Was broken beyond recall.

Now all voices are hushed.
The moon lingers and softly spreads her beams
Over the unfurled kingfisher-green curtain.
Still, I twist the fallen petals,
I crumple them for their lingering fragrance,
I try to recapture a delicious moment.

Leo Jia writes: 

In Turkey today, it is illegal trying to inquire about one's ethnicity. The country stands by a slogan that it is one country, one race, and one religion. I bet they learned the tactics from China just about 2000 years ago when all the country men were termed the Han.

Speaking about Chinese poems, I always wondered in what dialects they were chanted. Obviously not in the mandarin as we know it today, because it's been only widely spoken for less than a century even though it was used mostly in the royal courts as early as the Qing Dynasty some 300 years ago.

But anyhow, due to the nature of the Chinese language being based predominantly more on writing than speaking, it's very hard for a listener to fully understand the chant of a poem, mostly tersely phrased. One just can not easily guess which actual character (which defines the meaning) of a particular sound (which can mean many things) is used.



It appears many American media are worried that the US will lose the trade war against China. That sounds very cowardly. The trade war will hurt parts of the American economy, but how can it lose? For every $1 America sells to China, it buys $4 from China. So China's loss will be at least 4:1 vs America's if the trade war goes into full motion. Plus, a few of the big imports by China, like soybean and Boeing, are irreplaceable. Other things like the semiconductors are critically needed by Chinese economy. So China doesn't really have a lot of weapons.

Any other opinions?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Trade wars helped build the United States. So it should hardly be surprising that the people most dedicated to tearing the country down are hysterical at the prospect that county may be having another one. 

Stef Estebiza writes: 

America has already lost.

You have decided to invest in China/Asia rather than in your population. I would not see it only at the "trade war" level. Globalization has allowed you to ignore internal problems, your population, to focus on foreign profits. The structural problems are the same worsening. Either you decide to reduce your earnings by investing in your own home but by recovering structural problems, your population…or you will have to keep it.

Unbelievable watching the children, the students who survived the massacre in the streets demonstrate against the weapons without the support of the American political parties. It speaks volumes about the real situation of America.

If there's one thing you really have to worry about losing, it's your population…that you've already lost for the interest of a few.

Here in Italy we rejected right and left, the major political parties. There are two major parties in the government, both as out of the popular discontent. If Americans wake up and form a third party (your constitution permitting) you can put Republicans and Democrats in mothballs.

Then either raise your population from poverty, put back a little balance in the system, or they will show you the green mice.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

"America" has not invested in China/Asia. Even our war spending kept most of the money here on-shore. (I can remember lobbying to abolish the draft in 1971 after I got out of the Navy and running up against all the Congressmen whose districts were prospering from the war orders.)

When I wrote that trade wars helped build America, I was not being facetious. The times when the United States has been a taker in foreign exchange have been the times when the country's population and wealth have grown. Whenever the U.S. has been "protectionist" - i.e. let people and money come here freely but charged goods and services an admission fee, the place has boomed. Whenever "prudence" - i.e. worries about paying off the debt - and "internationalism" - i.e. let's become allies with the French, British, etc., etc. - has guided Congress, we have "lost", as Stef puts it.

We certainly lose whenever "policy" takes hold and questions of "structural" reform become more important than the common sense that even Congress accepted before our best and brightest all went to graduate school - don't let people come to the country with diseases or criminal connections and choose: (a) free trade for goods and services and no immigration OR (b) open immigration and tariffs. Most of the time the political majority chose (b). They are doing so again right now.



 It's clear that the People's Bank of China (PBOC) just cracked down on the initial offerings of cybercurrencies (as did the SEC). But it's possible that they just made all virtual currencies illegal. If someone can read Chinese, they can provide much better insights than Google Translate…

Google translate says: The tokens or "virtual currency" used in coinage financing are not issued by the monetary authorities, do not have legal and monetary properties such as indemnity and coercion, do not have legal status equivalent to money, and can not and should not be circulated as a currency in the market use.

anonymous writes: 

In China, what are said to be not allowed are always allowed for somebody, or are done by many regardless; and what are said to be allowed are always not allowed for somebody, or may not be done by many regardless.



 The scenic Georgian mountain town Kazbegi is less than 10km to the Russian border. One afternoon we decided to bicycles there. After about 3km there was a tunnel of about 2km long. It's dark inside and we could see barely the light at the other end. As we entered, there were some cars with lights so we could see the way. But when the last car of the group passed us nearly 300m inside, it became pitch dark looking forward.

I tried to ride forward but felt something very strange. I had a hard time controlling the bike. For less than 20 seconds, I brake but then felt my hands and one knee on the ground and the bike lying down. I don't know why and how i fell but instinct told me to stand up quickly because vehicles can arrive very soon. So I did that and pulled the bike up and started walking back toward the light. My wife was ok as she stopped very early trying to call me. I was not much hurt except some scratch on the knee. I think i was very lucky.

But anyhow, the point I want to make is that I couldn't control the bike in the dark. It started fishtailing, if that is the right word, or swinging from side to side much like the front tire was flat. Now thinking about it, without sight my mind had to rely on other senses that are much slower than vision, so the control was out of sync.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for trading. The reason market swings up and down is that the market participants trade in the dark. They rely on senses that are much lagged behind. So even when the market fell, traders don't know why and how it fell.

So a better vision is indispensable.



 If American Enterprise Institute's numbers are correct and if the Trump Administration is serious about their promise of creating jobs, Trump should immediately give up on coal and focus on solar. Unfortunately, AEI's presentation is wrong.

AEI put their thumb on the solar scale. For solar, they included employees dedicated to the construction and installation of new solar assets in addition to operating employees. They did not do the same for coal. They didn't do it for coal because almost no one is building a new coal plant.

Instead of comparing apples with oranges, AEI compared apples with orange trucks. Nevertheless, on the jobs front, the conclusion is the same: Trump should give up on coal.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

When Milton Friedman was shown a construction project in The Third World where the earth moving was done by people using shovels, he was told that this was helping with employment. Friedman is said to have replied: "Then why not take away the shovels and give them trowels." The output for solar remains trivial - .04 billion MWH vs. 1.24 billion for coal and 1.38 billion for natural gas. Even the most optimistic projections of the DOE don't have solar producing even 10% of the present output of either coal or natural gas before 2025. Perhaps the solution to the employment problem is to abolish the long-wall mining equipment and bring back the shovels.

Leo Jia writes: 

It is alive and well here in China. At my building complex on the east side of Shanghai, which was an early 1990s series of lux buildings, they'll send a ground crew of 10 to trim hedges all day. I could have easily done the same with a trimmer in an afternoon during my summer odd jobs.

Other bizarre aspects of town– even in some of the most posh areas with the latest buildings, there are a dirth of street lights and almost none of the bicycles, runners, and electric mopeds, even the newest, have lights and/or reflectors.

Another thing I wince at is workmen of all kinds not using safety glasses which cost all of a couple of USD equivalent. The ones I see wearing are the supervisors well away from the dangers.



What are the 10 things you would strictly warn a man assembling a comeback so as it's more or less guaranteed to happen.

Leo Jia writes: 


There is no where for one to come back to. 

Perhaps we can visualize someone lost in the hilly jungle. He was on a peak. Now, for some reason, he is lost in the jungle somewhere near the valley, feeling miserable and wanting to go back.  The reasons that could make him feeling miserable include: 1. he can't see the sun; 2. other creatures are bugging him; 3. it's quite wet; 4. his former buddies are all on the peak.

But he did not realize that 1. he does not get sunburn nor get bothered by wind; 2. there is a lot of fish to eat; 3. he won't get thirsty; 4. while his buddies are standing still, he is conquering the entire territory with peaks and valleys.

So one should strive to have life's fullness.



 A very interesting article written by Lyft co-founder:

"The Third Transportation Revolution: Lyft’s Vision for the Next Ten Years and Beyond"

What are your thoughts? Any investment ideas in light of this?

One fact mentioned in the article is "The average vehicle is used only 4% of the time and parked the other 96%."

I guess it is tempting to fix this huge inefficiency, but unfortunately the 4% usage time is not arbitrary, probably 90% of people have concurrent usage time: to commute to/from work.

Jim Sogi writes: 

Not only that, but when it is used, only one person is in the car. Better to have a small form factor car.

David Lilienfeld writes: 

I keep thinking about the Segway. Wasn't it supposed to revolutionize transportation too?

Stefanie Harvey writes:

The issue I find with the Segway is battery life and time to become comfortable using it. I have a Ninebot mini Segway pro; it took two rides to get comfortable with it but I almost returned it after the first.

Navigating uneven roads and curbs are also a challenge. Weather is challenging and it's sufficiently heavy that carrying it on/off bus or train is suboptimal (heavier than a commuter bike.)

Jeff Watson writes:

My son and I were early adopters of hoverboards (a mini-Segway clone), a year before they got big. These days we don't ride them any more due to safety concerns, and quality issues. But then again, why would one ride a hoverboard, when one can ride a one wheel. My son and I got a couple of them in summer 2015 and haven't looked back. They will go anywhere, on any terrain, fast, dangerously fast. The boards are well made, fly like the wind, and one can even use them at the beach as long as they are not totally submerged. The battery charge lasts longer than one's legs. One Wheel's are seductively dangerous. My go to board that every day I ride around the neighborhood is still the boosted board. Expensive, but worth every penny.

Vincent Praver writes:

Many of the ideas in the blog post reflect common wisdom in the sector.

A recent presentation from morgan stanley's auto analyst [related link ] covers these ideas well.

Jim Sogi writes: 

I have 150 miles on my electric bike so far and now ride it everywhere under 10 miles. It does 25 mph and most of the roads around here are 25-30 mph so get there almost as fast as a car, and can maneuver in close, park at the door, and be out faster than a car. I can visit 4 places in the time it takes to park. It THE way to go. I put some grocery bags on the back. It has tail lights and headlights. Its great exercise and feels great to be in the out of doors. Mine has electric automatic continuously variable gears by Nuuvinci. I got the custom Moto wood laminate pedals with skateboard grip to ride in slippers. It has a 750W mid drive motor and a big battery.

The small factor electric vehicle is the wave of the future.

Vincent Paver elaborates: 

Three tidal waves of the future, breaking simultaneously:

electric vehicles

autonomous vehicles

shared vehicles

They are highly complementary to each other, empowered by software, and will fundamentally change transportation.

It's a question of when, not if. Will we substantively change in the next decade, or will it take 2 or 3 decades?



 "The Coming Anti-National Revolution" by Robert J. Shiller:

For the past several centuries, the world has experienced a sequence of intellectual revolutions against oppression of one sort or another. These revolutions operate in the minds of humans and are spread – eventually to most of the world – not by war (which tends to involve multiple causes), but by language and communications technology. Ultimately, the ideas they advance – unlike the causes of war – become noncontroversial.

I think the next such revolution, likely sometime in the twenty-first century, will challenge the economic implications of the nation-state. It will focus on the injustice that follows from the fact that, entirely by chance, some are born in poor countries and others in rich countries. As more people work for multinational firms and meet and get to know more people from other countries, our sense of justice is being affected.

Indeed a likely big wave in the comin' decades.  Any further thoughts?

Rocky Humbert writes: 

Shiller may have gotten this 100% backwards. If my perception of the global and popular mood is correct, then the pendulum may be about to start moving in the opposite direction. The Brexit/Trump meme is the instant when the acceleration of the globalist/intellectual elite/HYP is changing sign. (Stefan can elaborate–but I am unaware of any of these so-called revolutions being wholesale wealth transfers…without bullets flying.)

As a footnote, I am surprised that anyone claims to be surprised by the most recent lewd Trump video–it is entirely consistent with the persona that he projects. In my 30 years on Wall Street, I've heard and seen much much worse. Similarly, the Wiki document dump on Hillary's speeches confirmed the perceptions that her detractors have.

Lastly, someone posted an article about the wisdom of crowds and confidence. And that confident observers (as a group) make the best predictions. I have gone on record and remain confident that Trump will be the next president. I do not share Mark Cuban's belief that this will result in a stock market "crash" — but on the edges, none of this is particularly bullish. The most interesting question for me is whether when Trump wins and if the markets get turbulent, will the Fed blink in December? Given the number of HYP's there, and their collective beliefs…

Back to Shiller. The UN will be the first globalist institution to suffer Trumpture. (Trumpture is the rupture of a bubble by Trump. If the NY Post and Drudge pick this up, I will be most pleased.)

HYP=harvard/yale/princeton. For full disclosure, I'm a Yalie.



 What were significant real estate bubbles in history? What were the aftermaths of their popping?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

In U.S. History you can start with William Duer and the Ohio Company.

anonymous writes:

The book Manias, Panics and Crashes is good as is the book Devil Take The Hindmost



Say that you have a yearly goal of 40% and you achieved in 7 months, or that you have a monthly goal of 10% and you achieved it in 11 days. Do you stop trading at this point? Or do you continue trading thinking the luck is on your side at the moment? Or do you adjust your goal and continue trading with the new goal?

Cheers, Leo

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

The market will sometimes go much below your goal and to even things out you have to make as much as you can above your goal. Furthermore, the market doesn't care whether you've achieved your goal or not, it will always go its own way, and if you can make a profit on an expected future value basis, you should go for it. Luck is random, but the skill will persist. Apparently you or a colleague has it. Don't throw it out.

Andrew Goodwin writes: 

Your answer may rest in the structure of your money management operation. If it is a hedge fund structure, then heed the following points made in a post on the If you get behind you must know how you will deal with the moral hazard. Since you are ahead greatly, then your incentive is to take the money unless you know with some certainty that you cannot fall below a high watermark and will likely increase your gains.

1) The management fee, over time, usually does not generate enough income to operate and the profitable traders expect bonuses even when the overall fund loses.

2) The winning traders will leave to other firms or will start their own if there is no performance fee gathered to pay them.

3) If fund performance goes negative then high watermark provisions normally go into action. This can lead the manager to swing for the fences or simply close shop.

4) The wind down of the fund can deplete the investor assets and lead to general price markdowns of holdings especially if others had similar strategies and exposure.

5) The fleeing investors will enter into a new fund with a new high watermark and start the process over again.

Here is where the game gets interesting. The author suggests creating exotic option outcome provisions that he calls "Modified High Watermark."

These include A) Reset to zero under certain circumstances. B) Amortize the losses over a period so that the manager can still earn some incentive fee. C) Create a rolling period for the high watermark so that after a time the mark level drops.

His modified high watermark solutions might keep the manager from swinging when the performance fee looks too distant and might keep genuinely unlucky managers around until their skill manifests itself in due course.

Nigel Davies writes: 

There's a case for reducing leverage as one's account size increases so as to reduce the 'risk of ruin', and for some this might be done in a very systematic way. Another question is if there's a point at which one's financial goals have been achieved, especially if one's dreams lie elsewhere. 

Bill Rafter writes: 

You did not specify if your annual goal of 40 percent is based on analysis that suggests a 40 percent return is the mean or maximum. Let me assume that the 40 percent is the maximum annual gain you have ever achieved, if only as an academic exercise. Thus the 40 percent is your quitting point based on perfect knowledge of a particular system.

How frequently have you been calculating your forecasts (or inherently, your position choices?) As was learned from the Cassandra Scenario, "that more-frequent forecasting is inherently profitable, even more so than some forms of perfect knowledge." So:

(1) If 40 percent is your mean annual gain, then continue to trade at the higher level. That is, if you started at 1000 and now have 1400, continue to trade the 1400. Obviously it would also be good to shorten your forecasting period. (2) If 40 percent is your maximum expected gain, then pocket the 400 and start over trading with 1000. Shortening the forecasting period is not a given in this case.

Phil McDonnell adds: 

Let us assume the market has a normal distribution of returns and that the probability of making a 40% return or better, at random is 15%. Then if you decide to take all profits at the 40% level then your probability of a 40% gain will double to 30%. This result follows directly from the Reflection Principle.

The above assumes that your returns are random and implicitly assumes that you have no ability to predict the market. To the extent that you can predict then you should make your decision on your current outlook and not on any arbitrary price point like 40%.

Gibbons Burke comments: 

It seems to me that one should be disposed to let the markets give you as much as it wants to give you without putting artificial limits on that phenomenon, but that practical limits should be enforced on how much lucre it can remove from your wallet. Is more return ever a bad thing, assuming that the distribution of returns is not serially correlated? As our gracious host has noted, the markets have no idea how much money you have made or lost, so the idea of reversion to the mean on an equity curve makes no sense in the same way that it makes sense for market prices which are making repeated excursions up and down seeking the implicit underlying value of the thing (the ever-changing "mean" to which the market is always reverting.)

So, setting a goal to achieve a 40% return seems a reasonable thing to do, but I submit that this goal should be accompanied by the qualifier "or more" and be willing to let a good thing continue.

Regarding the 'limiting losses' idea, in the Market Wizards interview with Jack Schwager, Paul Tudor Jones admitted to having risk control circuit breakers in place so that if he ever lost more than x% in a month he would shut down trading for the remainder of that month. Limiting and rationing losses in ways such as this seem like a reasonable discipline if one is going to set limits on how the market will affect your stake.

An old floor trader's trick I learned while reporting on the futures pits is that if a trader enjoys a windfall gain on a trade, and reaches a pre-figured goal (or more), he takes half the position off the table as a positive reward for being right and taking action on that conviction. Leave the rest of the position on to collect any further gain which the market might want to provide, but he raises the stop to break-even for the remaining position (not counting the profits already taken off the table) in order that a winner would not then turn into a loss. If he stop get hit, he still has half of a windfall gain return in the bank. If the market continues in a favorable move and another windfall gain is realized, the process can be repeated.

This tactic has an anti-martingale character which some more bold traders might object to.

All these thoughts are mostly elaborations on the first two fundamental rules of trading: 1) let your winners ride, 2) cut losses.

Stefan Martinek comments: 

This loss avoiding behavior was well researched by Paul Willman and others. It is observed within traders of all levels approaching a bonus target; cutting off is generally viewed as irrational and Willman discusses how to adjust incentives to get a trader back to risk neutrality. Which reminds me more general but relevant quote from W. Eckhardt: "Since most small to moderate profits tend to vanish, the market teaches you to cash them in before they get away.

Since the market spends more time in consolidations than in trends, it teaches you to buy dips andsell rallies. Since the market trades through the same prices again and again and seems, if only you wait long enough, to return to prices it has visited before, it teaches you to hold on to bad trades. The market likes to lull you into the false security of high success rate techniques, which often lose disastrously in the long run.

The general idea is that what works most of the time is nearly the opposite of what works in the long run.



Generally, market regime has been simply defined as up, down, and sideways. Clearly that is not enough for all kinds of trades. I believe that there is at least one way to define market regime based on any type of trade one conducts. So market regime is really a relative term and can be defined in countless ways.

Here is a list of 10 ways I define it.

1. based on past high-low vs multiples of ATR

2. based on the position of current close vs past high-low

3. based on change of price moving average

4. based on standard deviation of closing prices vs. percent of closing price

5. based on slope of linear regression

6. based on change of ATR

7. based on ATR vs percent of closing price

8. based on sign of average returns

9. based on average of abs(return) vs percent of closing price

10. based on standard deviation of returns vs percent of closing price

Jim Sogi adds:

11. Vol
12. Liquidity
13. Bar size
14. Speed



 This is a fascinating article that leads me to imagine how much more the subconscious mind performs everyday with the visual signal without our awareness. Is it at work when we read something? If it is, then it could get different meanings of the text from our understandings. How much could the difference matter to us? Surely it is at work when we look at trading charts. Does it have a better way to trade the charts than what we are aware of? How can we best know what it tries to guide us? Perhaps this is a strong hint on the benefits of meditation, by which we are supposed to obtain clearer understanding of the situations we are in.


"A patient with bilateral damage to primary visual (striated) cortex has provided the opportunity to assess just what visual capacities are possible in the absence of geniculo-striate pathways. Patient TN suffered two strokes in succession, lesioning each visual cortex in turn and causing clinical blindness over his whole visual field. Functional and anatomical brain imaging assessments showed that TN completely lacks any functional visual cortex. We report here that, among other retained abilities, he can successfully navigate down the extent of a long corridor in which various barriers were placed. A video recording shows him skillfully avoiding and turning around the blockages. This demonstrates that extra-striate pathways in humans can sustain sophisticated visuo-spatial skills in the absence of perceptual awareness, akin to what has been previously reported in monkeys. It remains to be determined which of the several extra-striate pathways account for TN's intact navigation skills."



"Yangon Stock Exchange will open in the first week of December"

It will open just one month after the historical election in the country.  If the election turns out real, and the result is carried through, then the exchange may offer an investment opportunity in decades in my mind. Any other thoughts?



I just learned about this type of (ETF?) fund traded on Chinese stock market.

The fund's total asset, while being invested in a certain set of equities, is divided into two sub-funds, Fund A and Fund B. Both sub-funds (closed-end in my understanding) are separately traded on the exchange as ETF's. However, Fund A is a fixed income fund to its investors. Fund A's downside risk and dividends are assumed by Fund B. While Fund B takes Fund A's responsibilities, it also inherits higher returns (and also higher risks) associated with the underlying equities. The operator of the fund adjusts asset ratio between Fund A and Fund B whenever Fund A's market price drops by 10% (and perhaps rises by 10% too). At the adjustment, both sub-funds' market prices get revalued, and Fund B's investors may get certain number of shares of Funds A which can then be sold to the market at anytime.

Fund B sounds somewhat like the 2x or 3x ETF's in the US, but it does not re-adjust its asset everyday while the 2x and 3x ETF's do.

What do you see the pros and cons of this type of funds? Does it sound very lucrative for the fund operators? What strategies would allow investors to make money with it?



I view the market as having many dimensions. I believe you can define market regimes based on its status along any one dimension. For instance, one dimension could be trendiness. You can define three basic regimes along this dimension: up trend, down trend, and sideways. Another dimension could be volatility. So regimes along this dimension can be high volatility and low volatility.

How else would one separate the market into different regimes? Which ways of separation in your experience benefit trading more?



  I think ultimately the biggest hindrance in trading, if not the biggest hindrance in anything, is oneself or one's own mind. Your thinking is your opponent.

Is the market mechanistic or competitive? I think it depends on the situation. I tend to imagine that the market has the following participants in any day:

1. bulls and bears

2. primates.

The former are big and have their views decided for that day or the following period. They mostly fight fiercely. The latter are small and are simply ready to join either the bulls' camp or the bears' camp at anytime depending on their own views of which side is stronger.

The fight between the bulls and the bears are competitive. But for the primates in this case, it is not competitive (or at least not in the same sense). To them, it is simply making a choice.

The bulls and bears both understand the nature and tendencies of these primates, so they try to take advantage of the latter whenever possible. So, in this case, the primates have to compete with the big ones. This might only be possible when the two big sides are not fighting fiercely between themselves.

The primates are controlled by their innate nature of fear and greed (let's just say that the bulls and bears are less prone to fear and greed), so their combined behavior is quite predictable. So when either the bulls or the bears (when one side is absent or subdued) attack the primates, it is quite mechanistic.



 Your biggest opponent in trading is yourself. Has anyone heard this statement? It seems incredibly naive to me. Not surprisingly, I just read something like it posted on twitter. When I put in an order and get 3 shares filled, it is clear to me that someone is gaming the order. They get the info and then I don't get a real fill. On the other hand when I develop a strategy that qualitatively seems to anticipate stop or momentum buying, my buying is part of the force that pushes price to that level–releasing potential energy, one of the most useful concepts in trading. Everything has an impact. To think it is all just a "mental game against yourself" suggests that the market is mechanistic process vs. a competitive process, which is entirely wrong.

anonymous writes: 

This (not well documented) jab at mom and pop retail investors comes to mind: "Fidelity Reviewed Which Investors Did Best And What They Found Was Hilarious".

Ed Stewart writes: 

It reminds me of something I read in a poker book about one of the top cash game players (I'm not a poker player). He would supposedly call out to people considering a game, saying, "hey, come on over, we are playing all of your best games, imagine what a little luck could bring" very friendly, etc. I could see in a similar situation someone calling out, "Hey, if you master the mental game against yourself, the rest of us will hand you our money, we are just bystanders". 

anonymous writes: 

I believe that there is nothing inherently wrong or detrimental to a successful trading process from some form of self-awareness.

The problem is that it is very rarely quantified. This list has/had a resource in this regard, the esteemed Dr. Steenbarger.

One has had occasion to work through both of his main texts in isolation & in a more institutional setting. Regardless of ones view about this stuff, I would encourage all to read and think about their market approaches in the context of both books. He is a serious guy and performed some intense experimental tests upon himself in real time.

It is reasonable to assume that such help would be more suited to fundamental discretionary traders, but a more in depth thought process may expand that.

One whole heartily agrees that throwaway lines are useless ( much more so when transmitted through what may prove to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse- i.e TWTR.)

Leo Jia writes: 

I think ultimately the biggest hindrance if not the biggest opponent in anything is oneself or one's own mind. As you suggested that someone thinking that trading is all just a mental game against himself is wrong, you actually suggested that his thinking is his own opponent.

Is market mechanistic or competitive? I think it depends on the situation.

I tend to view market has the following participants in any day: a) bulls and bears, and b) primates. The former are big and have their decided views for that day or the following period. They mostly fight fiercely. The latter are small and are simply ready to join either the bulls' camp or the bears' camp at anytime depending on their own views of which side is stronger.

The fight between the bulls and the bears are competitive. But for the primates in this case, it is not competitive (or at least not in the same sense). To them, it is simply making a choice.

The bulls and bears both understand the nature and tendencies of these primates, so they try to take advantage of the latter whenever possible. So in this case, the primates have to compete with the big ones. This might only be possible when the two big sides are not fighting fiercely between themselves.

The primates are controlled by their innate nature of fear and greed (let's just say that the bulls and bears are less prone to fear and greed), so their combined behavior is quite predictable. So when either the bulls or the bears (when one side is absent or subdued) attack the primates, it is quite mechanistic.



 Something today reminded me of a mentor (English teacher, older guy retired a few years later) that I had in high school. One of the key things he told me was, "Never get serious with a girl whose mother you would not want to have relations with, if given the chance". I think more than a few times that thought flashed before my eyes and it saved me from serious error, partly because it was memorable. I'm trying to think of any similar rules of thumb that might help us to avoid those trades or strategies that can severely set back profits, create anguish, and otherwise make things worse than they should be. Any ideas?

Leo Jia writes: 

Hi Ed,

"Never get serious with a girl whose mother you would not want to have relations with, if given the chance"– I thought that was only my words!

There can be many similar things for trading. Here are some for critique.

1. If you don't like someone's way of life, don't trade like him.

2. If you don't like the dominant players of a market, don't trade that market.

3. If you don't like the rule makers of a market, don't trade that market.

4. (I learned this one from Scott Brooks) If there is already a professional at the table, go somewhere else.

5. If you don't like a country's tax code, don't trade in that country.

6. If a market hasn't shown a lot of opportunities in the past, don't trade that market.



 Tonight I went for my usual 5k walk. I plugged in my ear phones and hit my Pandora app and had to decide between my stations. I was in the mood for some rock, so I choose the appropriate station, turned the volume to the right level and set off my journey.

About 3/4 of the way through my walk, I was heard a special treat. The studio demo version of the Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird".

Now, I'm sure most, if not all, of you are familiar with that Free Bird. It is, IMHO, one of the 3 greatest rock songs of all time (the other two being Layla and Stairway to Heaven).

But I had never heard the studio demo version before.

What is unique about this particular song is how different, yet similar, it is to the album version or the live version (I prefer the live version…."play it pretty for Atlanta").

Free Bird starts out as a ballad, but then, kicks into high gear with the famous 1970s style guitar jam.

When the studio demo version kicks into high gear, it starts out with the screaming lead guitar for a few moments…then the lead guitar stops, and all you hear for the next few minutes are the rhythm guitars.

Anyone who knows Free Bird know that lead guitar jams long and hard for at least 5 minutes straight. It is an unmistakeable 5 minutes of classic rock guitar licks that anyone with even a passing appreciation of classic rock will know and recognize.

But on the demo version, the "jam" portion is mainly rhythm guitars for almost the entire time.

What was very interesting to me is that even though there were only rhythm guitars playing for most of the song, in my head, I could not help but hear the lead guitar…even though they were not there.

I tried very hard to concentrate on the rhythm guitars and appreciate what I was hearing. Heck, I sorta played in garage band in my teens and I played the rhythm portion of Free Bird many times "back in the day".

But no matter how hard I tried, my mind forced me to hear the absent lead guitar.

Listening to this demo version of Free Bird got me thinking about the markets and my investing strategies.

How many things happen around me that I just assume are there….but really aren't…..whether in my life as a father or as an investment adviser?

When I vet money managers to place my clients money with, how much I am superimposing (is that the right word?) what I think I should be hearing/seeing over what is really going on?

When are there subtle (or not so subtle) changes that I miss because the meme playing in my head tricks me into hearing/seeing what I expect to be there?

I'm going to refocus myself to see if I'm really hearing what I think I'm hearing….or whether there are some missing lead guitar illusions that are clouding my judgement.

I pose this question to the group: How might one go about doing that?

In the meantime……'s the YouTube link to the demo version of the Free Bird. Try and listen to it without hearing the absent lead guitars(also, bonus points if you spot the difference in lyrics):

And to give some context to those that don't know the song, here's the album version of the same song.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't include my favorite version of the song (play it pretty for Atlanta).

And just because it's so tasty, I'll throw in a little semi-obscure Skynyrd hit: Curtis Lowe

Leo Jia writes: 

Reality or illusion? I like to study the topic, and learn how to tell the difference or whether there is a difference. One believes something to be real when the 5 senses send signals to the mind and the mind says thus it is real. That is what reality means to most people. What if one's 5 senses were altered? The mind then has no way to tell. Think about virtual reality. Though the current technology is not fully there to truly alter the 5 senses, it demonstrates how the mind determines reality. Actually, the concept of virtual reality itself tells that there is not a real line between reality and illusion. It is all mixed together. Do we live in the world or does the world exist within oneself? I am more inclined to the latter.

Scott Brooks writes: 

Great points, Leo.

I like illusions as well. My youngest son is into magic and illusions and does a pretty fun show for kids birthday parties. Even though I know how the illusion works, it is still fascinating and fun.

But I'd like to take it a step deeper. I know when I'm being tricked when watching my son or a Penn and Teller show. But what about when I have no idea that I'm being deceived….or even deeper, when I'm the one doing the deceiving, and I'm both the deceiver and the mark (i.e. self deception).

I'd like to know how I can clear my head of those times. But… do I know what I don't know that I don't know?

Rocky's Ghost writes: 

Excellent post, Scott! Thanks for sharing.

Rocky believes that, when speculating (as distinct from investing), more important than seeing one's own ghosts, is seeing everyone else's ghosts. For example, in his early days, Rocky would occasionally find bona fide arbitrages in the options markets. However, the ability to monetize the arbitrages relied on OTHER PEOPLE also seeing the arbitrage and closing it. If you are the only sane man, you will likely go bankrupt long before others realize that you are the only sane man. Or, put another way, when the lunatics are running the asylum, it pays to trade as a lunatic — while remaining mindful that they are indeed lunatics. Now where did Rocky leave his bottle of Clozapine?



 I just read the book Contrary Opinion by R. Earl Hadady. Aside from his point on bullish consensus, I found the following very interesting (I call it theorem of winning and losing). We all know that the majority lose trading futures. So, say 80% traders lose, and let T denote the total number of traders, NW the average number of contracts held by winning traders, and NL the average number of contracts held by losing traders, then the following equation holds:

0.2 * T * NW = 0.8 * T * NL

From the above we get: NW = 4 * NL

Which mean the average number of contracts by winning traders is 4 times the average number of contracts by losing traders.

If 90% traders lose, then we have

NW = 9 * NL

So, the theorem says the deep pocket traders have a natural advantage to win. It begs the question of how traders with not so deep pocket can survive and win. What are the good strategies? I wonder if this also implies that one may increase the chance of winning by not diversifying funds.

Stefan Martinek writes:

"It begs the question of how traders with not so deep pocket can survive and win. What are the good strategies?"

Trading can create such an addiction that sometimes addicts do not realize that the world is full of opportunities outside of trading. Good business strategies match our pockets, or our pockets + pockets of family/friends (initially). Trading with a small account frequently makes no economic sense if we consider opportunity costs. It's better to go kitesurfing.



 One major problem with diet prescriptions is that they assume people are animals or machines. They only pay attention to the material side but miss the spiritual side.

I think the way to go about eating should be first maintaining a healthy spirit and then eating and savoring whatever the spirit wants. What it wants are fine cuisines rather than simple food. When great tastes are savored, the spirit is satisfied and wants nothing more to eat. Great cuisines also make us happy and high-spirited. The happy spirit will then take care of body. Think about whose body it really is. It belongs to the spirit anyway.



 Monkeys trained to use a fiat currency make the same mistakes as humans: they are loss-averse.

There are few ways how traders manage loss-aversion: (a) Deleveraging. In other words, everyone has a breaking point and can operate below this "gambling" threshold; (b) Diversification. By spreading a total exposure over wider group of instruments our anchor to individual outcomes is weakened [focusing illusion]; (c) Operational controls to enforce trade exits in case that all the other things fail [Paul Willman's research of traders in the City of London].

But how to design a trading strategy which is built to directly profit from loss-aversion of others?

Leo Jia comments: 

If this means one decides to totally abandon the nature of loss-aversion, then one can go do against all he recognizes as loss-aversion behaviors. This brings a question about its true benefit. If on the other hand, one only wants to take advantage of others' loss-aversion behaviors but maintain his own loss-aversion nature, then what he can do perhaps is limited.

The question is what really counts as loss-aversion.

If what we mean by loss-aversion is losing 1% of assets, then clearly it makes great sense to abandon it. But as one is willing to lose no more than 50% of assets, is he still considered loss-averse? If yes, then how much benefit would he gain by relinquishing this 50% limit?

So if God enforced us a loss limit within which we humans operate, perhaps he gave us a limit that is too small. Is it truly limitless in His mind? Perhaps there is also a limit with Him which just happens to be somewhat larger than ours. This latter may seem reasonable.

anonymous comments:

For those who believe loss aversion is an evolved behavior, it makes sense in the world of extreme scarcity: if you are on the edge of starvation and have a little bit of food, losing all the food could be significantly more detrimental than doubling it is beneficial. This does have some parallels in today's world, as for an average person near retirement age losing all of their savings is significantly more detrimental than doubling them is beneficial.

In terms of the markets, taking advantage of this asymmetry would be something like this, I imagine: let's say the average market participant hates to have their holdings go down by 1% (or any other number) twice as much as they would like them to go up by the same percentage. Let's also say that on the average everybody's holdings have an equal probability to go up and down. If you can figure out how to bet a small enough amount of your capital not to go bust multiple times in such a way as to counteract that tendency than on the average you'll make good winnings. The big question is of course how to bet against this tendency. Should you always bet when others are fearful against their fear regardless of any other evaluations of the situation?

Ed Stewart writes: 

"But how to design a trading strategy which is built to directly profit from loss-aversion of others?"

I think you can open up the concept far more broadly. I see it as the fundamental concept for a near unlimited number of strategies — an idea close to the core of the trading game, regardless of the market.

I told a spec-lister I met with a few weeks ago that the concept (described differently) is 80% of my short-term trading focus — meaning if I don't see it at work I don't trust the idea much at all — to such an extent I've mostly given up on other things. It is very similar to the Bacon cycle idea, but on a specific duration or circumstance (which itself is subject to the larger bacon-cycle effect). Loss-aversion creates urgency, price-insensitivity, and enough order flow to at times scare market makers — all things which open the door to speculative profits.


-Times of day that loss aversion is most impactful or loss averse traders are prone to being active
-Price movements that signify loss aversion - quantitative definition
-Events that will trigger loss aversion
-If you know the basic "plays" or trades used by speculators on different time horizons, u look to anticipate who is about to be squeezed. If u define the setup condition (basic play) and a trigger event (of loss aversion) and combine them, you can find interesting ideas both on a discretionary and systematic basis that are highly counter-intuitive to most traders.




X= "I touched the stove"


Y= "I got third degree burns"

then I would NOT disregard the data set as "too small to be indicative".

Larry Williams writes: 

Yes, yes…one sample size is adequate–there seems to be a connection readily seen.

Leo Jia replies: 

My issue is when X is not exclusive to Y, I have not much clue on how X happens and whether Y has a rational reason to be linked with X. This can be possibly because if it is too clear it might very well be different later.

It is quite like a situation where I am a monkey in the zoo. Most of the time I am kept very hungry. The zoologists play a lot of games with me, delivering food here and there at times. During the last five years, I discovered this thing (which I have no idea what is but you humans call it "stove") 10 times in my play field. The 9 times I touched it, it was warm but not harmful and dispensed quite a lot of food, although one time it had no food and was hot so I got burnt then. I am not sure if this is part of the game, but I am clever enough to remember this.

I keep in mind that the stove was not the only thing I encountered that dispensed food. There have been a lot of other situations, one of which is that, quite frequently, you human spectators throw in bananas andvcandies though also often times with garbage which causes some real pain.

So in this case, how do I take into account the stove case?



 I admit I have difficulties separating myself from the monkeys.

During trading strategy development, most of the time I have found that a 'good' strategy by many criteria can't actually beat out the performance of the random trades by monkeys. So the question is what constitutes intelligence? Is performance the sole criterion that separates intelligence from non-intelligence? If not, what else? What can make me say, "ok monkeys, I can't beat you in performance, but this thing makes me much more intelligent than you"?

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

Monkeys' investments are hypothetical; no one has really actualized this hoary supposition. Your trades are measurable and real.

Et voila la difference.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Because you think too much.

No joke.

You look for an "edge," i.e. an asymptotic probability weighted mean that is > 0.

The monkey - he doesn't. He does not posses that great big brain that leads him to believe in the delusions (see previous line) that you do.

He is only concerned with a finite time horizon, one play (get the banana! Don't worry about the small probaiblity of a chock, get the banana), in his case. You, on the other hand, have used your big brain to lure yourself into thinking you will be around tomorrow, something you take for granted.



 I was reading this article and started thinking about the ten scariest things in trading: The Top Ten Things That Make Horror Movies Scary

1. Fear of Death.  This is the ultimate fear, both existentially and psychologically. It isn't really a horror movie if people don't get killed.

In Trading: fear of depletion of assets.

2. The Dark. From our earliest childhood we are afraid of the dark – not the dark itself, but what it hides. It makes horror movies even scarier to watch them in a darkened theater, or a dark living room, right?

In Trading: not knowing enough news

3. Creepy, Crawly Things. Snakes, spiders, rats, and other crawling things are scary in and of themselves, but when they touch the skin, in the dark, it amplifies this common phobia.

In Trading: monthly expenses

4. Scary Places. Horror movies are full of scary places – graveyards, old houses, overgrown forests, dungeons, attics, basements. These are dark places, where evil things can hide.

In Trading: instruments or markets that one had very bad experiences with.

5. Disfigurement. Many horror movies feature grotesquely disfigured antagonists (think Frankenstein's monster, the Phantom of the Opera, zombies). Studies in early development have found that young infants will react with fear to asymmetrical or disordered faces.

In Trading: any instrument that had a devastating history.

6. Dismemberment. Fear of dismemberment involves loss of a part of the self. The popularity (and horror) of the Saw movies involves self-dismemberment as the only way to escape death.

In Trading: stop loss.

7. Suspense (Anticipation and Expectations). The best horror movies are full of suspense (think Alfred Hitchcock). Suspense involves creating anticipation that something bad will happen, but not knowing when it will occur. Some of the most shocking horror movie scenes, create anticipation, but then violate the audiences' expectations (e.g., the hero gets killed; the killer is the one the audience least expects, etc.).

In Trading: market keeps going up with some bears talking about a crash.

8. Spooky Music. Music can create moods and elicit emotions. The music used in horror movies can be creepy, and can be used to accentuate the actions seen on the screen. Music intensifies feelings of suspense and shock.

In Trading: unfortunate family events.

9. Lightning and Thunder. Many people are afraid of lightning and thunder – sudden flashes of light, that can kill, and a sudden and deafening sound that accompanies the lightening. Flashing lights and loud noises create a startle response and they are a mainstay of the horror film.

In Trading: trading alarm.

10. Fear of the Unusual. We know that young children are often afraid of things that are different or unusual (such as a disfigured face), and highly unusual-looking things are often sources of fear. But a common theme in horror movies is to take something that is normally not scary (e.g., a doll, a child, a clown) and make it into a feared object. In other words, making the usual, unusual. This may explain the growing number of people who confess to a fear of clowns and dolls.

In Trading: everything unusual in the market.



 "How our brains trick us into ignoring movie doubles but let us recognise people we love":

Our brains are constantly perceiving the world as more stable than it actually is. Consider this: Every time the light hits your face differently, you look a little different - but people don't perceive you as having suddenly changed into someone else. In fact, they probably don't see your face as having "changed" at all. Without this neurological trick, the world would be a decidedly more confusing place.

But according to a study published this week in /Current Biology/, that mechanism - which researchers have dubbed the "continuity field" - can also steer us wrong, and have us convinced that two totally different faces or forms are the same.

"The brain is creating stability out of what's actually a very unstable system," said David Whitney, the senior study author and a University of California at Berkeley professor of psychology. His lab coined the continuity field term in a previous experiment. In that study, they observed the mechanism by which people meld similar looking objects together.

"When you're watching /Harry Potter/, you don't notice that his plain T-shirt changes to a Henley, for example," first author and doctoral candidate Alina Liberman said. "Your visual system is primed to see things as remaining stable. You have a bias towards ignoring small changes in your environment."

Leo Jia writes: 

I wonder if this has to do with focusing of attention.

For instance, if you focus on the nose of a portrait on a computer screen and then the nose changes color or shape, you should be able to notice that. But if in the mean time, the ears changed, then it is hard for the person to detect that because his attention was on the nose only.

Perhaps this is the evolutionary way of using resources efficiently because the brain's processing resource is limited. This must have proved to work well during, say, hunting. Men wouldn't easily lose focus of the rapidly running rabbit because they see changes instantaneously. What men perhaps don't easily see is that a cheetah starts to chase the rabbit from another angle.

In terms of reading the market, the reason I believe we often miss things perhaps has more to do with the fact that there are so many things going on at the same time that our attention can't handle them all. 



One lesson I am taking from the following article is that randomness is the safest and least damaging method after a series of losses. Of course it is better to have a strategy with an edge. But when you feel threatened or defeated any known strategies could take on a negative edge, so it is better to go random, which always has a zero edge that is better than a negative one. Species seem to have learned this through evolutions.

One other lesson perhaps is that randomness is a great mind opener if one is mindful enough. It is said that failure is an opportunity to learn, so maybe this lesson teaches us that randomness is the door to success.

"Strategic or Random? How the Brain Chooses":

Many of the choices we make are informed by experiences we've had in the past. But occasionally we're better off abandoning those lessons and exploring a new situation unfettered by past experiences. Scientists have shown that the brain can temporarily disconnect information about past experience from decision-making circuits, thereby triggering random behavior.

In the study, rats playing a game for a food reward usually acted strategically, but switched to random behavior when they confronted a particularly unpredictable and hard-to-beat competitor."

anonymous writes: 

An interesting thought that reminds me of modeling the Genetic Algorythm process. Throw in a random factor that ends up improving the search results.



 Last night just before going to bed, my iPad prompted me to update the operating system. So I did it without hesitation - Apple had built my trust through past experiences. This morning I found the iPad is dead - the update failed miserably. I then tried to restore it by connecting it to a computer, but had no luck. I searched and found news articles reporting large scale failures worldwide. It affects all iPads, and iPhones (if you have one, please don't update yet!). Problems appear not only with the update process, but also with loss of personal data and overall usability. Reportedly a lot of devastated people complain in social media.

Is this the beginning of the end of the iFervor?



 I have read about these top five regrets of the dying, and have wondered whether they might apply to myself.

I wonder whether people are all that similar. I observe vast differences amongst people, not only from individual to individual, but more importantly from groups to groups. There can be endless ways to group people: by social status, economic status, life style, fundamental belief, spirituality, sociableness, sensibleness, courageousness, risk tolerance, consciousness, and etc, falling under the normal bell curve with the majority of the people near the mean of each distribution. People near the mean of one gauge might be at the outlier of another gauge.

It is also not difficult to imagine that the answers to each of these regret questionnaires also fall under the bell curve. So the top answers are nothing more than a representation of the people close to the mean. Should one care to be normal? Or when they say, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me", should one simply say to himself, "I should have the courage to have my own wishes, not the ones most others had"?



Would anyone advise on how to determine backtesting periods?

I presume one should choose the most recent period because it may better correlate with the present situation. But is that really true? If it is, then how far back should one include, and how far in the future can it correlate? My experience seems to say that a short backtest period can lead to a very short future prediction or even a very poor prediction. On the other hand, a longer period often leads to poor performances during the present situation.

Shane James replies: 

At the Spec Party I had the privilege to spend a reasonable period of time one to one with the remarkable Sam Eisenstadt.

His work is likely one of the best examples of creative thought in the history of financial markets. He explained to me that there wasn't much backtesting to what he/they did. He came up with some principles that made sense to him and started applying them in real time.

Now, in our so called modern world, things may have moved on (Sam graciously stated as much to the room when he was giving his views on the modern markets). HOWEVER, maybe not so much…..

Try this:

1. If your trading idea has an average holding period of a few days (preferably less) then start from today and run it in real time for the next 90 days or so. By definition, the prices upon which you are testing your ideas did not exist when you had the idea so you have already eliminated most bias if you do this.

2. If you are happy with the structure of the returns (win, lose or draw) then consider if the results were biased by any factor during your live test phase and if related to long only stock index trading then make the requisite adjustments for drift.

3. Perhaps now consider a backtest.

The point being that I think it makes sense to test on data that did not exist BEFORE you perform the backtest.
Some like to 'exclude' certain data and 'pretend' it didn't exist so they can assume that the excluded data is 'out of sample'. For instance they may take 10 years of data and use the odd number years as test data and the even number years as 'out of sample'. This might be a reasonable idea to make yourself feel more comfortable but there is an intangible and very difficult to explain benefit to performing the kind of 'spontaneous' testing set out above on data that did not exist at the genesis of your idea before one starts seeing how well a set of heuristics performed in 1971!

Leo Jia responds: 

Hi Shane!

Thanks very much for the valuable advice.

Wow, Mr Eisenstadt! I would really love to thank him for my early success stories with referencing the Value Line. But I guess it wouldn't matter to him as he might have heard from too many!

Talking about my early experience (back in the 90's), I actually had been using your suggestion all along. There was never backtesting for me — I got an idea and went to buy the stock the next day. It actually worked well overall.

Should I go back doing the "novice" way? That becomes a question worth thinking now that you mentioned it. Perhaps this goes with the valuable lessons where having had enough struggles using complex ways, one discovered the neglected simple way being far superior. In Chinese culture, Tai Chi can be considered as that type of "simple ways".

Now, a couple questions about your suggestion.

1. By putting a new idea directly live, what problem is one trying to solve? Is it the concern that poor backtesting result may make one throw out potentially a good strategy? And is this concern because of the belief that past data are already different from the present situation?

2. In what ways can this idea that seemed to come from nowhere be better than the many ideas one gets by studying historical data? I know inspirations are invaluable, but one doesn't often get those inspirations that are not the results of study. So beyond the mistrust of the correlations between past data and present situation, are there any other reasons?

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Bill Rafter writes:

I am sorry to jump into this discussion late, but think there are a few points that can still be brought.  Looking for beta over a constant period of time (say 6 months) is somewhat meaningless and useless.  It’s a bit like describing a man with one foot in a fire and another in ice as at a tolerable temperature.  You have got fat tails with market volatility and a static window might be good for a journalist, but of limited value for a trader.

At a given time there is a time period over which the study of a market’s behavior will be significant.  And let’s say that at this time it really is 6 months, or 126 trading days.  Assuming no real changes, tomorrow that time window will be 127 trading days, and so on until you get a market change.

When the sea does change, bad things can happen in a hurry and beta value for the preceding 6+ months will be of little value.  Within the last week this happened with biotech:  it had been happily chugging along with good but not extraordinary outperformance of the indices.  Then it got clobbered with huge excessive relative volatility to the downside.  Had you been adapting your monitoring of volatility you would have been prepared, whereas if you stuck with your 6-month window you would have been clobbered along with the group.

My advice to you is to learn how to deal with the market adaptively.  I assure you that if you have a monitoring mechanism which you like, if you make it adaptive you will improve results dramatically. And it doesn’t matter which signal type (momentum, volatility, sentiment) or time frame (intra-day to weekly) you favor.



 Some commodity futures markets I have been trading just opened night sessions (from 9pm to 2am). That created some unknowns for me, as I don't know how the night sessions would affect the daytime sessions, particularly the opens/closes of the day sessions. The strategies I have been using are based on studies of the past 3 years' data. So I stopped trading these and just watch. Since these markets all have overnight overseas markets, I suspect the newly added night sessions would not make much difference to the day sessions.

Would anyone would share some experience on this?

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

You should find markets that already have these sessions, and apply your methods to them which will work just as well as your normal. The volume in these abbreviated sessions by the way will be very low, and you won't be able to trade them. But the volume will be just enough to throw off all your opening regularities from the past.

Mr. Krisrock writes: 

Be aware that global futures markets are looked at as ONE MARKET. Time zones aren't important but prices and liquidity and price targets are very important.



I did some computation lately and found the following results about correlations. These results show me something I did not realize before.

Given time series A, B and C. Say Corr(A, B)=0.2, and Corr(A, C)=0.05. With this, one would think that to help understand A, C is useless. But that is not always the case. If one combines B and C and gets series D, where D = B & C, one may find Corr(A, D)=0.3, which means C actually can be very valuable in studying A. This can be understood as the combination of B and C and can eliminate some elements in both B and C that are negatively correlated with A.

Would anyone share further lessons on this?

Alex Castaldo adds:

Before I read this I had not realized that correlation is not transitive (i.e. if A is correlated to B, and B is correlated to C, it does not follow that A is correlated to C). It does not directly answer your question, but it shows that the behavior of correlation can be rather unintuitive.



 Any reflections on India? Reports about the new prime minister sound very promising. With a vibrant culture, India in my view could be in the spotlight at least in the coming 10 years, more so than China. Thoughts please?

Peter Tep writes:

I recently read a post by Martin Armstrong where he speaks about the difficulties facing India in the past. His main point was on language and that as more and more of the country learn and become proficient at English this will provide the platform for the next 'boom' - for lack of a better word.

Seems to make sense for opening up the skillset in the economy. Let's just say I wouldn't want to take on a young Indian in maths, programming or CFA calculations!

I did see that Modi's intention was to expand power access to the 700m+ population by focusing on solar. Purely from a headline perspective I'd be looking at which companies are set to benefit the most from that or whoever is closest to Modi and his administration.



 This was a very interesting article.

"A chinese mathematician figured out how to beat anyone at rock-paper-scissors":

"The pattern that Zhijian discovered — winners repeating their strategy and losers moving to the next strategy in the sequence — is called a "conditional response" in game theory. The researchers have theorized that the response may be hard-wired into the brain, a question they intend to investigate with further experiments."

Jordan Low writes: 

If I am reading it correct, the losers are basically choosing to display what won recently. Isn't it like using 3Y returns to pick mutual funds? Or did I get it wrong?

Steve Ellison writes: 

I don't play that game, but a good strategy might be to make selections as randomly as possible, for example by memorizing long sequences of digits of irrational numbers (Arthur Benjamin has a memory aid for how to do so).

Bill Walsh, the coach of the San Francisco 49ers football team in the 1980s, scripted the first 25 plays of each game in advance. This strategy made it harder for opponents to guess what play might be coming next. I have an idea that, if I could ever find enough trading systems with positive expectations, it might be good to randomly pick a sequence of systems to use in advance, in order to keep the crocodiles guessing.



 I was talking to an old friend of mine yesterday. He was a floor broker for Lehman Bros in the bond pit (he once sold me 500 calendar spreads while standing next to me at a urinal in the men's room). When he first left the floor he attempted to trade electronically and within a relatively short period of time went through all of his money. He had to take a job with the CME working at their help desk, and was eventually promoted to associate director of the Globex control center working the third shift from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m., and is now a senior director at the CME.

He told me an interesting story about his experience trading after he left the CBOT. It was about another ex-denizen from the floor. This individual, however, had worked as a clerk for a mutual friend of ours, who had been a trader. My friend went on to tell me how the ex-clerk had been making $1,000- $1,500 screen trading, per-day, like clockwork — averaging $25,000 per month for quite a period of time.

However, after my friend went through all his capital and stopped trading, he lost touch with this ATM of an ex-clerk. But serendipitously, ran into him the other day when he hopped into a cab. However, the ex-clerk was not another passenger, but the driver. Of course, there are quite a few lessons to take away from this story- not the least of which are:

- markets change and if a trader doesn't adapt, he'll be driving a cab
- becoming a successful trader is not easy, even if you're experienced
- core competency in one endeavor, does not guarantee competency in another
- working for a living sucks
- always be prepared to trade
- markets aren't the only thing that reverts to the mean
- not every cab driver in Chicago is from Pakistan or the Middle East

- never turn down an edge, no matter where you are, or what you have in your hand
- always wash your hands after making a bathroom trade

- success is fleeting, losing is forever

Leo Jia writes: 

Thanks Gary, for the interesting post.

I found your title (or the last lesson on your list) quite intriguing: "success is fleeting, losing is forever". Seems apparent in a lot of cases. But why and how is that true? Especially when we consider your other lesson: "markets aren't the only thing that reverts to the mean".

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Isn't it true: even having made 5,000% on your money, once you lose only 100% - you got no money left. That is more like self-sabotage.

Leo Jia writes: 

Normally, if one wins/loses in percentage terms, one nearly never loses 100% - sure one may lose so much as to have not enough fund to continue trading.

Let's assume that he wins/loses 5% on each bet. To make 5000% in the fastest way, he needs 175 consecutive wins. From here, to lose all he has made and get back to his original amount (which is still enough for him to continue trading), he needs to go through 166 consecutive loses. If his wins/loses do not happen consecutively, which is normally the case, it might have taken him over thousands of trades on each way.

So in this process, even though losing takes fewer times than winning (166 vs. 175), winning and losing both take a long time. So the other lesson "markets aren't the only thing that reverts to the mean" could apply here: after losing some, one starts to win. I am not sure how one can conclude "success is fleeting, losing is forever".

In the worst god-given case where he has no edge at all and trades simply based on flips of a fair coin, he has equal chances of winning and losing.

The only case where "success is fleeting, losing is forever" is possible is when he always strives so hard to create a very large negative edge for himself.

J. Hughes comments:

 Interesting, but the distinction needs to be made, "he was a floorbroker", quite a different occupation than that of floor trader. It's easy to trade against an order deck.

Having done both job's, cabdriver, and trader, though for different reasons, I can state unequivocally, yes markets change and if traders don't adapt, they perish. But the bigger insights lie in how much cab driving is similar to trading. Both position risk capital upfront, the 3 G's, gates, gas and graft. Then there is risk control, it takes skill to size up an individual when one is traveling at 35 MPH and trying to cover the costs of the 3 G's. Then there is return on capital, I can say first hand, my return on capital as a cabbie, on a nightly basis, was far superior on a percentage basis and more consistent as a hack, than a trader. Although I am back to driving a computer once again, and there are times I wish I was back pushing a hack. Both positions are very much traders. It's a natural fit. The lesson is, "life is replete with vicissitudes."

Ed Stewart writes: 

The problem with making $ 1,000-2,000 a day is it is enough to provide a salve and decent quality of life that makes one feel like a professional, but this is not dentistry or a job at a federal regulator. IMHO the correct target is to get rich and become a real capitalist. How one does that, via trading, a service business, or a money manger (combining the two) does not matter so much as actually doing it by any means that is legal and ethical. Going for crumbs doesn't cut it.



 I have been thinking about what could be a good set of criteria to measure trading (strategy) performance for individual traders.

The criterion of average return divided by the variance of the returns seems to have its shortcomings. One reason is that some large positive returns can cause the variance to go up resulting in an indication by the criterion that the performance deteriorates. But some large positive returns are good to have.

Other criteria like Sharpe ratio seem more suitable for institutions.

I think using properties of the linear regression line of the cumulative return curve might be a better choice.

Two useful properties are the slope and the "width" of the linear regression line. By "width" I mean the deviation of the cumulative return curve around the linear regression line.

A good performance should have high slope on the one hand. And if we do not consider reinvesting profits, it should have narrow "width" around the linear line.

So then the value of slope/width seems meaningful.

If we take the linear regression line as a risk free benchmark, then this value may be very similar to the definition of Sharpe ratio, but practical for individuals.

Would anyone please comment on the pros and cons of this, or any other better ways to measure performance.

Alexander Good writes: 

Great post!

I think it makes sense to measure linearity of PNL and convexity separately so I agree with you that R sq is a good one to employ. I am curious how width differs from the strategy's std though…

One thing that you can do as a cheap proxy is median return * sqrt(252)/std return and then for skew then have a (rolling max peak to trough draw down)/(rolling max peak to trough draw up).

You can benchmark your strategy vs. bonds, the S&P and a traditional 60-40 mix or your other strategies. It's very hard to beat a vol weighted portfolio of stocks and bonds so it's a good benchmark in my humble opinion assuming you're trading your PA and you don't have large retirement holdings. I assign different weights to skew and median return depending on my portfolio construction.

In portfolio construction you'll often find things with strongly positive skew have good inverse correlation to market PNL series and are typically 'long vol' (idea ripped off AQR's value and momentum everywhere).

Trending strategies frequently have very positive skew (momentum) whereas mean reversion tend to have skew that looks like the S&P (value). So if I'm net long beta my marginal utility of doing trending models is higher whereas if I'm net short I tend to size up mean reversion strategies.

Would be curious to know what other people are using/ how other people think about this/ if they have good papers on the subject. 

Leo Jia writes: 

Aren't they different?

std of returns has this term: (Ri - mu)^2, where mu is the same for all i's.

The width has this term instead: (CRi - Vi)^2 where Vi is the value on the linear regression line at time i and is all different across all i's.

Alex Castaldo writes: 

Personally I just like to look at the equity curve visually, and it is not difficult to store large numbers of graphic files in a folder and quickly "flip" through them by hitting a key on the computer.

But for automated evaluation Leo's two criteria (slope of regression, and "width around the regression" (which is also called the SEE or standard error of regression textbooks) make sense to me.

However I know there are many other criteria that have been proposed. There is one with a foreign name that I think starts with "v" but that I can't remember. I am sure some people here know what I am talking about, it was much blogged about 2 or 3 years ago.

In looking for it I accidentally googled another measure of equity quality, the k-ratio , that believe it or not has 3 different versions.

Any other ways to measure equity curve "quality"?

anonymous writes: 

As with many things involving non linear information, my experience suggests that one must mix, blend or combine different 'quantities' to form a unique and proprietary time series.

For example, some form of 3D 'curve' that combined the three quantities return, AUM & volatility that gets thicker as AUM in the strategy grows and changes colour as volatility of returns increases perhaps… 

Ralph Vince writes: 

percent of 6 month periods underwater
percent of 1 year periods underwater
percent of 2 year periods underwater

percent of time at equity highs
percent of time within 1% of equity highs
percent of time within 5% of equity highs
percent of time within 10% of equity highs
percent of time within 20% of equity highs

I have all of these programmed up in javascript which you can peruse at and click the "compare" tab. 



 The lesson I would take is this.

Initially, people believed that the yuan had been manipulated (or in better word, controlled) at a very cheap level. So they invested in yuan. Then it has been so apparent to everyone that the smooth uptrend was due to control. So having witnessed the evidence of control twice, one should have envisioned that the same control could be against one's favor as well.



Data, from anonymous

March 28, 2014 | 2 Comments

 I often look at the amount of past price action used to attempt to predict future price action.

Some things that are useful to ponder, in my opinion, are:

1. Is more past data really going to help to make the future prediction more accurate?
2. Should there be a balance between look-back period and forecast horizon?
3. How important is data accuracy (tick level to daily range)?
4. Should reference points & times be changed every second, minute and hour of a day?
5. Should the definition of 'big move' and 'small move' be a fixed thing or relative to the market's current level?

For me, it's NO, NO, VERY, YES & RELATIVE.

Go Well.

Leo Jia writes: 

In Schwager's book "Hedge Fund Market Wizards", Jaffray Woodriff addressed this in the following way. Any comments? It does have to do with what one is trying to get, doesn't it?

"Do you give the same weight to data from the 1980s as data from the 2000s?

Sometimes we give a little more weight to more recent data, but it is amazing how valuable older data still is. The stationarity of the patterns we have uncovered is amazing to me, as I would have expected predictive patterns in markets to change more over the longer term."

Larry Williams writes: 

As I see it we certainly cannot compare data from the old pit sessions to today's electronic markets.

And how do we handle Saturday trading in the real old days or that markets were close on election day…or in 1967 the markets were close on Wednesday… or there used to be a massively important bond report the goosed bonds on Thursday??

We need to understand what the data represents.



TEASER ALERT: I am not about to write what you expect!!

A popular blog site recently posted a story that advocated people to tap their home equity and buy stocks. The link is here or if that link doesn't work, here. 

What I find interesting about this article is that it is being met with universal revulsion judging from the blog comments and other related postings. (Not naming names.) The so-called Pros are saying it's irresponsible, ludicrous, sign of a top, etc. etc. etc. And the so-called pros are also saying that people will get sued for giving this advice. (I have no opinion).

Let's ignore the fact that this column's recommendation was extremely good advice for the past 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 50 years, and let's also ignore some of the weaker arguments in the story.

I think we should step back and analytically consider that there is actually some merit to the concept (for some people). (Caveat: I am not bullish on stocks).

Imagine the very responsible Mr X who every month took all of his extra income and paid off his mortgage early. He's now about 40 or 50 years old. And he owns no stocks. He owns no bonds. And he has no mortgage. And he's got enough cash to meet any emergency. I can make a very rational argument that Mr. X would be very well served to place a modest mortgage on his home and use the proceeds to acquire some financial assets. Not necessarily all stocks. But definitely some financial assets. There are several underlying arguments in favor of this: But first and foremost is diversification. We know mathematically, over time, diversification is the only free lunch.

So the authors of this controversial blog post got distracted by things like positive carry. And some other not-so-true things. But all of the readers spewed venom. And this reaction may have informative value.

Remember: A home is both a consumption good and a store of wealth. If someone put 100% of their net worth in a single undiversified stock, they are asking for trouble. And a home is really no different in that respect.

anonymous writes: 

I agree 100%.

The negative reaction, it seems, mistakenly seems to argue the case of not selling one's residence to buy stocks (which is clearly not what the author of the original piece advocated). Clearly, if one were to buy a second residence with that same home equity, in the case of agnosticism as to the direction of home prices and equity prices, would their reaction be the same?

Leo Jia writes: 

I think it all depends on who Mr X is.

If he is financially skilled (which seems not the case at all in Rocky's description), then maybe OK.

If not, then he should stay at where he is.

Or if he is really tempted, he should first spend a lot of effort in getting the skill. But Mr X should be well advised that he would still have no clue of what that skill is after many years of fooling around.

Do we all believe that investing is an easy job for everyone?

Different from the house, a financial asset is liquid and evidently volatile. Ordinary people can not tolerate the pain when the change of their asset value is vivid and clear. With the benefit of liquidity, the pain would cause them to do a lot of stupid things, which will then burn them out in no time.



"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking." - Albert Einstein

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

This certainly explains why he and so many other brilliant people fall for the idiocies of socialism. As a system it is flawlessly logical; it lacks all the chaos, confusion, corruption that liberty produces. It requires more than a little reading to learn just how insanely vicious the logical systems of political economy all have been.



First order differential equations of the form:

the rate of change of a variable + the original variable x a constant equals a constant times a function, or

dy/dt + p * y =  k1 * q(t)

has wide applicability in all physical settings. it's used to model the cooling and diffusion equations for example, as Arthur Mattuck in a brilliant and relatively easy to assimilate lecture shows.

For what variable in the market does its rate of change depend on its level and the movements of a second variable. The moves of stocks relative to bonds and currencies comes to mind. Is it predictive in certain cases and how do random perturbations affect the solution and its predictivity? Are there any methods used to solve these first order equations that are useful for markets without regard to stochastic, useless solutions?

Leo Jia writes: 

I once attempted to use it to model the market, but I did not proceed. The reason is that I realized the solution would be a function of two coefficients, i.e. K and K1 in this case, and so by varying the coefficients, one can fit the solution well onto the historical chart. The way to fit it wouldn't be very distinct from that of fitting a moving average onto a historical chart. So to me it seemed to fall into the same dilemma as trying to profit from a moving average model. Would anyone correct me?



 Among the 4 Chinese companies on MIT's 50 Smartest Companies 2014 list, Tencent is very well positioned with their products and services. Its enhanced instant messaging service QQ has been the most popular by far in China for years, nearly used by everyone. In recent years, its new service WeChat which runs on both Android and iOS and includes free voice/video calls/messaging among members are gaining similar status. For sometime already, WeChat has been cutting revenues for mobile service providers. One interesting thing is that an elder man from Denmark whom I met recently in Thailand uses it. He said a lot of people in Europe use WeChat and regard it to be far better than Skype.

Alex Forshaw writes:

I use WeChat partly because I cover Tencent and partly because I need to stay in close contact with Chinese people, but I can confirm that more Westerners are beginning to use the service as well. The English version is very simple and effective. The Chinese version has a lot more features and is becoming the top mobile communications client in the world.

Globally, Wechat competes aggressively with LINE, a South Korean company that has locked up the Japanese market for this service. LINE, Wechat and WhatsApp are now in a worldwide land-grab over these services. WhatsApp seems to be a distant third in this niche.

Tencent is very intelligently turning Wechat/Weixin into a "mobile OS within a mobile OS," and it's beginning to up-end a lot of basic services in China. They are partnering with Dianping (Chinese Yelp + Opentable + GRPN component + others), Didi DaChe (Chinese Uber) and other local services companies to drive a lot of 'local business' traffic. The really big call option in Weixin is to turn it into a mobile payment client (a lot of Chinese make mobile payments thru their cell phone as opposed to with a credit card because of idiosyncrasies in the Chinese payments system.)

Analysts argue that within Tencent's current US$125bn market cap, $40bn or so is due to Weixin/Wechat. 

Peter St. Andre writes: 

Facebook is buying ~500 million locked-in users controlled by WhatsApp, so that they can add those poor souls to the 1+ billion locked in users already controlled by Facebook itself (although presumably there's some overlap in their users).

I'll note that, although both Facebook Chat and WhatsApp use modified versions of the chat technology I've worked on since 1999, I ain't seeing any of those billions of dollars. I am, however, probably having a lot more fun than the folks working at Facebook and WhatsApp.



I have been thinking about trying to use the 5 Whys Method to analyze trading errors on my account (and then check the "images" tab for actual users' examples).

But the exogenous events (Black Swans, terrorist actions, bad actors with undesirable or stupid agendas, etc) that are beyond a small investor's control, for example: Das Fed; China changing its economic or monetary policies seemingly at whim; whale trading errors; etc., leads me to think that without either (1) an ultra conservative approach that isn't going to yield much investment return, and/or (2) insurance like put-call strategies that I admittedly know little about, a simplistic equation might look like this:

P = G + D *a * b,        or    [1]
P = G + D * e              

P = investment profit
G = growth of investment
D = dividends (if applicable)
(a) likely risks I know about that are possibly going to occur, and
(b) unknown risks I don't know about that might or might not occur
(a) and (b) collectively = e … an acceptable amount of uncertainty ("Implementing Six Sigma" by Breyfogle III, 2nd ed, Wiley, page 1029)

roughly translates to:

Investment Profit = growth of investment share price + dividends if applicable * risks I know about that are possibly going to occur (beta-likely things) * unknown risks I don't know about that are possibly going to occur (exogenous things)

I view these 'e' uncertainties of the market/s as gravitational-like-affecting forces, similar to a planet (the Market) and its multiple 'e' moons affecting the planet tides. Then, if one doesn't know the orbits of the moons (see 'a' above) and/or their respective orbits are random / erratic (see 'b' above), the 'e' effects exert influences that push and pull the market.  Sometimes the direction is good, sometimes not. 

Which all reminds me of the Chair's recent Lotak Volterra equations information, and a lecture during a university optimization class where Dr. Pugh (Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne chair of Engineering Technology Dept) went through a very similar discussion about "Why Things that are Normally Stable Suddenly Change".  He was diagramming essentially identical graphs using Hare and Fox populations.

Leo Jia writes:

Why 5 whys?

Welcome to the list, Rich.



 I did an interview at the Metals and Minerals Investment Conference in San Francisco. I gave a talk with more details on gold at the same conference. I comment on stocks vs. bonds. This is my 11 minute interview starting 30 seconds into the interview time.

Comments welcome!

Leo Jia writes: 

That is a very interesting interview. Thanks Bud.

Regarding big banks' manipulation of gold and silver, I have read such speculations for a few years. I often wonder how this can be possible given that there are big capital in the world that is not part of the banks. Why wouldn't they come in and break the manipulations and make money at the same time? Perhaps in the way Soros broke Bank of England?

Bud Conrad responds: 

Yes, Leo, you have read those speculations for years — and for years those who put them forth have been viewed as members of a lunatic fringe. The most frequently heard dismissal of the case was, to the effect, "anything that big could not go un-noticed." Yet, as we have discovered in recent years, the LIBOR market and the swap markets have, in fact, been rigged. Each, as I understand it, are much larger and more vital than the gold/silver markets. Why anyone remains doubtful puzzles me…



 I watched the 3D version of the movie Gravity yesterday in a remote city theater in China. I noticed on IMDB that the official showing date is Nov. 20th. I wonder how it gets shown in China a couple days earlier. Perhaps because a Chinese satellite is featured in the film.

Anyhow, aside from a scene in space, the movie's story is very simple and nearly empty. It goes basically like this: while in the wild away from home, two teenagers suddenly discovered their bikes got ruined. To save the stranded girl, the boy surrendered his life. Then the girl struggled to reach to other unattended bikes. She finally got one (a Chinese one), and returned home with it.

I noticed it is rated 8.5/10 on IMDB, an unbelievably high score. It seems like a scam to me. I would give it 5 only for the space scene, otherwise just 2.



I remember some stories in American history where farmers have lost big in playing agriculture futures. It looks like the same will happen to the coal riches in China. A new chapter in wealth transfer is likely starting.



Attached is a weekly chart of CSI300 index (representing 300 large stocks on Shanghai and Shenzhen exchange) from January 2007 to now.

Would anyone call an upcoming bull market from this?

Perhaps the chart is not too obvious yet. Fundamentally, it is true that many foresee a slowdown in GDP growth in the coming years. But what is important now is that people can anticipate some structurally healthy growth. And this is very different from the past 5 years when the growth seemed high but the market mainly saw it as unhealthy and stayed essentially hopeless. The new government seems to deliver a lot more confidence to the market with a new direction for the economy.

Any thoughts?

Bill Rafter writes: 

One suggestion I have is that you ask yourself two questions:

1. Consider the participants in that market; what time frame do they typically observe in terms of long term perspective (i.e. lookback period), and

2. How frequently do they watch the market?

The reason to care what others do is because they are your competition. The money you make, you get from them. Thus, know them!

Point #1 may also be related to taxation. Is there a period of time in China such that if a position is held that long it qualifies for a tax break? In the U.S. that means it qualifies as a "long term capital gain" with a significantly reduced amount going to the confiscatory government.

If there is no such period, then it's nice to see history going back to 2007, but it is irrelevant to what is happening now. However it is good to have history as you can easily see with a visual how a market behaves with the signal process you use. You should statistically test, of course, but a quick look is valuable. (Tukey said so, and he is a god in this area.)

Thus your window of observation for decision making (as opposed to history) should not go back perhaps more that 50 percent greater than the period identified in point #1. In our case (in the U.S. with equities), we do not look back farther than a year and a half. Frequently as little as four days.

Point #2 is the shorter end. If everyone watches the market every day, then by limiting your snapshots to weekly, you are discarding valuable information. Ask yourself, "Why would you ever want to eliminate valuable data?" You would not do that with a neural net, so why do it with real intelligence? Some would posit that weekly information (data or charts) eliminates some noise. However we would argue (and have demonstrated) that it is impossible to separate signal from noise. Specifically I would suggest that if someone gave me what they considered noise, I could find some signal within. It may not be the best example of signal, but it's in there.

Leo Jia adds: 

Thank you very much, Bill, for the precious advice.

There are a couple reasons for me to have attached the weekly chart starting from 2007.

1. I look for a possible multi-year bull market, and for that to me the trend looks clearer on the weekly chart.

2. One key reason for the past few years' laggard market, aside from those fundamental reasons I outlined, is the bull-run and crash in 2007-2008. The bull-run was solely due to the government reform initiative in the stock market which tried to ensure all shares (government shares and floating shares) to be equal. The crash then was mainly due to market suspicion that the resulting floatable government shares would subsequently flood the market. Now 5 years over, the flooding of the government shares, if that happened indeed, is likely to have settled down.

To answer your two questions:

1. There is no tax incentive in China encouraging people to hold longer. Holding period are generally much shorter. It can be as short as a few months for funds, and as short as a few days for individuals.

2. Most participants watch the market everyday.

Perhaps one thing different in China's market is that large market movements are all initiated by government policies. Market enthusiasm are only summoned when the imagination of a government direction as positive.

I am not a government analyst, but traditionally, each government in its 10 years tended to create at least one big upward move in the market. Looking at this government, its initial months already showed signs of its focus on finance (along with new direction on economy). The recent launch of bond futures is one such key move.

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This is a great TED talk on "How to Make Stress Your Friend":

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

To your health!



 There have long been debates on whether people are rational or biased and irrational. Works by Tversky, Kahneman and et al seem to have directed our view toward the latter. But which view is really correct? Are we admirably rational in our choices, as the classical economists assume, or are we hopelessly irrational, as the behavioral economists claim? The author of this article "Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life: the evolved wisdom behind our seemingly stupid decisions" is contending an alternative view that "our decisions are in fact biased, but in ways that reflect an evolutionary Deep Rationality".

As this would fundamentally affect our way of trading, I really would love to hear Dailyspecs' comments.

In addition, does the trading community today mainly believe that people are rational or biased and irrational? To your understanding, is there any view that dominates the trading community at the moment?



Attached is 15-minute chart of Shanghai A-Share Index, starting from morning of Aug. 5th to 1:50pm today [August 16, 2013]. If you can not read the numbers very well, the highest is marked as 2191 and the lowest (about the 10th bar from the right starting at 10am today) is 2061. The 5th bar from the right starts at 11:15am and is the last bar before lunch break at 11:30. The 4th bar from the right starts at 1pm and is the first after the lunch break.

There were some huge and sudden buy volumes on large cap stocks right before lunch break. The reason is unclear at this time.

(A small note about this chart: in China rising price bars are red, falling price bars blue or green).

Alex Castaldo adds:

See  this news article "China Trading Error " for a possible  (after the fact) explanation.

Leo Jia follows up:

Everbright Securities has admitted it as a trading error and has petitioned to the authorities to void the trades, but it seems that the authorities didn't approve.

But the complication is what happened after the "error". All stock trades are T+1, so Everbright could not sell what it bought on Friday. To the best it could, it redeemed as many stocks as it could to ETF shares and sold the ETF shares on Friday. It also greatly increased its short positions in the index futures, resulting it being the largest short position holder of the index futures with a total of 7130 contracts. Everbright claims these are all defensive activities.

Clearly all these will cause more stir in this coming week. But what is important is to see how the authorities will treat this case after their investigations. The short positions give people reasons to question that it could very well be a calculated activity to manipulate the market. The hope is that the authorities doesn't open a door now for similar type of manipulations in the future.

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