One must repeat that the unconditional drift of the market is 10% a year. Whenever you are short, you have a drift going against you. When you wish to go short, chances are that the drift of the market will be above 10% a year. That’s because you and others think there’s a bear market retrospectively, and require a higher rate of return to be invested. In addition there are frictional costs to being short. Put them all together, and I’ve never seen a short seller who’s made money, nor has the Palindrome. It does give psychic value however in that it lets you vent your hatred of the system and yourself. It also gives stature because you are always on the negative which seems so much more poignant than the positive.

Since you always are giving away money on the short side, on an expectational basis, it is best not to consider it as the wind is against you unless you are truly insecure. The question of when you should go short is the wrong question. A better question is when you should increase the leverage of your long investments. I would propose a hypothesis that it is good to do that when the market has suffered a decline with a given period of a certain magnitude or more.

I believe the above reasoning, as well as the questions I ask bears about whether things are truly so much worse than before, and whether if they are, is this bullish or bearish, which I have made repeatedly since 1960 but also for the last four years, during which the market has doubled, has prevented many people from self destruction.

Dr. Janice Dorn provides a different perspective:

Part of the profundity of Victor’s remark is that the bears make poignant arguments which are almost tailor-made to touch something very deep inside of those who are always watching and waiting for some disaster or catastrophe. The bearish arguments tend to be more scholarly, detailed, laced with Latin words and appeal to the limbic core of the brain (which holds memories of fear and terror and sees them even in their absence), as well as the higher neocortical areas which are, in some way, hard-wired to process, consolidate and retain bad news more firmly and longer lasting than good news. Bad news is stored as pain and that pain can be evoked in almost any situation. Good news tends to be more fleeting and there is more difficulty reaching into the brain stores to retrieve the memories of euphoria. Perhaps the neurochemistry of euphoria (be it dopamine, serotonin, norepi, or any of the thousands of neurochemicals) is configured in a way as to be more transient, spontaneous and non-entrained. Depression, disaster, danger lurking around every corner is much more “reachable” in terms of our psyche. Once again, this is likely a function of the way that the cortical neuro-pathways are laid down and communicate electrochemically with each other in the vast cortical landscape.

In any case, the rah-rah cheerleaders are often seen as buffoons, whereas the permabears are the scholars and masters of Latin.

“A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink”
–George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

John Bollinger adds some numbers to the discussion:

S&P 500, 1950 to date, returns by month, ex dividends mean = 0.734%, standard deviation = 4.085%

Dr. William Rafter explains the professional’s dilemma:

Dear Mistress Market,

To second the chair’s remarks about the risks of being short, I emphatically state that “a friend” has never made any money on the short side of equities. Even in profound bear markets, the friend has gotten nothing but frustration out of the short side. Conversely the friend has been able to make money on the long side in those same profound bear markets. But the friend has a problem: people who hire his services want him to add a short component.

More than a quarter of the hedge funds pursue a long/short (”L/S”) style. Let’s assume that our friend had a very successful fully-invested long-only (”L-O”) strategy. The funds don’t want to employ his L-O strategy because they are under the impression that a market-neutral strategy of L/S is less risky. But our friend knows that the short side is just wasted; he can prove that his L-O strategy beats a L/S version of the same thing. By beating it, we mean in every way: higher Sharpe Ratio, lower drawdowns, etc. Now the friend is looking for an allocation of X dollars in his L-O program, but the funds only want to give him .3X or .5X. Since he clearly cannot make money on the short side, he has adapted by finding a strategy that will go nowhere - and that’s what he shorts. (He cannot short the index, because he knows that also will go up.) By his little charade he gets his full allocation, and the fees that go with it.

But this irks, as there are inefficiencies all around: extra transaction costs, risk of errors, extra man-hours, etc. Furthermore, our friend assumes that he is not unique. Others must have the same problem. With more than a quarter of the hedge funds using L/S strategies, how much is being wasted? Is our friend on ethical quicksand by giving the “professional client” what that client says he wants?



Laurence Glazier asks if Optimism in the Markets Exists for More Simple Reasons:

Putting it very simply (or too simply?) is the positive drift in the market an inevitable manifestation of human potential and the innate cheerful optimism we all have, or at least were born with?

Scott Brooks provides his perspective:

I would say no.

Most people are not innately positive or optimistic. Most Americans are blessed by capitalism simply by accident of birth. If they had been born in a communist country, they would simply be sheep there (as they are sheep here) albeit much more unhappy sheep with a greater sense of hopelessness.

Growing up where I did and being surrounded by the people (and their negative destructive attitudes), I don’t think most people are innately optimistic. Any optimism they have is because they are surrounded by an environment of capitalism which breeds some optimism because here they are at least safe (no secret police to break down your door in the middle of the night), they are well fed (no mass starvation, or really, any starvation here), there is consistency of rules (rules and laws are not based on the arbitrary whim of whomever is in charge) and they can see that what is happening around them is consistent with what they innately know is the philosophy of life (as opposed to the propaganda they are exposed to in statist countries…innately they know its a load of cr-p).

No, people are not innately optimistic. Capitalists are. Think about it. What we have today is because of the skills and mind set of very few men. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Edison, Gates. Or men like Jefferson, Franklin, and Henry. Or scientists like Currie, Oppenheimer, Watson and Crick, or my uncle Bob.

What we have as a country is the result of just a few people who were truly optimistic and had the strength of character to fight through all the naysayers and negative busybodies (the Elsworth Tooheys and Wesley Mouchs, Dan Rathers, Paul Krugmans, Alan Abelsons, etc. of the world).

No, people are not optimists. They are negative pessimists who will almost always resort to the lowest common denominator of gossip, destructive thinking and thinking the worst of people.

Just a few of us actually create something of value in this world.

The rest of the world rides on our coat tails….and most of them are dragging anchors behind them or throwing rocks at the back of our heads, or climbing up on our backs to whisper in our ears all the negative things they can think of…but the nice thing is that on our coattails there is also an odd person or two (not very many mind you) who are glad to be on our coat tails…

They appreciate what the men of the mind do for them. And they fight the negative naysayers dragging anchors, throwing rocks or whispering in negativism in our ears.

They are known by many names…but most on this list would think of them as the “Eddie Willers” of the world.

Prof. Gordon Haave Disagrees:

No. The things you cite explain the growing economy. The positive drift is simply what the market pays you to part with your $$$ to put into volatile investments. In fact, the more optimism you have the less the market would have to pay you, so that would actually bring returns down, which of course highlights the important to us optimists of people like Abelson. If everyone thought like us, returns would be lower.





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