by ilene - March 20th, 2011 6:45 pm
Complexity researchers who study the behavior of stock markets may have identified a signal that precedes crashes.
They say the telltale sign is a measure of co-movement, or the likelihood of stocks to move in the same direction. When a market is healthy, co-movement is low. But in the months and years before a crash, co-movement seems to grow.
Regardless of whether stock prices go up or down or stay the same, they do so in tandem. People are copying each other, and a small nudge can send everyone in the same direction. The system appears primed for collapse.
“One of the most important things happening now is that economists are trying to understand, what is systemic risk? When is the entire system vulnerable to disaster? Our results show that we have a direct, unambiguous measure of that vulnerability,” said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute.
Seen through an econophysicist’s eyes, a stock market panic is an avalanche.
Bar-Yam’s findings, released Feb. 13 on arXiv, are part of an emerging research field known as econophysics. It applies to economics insights from the physical world, especially from systems in which networks of interacting units produce radical collective behaviors.
Heated water turning to gas is one such behavior, known technically as a phase transition. Another is snow gathering into an avalanche. Seen through an econophysicist’s eyes, a stock market panic is an avalanche, too.
Keep reading here: Possible Early Warning Sign for Market Crashes | Wired Science | Wired.com.
Are Liberals Driven By a Desire for Novel Pleasure and Conservatives by Fear of Pain? If So, How Does that Affect Investing, Politics and Happiness?
by ilene - March 10th, 2011 3:47 pm
Courtesy of George Washington’s Blog
Preface: This essay slams partisan liberals and partisan conservatives. If you think I’m unfairly criticizing "your" side, it might be because you’re falling into a self-destructive pattern of defending your narrow worldview, which is the whole point of this discussion.
In addition, I would bet that the "conservatives" showing fear are not really conservatives, but Republican party loyalists and authoritarians, and likewise the "liberals" showing a lack of discipline are not true progressives but naive, unthinking Democratic party loyalists. Indeed, some of the bravest people I’ve ever met are libertarians, and some of the most disciplined people I’ve ever met are progressives.
Remember, poll after poll shows that both national parties are deeply unpopular with an electorate looking for something new and different. It is those who love one of the two mainstream parties who are the extremists.
Numerous studies have claimed to show that conservatives tend to be more fearful than liberals.
For example, Wired reported in 2008:
In reflex tests of 46 political partisans, psychologists found that conservatives were more likely than liberals to be shocked by sudden threats.
Accompanying the physiological differences were deep differences on hot-button political issues: military expansion, the Iraq war, gun control, capital punishment, the Patriot act, warrantless searches, foreign aid, abortion rights, gay marriage, premarital sex and pornography.
"People are experiencing the world, experiencing threat, differently," said University of Nebraska political scientist John Hibbing. "We have very different physiological orientations."
The study, published today in Science, has not yet been duplicated, but adds a potentially troubling piece to the puzzle of biology, behavior and politics.
Earlier studies have linked reflexive responses to threats — which for testing purposes take the form of loud noises and graphic images — with existing states of heightened anxiety.
Though the Science study’s authors cautioned against an overly broad interpretation of their findings, the results suggest that fear leads to political conservatism.
Study co-author Kevin Smith, also a University of Nebraska political scientist … agreed that "people with stronger responses are more sensitive to potential threats in their environment."
And the Telegraph reported last December:
Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.
On the otherhand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and
by ilene - September 8th, 2010 3:06 pm
Interesting article on P/E Expansion & Contraction by Barry Ritholtz. Notice in the chart below that P/E ratios now are about aveage – not at the depths seen in previous bear markets. Unless the historical norms are truly moving higher, this suggests there’s further downside in P/E ratios. – Ilene
I believe these articles are asking the wrong question. Rather than wondering if the value of P/E ratio is fading, the better question is, “What does a falling P/E ratio mean?” The chart below will help answer that question.
We can define Bull and Bear markets over the past 100 years in terms of P/E expansion and contraction. I always show the chart below when I give speeches (from Crestmont Research, my annotations in blue) to emphasize the impact of crowd psychology on valautions.
Consider the message of this chart. It strongly suggests (at least to me) the following:
Bull markets are periods of P/E expansion. During Bulls, investors are willing to pay increasingly more for each dollar of earnings;
Bear markets are periods of P/E contraction. Investors demand more earnings for each dollar of share price they are willing to pay.
Source: Crestmont Research
by ilene - August 1st, 2010 12:41 pm
In case you’re wondering, like I was, whether the meta-analysis excluded suicides, it did. – Ilene
We included in the meta-analysis studies that provided quantitative data regarding individuals’ mortality as a function of social relationships, including both structural and functional aspects. Because we were interested in the impact of social relationships on disease, we excluded studies in which mortality was a result of suicide or injury. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
By Laura Blue, courtesy of TIME
A healthy social life may be as good for your long-term health as avoiding cigarettes, according to a massive research review released Tuesday by the journal PLoS Medicine.
Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pooled data from 148 studies on health outcomes and social relationships — every research paper on the topic they could find, involving more than 300,000 men and women across the developed world — and found that those with poor social connections had on average 50% higher odds of death in the study’s follow-up period (an average of 7.5 years) than people with more robust social ties.
That boost in longevity is about as large as the mortality difference observed between smokers and nonsmokers, the study’s authors say. And it’s larger than differences in the risk of death associated with many other well-known lifestyle factors, including lack of exercise and obesity. "This is not just a few studies here and there," says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, lead author on the review and an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. "I’m hoping there will be recognition from the medical community, the public-health community and even the general public about the importance of this."
by ilene - April 23rd, 2010 3:36 am
Courtesy of Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns
Marc Faber spoke with Bloomberg News recently and had some interesting things to say about China and what he sees a burgeoning bubble. His sentiments echo those from Ten ways to spot a bubble in China by Edward Chancellor, author of a well-regarded history of financial manias, Devil Take The Hindmost.
Let me say a few words about China. The clip of Faber is at the bottom (hat tip David).
I first saw a mention of this interview in Bloomberg News’ Business Week yesterday. The article says:
“There are some symptoms of a bubble building in China, with the increase in foreign exchange reserves, rapidly rising property prices,” Faber, the publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report, said in a Bloomberg Television interview today. “From here on, the China economy will slow down regardless. Whether it will crash this year or later, I don’t know.”
The point being that, when asset markets rise, at some point (I use a divergence of two standard deviations from longer-term trend as a rule of thumb), psychology starts to dominate price activity. It is rational that people speculate in an asset class that has risen so far above trend. But, that’s the point at which anything could happen. Mark Buchanan has a good analogy about “fingers of instability” in his book Ubiquity. What he shows is that many different systems reach a critical state in which any minor change in dynamics can have a disproportionate impact on the entire system because of the fingers of instability that have built up. This is the critical state.
Buchanan uses a sand pile as an example where adding one grain of sand to the pile could cause one, ten, one thousand or ten thousand grains to avalanche down the sand pile. What he demonstrates is that systems reach a critical state in which standard distributions (the bell curve) wildly understate event probabilities.
The overall point – one that Jeremy Grantham seems to make in an FT interview as well - is that markets become very unstable as they become far advanced above the longer-term trendline. And while markets always revert to mean, they do so in a violent and unpredictable way once you reach that critical state. That’s what crises are…
by ilene - February 26th, 2010 11:20 pm
Courtesy of Tim at The Psy-Fi Blog
Universal Number Theory
One of the odder things about the universe is that the small set of numbers that define its structure, the so-called universal constants, don’t seem to have any structure of their own. You’d have thought that whatever immortal deity breathed life into the whole shebang would have at least have bothered to make sure that reality was defined in simple integer values your average gameshow contestant could remember. Yet someone’s just calculated Pi to more decimal places than you can read in a lifetime. The universe is strangely irrational, it would seem.
More likely, however, is that the irrationality lies in our heads. If you look at the way we treat numbers for investment purposes it’s probably a good job the infinite cosmos is specified in irrational numbers, because if it were otherwise we’d probably have sold it to the lowest bidder eons ago. Humans, it seems, treat numbers as an approximation to reality, unlike reality, which treats humans as an approximation to nothing.
That Friday 13th Feeling
Under standard economic theories one price should be much the same as another but all experienced practitioners know that this isn’t so – some numbers are much more likely to occur than others. Anyone with even a basic appreciation of behavioural psychology would expect no more or no less – people are as arbitrarily inconsistent about numbers as they are about everything else. In western culture, for instance, thirteen has acquired negative connotations to the point where many tower blocks omit the number from their floor numbering plans, presumably on the grounds that the universe can’t count. Beware, for fourteen is the new thirteen. Ha!
Despite the obvious irrationality of ascribing luck to a number many people are petrified of Fridays falling on the thirteenth of the month. Such is the human propensity to translate mental muddle into actual behavioural nonsense that it turns out that more accidents do occur on these days. So either there’s a malevolent demon tripping us up or our incipient fears are causing us to fall over our own feet. Mental confusion in our heads often turns into real problems in the real-world.
Round Number Attractions
by ilene - December 5th, 2009 1:34 pm
This is a terrific essay on risk taking by Tim. Highly recommended reading for traders. – Ilene
Courtesy of Tim at The Psy-Fi Blog
Risk Seekers, Risk Fearers
On average stock traders lose money. So do people who play the lottery. Yet both sets of people will often buy insurance as well. On one hand people are risk takers, engaging in risky and usually unprofitable activities, yet on the other they’re risk adverse, looking to protect themselves against possible, although often unlikely, losses.
Mostly we don’t find this particularly odd. Yet it poses a particular problem for economists and psychologists trying to disentangle the various threads that make up the skein of the human condition. They feel we should either be risk seekers or risk fearers: to be simultaneously both suggests something strange is going on. Stock pickers take note: sell insurers, buy lotteries. Or is it the other way around?
Markowitz’s Lottery Puzzle
One of the earliest researchers to note this gambling/insurance peculiarity was Harry Markowitz who we’ve met before in Markowitz’s Portfolio Theory and the Efficient Frontier. In the same year he published the paper that eventually led to modern Portfolio Theory, the efficient markets mayhem and a Nobel Prize he also wrote The Utility of Wealth in which he both described this confused risk model and sought to explain it.
It’s a bit of surprise to find the father of rational investing theories elaborating on a subject which describes how irrational people really are. However his two 1952 papers are linked. While The Utility of Wealth describes how people really behave Portfolio Selection describes how they should behave to maximise their wealth. We can’t blame Markowitz for the investment industry using his ideas with all the subtlety of a Mob family collecting a debt from the man who wasted their mother with a cheesegrater.
Models which really aim to describe the way humans deal with risk are deluded and denuded if they exclude the risk-seeking part of the human experience. Deluded because they ignore the evidence of everyday life and denuded because they strip away the essence of human experience. Humanity would still be trolling around on its knuckles in East Africa if curiosity about what was on the other side of the forest canopy hadn’t…
by ilene - November 4th, 2009 10:55 pm
The late Jesse Livermore is considered one of the best traders of all time. His exploits have been chronicled in several books, with the most widely read being Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (Wiley Investment Classics)by Edwin Lefevre, originally published in 1923.
Livermore was wealthy and broke several times over during his tumultuous life, which ended in his suicide. His ability to make and lose millions garnered him many lessons which the trading community have enshrined over the decades since his death. Yet these lessons and rules remain as pertinent today as they were in the early twentieth century.
We’ll take a look at several of his trading rules to remind us why we must have a plan in place before trading a dollar of our hard-earned money.
(I must give credit to the Lefevre book mentioned above, as well as Jesse Livermore: World’s Greatest Stock Trader by Richard Smitten, for the following ideas.)
Lesson Number One: Cut your losses quickly.
Nowhere is this rule more apparent than in the modern-day crash our markets experienced in the fall of 2008. For those market participants who “bought, held, and hoped,” the gut-wrenching drop left them paralyzed, disillusioned, and angry at the market. They felt like they had no control and no choice as the losses spiraled down the rabbit hole. The primary culprits of this death trap are hopeful thinking and fearful paranoia.
As a market slides lower, a trader will rationalize his losing position by either doubling down (buying more at these now-cheaper prices) or at the very least, holding on because “there’s just no way this market can go lower.” If merely this one simple rule was implemented to “cut your losses,” the vast majority of traders would be light years ahead of the crowd.
As soon as a trade is contemplated, a trader must know at what point in time he’ll be proven wrong and exit a position. If a trader doesn’t know his exit before he takes the entry, he might as well go to the racetrack or casino where at least the odds can be quantified. Trading without an exit plan is like driving a car without insurance. You might go years without a major crash, but when the crash occurs (and…
by ilene - October 31st, 2009 1:17 am
Sauce-Bearnaise Syndrome. So there’s a name for my aversion to seafood and anything on the same plate. And organ meats, and fake cheese. And cool whip. – Ilene
Courtesy of Tim at The Psy-Fi Blog
If you’re unfortunate enough to eat something that violently disagrees with you, so much so that you end up vomiting, you’ll likely find yourself suffering from Sauce-Bearnaise Syndrome. Otherwise known as taste aversion, it causes us to associate the taste of the food we’ve puked up with the illness that caused it to such an extent we’re unable to face eating it again.
As I can personally attest, this effect is incredibly strong even when the food in question has nothing to do with the illness. Even knowing this doesn’t help because the primacy we place on personal experience over all others is so strong. However, while this may be of great survival value when grazing forest floors it’s less helpful in investing, where personal experience is often the worst possible guide to the best strategy.
Adaptive, Involuntary and Subjective Investors
The adaptive value of Sauce-Bearnaise Syndrome is pretty obvious. If you’re a hungry semi-evolved simian wandering around a primeval forest and you happen upon a tasty looking mushroom then eating it may make you extremely sick. Assuming you survive the experience it’s a darn good evolutionary trick to find a way of stopping the stupid ape from making the same mistake again – so automatically triggering an aversion to the taste is nature’s way of keeping us alive. Of course, if we ate the other sort of mushroom we’d probably spend a day dreaming of kaleidoscopic antelopes and evolve to become an investment analyst.
However, when I became sick after eating my favourite Indian curry it was nothing to do with the food, but a bug I’d picked up on a skiing trip with a host of plague ridden kids. It took a year and a lot of red wine to overcome the aversion, despite knowing exactly what the problem was. The S-B effect is involuntary and powerful and entirely subjective.
by ilene - October 22nd, 2009 8:39 pm
This is a guest post by Denise Shull from TraderPsyches.
In order to really understand either what went wrong in the credit housing bubble or to improve institutional or individual risk management processes, one really needs to take a step back and rethink their thinking. We tend to believe that we know how we think or even worse, that we know the best way to think (after all didn’t we go to college to learn to think?) but given the advances in brain science in the past decade it is clear that we really don’t know how it is we think.
Thinking is germane to analysis and decisions and in turn confidence and beliefs are germane to implementing a decision. I still can think of no better way to say it than Colin Camerer of Cal-Tech and his co-authors Lowenstein and Prelec when they said “It is NOT ENOUGH (emphasis mine) to know what SHOULD be done, one must also FEEL it.” Well invert that and you get that all doing has a feeling associated with it.
Now Damasio and Bechara showed us this from The University of Iowa and USC starting in the early 1990’s but word really hasn’t hit Wall Street (or Washington either btw). Behavioral finance observations confirm that we indeed feel better when we rely purely on mathematical formulas but the real world doesn’t always fit into an equation.
And guess what – our brains (particularly on risk) know it! On the majority of days, it works fine to do it the old way. But doing well in the middle isn’t what makes you the real money or saves you from the black swans – that requires knowing what to do when things DO NOT go according to plan.
The solution lies in using our “maths” within the context of consciousness about the foundational and relevant qualitative data. Our brains are good at pattern recognition – call it implicit learning or intuition – it is the same. The problem is we don’t value that data – partially because we don’ t know how. In fact not all that long ago it wasn’t blink and Malcolm Gladwell getting $100K to talk about