On May 17th 1792, twenty-four stock brokers met under a buttonwood tree outside 68 Wall Street and agreed to set up the New York Stock and Exchange board. The tree was a symbol of Wall Street, but also, it was where people originally met to trade, to discuss and to argue.
The Economist has done an excellent job of keeping the tradition alive by bringing together top global financial executives, policymakers, global regulators and opinion leaders to discuss and debate proposed guidelines for the financial community, seeking to bridge fundamental financial issues with macroeconomic and geopolitical viewpoints.
As I mentioned yesterday, I usually don’t like conferences but not only did I find myself sitting between BOE Governor Mervyn King and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz but we got to watch my favorite economics rap video together and even met the guys who created it from EconStories, who have lots of good videos on their site (of a more serious nature).
The conference itself does not take itself too seriously. Even Nassim Taleb was able to make a few jokes while explaining to us why the financial system is irrevocably screwed up unless we give it a major overhaul. Taleb’s main points were:
People are inherently greedy.
The Financial Crisis was caused by and increase of hidden risks that was encouraged by the rules set forth in Basel II
Multiple exposure to low-probability, high-risk events accumulate to high probability of bad outcome (Taleb’s "Black Swan").
Bonus packages and compensation encourage very bad risky behavior. Stock options that offer potential upside and no downside encourage the maxing of risk-taking by potential beneficiaries.
This leads to a banking system where all the traders get rich and all the investors become poor.
There is a general,.chronic underestimation of risk and business schools reinforce this bad behavior.
Regulation gives investors a false sense of security.
Capitalism must be symmetrical – bonus without penalties (clawbacks, etc.) must be eliminated.
When I am at one of these conferences, I like to watch the audience reaction to what is being said. Here we have a gathering of the World’s movers and shakers and sometimes the reaction to what is being said is more important than the thing that is said. For instance, my note on Taleb’s comment that regulations give investors a false sense of security is that…
The market value of the high yield FINRA-BLP Active U.S. Corporate Bond Index relative to its investment grade counterpart has now exceeded the level seen in May 2007, at the peak of the credit bubble.
If you ask me, it looks like risk-taking is back with a vengeance.
This is interesting. However, the conclusion that "individuals with antisocial personality disorder may not be unaware of… consequences… but instead that their intense reward-seeking motivation consumes their attention wholly until they have fulfilled their desire for reward" seems overstated, and only a small piece of the psychopath puzzle.
For a different perspective, that of a financial writer, and an even farther-fetched conclusion, read the second article below. The same data can be interpreted to show that a trader taking on excessive risk is "hopped up on dopamine" so they can’t see negative consequences, making them "kind of a psychopath." Take all this with a grain of salt haloperidol. - Ilene
An overactive dopamine reward system in the brain may help explain why psychopaths pursue rewards without regard for consequences, according to new research published this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Previous research has found that individuals who suffer from antisocial personality disorder—often referred to as sociopathology or psychopathology, despite debate over whether these are distinct conditions—lack empathy and fear. Yet this new study, from researchers at Vanderbilt University examines what these individuals may have in excess. According to the study, led by Joshua Buckholtz, a graduate student in psychology at Vanderbilt, individuals with antisocial personality disorder traits show signs of dysfunction in dopamine reward systems—suggesting that, in psychopaths, the drive toward reward can overwhelm all else.
Prior to participating in two different experiments, study subjects completed personality tests to identify presence and severity of psychopathic characteristic—including aggression, lack of empathy, and capacity for manipulation, among other things. Drawing on previous research that has established a strong link between substance abuse and psychopathology, in the first experiment researchers gave participants amphetamine, then used functional Magentic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans to monitor how dopamine release was affected by the stimulant. In a second experiment, study participants were told that they would be paid for performing a simple task, and researchers conducted brain scans while they completed the tasks.
In both experiments, researchers found that participants who had psychopathic characteristics according to the personality test, were more likely than those without those traits to have greater activity in the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain associated with dopamine reward processing—whether in response to the chemical stimulant, or the suggestion of monetary reward.
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…
There’ve been a lot of studies that indicate that women make better investors than men. They’re less inclined to overtrade, which reduces the fees they pay and means they start with an inbuilt advantage. However, there’s not been much analysis of why this behaviour occurs.
For it’s not self-evident that the lack of a pair of testicles should automatically make you a better investor. The pop-psychological view that this is due to surges of testosterone driving risk taking actions by red-blooded alpha males is highly seductive, but also pretty useless. Humans are uniquely evolved to allow us to override the urgings of of our genes, regardless of what sex organs they endow us with.
Cool Female Heads
However, there’s not much doubt that the basic finding – that women are less active traders and produce better returns on average over the long-term – is correct. Odean and Barber showed this in their 2001 study on overconfidence for instance. What’s more interesting, though, is how easily the idea that this is simply due to non-eradicable sex differences is accepted. In fact some observers have gone so far as to suggest that market extremes could be avoided by ensuring more women are present in investment houses – the idea being, presumably, that the cooler headed females will reduce the hot-headed male impulses to trade irrationally.
Like hell. More likely, of course, the presence of additional women would simply stimulate the men into ever more risky trades in feverish attempts to impress them: taking risks may have benefits that don’t translate into pure financial advantage. Meanwhile any women interested enough to get involved in market trading are more likely to do so in order to become rich rather than to act as a self-regulating safety valve for their male colleagues.
Now before we can investigate this more we need to take a careful look at what causes sex differences. It’s perfectly obvious that our genes have fitted males and females differently for the purposes of reproduction but beyond that it’s surprisingly difficult to definitively tease apart the influences of genes and environment. Even the well known male map reading advantage can be traced to the greater willingness of parents to allow young
Just when it seemed that the ever deteriorating situation in the Crimean, the unexpected plunge in Chinese exports which has sent the Yuan reeling again, the Copper slam which is down some 10% in two days, and the outright collapse in Japan's capital flows, not to mention the worst GDP print under Abe, may not be quite "priced in" by a market that is now expecting well beyond perfection in perpetuity, further shown by Goldman over the weekend which reprorted that revenue multiples have never been greater, and futures ...
The global macro picture is bad enough in and of itself. Simmering feuds between rival nations certainly do not help the picture. Here are a few recent stories that caught my eye.
China has No Room For Compromise with Japan
The New York Times reports China has No Room For Compromise with Japan. March 8, 2014 The Chinese foreign minister took a strong stand Saturday on China’s growing territorial disputes with neighboring nations, saying that “there is no room for compromise” with Japan and that China would “never accept unreasonable demands from smaller countries,” an apparent reference to Southeast Asian nations.
In the East China Sea, China refuses to accept Japan’s administration of...
After a requisite knee-jerk selloff, stock market bulls shook off Russia’s military action in Ukraine and Crimea as just another buying opportunity. Even adding the Russian Bear to their arsenal couldn’t give bears the upper hand for long. The S&P 500 large cap index set yet another all-time intraday high and closed at a new record high on Friday. Also, the Russell 2000 small cap index set new record intraday and closing highs last week north of 1200. However, the technical condition is getting overbought, and Sabrient’s SectorCast rankings have moved from bullish to a more neutral bias.
The eagerly-awaited jobs report on Friday showed greater jobs creation than expected in February, and January's figure was revised higher, as well. Friday was the S&P 500's fifth record closing high i...
Private equity firm Irving Place Capital ("IPC") and Victor Technologies ("Victor") announced today that they have entered into a definitive agreement to sell Victor to Colfax Corporation ("Colfax") (NYSE: CFX), a global manufacturer of gas- and fluid-handling and fabrication technology products. The all cash transaction values Victor at approximately $947 million, including the assumption of debt, and is subject to customary closing conditions.
Victor is a leading designer and manufacturer of a comprehensive suite of metal cutting, gas control, and specialty welding products. IPC acquired Victor, which was previously named Thermadyne Holdings Corporation, in a take-private transaction in December 2010.
"We are pleased with the progress that we have made in partnership ...
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And What Might the Copper Carry Trade and Plunge in Chinese Exports Be Signaling to Investors?
How likely is the market to continue higher from here? Despite everything the market inches up. Now either we are all amiss, and in face of those high winds we still see market being so resilient, which means the market will break higher and move decisively up, or next week it breaks.
Great question, and you frame it well when you reference the wall of worry the stock market continues to resiliently climb. It reminds me of a client in AR who always asks, "Yes, but where are you wrong?" Oftentimes I haven't had a satisfactory and simple answer. But, today, I think I do. And I will keep it simple.
The Global X Social Media Index ETF (Ticker: SOCL) touched fresh record highs on Thursday morning, surprising no one given the top three holdings of the Fund are Hong Kong-based Tencent Holdings (12.678%), Facebook Inc. (12.506%) and LinkedIn Corp. (8.166%), which are up 130%, 160% and 22%, respectively, since this time last year. The SOCL reflects the performance of companies involved in the social media industry, including companies that provide social networking, file sharing and other web-based media applications. Shares in the ETF rose 1.3% today to a new high of $23.00, and have soared approximately 65% since this time last year.
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Ladies and Gentlemen, hobos and tramps,
Cross-eyed mosquitoes, and Bow-legged ants,
I come before you, To stand behind you,
To tell you something, I know nothing about.
And so the circus begins in Union Square, San Francisco for this weeks JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Will the momentum from 2013, which carried the S&P Spider Biotech ETF to all time highs, carry on in 2014? The Biotech ETF beat the S&P by better than 3 points.
As I noted in my previous post, Biotechs Galore - IPOs and More, biotechs were rushing to IPOs so that venture capitalists could unwind their holdings (funds are usually 5-7 years), as well as take advantage of the opportune moment...
Welcome to the fouth update of the IRA Virtual Portfolio. First I am going to summarize the current state of the Portfolio then I will get into all the activity we had during September expiration.
Profit and Loss – Net of closed positions the portfolio is up a total of $769
Market Commentary – Last expiration I said, "I would like to put a total of $20,000 to work by the end of SEP expiration. If the VIX pops up to around 20 I plan to put about $50,000 total to work." The market didn't quite reach the goal but I did manage to deploy $15,000 of buying power. I still feel the market is too high and expect a correction during October. If the vix pops up to around 20 I still plan to put about $50,000 to work. If a correction doesn't happen I still plan to have a total of $25,000 in buying power put to work by October expiration. Now on to the act...
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