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
"I believe that anyone who has a job and works full time, they should be able to pay the things that sustain life: food, shelter and clothing. I can't even do that."
That rather depressing quote is from 61-year old Rebecca Cornick. She’s a grandmother and a 9-year Wendy’s veteran who spoke to CBS News. Rebecca makes $9 an hour and her plight is representative of fast food workers across the country who are campaigning for higher pay.
The fast food worker pay debate is part of a larger discussion as "states and cities across the country [wrestle] with the idea of rais...
This chart looks at the Thompson/Reuters Commodity Index on a monthly basis for the past 50 years
The index took off in the early 1970’s and rallied over 200% in a little over a decade at (1). Then it created a potential double top. What followed at (2)? An unwinding of the rally that lasted nearly 20-years, taking it to the bottom of its rising channel.
In the early 2000’s, the index took off again, gaining over 250% in a decades time at (3) and the rallied looks to have ended in 2011, as it was hitting the top of this long-term rising channel.
Since hitting the top of the channel the index has been pretty soft,...
Combining a keen eye for value with a tenacity for instigating corporate change has proven to be a winning formula for Jeffrey Ubben's ValueAct Capital.
ValueAct Capital's Jeffrey Ubben describes how he hedges without shorting, why he may take 18 months to build a core investment, why he expects M&A activity to take off in the coming year, why he resists the “macro” fetish, and why he sees unrecognized value in Willis Group, VeriSign, Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc (NYSE:VRX) (TSE:VRX) Pharmaceuticals, C.R. Bard and Misys.
Harris&Ewing “Slaves reunion DC. Ages: 100, 104, 103; Rev. Simon P. Drew, born free.” 1921
Time to tackle a topic that’s very hard to get right, and that will get me quite a few pairs of rolling eyes. I want to argue that societies need a social fabric, a social contract, and that without those they must and will fail, descend into chaos. Five months ago, I wrote the following about Europe:
As oil prices tanked, hedge-fund managers and other large speculators increased bullish bets on Treasury securities to the most in two years, even as the Federal Reserve moves closer to raising interest rates.
MagneGas Corporation (NASDAQ: MNGA) this week completed metal cutting demonstrations with over 40 representatives from the Fossil Fuel division of a major northeast Utility. The Company believes the demonstrations were successful as they have received multiple requests for fuel as a result of those meetings.
The Utility is one of the ten largest in the United States with over $35 billion in assets and large volume use of acetylene. Multiple company officials and representatives from the Fossil Fuel Division of the Utility were in attendance. This particular division is the largest user of acetylene and propane at the Company. The test used MagneGas® to cut 2 inch steel plates and resulted in very little pre-heat time with clean cuts. Officials have indicated an int...
Tech indices finished strong after they overcame the opening half hour of selling. The Fed statement was greeted favorably, although market breadth is not looking pretty. The Nasdaq still has a distance to travel to make back all of its losses, but has done well to hold up against Semiconductor weakness.
The Semiconductor Index is struggling to make inroads against past losses as the Nasdaq and Nasdaq 100 push respectable gains. I find it hard to see how this scenario can continue, ...
In this weekly update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review our weekly fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors, and then offer up some actionable trading ideas, including a sector rotation strategy using ETFs and an enhanced version using top-ranked stocks from the top-ranked sectors.
Corporate earnings reports have been mixed at best, interspersed with the occasional spectacular report -- primarily from mega-caps like Google (GOOGL), Facebook (FB), or Amazon (AMZN). Some of the bul...
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Baxter Int. (BAX) is splitting off its BioSciences division into a new company called Baxalta. Shares of Baxalta will be given as a tax-free dividend, in the ratio of one to one, to BAX holders on record on June 17, 2015. That means, if you want to receive the Baxalta dividend, you need to buy the stock this week (on or before June 12).
Back in December, I wrote a post on my blog where I compared the performances of various ETFs related to the oil industry. I was looking for the best possible proxy to match the moves of oil prices if you didn't want to play with futures. At the time, I concluded that for medium term trades, USO and the leveraged ETFs UCO and SCO were the most promising. Longer term, broader ETFs like OIH and XLE might make better investment if oil prices do recover to more profitable prices since ETF linked to futures like USO, UCO and SCO do suffer from decay. It also seemed that DIG and DUG could be promising if OIH could recover as it should with the price of oil, but that they don't make a good proxy for the price of oil itself.
Kim Parlee interviews Phil on Money Talk. Be sure to watch the replays if you missed the show live on Wednesday night (it was recorded on Monday). As usual, Phil provides an excellent program packed with macro analysis, important lessons and trading ideas. ~ Ilene
The replay is now available on BNN's website. For the three part series, click on the links below.
Part 1 is here (discussing the macro outlook for the markets)
Part 2 is here. (discussing our main trading strategies)
Part 3 is here. (reviewing our pick of th...
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
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