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Does News Move Markets….Sort Of…Maybe…Well No Actually

I was chatting the other day with someone who was having trouble with their trading system. Their approach was based on trading news events. Such a plan is predicated on the notion that news events move markets in certain ways and whilst this movement might not be wholly predictable it will at least generate some form of activity. Such a trading system has a single giant assumption – that news and news related events move price. If this maxim does not hold up then the system is a bust.

It has been sometime since I looked at this question and I had a vague recollection of research done in the 1980’s that looked at this question and found that news as a source of trading ideas was a bust. So armed with the dimmest of memories I went looking through my archive and found what I was looking for. David Cutler, James Poterba and Lawrence Summers produced a working paper titled What Moves Stock Prices for the Department of Economics at MIT in 1988. This paper looked at the 50 largest single day moves in the US market since World War Two – I have included the events from the original monograph below.

Event 3

If you take a cursory look at the events above you could argue that news events do move markets. However, there is a glitch in that some movements defy explanation – there is simply no event that can be seen as a casual trigger for a market move. Cutler et al stated that news events could really only be useful as an agent for movement in about half of all cases of the variance in stock price movement and in my world half is a fluke.

The interesting side issue with the work of Cutler et al is that it puts another hole in the Efficient Market Hypothesis because stock price movements according to the EMH reflect the assessment of investors to new information. If markets move without the the addition of new information to the system then something else is happening that is not explained by the EMH. And it seems in the case of broad brush analysis as performed by Cutler that prices move without any significant input.

This initial work has been expanded upon by Ray Fair at Yale University who looked at outsized movements in the S&P500 futures contract. This new work had much greater granularity to it in that it looked at five minute data, something that would have been difficult in the original work by Cutler and crew simply because the available technology would not have allowed it. Fair compared what he defined as big movements with news items emanating from the Dow Jones News Service, Associated Press and New York Times. The upshot of this investigation seemed to be that the majority of large events have no news based driver. They were only able to attribute a news item to 69 of the 1159 big moves that were examined. Recent  flash crashes seem to support this notion of significant market moves  occurring without a notional driver.

So we come back to the original assumption that news events drive markets and that these moves offer opportunities that can be traded. It would seem on the evidence available that this notion is false.

‘Earnings bonanza’ to fuel strong growth for Australian shares in 2017

I do enjoy it when people email me to ask me about something they have read in the media. My enjoyment comes from the simple fact that I dont read business publications. I find them irrelevant, stupid, depressing and generally lacking in original thought. However, in the spirit of being polite I did take a look at this article from the Fairfax trash pile. The basic contention is that corporate earnings will go through the roof and that this will drive share prices through the roof. Implicit within any such article are two very basic assumptions and these assumptions are the foundations upon which this argument sits. At the heart of the piece is the assumption that analysts are capable of making accurate predictions regarding the direction of earnings. Secondly, it is assumed  that perceptions of future earnings drive share prices.

With regard to the former, the forecasting track record of advisors is poor with a tendency to consistently overestimate earnings as shown by the image below. Analysts are persistently in the grip of optimism bias when it comes to forecasting and this adversely impacts their ability to make any form of accurate forward judgement. This lack of ability is also clouded by the hubris involved in thinking that you can make an accurate prediction about anything.


Source – Dr Ed Yardeni

The psychology behind this incompetence is reasonably easy to understand once you understand the nature of the finance industry. This is the dont bite the hand that feeds you syndrome. Within the finance industry very little money is now made by the sell or advisory side of the industry. The big money has always been in corporate advising, that is restructurings, capital raising and the like. It is here that the fees total in the tens of millions of dollars. As such you dont want to offend companies that you might do very lucrative work for by telling everyone that their business is crap and that the company is run by people who would struggle to run a Mr Whippy van. It is much better to tell everyone that that the sun shines out of their proverbial and that everyone will get a free unicorn in the morning.

The second assumption is whether or not earnings drive share prices and this to my way of thinking is a more interesting problem since it moves into the realm of investor perception. To get a sense of this I looked at the year on year changes in earnings for the S&P 500 and compared that to the yearly return for the S&P 500 and plotted these initially in the form of a simple bar chart to get a sense of any form of relationship.

earnings bar

However bar charts dont really give a true sense of relationships or correlations so I  plotted the data as a smoothed scattergram.


So the question is what do the squiggly lines tell me. They tell me that sometimes earnings growth and share prices move together and sometimes they dont and if I do a bit of dodgy stats-fu on my trusty old Casio I find that that changes in earnings and share price growth have a very weak correlation of 0.37. The reverse intepretation is that most of the time they dont share a relationship. But there are some caveats in generating correlations. The correlation I generated is what is known as a Pearsons correlation, this looks at the linear interdependence of variables and it can be affected by outliers such as we see in the rebound from the GFC. I also wonder about true independence between variables over time – my concern comes from the fact that markets seem to have memory and this in turn loops back to the impact of data on investor perceptions over time.

The wonderful thing about being a trader is that our perceptions and our benchmarks are very simple and they revolve around the idea of whether something can help us to make money. In this instance neither the faulty predictions of analysts nor their profoundly weak impact upon price movements convinces me that that either idea lives up to their hype.







Private Jets Are Back

Ever since the U.S. presidential election, Ed Dahlberg has pretty much had a smile on his face. He brokers the sale of private jets, and already he’s seeing interest pick up and used-aircraft prices starting to firm up. The sale of a single-engine turboprop aircraft that he recently handled went for about 5 percent more than anticipated.

“My phone is ringing off the hook” from people interested in buying used jets, said Dahlberg, president of Emerald Aviation Inc. in Manassas, Virginia. “Just the business climate feels like it’s getting better.”

The era of Donald Trump, a man long associated with conspicuous consumption, figures to be good to a whole range of luxury-goods industries. But perhaps nowhere is that excitement greater than in the private-aircraft business. Not only is Trump, whose personal Boeing 757 became an iconic campaign image, seen as someone who’ll be an advocate for the industry but he replaces a president who so often criticized private-air travel that he turned it into a taboo symbol of inequality and helped prolong an almost-decade-long sales slump.

“You’ll see more people not being gun shy or embarrassed or apologetic for operating a corporate jet,” said Steve Varsano, founder of broker The Jet Business.

More here – Bloomberg

The Year In Money

Bloomberg have been busy – click the image below to be taken to the full infographic.


Are CEO’s Worth It?

The answer is probably not – much is written about the outrageous levels of CEO pay and how little actual performance most of them deliver. Bloomberg do a  survey of the Top 100 most effective CEO’s in terms of the bang for buck they deliver for the company. I have taken the results of the survey and simply tallied how many CEO’s in each country make the list – as you can see there are two Australia CEO’s on the list and in terms of ranking we are sandwiched between the economic powerhouses of Thailand and Slovenia.


An Interview With Robert J. Shiller on Behavioral Economics

Warburton: So what you’re saying is that traditional economics has focused on an ideally rational individual, asking, “What would such a person do if he or she behaved in their own best interests based on the information available?” But behavioral economics brings in the fact that we don’t always behave in our own best interests.

Shiller: That’s right. Conventional economics misrepresents what our best interests are. A great example is the financial crisis that began in 2007. The way it began was home prices started falling rapidly. Many people had committed them­selves to mortgages and now the debt was worth more than the house was worth; they couldn’t come up with the money to pay off the mortgage, and it led to a world financial crisis. So why did that happen? Conventional economic theory can’t seem to get at the answer, which I would say is that we had a speculative bubble driven by excessive optimism, driven by public inattention to risks of such an eventuality, and errors in managing the mortgage contracts that were made. There are no errors in conventional economics: it’s all rational optimization.

More here – Pacific Standard

Venezuelans Give Up on Counting Piles of Cash and Start Weighing Them

I did not know this, although there are historical precedents such as Germany in the 1920’s.

At a delicatessen counter in eastern Caracas, Humberto Gonzalez removes slices of salty white cheese from his scale and replaces them with a stack of bolivar notes handed over by his customer. The currency is so devalued and each purchase requires so many bills that instead of counting, he weighs them.

“It’s sad,” Gonzalez says. “At this point, I think the cheese is worth more.”

It’s also one of the clearest signs yet that hyperinflation could be taking hold in a country that refuses to publish consumer-price data on a regular basis. Cash-weighing isn’t seen everywhere but is increasing, echoing scenes from some of the past century’s most-chaotic hyperinflation episodes: Post-World War I Germany, Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Zimbabwe a decade ago. 

“When they start weighing cash, it’s a sign of runaway inflation,” said Jesus Casique, financial director of Capital Market Finance, a consulting firm. “But Venezuelans don’t know just how bad it is because the government refuses to publish figures.”

More here – Bloomberg

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