Sign in     Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch us on YouTube

News and Blog

Join 5000 other sharemarket traders for regular blog updates!

Browse to a category

Blog Search

THE DISMAL SCIENCE REMAINS DISMAL

WHEN HRISTOS DOUCOULIAGOS was a young economist in the mid-1990s, he got interested in all the ways economics was wrong about itself—bias, underpowered research, statistical shenanigans. Nobody wanted to hear it. “I’d go to seminars and people would say, ‘You’ll never get this published,’” Doucouliagos, now at Deakin University in Australia, says. “They’d say, ‘this is bordering on libel.’”

Now, though? “The norms have changed,” Doucouliagos says. “People are interested in this, and interested in the science.” He should know—he’s one of the reasons why. In the October issue of the prestigious Economic Journal, a paper he co-authored is the centerpiece among a half-dozen papers on the topic of economics’ own private replication crisis, a variation of the one hitting disciplines from psychology to chemistry to neuroscience.

More here – Wired

Size Does Matter

Whilst wading through all the associated bibs and bobs that accumulate when you are away, this article popped into my feed this morning. For those too lazy to read it and I wouldn’t blame you it is a mild hysteria piece by Fairfax on the collapse of China’s state owned energy producers – PetroChina. Apparently, the collapse in value is so large (about $1.04T) that you could buy every listed company in Italy should you so  desire and according to the chart below the wipeout is impressive when compared to standard units of value such as the net worth of the worlds 12 wealthiest  people.

Petrochina 2

Much of the blame for the collapse is placed upon China’s drive to become clean and green using alternative energy technologies (something our politicians are too stupid to think about), the collapse in the price of oil and the coming rise of the electric car. However, to my way of thinking there are two things missing in the story. The first is that the bulk of the destruction in shareholder wealth occurred in the first month of trading – PetroChina has been a dog since it listed. So this is the death of a thousand cuts not a decapitation. This is that same old story of investors get sold a pup , investors hang on forever, stock dies a slow death and there is bitching and moaning. This is nothing new, the Western archetype for this was undoubtedly Enron. I am quite certain there are brokers telling local investors to hang that it will get better because good stocks always get better.

This slow demise can be seen in the chart below.

Petrochina

The second aspect that is neglected in the story is that this is China where everything is on a size and scale that often defies belief. In thinking about writing this piece I was actually wondering whether the scale of things in China actually defeats Western thinking – we are thinking at a different speed than is needed for dealing with China. Everything about China is massive as you would expect of an emerging superpower that is backed by an estimated 1.3B people. This point was also brought home to me when I caught up with a friend over the weekend and was discussing how Chinese tourists seem to have a love for shopping in London (particularity Burburry) and he said he wasn’t quite certain what to make of it. My response was simple – China is 17% of the worlds population so we had all better get used to it. And that includes journalists who need a new frame of reference when thinking about scale.

Why Does Sweden Have So Many Start-Ups?

STOCKHOLM—This is a high-tax, high-spend country, where employees receive generous social benefits and ample amounts of vacation time. Economic orthodoxy would suggest the dynamics of a welfare state like Sweden would be detrimental to entrepreneurship: Studies have found that the more a country’s government spends per capita, the smaller the number of start-ups it tends to have per worker—the idea being that high income taxes reduce entrepreneurs’ expected gains and thus their incentive to launch new companies.

And yet Sweden excels in promoting the formation of ambitious new businesses, on a level that’s unexpected for a country whose population of roughly 10 million puts it at 89th in the world in population size. Global companies like Spotify, the music-streaming service; Klarna, the online-payment firm; and King, the gaming company, were all founded here. Stockholm produces the second-highest number of billion-dollar tech companies per capita, after Silicon Valley, and in Sweden overall, there are 20 start-ups—here defined as companies of any size that have been around for at most three years—per 1,000 employees, compared to just five in the United States, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “What you see is that start-ups have a high survival rate in Sweden, and they have relatively fast growth,” Flavio Calvino, an OECD economist, told me. Sweden also ranks highest in the developed world when it comes to perceptions of opportunity: Around 65 percent of Swedes aged 18 to 64 think there are good opportunities to start a firm where they live, compared to just 47 percent of Americans in that age group.

More here – The Atlantic

PS:It does also raise the question as to why Australia has so few…..

Interest Rates Are Interesting

I have a theory that the easiest job in Australia is to be the head of one of big four banks. On day one of my employment as CEO I would do two things. First and foremost make certain they had the correct banking details so that my grossly inflated salary went into the right bank account. i would then send out a memo telling everyone to do exactly the same thing as they did last year. There is to definitely be no innovation and no customer care because that had worked so well for the past 50 years. I would wish everyone good luck and I would see them in a year to repeat the process.

However, my opinion is shifting and there is a new contender – being head of the Reserve Bank of Australia. I have come to this decision based on the fact that it has been 2528 days since the RBA last made a decision to raise interest rates and 456 days since there was any change at all. I tend to discount the endless cycle of interest rate cuts as being non decisions since rolling down hill is always much easier than walking up hill.  You can get a sense of the inertia around interest rates with the chart below.

Capture

I find the current interest rate environment very interesting because of its lack of historical parallel. However, in life all things are governed by the simple maxim of regression to the mean. Sooner or later interest rates will move back towards their long term historical average which is about 5%, which should make it interesting for all the property investors who have already spent their unrealised gains.

 

The new astrology

Since the 2008 financial crisis, colleges and universities have faced increased pressure to identify essential disciplines, and cut the rest. In 2009, Washington State University announced it would eliminate the department of theatre and dance, the department of community and rural sociology, and the German major – the same year that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette ended its philosophy major. In 2012, Emory University in Atlanta did away with the visual arts department and its journalism programme. The cutbacks aren’t restricted to the humanities: in 2011, the state of Texas announced it would eliminate nearly half of its public undergraduate physics programmes. Even when there’s no downsizing, faculty salaries have been frozen and departmental budgets have shrunk.

But despite the funding crunch, it’s a bull market for academic economists. According to a 2015 sociological study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the median salary of economics teachers in 2012 increased to $103,000 – nearly $30,000 more than sociologists. For the top 10 per cent of economists, that figure jumps to $160,000, higher than the next most lucrative academic discipline – engineering. These figures, stress the study’s authors, do not include other sources of income such as consulting fees for banks and hedge funds, which, as many learned from the documentary Inside Job (2010), are often substantial. (Ben Bernanke, a former academic economist and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, earns $200,000-$400,000 for a single appearance.)

Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. Hedge funds employ cutting-edge economists who command princely fees, but routinely underperform index funds. Eight years ago, Warren Buffet made a 10-year, $1 million bet that a portfolio of hedge funds would lose to the S&P 500, and it looks like he’s going to collect. In 1998, a fund that boasted two Nobel Laureates as advisors collapsed, nearly causing a global financial crisis.

The failure of the field to predict the 2008 crisis has also been well-documented. In 2003, for example, only five years before the Great Recession, the Nobel Laureate Robert E Lucas Jr told the American Economic Association that ‘macroeconomics […] has succeeded: its central problem of depression prevention has been solved’. Short-term predictions fair little better – in April 2014, for instance, a survey of 67 economists yielded 100 per cent consensus: interest rates would rise over the next six months. Instead, they fell. A lot.

Nonetheless, surveys indicate that economists see their discipline as ‘the most scientific of the social sciences’. What is the basis of this collective faith, shared by universities, presidents and billionaires? Shouldn’t successful and powerful people be the first to spot the exaggerated worth of a discipline, and the least likely to pay for it?

More here – Aeon

Apparently Its All Over For Commodities

Commodities form an important part of my trading universe, in fact as a I par back my universe of instruments they form a more and more integral part of what I do. This pivotal role occurs for a few reasons ranging from ease of trading, price discovery and familiarity. The first trade I ever did was on a gold stock and the interest has stuck with me for decades.  You would therefore expect that I take an interest in the market so I had more than a passing interest when this article dropped into my news feed. There are a few points I want to dissect. However before doing that it has been my experience that there are two interesting phases in the life of any market. The first is when people start to tell me this time its different. Etched indelibly into my brain are the words of Irving Fisher who could be considered one of the worlds first celebrity economists who days before the 1929 crash uttered the immortal phrase stocks have reached a permanently high plateau. The second phase is that when someone tells you that a given instrument is stuffed beyond repair and will never go up again. Neither sentiment is reflective of either the cyclic nature of markets nor the psychology of traders.

Point 1 – Firms leaving the business.

This is an interesting point because it points to the number of prop firms leaving the business. However the number of retail investors exposed to commodities via ETF’s has grown dramatically so there has been a shift in the markets demographic away from wholesale to retail. The five largest commodity ETF’s managed almost $6 billion in assets.

Point 2 – Low Volatility

This point highlights one of my enormous bug bears it is the confusion between volatility and trend – the two are not the same and one doe not rely upon the other. I thought I would take a further look at this and just have a look at the distribution of volatility within the gold market. The first thing I did was simply look at the average 15 day volatility for a given number of years ranging from 15 years to the YTD and the results are shown below.

v1

Depending upon the look back period you can make a point that there has been a drop off over time in volatility . However volatility is relative concept and the current volatility in the gold market is sitting at 11.8% which is just below the average volatility for the YTD. Yet price has trended from around $1,000 to $1,350 and then back down to around $1,000. Looking at short term volatility tells us nothing about the trend. When looking at volatility I thought I might be missing something so I broke the look back period into five year blocks to get a sense of how it might have changed over time and the results are below.

v2

When volatility is broken into blocks you can see that over time volatility has increased and then tapered off a little. The so called halcyon days of two decades ago that every longs for actually had markedly lower volatility than recent times.

I should also point out that volatility in the crude oil market regularly spikes to beyond 60% so i am not sure where this missing volatility has ended up. Again it is probably the perennial confusion between trend and volatility.

Point 3 – Correlation

This point always interests me because people very rarely make it clear whether they are talking about price correlation or returns correlation. Most people when they talk about correlation talk about price without meaning to. The correct measure in such situations is the correlation between the returns across asset classes. True diversification is generated when you generate uncorrelated returns. Te first chart below looks at the daily performance correlation for gold, S&P 500 and crude oil.

p1

There is what appears to be an emerging positive correlation between gold and the S&P 500 and this surprised me a bit and I was suspicious that it was an artefact in the data so I generated a new series of data that looked back to the beginning of the century because my suspicion was that what I was seeing was actually the stagnation in gold and the rise of the US market post the GFC.

p2

Looking at the data over much longer term gives a clearer picture of what is actually happening. As US markets collapsed gold recovered and as US markets recovered gold suffered so to my eye the emerging correlation is somewhat of an artefact in the data. Much is implied in the article about how good commodities trading was in the past but it needs to be remembered that gold took 31 years to surpass its 1980 highs. That’s a long time between drinks if you are a long only trader as many commodities firms were. Commodities are the magic swing through mutli hundred dollar range tools that people think they are.

Point 4 – Leverage

An irrelevant point if you know what you are doing. Leverage has been a function of commodities markets from day one and is the staple of FX markets and they dont seem to have any problem coping.

Point 5- Liquidity –

I am not certain what the point is here since volume in the majority of commodity markets has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Point 6- Regulation

This is an old catch cry – if you dont know what you are doing blame the regulator. In some ways this is the same as football coaches who blame the umpire for their team being rubbish.

Point 7 – Its downright difficult

There is a particular sentence here I want to highlight –

For one, their idiosyncratic characteristics can make price forecasting practically impossible.

Price forecasting for all instruments is impossible. For those who need a quick refresher on how stupid this sort of thing is I give you Jon Boormans wonderful, regularly update guru predictions chart.

Predictions-2

Any attempt to predict price in any instrument is an exercise in delusional stupidity of the highest order.

The upshot of all of this is that the majority of things written about markets that have any sort of predictive narrative about the trajectory of a given market or markets is largely irrelevant and that includes this piece. The simple fact of all markets is that they are cyclical in both tone and the level of investor involvement. If I can defer momentarily to a local example. If you were to look at a comparison between housing and equities as an investment choice you would say that equities are dead. Yet funds continue to invest in them and prices continue to go up and down and some prices go up a lot.  The same is true for commodities and I doubt it will ever stop being true.

 

 

So What Does This Mean?

In my junk folder I have for the past upteen decades been getting random charts by a group called Chart of the Day. Surprisingly, I dont get them everyday – so the implication that you get a chart everyday that is interesting is perhaps a little bit of an oversell. This morning I go the following piece of wisdom –

c2

This chart as the title suggests looks at the S&P 500 PE ratio back to the turn of the century. Putting aside the obvious gaping methodological flaws such as the S&P500 was only started in 1957 I do always find these sorts of things interesting. Markets and their history should be a topic of investigation for every trader, simply because there is nothing new. Bubbles and crashes have been a feature of markets since they began and the driving force behind such things has always been the capriciousness of market participants. Curious as to what our own market looked like I dug up some data from the folks at Market Index and plotted the local PE ratio against the All Ords to see what I could see.

Capture

On the chart above I dropped a series of vertical lines – the three black ones denote a time when valuations according to the markets PE ratio could be considered extreme, the red one is the GFC. Pundits who look at valuation models work on the notion that markets or their component equities have a fair valuation and deviations from this point indicate that something is either overvalued or undervalued. Decisions are then made upon this interpretations. The first black line is easy to identify – its the 1987 crash.  The second one took me a little while to remember until I remembered the tail end of the 1991/2 recession combined with the banks nearly sending themselves under after property bit the dust.  The third black line is the tech wreck, The question when looking at any methodology is what value does it add to your decision making.  This is an important question since our decision making is bounded by the time we have to make the decision, the amount of information we have and our cognitive ability. None of these components can be infinite so our decision making is always somewhat half arsed. However, we need to add to this the notion of decision fatigue. It is estimated that during an average day we make anywhere between 20,000 and 25, 000 conscious and unconscious decisions and each of these decisions extracts a toll. Decision making is not a free ride, everything has a cost. Therefore efficiency of decision making is of paramount importance. If you have to force a decision then you are merely adding to your own mental loading without achieving anything.

As to whether the chart above tells me anything I dont already now about market extremes is doubtful As to whether it adds anything to my overall view of the world and approach to trading I am certain it doesn’t. But your mileage may vary.

General Advice Warning

The Trading Game Pty Ltd (ACN: 099 576 253) is an AFSL holder (Licence no: 468163). This information is correct at the time of publishing and may not be reproduced without formal permission. It is of a general nature and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any of the information you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.