Saturday, December 25, 2010 - Jokes

One day a blond who had no past experience in horseback riding, decided to try.

She mounted the horse, and it started to gallop, the horse kept going faster, and faster. The blond lost control and started to slide down the side of the horse. So she made a grab for the horse's tail, but couldn't get a good grip.

She then reached for the horse's mane, still she couldn't get a good grip. Now she was at the mercy of the horse's pounding hooves.

Fortunately, Dave the Wal-Mart manager, came and unplugged the horse...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mr. Stephen Schwarzman’s lecture at Yale

I really enjoyed listening and watching Mr. Stephen Schwarzman’s lecture at Yale. Mr.Schwarzman discussed many topics such as the nature of private equity, real estate, successful and failed deals, and how the financial crisis occurred and evolved. I have read and heard so much of the financial crises by now, that I thought there was nothing new that I could learn. I was wrong.

I learned from Mr. Schwarzman’s lecture that government policies and laws can lead to unintended negative consequences in our society. Although this was not the main point of his discussion, he did refer to a few government actions that had clear and unintended negative consequences for our society.

The first was the start of the real estate bubble, which began with the US government’s policy to get more people into homes. Although this was a good policy, it wound up turning into a fiasco, with all the unintended consequences to come later. For example, Mr. Schwarzman stated that subprime mortgages at one point were 2-3% of all mortgages; and by the end they had become more than 30%. He also described how 87% of pooled mortgages which were securitized were given AAA ratings. This misled investors into thinking that these securities were safe and could not default. Mr. Schwarzman believes historians will look back at this time and wonder how AAA ratings were given to these securities in the first place. In addition, he wonders how so many investors believed in these ratings and were fooled by them. In my opinion it’s pretty simple; just like there is a fog of war and a fog of panic, there is also the fog of greed.

The second unintended negative consequence came from the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley law. This law was passed after the Enron scandal and created fair value accounting, also known as FAS 157. Mr. Schwarzman described how FAS 157 forced financial institutions to take losses before defaults actually occurred. These losses, in turn, created a crisis of confidence in financial institutions which eventually morphed into the much bigger financial crisis.

His stories of successful deals, US Steel and Celanese, and unsuccessful ones, an Argentinian cell phone company, were also interesting. One point he stressed was that capital always comes back. Even though there is a credit crunch occurring, he is optimistic that credit and capital will come back. He mentioned the past credit crunches of 1975, 1982, 1987, and 1990-1991.

I also liked his discussion about failure. He stated how he hates failure and when it does occur that he tries to learn from it. Failure can be a blessing in disguise. Mr. Schwarzman is a winner because he does not like to fail. This was worth watching.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

60 Minutes and The Day of Reckoning

This past Sunday night, “60 Minutes,” the television show, had a segment on the looming financial crisis of local, municipal, and state governments. The analyst who was interviewed, along with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, basically said the same thing. The Day of Reckoning is here and will need to be addressed. What does this mean? It means more catastrophic losses and bailouts by the US taxpayer.

According to the analyst, this will begin to occur within the next 12 months. Mr. Christie says that it is already here. This is serious and no one seems to care. For years I have been hearing of unfunded pension liabilities, creative accounting, and budget deficits-yet no one has done anything about it.

The show also stated how Illinois is effectively bankrupt and a deadbeat. Why have we not heard more about these issues? Are we ostriches with our heads in the sand ? Is our government unwilling to talk about this future crisis? I commend “60 Minutes” for this segment, but it makes me nervous. Just like everything else that is happening…

Friday, December 17, 2010 - Joke

A couple of hunters were out in the woods when one of them fell to the ground clutching his chest.

After struggling for a few seconds,he seemed to stop breathing. The other hunter quickly pulls out his cellphone and dials 911.
He gasps to the operator, "My friend is dead! What should I do?"

In a soothing voice, the operator says, "Try to remain calm, sir. I can help you. First, we need to make sure he's dead."

Immediately the operator heard a shot.

The frantic hunter comes back on the line and says, "Okay, now what?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Confucius Peace Prize - Nobel - China - Liu

China is very unhappy with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner; Mr. Liu Xiaobo. Mr. Liu is serving eleven years in a Chinese prison for supporting political reform, human rights, and an independent judicial system. In response, China has created its own peace prize, the Confucius Peace Prize.

Maybe the Nobel Peace Prize committee is politically motivated, for example, the choice of President Barack Obama was debatable and raised questions. We all can see this as a politically motivated game, but what I find interesting is the list of countries that have now rejected invitations to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. The list includes:

Saudi Arabia

Here are some themes these countries represent: opposition to the U.S. and its policies, Arabs, natural resources, and non-Western. I’ll let the reader decide what they think of this, but it does make one wonder why they are not going.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Yes, You Can Time the Market ! - Ben Stein - Phil DeMuth

I have just completed reading the book Yes, You Can Time the Market !, by Mr. Ben Stein and Mr. Phil DeMuth. The book is a well-written, no nonsense book, which gives practical and easy advice to follow for those who have a long term investment horizon. The authors have done their homework and they also discuss other academic studies which support their ideas. The authors make no claim that market timing can be done in the short run. If, however, you have a long term investment horizon (15-20 years), then buying when the market is “low” will generate better returns over other investment strategies.

So, you may ask, what is low? The authors look at a variety of criteria, such as market price, PE ratios, dividend yield, price to book, Tobin’s Q, price to cash flow, etc. In general, they argue that returns for any 5, 10, 15, 20 year period were higher when investors entered the market when it was trading better than the respective long term average of 15 years. For example, buying the SP500 when it was trading below its 15 year moving average price, was generally a good time to enter the market.

The authors are not ignorant that many times you may be sitting on the sideline feeling foolish as markets head to the moon, but they believe you will be rewarded over time because:

“Unlike other stock market anomalies, which disappear the moment they are pointed out, buying low promises to endure. This is because the extra returns it delivers do not come free. Rather they are a payment for assuming the psychological burden of buying stocks when everyone says the sky is falling, and demurring when Wall Street is having a feeding frenzy.”

The authors also believe that markets regress to the mean. This is why groups of stocks with high PE’s tend to underperform in future years, compared to groups of stocks with low PE’s, which outperform going forward. Another example of regressing to the mean was discussed in the performance of stock prices. Stocks that have outperformed (underperformed) over the past few years tend to underperform (outperform) in the future.

This is a good book to read for those who believe in investing for the long run. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

The authors summarize their work in the following paragraph:

“The point of this book-so simple that a child can grasp it, yet so elusive that your broker will never get it-is that you are better off buying cheap.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mr. David Swensen's Lecture - Yale - Shiller

I have always known about the excellent returns generated by the Yale endowment, but have never dug deeper to find out who is responsible for those returns. Since reading Mr. Biggs book, Hedgehogging, I have come to find out the man responsible is Mr. David Swensen. I recently watched a great lecture by Mr. Swensen and would like to share some of the main concepts he discussed.

Mr. Swensen begins his lecture by stating that when he came to Yale he decided to study what other institutions were doing at that time. He found that most institutions were allocating their funds, 50%-40%-10%; 50% US stocks, 40% US Bonds, and 10% cash or other. Mr. Swensen felt that this was inappropriate, and began to change the way Yale invested its endowment money.

Given some academic results of studies done by Mr. Ibbotson, Mr. Swensen decided that equities were the place to be in the long run, given their superior long term returns compared to other alternative asset classes. Mr. Swensen also began to look for investments in alternative asset classes. It was very interesting how he decided on where he should allocate most of his time and effort in search of higher risk-adjusted returns. Mr. Swensen decided that inefficient markets would offer better opportunities and could generate market beating returns. The way he determined this was by looking at long run returns of managers within various asset classes, and what the returns were of the top percentile compared to the bottom percentile within each category. He then also looked at the dispersion of those returns:

Bonds .5%
Large Cap Equities 2%
Small Cap Equities 4.7%
Hedge funds 7.1%
Real estate 9.3%
LBO’s 13.7%
Venture Capital 43.2%

It became clear to him that spending more time in the areas where the dispersion was greatest would pinpoint inefficiently priced markets and better investment opportunities. He stated that there was very little reason to spend a lot of time looking for managers in the bond market, where prices are generally mathematically calculated and pricing is very efficient, compared to other types of markets.

Mr. Swenson discussed three large topics in his lecture; asset allocation, market timing, and security selection. He concluded that asset allocation is the number one driver of returns. He discouraged market timing, and he felt that the system is not a zero sum game. Excessive fees charged by hedge funds, commissions, and consultant fees, have turned a zero sum game into a negative sum game.

Mr. Swensen also warned the students to be very careful when evaluating historical performance results. He stressed that data can be skewed by survivorship bias and back-fill bias. Survivorship bias removes the bad performance of managers who have folded and back-fill bias adds in good performance of managers.
At the time of the lecture the Yale endowment was allocated:

11% US Stocks
15% Foreign stocks
4% Bonds
23% Hedge Funds
28% Timber, Oil and gas, real estate
19% Private equity, LBO’s, Venture Capital

This is an excellent lecture and I highly recommend watching it. LINK Mr. Swensen’s long term performance has been exceptional. He did it by becoming equity-oriented, finding great managers who did well in efficiently priced markets, by changing the asset allocation of the total portfolio, and by diversifying the risks. Really quite simple...)

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Dear Abby,

My husband is not happy with my mood swings.

The other day, he bought me a mood ring so he would be able to monitor my moods.
When I'm in a good mood it turns green.
When I'm in a bad mood it leaves a big red mark on his forehead.
Maybe next time he'll buy me a diamond.


Moody in Buffalo

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stoicism and Trading - Stoics

Stoicism was a philosophy towards life that evolved in ancient Greece. Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 B.C. and was later popularized by Chrysippus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

The philosophy that stoics lived by was to be indifferent to pain or pleasure. They were not easily excited or upset. In a way they were like Zen Buddhists who follow “The Way,” the Tao, by taking the middle road. Stoic philosophy can be useful for traders. Don’t get too thrilled when you hit winners, don’t get too bummed out when you have losses, don’t get really bummed out when you are in long, painful drawdowns, and keeping your head level is philosophically stoic.

I consider myself emotional and sensitive. I like to live life. I emotionally exaggerate life’s highs and lows. It is in my nature. As I am becoming and getting older, I get better in managing my feelings, thoughts, and emotions. It is not easy, and I am sure some people are better in managing their states than others. Nonetheless, we all need to do it. Knowing what I am like as a person helped me in deciding how I would approach trading. I realized pretty quickly that discretionary trading was too difficult and emotional for me. System trading, however, gave me some “emotional separation” from the market. It also helped me be more stoic about my trading performance. Being a systematic trader helps me better manage my emotional states.

Perhaps we cannot live stoically in all aspects of our lives, but we can, however, benefit from its ideas in our trading.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mr. Taleb and Mr. Mandelbrot

Here is a gentleman that is fighting ingrained thoughts, the status quo, and money interests. Mr. Taleb is challenging fundamental concepts that are being used by bankers and financiers. There really is no credible theory to replace what has been used and established on Wall Street over many years. He does mention in this video that VAR (Value at Risk) analysis should be immediately discarded. The question I have is what replaces it? No bank or risk manager can go out there today and justify what they are doing, because there is no “standard model” that they can stand on.

I agree with Mr. Taleb’s views, but throwing out old theories and replacing them with theories that use power laws, etc. is what Mr. Taleb argues for in his books. It’s going to take a long time to change the way things are done. In fact, what is upsetting is that it seems to me that the bankers and financiers have “won.” Nothing has changed and the system is more fragile than ever. Maybe the whole thing just has to implode before things change. I hope not, but it sure feels like that is the way things are moving.

What can we say about Benoit Mandelbrot? He is a visionary. His insights have been brushed aside by the establishment, but someday, if not already, he will eventually be proven right.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mr. Warren Buffett’s two rules for making money

Mr. Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying the first rule of making money is not to lose money. The second rule is to remember the first rule.

This is a simple philosophy that is difficult to do. The point is that an investor cannot dig a hole in their capital. Preserving capital, limiting loss, and having a disciplined money management approach are some of the keys to successful investing and trading.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mr. Carl Icahn Lecture

Mr. Carl Icahn made his fortune buying undervalued companies that were poorly managed. One can feel pretty pessimistic listening to his lecture in Mr. Robert Shiller’s class at Yale. He stresses that America cannot compete because many companies are undermanaged. He also believes there is no accountability or corporate democracy in America. Interestingly, he admits he is not a manager, but instead puts managers in place who change the structure of the companies he invests in.

Some other topics he discusses are that America is overleveraged, it is very questionable Americans will be able to pay back their debts, and the housing crisis is a mess. In addition, he still believes making a career on Wall Street is a good choice.

Some of his positive influences in life are Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF. He mentioned that he reads IF from time to time. Mr. Icahn also suggests to the students to not be overconfident in their abilities when times are going well, and to not get too down when things are not going well. In addition, he suggests that by working hard and having faith in your abilities is a good way to be in life.

When asked about poor corporate governance in America Mr. Icahn mentioned that Canada and England have better models. He also felt that poison pills and staggered boards are some examples of how companies protect themselves and entrench their managements.

I really did not learn very much from his lecture, perhaps because I am familiar with his past. I am, however, interested in reading Aristotle and will turn to that at some point in the near future.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Drawdowns in Sports

I was watching the Indianapolis Colts against the Dallas Cowboys yesterday. It was a fun game to watch. Although I am not a fan of either team, it was painful to watch Mr. Peyton Manning. He is in one of the worst slumps of his career. Mr. Manning has thrown 11 interceptions in his last three games. His former coach mentioned that he has not seen him do this poorly since the early 2000’s.

I realized that what I was watching was a man in drawdown. It occurs to everyone. Bad cycles and times are a part of sports, trading, and life. Mr. Manning is a future Hall of Fame quarterback. At some point he will come out of this as he came out of it in the early 2000’s. The lesson for all of us is to persevere and work right through these negative periods.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

"I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes" replies Watson.
"And what do you deduce from that?"
Watson ponders for a minute.

"Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?"

Holmes is silent for a moment. "Watson, you idiot!" he says. "Someone has stolen our tent!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wealth, War and Wisdom - Mr. Barton Biggs

I have recently read Wealth, War and Wisdom by Mr. Barton Biggs. This book was an enjoyable read and I learned more about World War II and how markets reacted during the period from the Great Crash of 1929 until approximately 1945.

The main thesis of the book is that there is wisdom in crowd behavior as exhibited by market prices. Although the markets may misprice assets and bubbles do occur, Mr. Biggs states that the markets correctly predicted the future at major turning points in WWII. In particular, Mr. Biggs states that markets bottomed and turned during the Battle of Britain and The Battle of Midway and peaked in Germany when they attacked Russia.

Mr. Biggs makes the case that real returns in stocks far surpassed returns in bills and bonds for all countries. In particular, real returns from stocks in the countries that were “lucky,” generally the ones who won the war and were not occupied, also surpassed the real returns from stocks in the countries which were unlucky, generally the losers of WWII and those that had been occupied by the Axis powers.

There is also good advice for wealthy people and what they should do in times of crises and war; however, I am not going to go into this here. In addition, Mr. Biggs also observes how black marketeers became wealthy in all the wars around the world; that food, warm clothing, and cigarettes became tradable commodities, and easily transportable wealth like jewelry was helpful to have during these times.

The main conclusion of the book is best summarized by Mr. Biggs himself:

“I argue that the stock market, because it is the collective conclusion of multiple, independent, diverse, decentralized, motivated judgements, is a far different creature from the mob or group. This is not to claim that the stock market is all wise or cannot make mistakes or in the short term misjudge events. I am saying that in general its judgement is good and worth paying attention to.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winston Churchill's Big Black Dog - Biggs - Trading

In Mr. Biggs book, Hedgehogging, he discusses the periodic bouts of depression that Winston Churchill would have.

“Winston Churchill, whose career had its ups and downs and also was plagued with bouts of depression, spoke of the huge, foul-smelling black dog with breath like the sewer, which appeared uninvited and sat heavily on his chest, pinning him down.”

Well, in all my years of trading, I can empathize with Mr. Churchill. That big, black dog is now visiting me and sitting on my chest.

All professional money managers and traders understand that there will be times when they underperform. Mr. Buffett, I believe, said that it can be up to 30% of the time that managers underperform. Mr. Biggs discusses the frustration money managers have with their investors when they do not perform well. As soon as a fund does not perform well, investors usually take the money and run, instead of waiting and being patient. Investors immediately begin to search for someone else who can make them money.

Generally, the good money manager is one who performs well, on average, over a long time frame. Mr. Biggs argues that investors would probably be better off staying with a manager with a proven long term record, rather than going out and searching for superstars and returns, just because of a bad year.

Just some food for thought…

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Emini Trading Performance for 2010

Our trading for 2010 is now completed (we do not trade in December). Our performance for 2010 was disappointing and frustrating. Tradingxyz’s point losses for 2010 were 2.50 points. Depending on the risk level chosen, this would have been:

1% risk = -.5%

2% risk = -1.1%

3.5% risk = -2.5%

This was our first losing year relative to our historical performance. Although the losses were relatively small, they were painful. It is always painful to lose money. In trading it is well known that losses are much more painful and memorable than gains. It is even more painful to underperform, but we will withhold judgement on this until the end of the year, when our performance benchmarks will be computed.

Nonetheless, one of the main aspects of money management and risk control is to not get blown out of the water. Good trading is about preserving capital and having it available in order to capture future opportunities. Our historical performance has been excellent and will return. The loss for 2010 was small, and generally insignificant, when one has a longer term perspective. Our capital has been preserved and we look forward to a much better year of trading in 2011.