Posts filed under “Philosophy”

Confidence Crisis

Cassandra Does Tokyo is a former hedge fund manager and ex NY Trader, who is now living abroad.

I am in a reflective mood, navigating, what one might call say, a crisis of confidence. What is the root of this self-doubt? I am, you see, squarely in my middle years, and as I look out at the vast pool of talent that makes up the market, I am coming to the conclusion that, like the writer who realizes he will never write a great novel, that I am just not very smart by comparison. Nor clever. And this is humbling.

When I started out in the business, despite my knowledge of delta-hedging portfolios of options, I wasn’t smart enough to dream-up of “portfolio insurance”, nor implement or encourage its deployment in any way. Truth be told, I am often intimidated by Maths PhDs, self-conscious over my incapacity for visualizing anything but the most basic of quadratic functions (I hit “the conceptual wall” in Linear Algebra).  And I admit was jealous that I was unable comprehend the beautiful genius of mathematical formula’s and risk-analysis validating highly-leveraged (and crowded) carry trades, on for example, the Japanese Yen in 1998. And heaven knows I didn’t have the prescience (or wisdom) to ride the most rip-roaring and snorting of bull markets in internet and technology stocks, unlike so many other much-smarter-than-me investors.

It is apparent to me now that I wasn’t clever enough to understand the intricate business models or the unmitigated allure supporting the “merchant energy” craze, so I was never  accused of being one of the smartest girls in the room, despite the untold billions flushed-away by Mirant, Dynegy, Calpine and Enron.  I am so slow that CDOs didn’t even register with me until they were near their sell-by date, and never in a million years could I have been so wickedly sharp as to invent the idea of putting a wrapper on them to miraculously transmute a still-steaming pile of dung into scentless triple-A.

In the markets and strategies that I invest  (quant equity long vs. short)  I almost certainly am one of the dimmer bulbs, blind to the opportunities that applying 10x (or yet higher!!)  leverage to crowded trades might afford my P&L, as it might have in the summer of 2007. Despite beginning my professional days in the bullion business, my feeble grey-matter could never have conceived of turning a gold-and-oil-heavy commodities basket cum “index” into a permanent portfolio allocation for pension funds across the USA – a genius ALMOST as brilliant as that which dreamed up the idea of encouraging housewives to buy a box of baking soda, take it home,  to immediately flush it down the toilet!

Lacking the requisite creativity, I missed the chance to design something really useful for humanity, like Payament Protection Insurance. I am still in awe of the risk-management intellect behind tail-risk insurance funds. The savvy required to make these attractive when implieds were already highly elevated (historically) and the market had already more-than-a-halved is humbling. I often wonder how I’ve managed to compete at all!  Then, if I wasn’t feeling stupid enough, I just need to take one look at luminaries like Galleon, Diamondback, or SAC. Top ivy-league schools, minted MBAs. IB training programs. Couple of years at Och-Ziff or Perry. These guys are so smart, and have had such good returns they just seem to know what is going to happen before it happens! And to think that for all these years, I’d never dreamed of the games one might play with LIBOR!

But far-and-away, the smartest guys, the ones whose certitude, sound logical reasoning, and mathematical notation are (to me)  both most impressive and humbling to listen to are the guys (and they ARE guys for only guys can be this brilliant) touting risk-parity strategies. The engineers who’ve  championed them sound soooo clever, and have so many academic letters following their name, one would just have to be a dolt NOT to want to adopt it for your pension plan. Really, who could quibble with the formulaic logic that miraculously gifts you a levered long bond position when it’s yield is as close to the ZLB as, ummm errrr, it’s EVER been??

It should be comforting to investors everywhere that so many of our best educated minds and brightest talents have chosen to serve investors’ interests with such forward-thinking creative imagination. The investment world thus appears meritocratic. In this hierarchy, simpleton’s seem to get what they deserve. Looking back to history, to President Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” in 1979, his implied solution was imbued in “redemption” in the biblical sense. I cannot help but wonder whether investors today will discover the same solution with regards to risk-parity and its associated gamma-negativity.

Category: Philosophy, Psychology, Really, really bad calls, Think Tank

QOTD: “Founding Fathers” edition

Happy Independence Day! On the anniversary of the United States birth — before we became a corrupt plutocracy (back then we were a corrupt slave owning nation) — we did have some leaders who were inspirational. Regular readers know that the quote of the day is often filled with terrific gems from some of the…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Weekend

Questions for Investors At 2013′s Halfway Mark

Here we are, on the last day of Q2 2013. It is no exaggeration to say that this has been an unusual and exciting year. I suspect most investors would prefer their markets with a lot less excitement. Perhaps we can begin a movement to bring back boring banking. Regardless, we don’t have to wait…Read More

Category: Apprenticed Investor, Investing, Markets, Philosophy

Morgan Housel Is A Permanent Optimist . . .

  Hey, today we are having lunch with the astute Morgan Housel of MF. I have been enjoying his writing for years now — he is my favorite Motley Fool writer. Here is his very simple explanation for why the end-of-worlders have been wrong, and will continue to be wrong, for most of the future…Read More

Category: Cognitive Foibles, Investing, Philosophy

Does Math Exist or Is It a Human Creation?

Math is invisible. Unlike physics, chemistry, and biology we can’t see it, smell it, or even directly observe it in the universe. And so that has made a lot of really smart people ask, does it actually even EXIST?!?! Similar to the tree falling in the forest, there are people who believe that if no person existed to count, math wouldn’t be around . .at ALL!!!! But is this true? Do we live in a mathless universe? Or if math is a real entity that exists, are there formulas and mathematical concepts out there in the universe that are undiscovered? Or is it all fiction? Whew!! So many questions, so many theories… watch the episode and let us know what you think!

Is Math a Feature of the Universe or a Feature of Human Creation? | Idea Channel | PBS

Hat tip boingboing

Category: Mathematics, Philosophy, Video

QOTD: The World

Here is a quote to distract you from the Red on your screens this week: “The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research ‘childhood.’ “There follows a…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Psychology

The Ex Post Facto Market Rationale

  Ex Post Facto: from or by subsequent action; subsequently; retrospectively; retroactively. From late Latin, literally, from a thing done afterward     I want to discuss a problem that exists in the narrative form of market commentary, one that I hinted at last night but did not have the time to fully explore in…Read More

Category: Cognitive Foibles, Markets, Philosophy

“What’s your outlook on the markets and the economy?”

I have a few conferences coming up later this summer, and as part of one event, I was asked a series of questions in advance. Its a pre- interview, and I figured I would work my way through the questions a little bit all week. But then I read the first question — the headline…Read More

Category: Economy, Financial Press, Markets, Philosophy

How You Can Change Your Decision Making

I like the thought process here: How You Can Change Your Decision Making Raise your awareness: Incomplete information and lots of uncertainty leads to poor outcomes Put yourself in the shoes of others: Consider the point of view or experience of other people Recognise the role of skill and luck: Sorting skill from luck is essential for evaluating…Read More

Category: Philosophy

Possible versus Probable

Its Friday, and has become my wont, this is the day of the week I like to kick back, wax philosophical about various thoughts kicking about me noggin. One of the things that I have been noticing of late is the way so many people seem to confuse facts with forecasts. Twitter is rife with…Read More

Category: Hedge Funds, Investing, Mathematics, Philosophy, Venture Capital