Asset management, Economics, Market research, Market trends, Stock market, Trend following

The crucial importance of trends

In Berkshire Hathaway annual report (1985), Warren Buffett wrote the following:

When a management with reputation for brilliance tackles a business with reputation for poor fundamental economics, it is the reputation of the business that stays intact. [1]

My wife and I recently spent some time in Egypt. For a few days we sailed up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan on a cruise ship that counted nearly 70 crew members serving the total of five guests. The manager of the vessel was Mr. Khaled, an impeccably polite and always well dressed man in his 40s who, in spite of running a nearly empty ship managed to keep the crew’s morale high and ran the ship’s operations admirably well. Unfortunately, even if Mr. Khaled were the world’s best cruise ship manager, this particular situation was a good illustration of what Warren Buffet was talking about in his 1985 annual report. Continue reading

Commodity price, Commodity risk, Hedging, Risk management, Trend following

Risk, Uncertainty and Profit

Frank Knight, the grand old man of Chicago wrote “Risk, Uncertainty and Profit,” one of the five most important economics books of the 20th century. Among other invaluable insights, Knight proposes that, “The responsible decisions in organized economic life are price decisions; others can be reduced to routine.” Knight recognized that price at which a firm sells its products or purchases materials tends to have greater impact on profitability than any other element. Based on the income statement of an average S&P 1500 company (and assuming constant sales volumes), a 1% improvement in the selling price would generate an 8% increase in operating profits. Conversely, a 1% drop in the cost of goods sold would lead to a 5.36% increase in operating profits. This impact was more than double that of a 1% increase in sales volume[1]. For commodity businesses where operating margins are typically very low, hedging can have a much greater impact on profitability. Continue reading

Monetary reform, Policy, Politics, Social development

Our choice: wealth or GDP growth? It’s not the same.

Suppose you lived in a community where an old but well maintained bridge connected two river banks, enabling people and goods to move across. The bridge would represent a piece of community wealth, although its existence would only marginally impact the community’s ‘GDP’. Now suppose someone proposed to boost the community’s economic activity (GDP) by blowing up the bridge and building a new one. Continue reading

Asset management, Commodity price, Commodity risk, Hedging, Risk management, Trend following

Lessons in trend following: how we traded sugar

Sugar prices have soared on the CSCE (Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa exchange) from just over $0.10 per pound in August 2015 to over $0.23 at present – a fairly sharp jump by any standard, particularly after several years of continuously falling prices. I trade sugar using our trend-following model and to channel my inner Donald Trump – we’ve done tremendously well, generating a respectable grosss annualized return of nearly 10% per annum over a 5-year period. Now, the main reason I find this remarkable is that I know next to nothing about the fundamental economics of the sugar market. I know it goes into biscuits and beverages, that it comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, but that’s about it. Continue reading

Complexity, Market research, Stock market

Why we can’t predict the behaviour of complex systems (markets, economics or climate)

Over the last century or so, science has made immense progress in understanding natural phenomena like the weather and social phenomena like markets and economics. Unfortunately, we still fall well short of being able to successfully predict their behaviour. In spite of the mindboggling leaps in knowledge and computing horsepower, systematically successful prediction continues to elude us. This is largely due to the difficulty in modelling complex systems in sufficient detail. An aspect of this problem, called “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” might well be altogether insurmountable. Continue reading

Complexity, Energy crisis, Policy, Psychology, Social development, Truth

Dear Leonardo, …about that 97% consensus…

Yesterday I saw a brief speech by Leonardo di Caprio imploring people to vote – not for the candidate who ignores science. He was talking about the scientific consensus on global warming and mentioned that 97% of all scientists agree that global warming climate change is a man-made phenomenon. This 97% consensus figure is so compelling, it is only fair to explore where it came from.

Where “97% consensus” comes from

One Margaret Zimmerman conducted an opinion survey in 2008. The “survey” consisted of a two-question online questionnaire sent to 10,257 “earth scientists” (?), of whom 3,146 responded. Continue reading