Seth Levine is a professional, institutional investor focused on selecting high yield bond positions for a financial services company. He is also the creator of The Integrating Investor where he blogs about macroeconomic and investment strategy related themes. Seth holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University and is a CFA charterholder. You can learn more about Seth at www.integratinginvestor.com and follow him on Twitter at @SethLevine2. Please note that any opinions and views he expresses are solely his own and do not reflect those of his current or former employers.
George Soros is about as close to a household name as it gets for a hedge fund manager. He’s legendary for his billions, “breaking” the Bank of England, and is even an alleged mastermind of left-wing, political conspiracy theories. For me, though, Mr. Soros’s theory of reflexivity is his most impressive achievement. Introduced in his book, The Alchemy of Finance, I simply see reflexivity everywhere. In fact, we might be in the midst of a reflexive event of epic proportions as we speak.
Over the past few months I revisited nearly everything I thought I knew about money and banking, and in particular, central banks. There are lots of strong opinions with respect to how and why they impact the investment markets and economy. As a macro-minded investor, these are crucial issues. As an Integrating Investor, there was only one way to get my arms around it—to dig in. I found that the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) impact is more indirect than I previously believed. Surprisingly, both Austrian and Keynesian perspectives support this.
I’ve always been a fan of a good mystery, which perhaps explains my fascination with today’s inflationary environment (so much so that I’ve dedicated my first two posts to the subject). It strikes me as odd, that – just sticking with the Federal Reserve (Fed) for simplicity’s sake – $4 trillion of newly minted reserves just up and vanished without leaving a monetary trace, like Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects. How can there possibly be (virtually) no inflation as today’s leading experts would have us believe? What if, like all good mysteries, the answer to ours is hiding in plain sight, and “the greatest trick [inflation] ever pulled was convincing the world [it] did not exist”?
If one is to believe what he or she reads in the financial press, then one thing seems certain: the markets are about to melt! The problem is, that depending on the day, the source, and perhaps even the lunar cycle, it’s not clear whether the markets are about to melt up or melt down.
Investing is often referred to as an art form. Models, charts, and regressions can only get you so far. We are constantly pummelled with an endless stream of data, some of which is important information and some of which is worthless noise. Drawing order out of this chaos requires one to engage with his/her uniquely human element, one’s creative capacity. How well one can paint a picture with the incoming data will likely determine his/her success. Are we getting some of those important data points now? Given the recent moves across a series of markets, it sure seems like it.
If there were a Word of the Year award in finance it most certainly would go to volatility. It seems like nearly every article you read makes some reference to it. Is volatility gone for good or is it just in hibernation? Did central bankers forever squash volatility, repress volatility for some time, transform volatility? Did structural changes in the macroeconomic landscape create a “new normal” with respect to volatility? Is volatility building beneath the surface of the markets planning its vengeful return? Is volatility volatile? Volatility, volatility, volatility! With all this discussion of volatility, one thing seems certain: there’s a bubble in volatility, as in the word itself.
I recently finished reading Edwin Lefèvre’s classic Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, marking my second time through the book. I first picked it up nine years ago on the recommendation of a former coworker who was a flow trader. A burgeoning credit analyst at a bulge bracket investment bank at the time, I was interested in learning more about the trading aspect of job and had asked for a primer on the subject. While initially confused to have received the historical novel as the answer to my inquiry, my sophomoric skepticism was completely reversed by its end. Though many of the book’s lessons were largely lost upon my younger self, it struck the older, wiser, and only slightly more profitable “me” like a thunderbolt. In this post I thought I’d do some reminiscing on Lefèvre’s “Reminiscences”, and add to the ever expanding tome on the subject.
Central bankers catch a lot of flak these days. To be sure, much of it is deserved in my opinion. However, there are two dominant trends in the market place – increasing allocations towards passive and private market investment strategies – where this ire might be misplaced. What if these developments, however undesirable they may or may not be, were merely part of the “natural” evolution of investment markets?
Despite the opulent or debauched images one might have about the investment industry (depending on one’s perspective), the fact is that investing is a highly intellectual pursuit. I don’t mean this in the colloquial sense where one ruminates on meaningless abstract ideas purely for contemplation’s sake. Rather, it is an immensely cognitive and productive activity. Successful investing doesn’t require exceptional physical conditioning, brawn, salesmanship, “people skills”, mathematical aptitude, or a high IQ. It entails (I think) developing some kind of mental model for how the world works. Not only must this model display some degree of accuracy (i.e. be a good one), but one must maintain conviction in his/her model and have the integrity to stick to it through thick and thin. Said differently, one needs a well-defined investment philosophy.
It’s no secret that emerging markets (EM) are in a bit of a rough patch. While the unfortunate events in Turkey garnered most of the attention initially, nearly anything related to EM has slid in value. What exactly is going on here? Is this just another acute crisis making its way through the lesser developed regions of the world again? Or have other signals emerged to suggest there to be a larger issue at play? Given the is-ought approach we take on this site, it’s worth digging into some more. After all, a better grasp of what this market driver is—if anything—should better inform us for how we ought to position our portfolios.
Let’s face it; we investors are all after the same thing: return. While individual risk tolerances and expectations might vary, the purpose of investing is universal: to preserve and/or increase wealth using that which we already have. It’s a distinctly human activity. While there may seem like an infinite number of ways to invest—and in fact there are—at the end of the day, I believe you can boil each down to either a discretionary or systematic approach. Why just these two methods? Investing draws heavily upon one’s cognitive ability. Human reasoning operates in just two ways, through induction and deduction. I find that the discretionary and systematic categories align quite well with these.
There was a period of time when I was obsessed with home improvement shows. I’d watch almost anything on the subject: Backyard makeovers, kitchen remodels, gut renovations, you name it. It’s fascinating to see what a skilled craftsman can do with the proper tools. In fact, if there’s one lesson I learned from these shows it’s the importance of using the right tool for the job.
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