Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived
A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?
Update: seemingly not
Update: Oh yeah!
Monday, April 21, 2014
Secular stagnation and such ...
I put this in the comments on Brad's site
this item posted by the management 4/21/2014 10:50:00 PM
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
A minor squib about Ukraine
A few weeks ago: Europe and Russia were politicking over whether Ukraine should be considered to be Finlandized to the EU sphere of influence or to the Russian sphere of influence.
Now: Basically the same diplomatic and grand political struggle, over Eastern Ukraine.
Remind me again who looks weak and silly and has been humiliated? It looks to me as if, in sheer territory-lost-versus-gained metrics, there's a clear winner and a clear loser among the two imperial powers on the European continent, to the tune of half of Ukraine.
this item posted by the management 4/02/2014 12:08:00 AM
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
An absurdly simplistic point about High Frequency Trading
This seems like such an obvious point that it surprises me I haven't seen it being made over and over again, presumably in industry publicity material. The central anecdote of Michael Lewis's book (and a story that very often forms the centrepiece of an article about high frequency trading), goes as follows:
"Before RBC acquired this supposed state-of-the-art electronic-trading firm, Katsuyama’s computers worked as he expected them to. Suddenly they didn’t. It used to be that when his trading screens showed 10,000 shares of Intel offered at $22 a share, it meant that he could buy 10,000 shares of Intel for $22 a share. He had only to push a button. By the spring of 2007, however, when he pushed the button to complete a trade, the offers would vanish."
To make his point, he asked the developers to stand behind him and watch while he traded. “I’d say: ‘Watch closely. I am about to buy 100,000 shares of AMD. I am willing to pay $15 a share. There are currently 100,000 shares of AMD being offered at $15 a share — 10,000 on BATS, 35,000 on the New York Stock Exchange, 30,000 on Nasdaq and 25,000 on Direct Edge.’ You could see it all on the screens. We’d all sit there and stare at the screen, and I’d have my finger over the Enter button. I’d count out loud to five. . . .
“ ‘One. . . .
“ ‘Two. . . . See, nothing’s happened.
“ ‘Three. . . . Offers are still there at 15. . . .
“ ‘Four. . . . Still no movement. . . .
“ ‘Five.’ Then I’d hit the Enter button, and — boom! — all hell would break loose. The offerings would all disappear, and the stock would pop higher.”
At which point he turned to the developers behind him and said: “You see, I’m the event. I am the news.”
Fair enough. But … tell me about the other side of this trade. Brad Katsuyama, in this story, had to pay a few fractions of a cent more for the 100,000 shares of AMD stock he wanted to buy, because high frequency trading firms saw his order coming and took out the sellers. But if he paid a few fractions of a cent more, then someone else who was selling the stock received a few fractions of a cent more. Here's a story you don't ever see told.
"One day, he came into work and started trying to sell a block of stock at $15 a share. There wasn't much interest at that price and a bunch of offers at $14.9995. Brad knew he needed to get the trade finished, so he sighed and got ready to lower his quote. Just as he was about to press the button, though, a shoal of high frequency traders took out all the offers below him and an institutional investor paid up the full $15! He said hurray".
Nobody would think that way. If you put in an order and get a fill which has a bit more slippage  in it than you were expecting, then you start looking around for explanations of why this thing could have happened. If you get an unexpectedly good fill, then you tend to presume that this is just because you're such a great trader.
All of which certainly isn't my general view on HFT; I have always thought that the whole business of payment for order flow was hinky in the first place, and I've always been suspicious of entities which behave like liquidity providers but don't commit to providing liquidity when it's needed. But by definition, when the price moves away from one trader, it's moving toward another one. So I don't think that estimates of the "cost" of the presence of high frequency traders can be supported based only on anecdotes of bad fills.
("slippage" = "the difference between the price you saw on the screen when you made the decision to trade, and the price where the order actually gets filled")
this item posted by the management 4/01/2014 11:59:00 PM
The credit bubble and house price crash weren't random outcomes selected from the underlying distribution of financial asset returns; they were specific events with their own causes, which is why they appeared to be Black Swans to people who weren't paying attention to those causes. That's not going to happen again, or at least not in that specific way, not for a while.
As far as I can see, Brad, you're more right than the people worrying about financial instability, because they're looking at this from a partial analysis - they're looking at either the (small) empirical evidence of people increasing holdings of credit-risk securities or the theoretical arguments to the effect that the private sector has an incentive to increase those holdings and saying - increase risk equals bad.
You, for your part, are looking at the system as a whole and saying that there's something close to a conservation law; that duration risk has gone down, while credit risk (and equity risk) has gone up, for the private sector.
Stein's view seems to be that the total amount of "risk" can go up if the total amount of *activity* goes up (which is true, activity is risky), and that in so far as the QE channel works by encouraging the private sector to buy credit- and equity-risk securities and thereby ... (cough mumble) investment in real entrepreneurial projects, then it's possible that QE might encourage the kind of over-leveraged risky structures that lead to financial fragility.
My view is that, while your view and Stein's are clearly better than the partial view, this is all the sort of blackboard thinking you're going to get if you start off by making the mistake of drawing supply and demand diagrams denominated in generic "risk"! The attraction of cash isn't that it's "safe" - ten year floating rate government bonds would have zero duration risk, but they wouldn't be cash. The reason that people hoard cash in liquidity traps is that it's *liquid* - it preserves your optionality, and combines zero risk of being unable to meet nominal liabilities, with instant convertibility into consumption or investment goods. Cash is what you want to hold when you don't know what to do next.
And people's decision about what they want to do next are driven by animal spirits and expectations about an unknowable future. The kind of thing that makes people take non-ergodic, non-insurable, non-hedgable entrepreneutrial risk is really not very related to the kind of thing that makes people move the equity weighting of their portfolio from 40% to 45%.
If, at some future date, activity picked up and we had a normal investment environment and yields were still at 2%, then this might be a problem, as it would mean that people would be able to finance very low-yielding projects, and as a result would be vulnerable to comparatively small real shocks to either their refinancing cost or their cash flows. But this is to assume that future massive mistakes would be made.