Thinking Quant

“I think a model works if it’s a useful way of thinking about things.”

-Emanuel Derman

Some of the “quants” make money. Some of them blow up. Thinking Quant is probably the most important shift I’ve made in my young investment career. I’ll always give Alec Litowitz at Magnetar credit for that. He helped me bridge the traditional long/short equity stock picking approach of the Dawson-Samberg era with some serious math.

That doesn’t make me a “quant.” However it ensures that I don’t confuse qualitative “channel checking” on Coach handbags with a repeatable risk management process. It makes me aware of quantitative facts that are occurring in this globally interconnected game of chaos theory. Awareness is important.

Emanuel Derman’s quantitative thought process was introduced to me in a book that I’ve cited in recent months called “Lecturing Birds On Flying” (by Pablo Triana). Goldman alums should be quick to ask me if I’m kidding – you don’t know Derman? (Derman ran Quantitative Strategies at GS from 1990 to 2000).

Nope, I didn’t know who Derman was and I’m thinking some of you don’t know who Gunner is either. That’s the most beautiful part of life – waking up every day knowing what you don’t know.

What some of the perma-bulls didn’t know about this globally interconnected marketplace is that there was an extremely high level of what we people who are sometimes Thinking Quant call Correlation Risk to the immediate-term price movements in the US Dollar Index.

Since we bought the US Dollar (UUP) on November 4th, you can see what asset prices from Chinese stocks to commodities like Copper have done. If you didn’t know they had extremely high immediate-term inverse-correlations to a Buck that stopped Burning, now you know…

With the US Dollar up for the 4th consecutive week, it’s realized a mean-reversion move to the upside of +5%. Since we like to consider risk on a Duration Agnostic basis, here are the two levels that currently matter most for the US Dollar Index in my macro model:

  1. Immediate-term TRADE support = $77.31
  2. Intermediate-term TREND resistance = $79.71

After globally interconnected risk to an UP Dollar has been revealed, THE questions on reactive risk managers’ minds this morning is trivial. They’ll be hyper focused on the risk that’s occurred in the rear-view mirror. Can we see a Buck Breakout above the TREND line? And if we do, should we sell everything that’s been inversely correlated to the US Dollar for the last 3 weeks?

Fortunately, this is where both the myopic modeling quants run into the same problems as the channel checkers who saw none of this coming to begin with. I say fortunately because making what we call “the turn” on big macro moves is where the big bowls full of alpha start barking.

RULE #1 about immediate term Correlation Risk: it’s never perpetual!

What this means is that you effectively have to have risk management systems that refresh real-time or you run the risk of getting run-over. When Correlation Risk reverses, the Chuck Prince music stops, and the macro moves turn quickly.

The best way to illustrate this investment point this morning is to refresh the THEN and NOW looks I gave you in my “Stepping On Cocaine” Early Look note from November 16th where I outlined the immediate-term inverse correlations vs. October 16th:

THEN (immediate-term TRADE correlations to USD on October 16th):

  1. SP500 = -0.80
  2. CRB Commodities Index = -0.88
  3. Brazil’s Bovespa Index = -0.92
  4. Oil = -0.91
  5. Gold = -0.96
  6. Copper = -0.95

NOW (immediate term TRADE correlations to USD this morning):

  1. SP500 = -0.58
  2. CRB Commodities Index = -0.51
  3. Brazil’s Bovespa Index = -0.91
  4. Oil = -0.56
  5. Gold = -0.37
  6. Copper -0.38

In other words, for the immediate-term DOLLAR UP TRADE, the easy risk management money has been made and now these immediate-term correlations are starting to burn off.

Thinking Theoretically, this makes a lot of sense to me. Using 8 centuries of data, there has never been a wealthy and prosperous country that has sustained living off of plundering their citizenry’s savings via a debauchery of their currency. Strong currency is good. In Thinking Quant, I see a US Dollar that’s starting to look strong like bull.

My immediate term TRADE lines of support and resistance for the SP500 are 1171 and 1193, respectively. I currently have a ZERO percent allocation to US Equities and a 6 % allocation to German Equities (which, incidentally, now have a POSITIVE correlation to the USD of +0.29).

Best of luck out there today and Happy American Thanksgiving,


Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

Thinking Quant - quant