This note was originally published at 8am this morning, October 13, 2010. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.
“Not realizing that giving someone no map is much, much better than giving him a wrong map.”
I’m almost a third of the way through reviewing Pablo Triana’s “Lecturing Birds On Flying.” Published in 2009, this is a thinkers book. It made it to the top of my reading pile as I’m keen on reading anything that offers an alternative solution to the academic dogma that’s plaguing the American Economic System.
The aforementioned quote came from Nassim Taleb’s 7-page foreword. If you think what I write is aggressive, you need to read this book. Taleb’s foreword was easily the most aggressive I’ve ever read. His advice: “You need to shame members, humiliate them. Make fun of these charlatans.”
I don’t like charlatans. I don’t like cowards. And I certainly don’t like taking people’s word for things unless I have a basis to trust their work. I’d be a hypocrite not to criticize myself inasmuch as I will Ben Bernanke or Pablo Triana. My goal in life isn’t to defend my answers. It’s to find the right ones.
Given that I’m still waiting on my entry point to re-short this SP500, this morning I am going to lecture myself on shorting. In Chapter 2, “The Financial Economics Fiefdom”, Triana sufficiently proves that some of the said economic savants who are lecturing our B-school students need a wake-up call of real-life experience. So, I’ll offer my own. If you want to hit competing strategies in the mouth, you have to be accountable to what’s coming out of your own.
To be clear, no one said being transparent and accountable in this business is easy. That said, unlike Taleb and Triana, I actually show the score associated with my implementation of risk management solutions each and every day. We need more practitioners to get in the game on this front. God knows we aren’t going to boil the ocean of academic dogma on our own.
So, back to lecturing myself on shorting, let’s start with some very basic modern day risk management questions. If you want to lecture people on managing “Black Swan” or “tail risk”, shouldn’t you know how to profitably short a country, currency, or commodity? How about shorting stocks, governments, or the professional politicians that back them?
I’ll humbly submit that if you could, you would. So let’s strap the accountability pants on and take a walk down that path. Other than an internet connection and an online brokerage account (or a hedge fund), what else do you need to get started?
Ok. Ok. Now you’re either laughing or calling me names like the guys on the Princeton hockey team used to do. Either way, my teammates and I don’t really care what you call me. The Hedgeye Portfolio has an 83.6% winning percentage on the short side since inception (2008). Who Dat Hedgeye?
In all seriousness, in these globally interconnected times of government sponsored volatility, I don’t think you should be buying, selling, shorting, or covering anything unless you have a top-down global macro process combined with bottom-up research and risk management tools.
Ok. Now that I’ve laced up my skates with some Money, Macro, and Mucker, I’m ready to play God (Chapter 1 of Lecturing Birds On Flying is called “Playing God”). In terms of some pre-game prep, here are some highlights from Triana’s first chapter that any student of this game can appreciate:
1. Citing Emanuel Derman (former Goldman exec and currently professor at Columbia who has his PhD in physics), Triana makes an invaluable point about discipline and hard work: “It’s not that physics is better, but rather that finance is harder. In physics you are playing against God and He doesn’t change His laws very often. In finance, you are playing against God’s creatures, agents who value assets based on their ephemeral opinions.”
2. Again, borrowing another great quote from Derman, Triana hammers home a critical point about the behavioral side of this game that you need to internalize before you get out there on the proverbial ice: “When you take on other people, you are pretending you can comprehend other pretenders, a much more difficult task.”
3. Finally, on page 22, Pablo brings some Harvard heat by using a solid quote about economic forecasting from John Kenneth Galbraith: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology respectable.”
Now playing against the said gods of Perceived Wisdom is tough. My mother-in-law was the first to remind me and my newly found feathered-gray hockey hairs about that. But God Himself is tough. And if you want to play this game for real, you better be tough too - especially when both critics and consensus tell you that you can’t do something that they can’t do.
After all, I believe it was Galbraith who also said that, “we have two classes of forecasters: those who don’t know – and those who don’t know what they don’t know.” Keep being your own harshest critic out there and you’ll be just fine. Read, write, and spend as much time with the people you love as you can. Short selling and managing risk is all about doing. As the game changes you need to change alongside it.
I’ve been waiting and watching for my re-entry point on the short side of the SP500 since early September. My immediate term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1155 and 1177, respectively. I answer to no man on when to pull the trigger. I’m accountable to the score. I have my own map.
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer