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Ep. 366: The Statistical Mindset with Michael Covel on Trend Following Radio

The Statistical Mindset with Michael Covel on Trend Following Radio
The Statistical Mindset with Michael Covel on Trend Following Radio

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There is often misunderstanding among the general public when it comes to probability and risk. For example, 20% of Americans believe they are in the top 1% of income earners, or are soon to be there. This is, of course, statistically impossible.

Statistical thinking needs to have a bigger focus in our society, especially since the amount of data we have to deal with on a daily basis is constantly increasing. We need systems to help us sift through the noise.

Today’s episode is a selection of excerpts from some of the brightest minds of today and yesterday, and their takes on systematic and statistical thinking. Michael Covel provides the commentary. Though this is not strictly a trend following episode, all the material is very much applicable and relevant for anyone in trading or business.

From Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) to Gerd Gigerenzer, to Daniel Dennett, to Richard Feynman, this episode is permeated with wisdom to help you cultivate a trend following mindset.

In this episode of Trend Following Radio:

  • Having a foundation, a system to get through the noise
  • Developing a statistical mindset
  • Understanding risk and knowing how to deal with it
  • Getting “under the hood” of any trading system
  • Richard Feynman’s lecture on computer heuristics
  • What computer heuristics have to do with systems trading
  • A trait that geniuses have in common
  • The importance of isolation and concentration in learning

“The most important thing is to feel about things you should feel about, and think about things you should think about.” – Penn Jillette

Mentions & Resources:

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Ep. 242: Jean-Philippe Bouchaud Interview with Michael Covel on Trend Following Radio

Jean-Philippe Bouchaud
Jean-Philippe Bouchaud

Michael Covel speaks with Dr. Jean-Philippe Bouchaud. Bouchaud is Chairman of the multi-strategy quantitative hedge fund Capital Fund Management (5B+ AUM) and co-supervisor of the research team. He is a well known authority in the field of Econphysics, co-author of “Theory of Financial Risks and Derivative Pricing”, a Professor of École Polytechnique where he teaches Complex Systems and has his Ph.D in theoretical physics from École Normale Supérieure. Covel and Bouchaud discuss Bouchaud’s physics background and how it collided with the world of classical economics; the Black-Scholes model, and it’s still use; experimenting with simulation; Jean Philippe Bouchaud and his colleague’s paper, “Two Centuries of Trend Following“; the efficient market hypothesis; why the existence of trends is one of the most statistically significant anomalies in financial markets; how trends predate trend following; why classical economics has no framework through which to understand “wild markets”; benign randomness vs. wild randomness; accepting uncertainty; and differences between physicists and economists. For more information on Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, visit www.cfm.fr.

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Statistics in Football Can Make You See the Innovative Trend Following Light

Consider a story excerpt about “numbers” that might just help you to make more money:

A high school coach in Arkansas has developed a new football strategy: His team never punts. And he always employs the on-side kick. Coach Kevin Kelley developed these tactics from a study of football statistics; though the team often gives up the ball on downs, the increased number of possessions pays off in the long run. The coach has an .833 record since adopting this strategy, and his team has won the state championship three times. This season the team is 10-0.

Keeping the offense on the field on fourth down allows for more creative play-calling. Third-and-long does not have to be a passing down. The Little Rock school can run the ball, throw a screen pass or use any number of formations. Defenses do not know whether to use a nickel or dime defense. And Pulaski’s offense has less pressure on third down.

“We don’t really worry too much about it,” quarterback Spencer Keith said. “We just get as many yards as we can. We don’t have to go for the first down.”

If Pulaski converts on fourth down, it creates a momentum change similar to a turnover. Other high school coaches have told Kelley they would rather see his team punt. The Bruins even avoid punting when the defense has stopped them inside their own 10-yard line.

“You can just tell people are in the stands thinking, ‘You’re an idiot,’” Kelley said. Kelley supports this rationale with numbers analysis.

If Pulaski has a fourth-and-8 at its own 5-yard line, Kelley said his explosive offense likely will convert a first down at least 50 percent of the time. If it fails to convert, statistical data from the college level shows that an opponent acquiring the ball inside the 10-yard line scores a touchdown 90 percent of the time. If Pulaski punts away (i.e., a 40-yard punt with a 10-yard return) the other team will start with the ball on the 38-yard line and score a touchdown 77 percent of the time. The difference is only 13 percent.

An innovative and statistics-minded coach, Kelley had tinkered with eschewing the punting game since winning his first state championship in 2003. He became further emboldened after reading several studies, including “Do Firms Maximize? Evidence from Pro Football,” by University of California-Berkeley economics professor David Romer. Kelley also examined ZEUS, a computer program developed by Chuck Bower, who has a doctorate in astrophysics, and Frank Frigo, a game theory expert, to model and predict football outcomes.

THAT is exactly how trend following approaches making money in the markets. Question the typical ways of investing and put the odds on your side.

The way to a nice life.

The Median Isn’t the Message by Stephen Jay Gould

A nice reminder from a great thinker:

If a little learning could ever be a dangerous thing, I had encountered a classic example. Attitude clearly matters in fighting cancer. We don’t know why (from my old-style materialistic perspective, I suspect that mental states feed back upon the immune system). But match people with the same cancer for age, class, health, socioeconomic status, and, in general, those with positive attitudes, with a strong will and purpose for living, with commitment to struggle, with an active response to aiding their own treatment and not just a passive acceptance of anything doctors say, tend to live longer. A few months later I asked Sir Peter Medawar, my personal scientific guru and a Nobelist in immunology, what the best prescription for success against cancer might be. “A sanguine personality,” he replied. Fortunately (since one can’t reconstruct oneself at short notice and for a definite purpose), I am, if anything, even-tempered and confident in just this manner.

Hence the dilemma for humane doctors: since attitude matters so critically, should such a sombre conclusion be advertised, especially since few people have sufficient understanding of statistics to evaluate what the statements really mean? From years of experience with the small-scale evolution of Bahamian land snails treated quantitatively, I have developed this technical knowledge – and I am convinced that it played a major role in saving my life. Knowledge is indeed power, in Bacon’s proverb.

A passage for trend followers? Hmmm… lion or gazelle.

Striking Out Is Part of Winning

I put this great quote in my bestseller Trend Following:

“What is striking is that the leading thinkers across varied fields–including horse betting, casino gambling, and investing–all emphasize the same point. We call it the Babe Ruth effect: even though Ruth struck out a lot, he was one of baseball’s greatest hitters.”

You have to get it–to survive. Ever hear political leaders talk like this? No, political leaders promote the nonsense that there will never be a stubbed toe again. Believe that?

David Harding Offers Sharpe Ratio Criticism

David Harding of trend follower Winton Capital argues for more than simple acceptance of the Sharpe ratio as the measure for assessing “risky investments”:

“The Sharpe ratio appears at first blush to reward returns (good) and penalise risks (bad). Upon closer inspection, things are not so simple. The standard deviation takes into account the distance of each return from the mean, positive or negative. By this token, large positive returns increase the perception of risk as though they could as easily be negative, which for a dynamic investment strategy may not be the case. Large positive returns are penalised, and thus the removal of the highest returns from the distribution can increase the Sharpe ratio: a case of reductio ad absurdum for Sharpe ratio as a universal measure of quality! We might suggest an improvement by considering only the negative semi-standard deviation for the denominator, a measure known as the Sortino ratio. However it still remains vital that the semi-standard deviation used is meaningful, in the sense that it is calculated from a sufficiently well-understood return distribution, where the assumptions of stationarity and parametricity can be made.”

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