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The High Priests of Finance

Courtesy of The Economist:

Finance even has its own high priests in the form of the analysts and fund managers who promise their clients heavenly rewards if only they listen to their advice. They preach regular sermons in the form of brokers’ notes and quarterly reports, and they house themselves in vast cathedral-like buildings that dominate the skyline. Each day also has its canonical hours as traders pray for profitable opportunities at the European, American and Asian market openings. Finance has its annual calendar, too, marked with festivals known as results seasons in which the lucky participants receive their temporal (rather than spiritual) dividends.

And like any self-respecting religion, finance has its doctrinal schisms as well. Active fund managers are a bit like the medieval Catholic church, offering eternal salvation to those willing to pay the appropriate sum, which are known in modern parlance as performance fees rather than indulgences. The active-investment sect has its elaborate rituals and language, with a liturgy (“information ratios” and “alpha generation”) as baffling to the layman as the Latin mass was to the medieval peasant. Clients are supposed to listen to their presentations in a reverential hush, trusting that all the mumbo-jumbo will deliver superior results. The passive fund managers, or index-trackers, are akin to early Lutherans. Investors have no need for priestly intermediaries between them and the market, say the index-trackers. All they require is the full text of those companies that are included in the benchmark.

Finance also has its equivalent of holy men, the gurus who pronounce on the market outlook. Not for nothing is Warren Buffett known as the “sage of Omaha”. The faithful conduct an annual pilgrimage to Nebraska every year to attend the annual meeting of his company, Berkshire Hathaway. His folksy demeanour would surely make him the ideal neighbourhood priest, bringing comfort through life’s ups and downs.

Nice.

Efficient Markets: Killing Off the Monster

From the Economist:

Having lived through the financial crisis of 2007-08, the man in the street might find the idea that markets are “efficient” incredible. But the efficient-market hypothesis, like a Hollywood monster, has proved very hard to kill off. From the truism that the average investor could not beat the market after costs, academics developed the insight that obvious market-beating opportunities would quickly be arbitraged away.

Here is a great example of efficient markets — not:

That chart could only have been effectively traded as a trend following trader. You used fundamentals to trade that? You are full of it or you were flipping coins and hit heads.

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