Monday, January 28, 2008

Ben Stein Makes a Funny, and then Makes a Point

From Sunday's Times.

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“Legal realism” said that the whole common-law system of abiding by past decisions was a fig leaf. What really happened, at the appellate level and probably at the trial level, too, was that judges made up their minds based on their predilections, their biases, which lawyer was their friend, what they had for breakfast that day. (I myself love peach Activia yogurt.)
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Because I usually write about finance, I have come to believe in the theory of what I would call “financial realism,” or what might more accurately be called “trader realism.” Under this theory, on which I have an imaginary patent, traders can see masses of data any minute of any day. They can find data to support hitting the “buy” button or the “sell” button. They don’t act on the basis of what seems to them the real economic situation, but on what’s in it for them.

Just as a tiny example, years ago a close friend, now deceased, was a trader in London for a big financial house. As he told it, one day I.B.M. came out with stellar numbers. The boss of the trading floor said, “O.K., the guy who’s getting the prize is the one who can make us money selling I.B.M. short.”

So the traders grabbed for their phones and started to put out any bad thoughts they could dream up about I.B.M. They called journalists, retailers, anyone. They sold huge amounts of I.B.M. short. Soon, they had I.B.M. on the run, made money on their shorts and went to Langan’s to drink champers.

As I see it, this is what traders do all day long — and especially what they’ve been doing since the subprime mess burst upon the scene. They have seized upon a fairly bad situation: a stunning number of defaults and foreclosures in the subprime arena, although just a small part of the total financial picture of the United States. They have then tried — with the collaboration of their advance guards in the press — to make it seem like a total catastrophe so they could make money on their short sales. They sense an opportunity to trick other traders and poor retail slobs like you and me, and they generate data and rumor to support their positions, and to make money.

MORE than that, they trade to support the way they want the market to go. If they are huge traders like some of the major hedge funds, they can sell massively and move the market downward, then suck in other traders who go short, and create a vacuum of fear that sucks down whatever they are selling.

Note what is happening here: They are not figuring out which way the market will go. They are making the market go the direction they want.
I know this because I know traders. They’ve told me that they love to sell into fear because fear is bottomless — you can make money selling all day, while buying eventually slows because enthusiasm has limits. The amount of money available to large professional traders is so large that they can overwhelm the market, at least for a while, anytime they want. And they like to do it when the market least expects it.

To my humble eyes, this is what we have seen recently on world markets. Note that the losses in United States markets alone are on the order of about $2.5 trillion in recent weeks. How can a loss of roughly $100 billion on subprime — with some recoveries sure to come as property is seized and sold — translate into a stock-market loss 25 times that size? The answer is trader realism.
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2 comments:

Mosiche said...

that Ben Stein he has come a long way since he was taking role call "Bueller, Bueller??" this reminds me of the Enron traders who took advantage of California and create false demand for electric in order to generate outsized profits. Moishe has no problem with capitalism just don't blatantly hurt others to make money, karma is a bitch.

Morty said...

He was cracking me up on Kudlow last week - talking about how Bill Gates made a ton of dough, and only then starts talking anti-capitalism in Davos so he can hang out with the beautiful people. He went on to add that he lives near the beautiful people in Hollywood and that it's overrated.

Alter kakers, eh?