At first it was taught in business schools that you have to be a very smart guy to beat the stock market, but by studying Gaham and Todd, you could beat the market. Then we learnt that everything under the sun is in vain. Markets are “efficient” and you could have your pet monkey throw darts on the stock listings to construct the best portfolio imaginable, then, by the behavorialist, we were told that all is irrational, psychological, human. The question is: what will be the next explanation? My humble suggestion is to look at the liquidity wizzards, the central banks, it does not take a genius to sit at the well and get the most fresh water. Those who have learned even a slight dose of Misesian monetary economics, will know what is meant by that allegory. (Antony Mueller)
read this, adopted from J. Bradford-Delong’s page:
Quote: “Justin Fox wrote, long ago:
Is The Market Rational? No, say the experts. But neither are you–so don’t go thinking you can outsmart it. - December 9, 2002: Buy and hold. Diversify. Put your money in index funds. Pay attention to the one thing you can control–costs–and keep them as low as possible. Today that is pretty standard, if often unheeded, investment advice. Forty years ago it was revolutionary. The revolution started on college campuses, in particular at the University of Chicago, and it went by the unrevolutionary-sounding name “efficient markets.”
“In an efficient market,” wrote Chicago professor Eugene Fama in a landmark paper he delivered at the 1969 annual meeting of the American Finance Association, “prices ‘fully reflect’ available information.” That is, in an efficient market you can’t beat the market unless you have inside information. So why bother trying?
That logic led, among other things, to the creation of index funds that aim to mimic, not beat, the likes of the S&P 500 and the Wilshire 5000. Today such funds account for about 10% of total U.S. stock market capitalization, as well as 60% of what little money has flowed into equity mutual funds so far this year. But millions of small investors have continued to ignore the advice derived from efficient-markets theory, preferring instead to trade stocks and pile in and out of mutual funds in search of elusive market-beating returns (blowing much of their money on fees and commissions in the process).
Meanwhile, back on campus, a new generation of finance professors has been ripping Fama’s teachings to shreds. The organizing principle for this new breed of scholars is not efficient markets but something called behavioral finance. Behavioral finance teaches that stock market investors are irrational, that future stock price movements are at least partly predictable from past behavior, and that careful analysis of past trends and financial reports can pay off. Which happens to be the way most investors see the market already.
Over the next few pages we’re going to take you on a journey through the academic battles that have brought us to this point…. The message that the behavioral finance guys have for investors is that yes, you can beat the market, but–for reasons that are essential to the whole behavioralist case–you almost certainly won’t. As a result, they end up offering much of the same investment advice that the efficient markets folks do. Only this time we might actually listen….
[L]et us document the behavioralists’ triumph. Half of this year’s economics Nobel went to their patron saint, Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman (the other half went to Vernon Smith of George Mason, whose economic experiments have also shot holes in efficient-markets dogma). Then there’s the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded by the American Economic Association every two years to the most important U.S. economist under 40: The 1999 and 2001 editions both went to behavioralists. On the pop-culture front, Yale efficient-markets skeptic Robert Shiller’s 2000 bestseller Irrational Exuberance was the most talked-about book by an economist in years.
The most dramatic development of all, though, may be that the office directly below Fama’s at Chicago’s Graduate School of Business now belongs to behavioralist pioneer Richard Thaler, 57. A magazine profile last year characterized Thaler, to the undying amusement of his students, as “thick-set,” but that’s not quite fair. He is not the jock that his upstairs neighbor is–Fama beats him at tennis. But Thaler, who arrived in Chicago in 1995 after years in the relative academic wilderness of Cornell University, appears to have eclipsed Fama as the most influential faculty member at the business school that has had more influence on the study of finance than any other….
Thaler, who was working on a Ph.D. in economics at Rochester in the early 1970s. His dissertation was an attempt to put a value on human life…. Thaler decided to ask a few friends how much they’d be willing to pay to eliminate a one-in-1,000 chance of immediate death and how much they would have to be paid to willingly accept an extra one-in-1,000 chance of immediate death. What he found was that they wouldn’t pay much for the extra margin of safety but demanded huge sums to accept added risk–which isn’t, strictly speaking, rational. “I came to two conclusions about these answers,” Thaler wrote years later. “(1) I had better get back to running regressions if I want to graduate, and (2) the disparity between buying and selling prices was very interesting.”… to be a newly minted psychology Ph.D., who sent Thaler a copy of a 1974 article by Israeli psychology professors Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman… argued that in making decisions involving probability and risk, people rely on mental shortcuts that “are highly economical and usually effective but … lead to systematic and predictable errors.”
It was that last part that was so significant. That people make judgment errors wasn’t news, but if those errors were “systematic and predictable,” well, that was something an equation-wielding economist could get up and run with….. The efficient-markets guys, meanwhile, not only had come to occupy the academic mainstream but also had moved in on Wall Street. Not surprisingly, their initial relations with the Street had been hostile. What the professors were saying, after all, was that highly paid fund managers and analysts were not worth a dime. Some of the professors clearly reveled in that: In one famous mid-1960s exchange, a money manager asked MIT’s Paul Cootner, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” To which Cootner replied, “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”
The answer to that second question was that people on Wall Street didn’t have to be smart to get rich, since they could make money off fees and brokerage commissions even when their market calls stank. But the devastating bear market of the 1970s caused some investors to question whether the people with whom they’d entrusted their money really were worth the expense. One logical result of such thinking was the index fund, which instead of trying to outsmart the market simply tried to imitate it while charging much lower fees than actively managed funds do. The first index fund for institutional investors was started in 1971 by Wells Fargo Investment Advisors (now Barclays Global Investors) in San Francisco. The first such fund for retail investors–the Vanguard Index Trust–was launched five years later….
[W]hile Sharpe believes in efficient markets, he has also spent much of his career helping investors make choices. That, it turns out, makes him a big fan of behavioral finance. “As a practical matter, I still think it’s prudent to assume that the market is pretty close to efficient in terms of pricing and risk and return and all that,” Sharpe says. “On the other hand, we’ve certainly learned from cognitive psychology that ordinary human beings need to have alternatives framed in ways that can help them make right decisions rather than wrong decisions.”
Most of the wrong decisions investors make, behavioral research has shown, stem from overconfidence…. As a result, much of what the behavioralists have to offer in terms of advice has to do with protecting retail investors from themselves…. Daniel Kahneman, when asked by a CNBC anchorman the day after his Nobel was announced in October what investment tips he had for viewers, responded, “Buy and hold.”…
[T]he real-world phenomenon that cemented the behavioralists’ victory also illustrates why, when it comes to actual investing advice, they sound so much like Fama and Sharpe. That real-world phenomenon was the stock market bubble of the late 1990s. According to strict efficient-markets thinking, there must be a rational explanation for what happened. Fama describes those sky-high Internet stock valuations as a risky but not crazy bet that one or two of those money-losing Net companies would end up as big as Microsoft. But he’s almost all alone on this one. “We have just lived through the biggest bubble of all time,” says Malkiel, who now calls himself a “random walker with a crutch.” Fama’s favorite collaborator, Dartmouth’s French, is on the verge of using the b-word as well when he stops himself. “I work very closely with Gene,” he says. “He would be very upset if I used that word in print.”…
The dirty little secret of the behavioralists is that, for all their work on investor irrationality and market anomalies, they still believe that markets work pretty well and that trying to outguess the collective wisdom of millions of investors is usually futile…. But efficient-markets theory has a dirty little secret, too, which is that for the market to remain efficient, there have to be lots of rational investors who believe enough in the market’s inefficiency to spend their careers trying to beat it….
[T]he argument of modern behavioralists includes a crucial observation that wasn’t in Keynes–that professional investors are now under so much pressure from their customers that they cannot make the kind of long-term bets that might beat the market. If they do, as was the case with a lot of value-oriented mutual funds in the late 1990s, they can soon find themselves without any customers’ money to invest. That gets us to a world in which an investor with enough staying power and contrarian gumption can beat the market, but the vast majority of mutual funds and hedge funds don’t. In other words, the behavioralists have reconciled the success of a Warren Buffett (which efficient-markets purists have absurdly termed dumb luck) with the overwhelmingly empirical evidence that most professional money managers fail to beat the market.
This is, we posit, a major intellectual accomplishment. What does it mean for you? That’s easy: Buy and hold. Diversify. Put your money in index funds. Pay attention to the one thing you can control–costs–and keep them as low as possible.”
Watch the central bankers, they have created the greatest bubble the world has ever seen by pouring fiat money upon us as if it were the mana of biblical times. With that sea of liquidity available, morons appear like genius, and humans seem like God Himself, and the crowd is putting savings into pensions funds, and the pension funds give it to the hedge funds, and the hedge funds will blow it all away as if it were like dust in the wind.