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Animal Spirits

Are investors and traders cats, rationally and independently sniffing out returns? Or are they cows, flowing with a herd that must know something? These blog entries relate to behavioral finance, the study of the animal spirits of investing and trading.

A Few Notes on Investing and the Irrational Mind

In his 2011 book Investing and the Irrational Mind: Rethink Risk, Outwit Optimism, and Seize Opportunities Others Miss, author Robert Koppel posits that investing has “less to do with the science of computation and more to do the art of managing one’s outlook, emotions, and consciousness.” He seeks to explain “how to overcome debilitating emotions, irrational biases, and investment fallacies and arrive at an understanding of overall market risk through an approach that identifies, assesses, and controls losses. …how we can master our irrational minds to gain the skills necessary to control our financial decisions.” Some notable points from the book are: Keep Reading

Get Genetic Screening for Your Financial Advisor?

What accounts for the persistence in diversity of investor beliefs and behaviors? Why does logical inference from common data not drive common attitudes and actions? In their March 2011 paper entitled “Serotonin and Risk Taking: How Do Genes Change Financial Choices?”, Camelia Kuhnen, Gregory Samanez-Larkin and Brian Knutson investigate differences in investing beliefs and behaviors associated with variations of a single gene (the serotonin transporter). Using demographic and financial information, tests of cognitive ability and numeracy, and measurements of attitudes toward financial decisions for 60 individuals recruited to be representative of San Francisco Bay Area adults, they find that: Keep Reading

Prelude to Panic?

Are there internal or external signals that predict financial market panic attacks? In the February 2011 revision of their paper entitled “Predicting Economic Market Crises Using Measures of Collective Panic” (flagged by a reader), Dion Harmon, Marcus de Aguiar, David Chinellato, Dan Braha, Irving Epstein and Yaneer Bar-Yam investigate whether indications of the interplay between external shocks (news) and internal market mimicry (herding) predict U.S. stock market crises and panics. They measure the relative levels of external news and internal mimicry based on the distribution over a year of the daily fraction of stocks that move in the same direction (simply up or down). A strongly Gaussian (flattened) shape for this distribution implies that investors are focusing on business fundamentals (technical indications), and external news (internal mimicry) is therefore dominating their behavior. Left-right symmetry of this distribution implies that good news and bad news are in balance. Using random samples of daily returns of Russell 3000 stocks over the period 1985 through 2010, they find that: Keep Reading

Mutual Fund Investors Causing Their Own Demise?

Do mutual fund investors in aggregate exhibit good, bad or indifferent market timing? In their January 2011 article entitled “Past Performance is Indicative of Future Beliefs”, Philip Maymin and Gregg Fisher investigate how the aggregated timing of buying and selling by mutual fund investors affects their average returns. Using monthly returns and assets for approximately 25,000 mutual funds over the period November 1995 through October 2010, they find that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on Trading the Trader

In his 2010 book Trade the Trader: Know Your Competition and Find Your Edge for Profitable Trading, author Quint Tatro observes that “…what most investors don’t understand as they start to learn their basic technical patterns…is they are the ones actually in play. Seasoned traders are no longer just cuing off of charts or indicators, they are also analyzing those same charts to determine what the amateurs are doing, and are seeking to profit from the ignorance of the newcomers. It’s a chess game where the successful traders are thinking two and three moves ahead, playing off the basic strategy of the newcomers. Those simply pursuing a basic path of understanding technical analysis will find it is a road that ultimately leads to frustration, whereas those looking to trade the traders will be met with an endless world of opportunity. …If you don’t know on which side you fall, odds are you are someone’s next meal.” Some notable points from the book are: Keep Reading

Total Fear Premium

Is aggregate equity investor fear multifaceted? In the August 2010 version of his paper entitled “The Equity Fear Premium and Daily Comovements of the S&P 500 E/P ratio and Treasury Yields before and during the 2007 Financial Crisis”, Christophe Faugère introduces a Total Fear Premium derived from independent flight-to-safety and flight-to-liquidity impulses. The flight-to-safety component assumes investors fleeing stocks buy long-term Treasuries, driving the real, after-tax yield on Treasury bonds below long-term trend (growth rate of real Gross Domestic Product per capita). The flight-to-liquidity component assumes investors fleeing stocks buy short-term instruments (such as Treasury bills), driving their yields below the federal funds target rate. Using daily levels of the S&P 500 forward earnings yield, Treasury yields and S&P 500 Index implied volatility (VIX) over the period July 2004 through February 2010, he finds that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on What Investors Really Want

Author Meir Statman states that his 2010 book What Investors Really Want “is about what we want from our investments. It is about how we think about our investments, how we feel about them, and how investment markets drive us crazy as we try to cajole them into giving us what we want… The sum of our wants and behaviors makes financial markets go up or down as we herd together or go our separate ways, sometimes inflating bubbles and at other times popping them.” Reflecting on “what we really want from our investments” with citations to a large body behavioral finance research, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Seeking Confirming Opinions Rather Than Information?

Is participation in stock message boards/forums a net plus or net minus for the typical investor? In their July 2010 paper entitled “Confirmation Bias, Overconfidence, and Investment Performance: Evidence from Stock Message Boards”, JaeHong Park, Prabhudev Konana, Bin Gu, Alok Kumar and Rajagopal Raghunathan investigate how investors process message board information and analyze the impact of message processing on return expectations and investment performance. Using an incentivized online experiment conducted via the South Korean Naver.com message board to measure prior beliefs, information processing behavior and expected performance of 502 individual investors during October 7-21, 2009, they find that: Keep Reading

Why Don’t We All Just Do What Warren Buffett Does?

Given Warren Buffett’s long-term record of outperformance via Berkshire Hathaway, rational investors should consider following his lead as the the company discloses its holdings. Why would the market not immediately discount his moves as announced? In their July 2010 paper entitled “Overconfidence, Under-Reaction, and Warren Buffett’s Investments”, John Hughes, Jing Liu and Mingshan Zhang investigate how other experts/large traders contribute to market underreaction to Berkshire Hathaway’s moves. Using return, analyst recommendation, insider trading and institutional holdings data for publicly traded stocks listed in Berkshire Hathaway’s quarterly SEC Form 13F filings during 1980-2006 (2,140 quarter-stock observations), they find that: Keep Reading

The Lure of Trading at the Open?

Do naive investors, lured by news they encounter while the stock market is closed, bid up the prices of attention-getting stocks at the open? In their June 2010 paper entitled “Paying Attention: Overnight Returns and the Hidden Cost of Buying at the Open”, Henk Berkman, Paul Koch, Laura Tuttle and Ying Zhang examine whether attention-based trading by individual equity investors reliably causes temporary mispricing at the market open. Using intraday bid and ask price data for the 3,000 largest U.S. stocks over the period 1996-2008 (13 years), along with contemporaneous measures of retail investor attention to individual stocks and overall market sentiment, they conclude that: Keep Reading

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