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the psychology of successful trading

Omission Bias and Financial Markets

What Is Omission Bias?

Omission Bias is the tendency to think it is better to do nothing than to do something and make a mistake. We all have this tendency because it is a fundamental part of our psychology. It can be particularly strong when thinking about how much we will regret something in future if we make a mistake. We think we will regret doing nothing less than we will regret doing something.

This matters in financial markets, because it is not necessarily better to do nothing than to do something. The tendency to inaction creates inertia. We hold on to stocks longer than we should. We fail to buy new stocks when we should also do that. Formally, this is because is no practical difference between the following two scenarios. I could invest $100 in a stock that declines 10% the next day. I could also fail to buy one stock that appreciates 10% the next day. In both scenarios, I have lost $10. But Omission Bias will make me think that scenario two is better than scenario one. This is because in scenario two I have done nothing while in scenario one I have done something.

In this way, our psychology makes us prefer to do nothing. But the only important metric to judge the quality of my trading is the financial result. And that was the same in both scenarios: I do not have $10 that I would have had.

Adverse Effects of Omission Bias

A major adverse effect of Omission Bias is that it impairs your ability to assess performance. You will only look at what you did as opposed to what you did not do. This is because you are only worried about things you did that did not work. You don’t worry about things you didn’t do that would have worked because Omission Bias takes out the regret in that second case.

But the only measure of importance is how much money you made as compared to how much you could have made. So there should be equal attention paid to opportunities missed as there is to opportunities taken which did not work out.

This adverse effect is of crucial importance.  Many investors do not have clear enough data of what has worked for them and what has not.  It is essential to have a good focus on this for a number of reasons.  

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One benefit is that you can only manage your portfolio appropriately if you have been examining its performance precisely.  A second benefit is that you might be able to identify some specific sorts of trade that you are particularly good at.  You can then seek to identify relevantly similar situations and exploit them.  Also — you might have a chance of avoiding disasters from the past occurring again!

Our ability to look at our failures and learn from them is also impeded by our natural distaste for thinking about the unpleasant — but failures are always more instructive than successes.  One might almost say that any fool can succeed — but only an expert can fail well…

Practical Consequences

A major practical impediment to any attempts to correct for Omission Bias is due to the sheer scale of the problem.  The number of shares you did not buy yesterday is absolutely huge.  There is no way you can think about all of those.  Nor should you.  The more useful comparison is to think about the shares you could have bought or the ones you almost did buy.  So that tells us that you should be looking at several buy options at a time.  Look at what factors led you to choose the one you did choose.  

Maybe you were looking at three oil companies.  You compared them on price/earnings ratios, dividends and price/book value.  You made a choice.  Did that work out?  (Don’t do this next day.  Wait for a reasonable period.  Otherwise you will just be looking at noise.)

Omission Bias is a sort of Agency Effect

What fundamentally is going on with Omission Bias is a sort of agency effect.  If something bad happens and you could have prevented it but did not, this is seen as morally less culpable than if you did something which caused a bad outcome.  After all, “you didn’t do anything.”  I think this perception might be strengthened by the fact that the law says a lot about what we cannot do but rarely says anything about what you must do.  You are at liberty to walk past a baby drowning in a pond.  You are not at liberty to throw a baby in a pond.

This might be fine morally.  But stock markets are not outlets for moral action.  They are locations where you can profit.  Or not.  Bear in mind the possibilities of Omission Bias affecting your judgements of your own decision-making and your decisions will get better and more profitable.

Learn more in the video below:

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the psychology of successful trading Trading trading psychology

The Halo Effect is One Cause of the Bitcoin Bubble

What is the Halo Effect?

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The Halo Effect occurs when people judge the overall quality of an item or person by considering only a single property of that item.  This can lead to dramatic errors; most obviously when all of the other qualities of the item  are negative or highly questionable.  This I will argue here is one causal factor among several which have caused novice investors to buy Bitcoin.  When it crashes, they will lose all of their money.  They will be unable to exit the market because the power of the cognitive bias is too strong.

In this post, I will briefly set out the cognitive biases which are in play here before describing the Halo Effect and how it is another feature of human psychology which leads people to mistakenly buy Bitcoin.

Why People Like Bitcoin

The Halo Effect is not the only causal factor operative among the novice investors who are buying Bitcoin.  I have already argued elsewhere that another causal element is that Bitcoin buyers prefer their own experiences to any consideration of statistical data. In addition, Bitcoin buyers share with Trump voters a distrust of experts, as I have also argued elsewhere.

We can see that as a two variants of the Dunning Kruger effect.  Here, people who lack competence are unable to detect such lack of competence. This makes intuitive sense since people who lack competence and are aware of it would presumably either take steps to address that lack or avoid activity requiring the relevant competence.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/dunning-kruger-effect

A corollary of that is seen in another variant of the Dunning Kruger effect. People who lack expertise are unable to detect true expertise.  We can see this when someone is able to publish a book on Bitcoin when it is quite apparent that they do not have even a basic understanding of it.  For readers of this book, it must be impossible to recognise and benefit from well sourced, properly constructed arguments, for example in the mainstream media.

Origins of the Halo Effect

The Halo Effect was first seen in data about personality assessment in the military.  Officers asked to rate their subordinates would in fact rely on a single criterion. They would then assume that all other relevant factors were correlated with that one criterion.  This is obviously dramatically false unless all of the other variables are correlated with the one assessed.  And that is highly unlikely to be true.

False Claims About Bitcoin

Many people are unable to distinguish Bitcoin from the blockchain.  This leads many of the novice investors who are buying Bitcoin to fail to distinguish between the two claims “I am buying Bitcoin” and “I am investing in blockchain technology.”

The blockchain is a distributed ledger system which offers transparent recording of transactions (or any data) without the backing of any central authority.  It is an extremely interesting technology which holds great promise.  It could create corruption-resistant property ledgers.  That would be of great benefit, not least in combatting money laundering.

Bitcoin is termed a “cryptocurrency” even though it does not fulfil the roles of a currency in that it is not readily convertible and it is not a stable store of value.  It rewards the miners who maintain the blockchain on a widely dispersed set of servers.  However, it is clear that the blockchain and Bitcoin are not identical.

So this is how the Halo Effect kills traders. They confuse a potential positive quality with all properties. Bitcoin uses the Blockchain. The Blockchain is interesting. Therefore Bitcoin is interesting as an investment. This does not work even if it is true that the Blockchain is interesting. And even that claim is highly questionable.

A Potential Response From Bitcoin Proponents

An objection has been attempted here by a Bitcoin proponent that it is not possible to have a blockchain without a cryptocurrency.  There are a number of readings of that, but on the obvious two, the claim is either false, or true but misleading.  If the claim means “you cannot run blockchain code without also generating a cryptocurrency” then it is false. Blockchain code could run with the cryptocurrency elements redacted. Or they could have zero value, which achieves the same thing.

If the claim means “it is necessary to compensate the miners, ” then it is true.   However, the miners could get $.  Or the blockchain could run in the cloud, or in many clouds.  That would carry some costs, but this is not a problem.  It would even be possible to compensate the miners in a cryptocurrency which was pegged against the $.  There is no need for the cryptocurrency to appreciate and definitely not to gyrate wildly.  I therefore conclude that the objection fails.

Why All This Means Bitcoin is Toast

There is one positive property that Bitcoin possesses.  It is true that it is generated using the blockchain technology.  It is also true that the blockchain technology is extremely interesting, and being pursued widely by a number of serious players.  By contrast, no professional, experienced or institutional investor is holding Bitcoin.  Novice investors fall prey to the Halo Effect when they think that the one positive quality of Bitcoin is a measure of its overall quality, when in fact it has no other redeeming features at all.  This will prove to be a very expensive cognitive bias when the Bitcoin crash comes.

See Also:

The Forthcoming #Bitcoin Crash Will Kill The #Trump Demographic

The #Anecdotal Fallacy And The #Bitcoin Bubble

Bad Arguments for the Permanence of Bitcoin

Categories
the psychology of successful trading Trading trading psychology

The Bitcoin Crash Will Kill The Trump Demographic

Introduction

We know that if you voted for Trump, you are more likely to be less intelligent, less educated, poorer and more rural.  I will argue that this leads to a further feature — distrust of experts — which is required to be a supported of either Trump or Bitcoin.  This suggests that the Bitcoin Crash will kill the Trump demographic.

Note that I said “more likely to be []…”  We are talking about two curves here.  It is not certain that you are less intelligent and poorer etc.  It would not be an objection here to say “I have a PhD and I am rich and I voted for Trump.”  To say that would be to commit the Anecdotal Fallacy, which I argued yesterday is also a major feature of the Bitcoin bubble.

Only Amateurs Do Not Expect a Bitcoin Crash

One of the notable points about Bitcoin is that there are no professional, experienced or institutional investors who have invested in Bitcoin.  If that changes, we should all become seriously concerned.

Everyone who holds Bitcoin is an inexperienced amateur.  I put this to a Bitcoin enthusiast, and received the following reply.

Mark Cuban invested big into Unikorn. Peter Thiel invested into bitpay which is a wallet company. Mike Novogratz (former president of fortress investments and partner at Goldman Sachs) runs Galaxy Investments (almost exclusively crypto). Tim Draper bought 30,000 btc in 2014.  And Bill Gates: there are no definitive articles on how much BTC he holds but he has plenty of quotes talking about how it’s the future

I will now show why none of that works.

Mark Cuban and Unikorn

The first point to make here is that it is odd to cite Cuban here since he is on record as saying that Bitcoin is a bubble.  The other problem is that Unikoin, the token involved in this ICO, is not Bitcoin.  (I also believe that almost all of the other ICOs are fraudulent, but I would need a lot more space and time to show that.)  Finally, Unikoin will apparently permit sports betting, so while I do not recommend that, it at least has a theoretical source of value.  Bitcoin does not.

Novogratz

Novogratz and Galaxy Investment Partners have invested into the huge and under the radar Worldwide Asset eXchange (WAX).  This is like selling shovels to miners in the Klondike gold rush.  (Reportedly, Trump’s grandfather ran a Klondike brothel.)  Selling shovels is a great business to be in, irrespective of how many of the miners or Bitcoin holders go bust.  So this again is not an example of a major investor holding Bitcoin.

Tim Draper and 30,000 btc

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This is the only one of the examples which approaches being serious.  We must take it seriously because Draper reportedly invested serious money: $18m.  And he is actually holding Bitcoin as opposed to backing exchanges.  The caveats though are manifold.  First, he lost 40,000 Bitcoin in the Mt Gox fraud, and the fact that this did not give him pause makes me think he is an esoteric thinker.  Secondly, a lot of his remarks concern enthusiasm “for the technology”.  It is very important to keep a clear distinction between Bitcoin — a Ponzi scheme — and the block chain — a very interesting technology.  Thirdly, this is one man against every investment bank, hedge fund, regulator and all the other expert investors in the world.

Discrediting Experts as Diagnostic

I have in fact been told that my 20 year experience of successful investing is a disadvantage, because it means I am unable to understand the “glorious opportunity” allegedly represented by Bitcoin.  There are in fact some advantages to disadvantages, as I argue in my new book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychology-Successful-Trading-Behavioural-Profitability-ebook/dp/B07885RH42

— but that isn’t one of them.

Bill Gates and the Bitcoin Crash

This is an excellent example of muddled analysis and poor understanding of the importance of precision and sourcing one’s quotes from reputable sources.  (It is no coincidence that Bitcoin supporters and Trump voters alike disparage proper news sources like the New York Times and prefer websites with manufactured quotes.)  We are not actually given a quote from Gates which is the first problem.  

But secondly, it is highly likely that even if Gates thinks the blockchain is the (part of) the future, he is not holding any sizeable numbers of Bitcoin.  Why would he? He does not need to to look at blockchain technologies and he knows that a Bitcoin crash is inevitable.

A distributed transparent ledger, which is what the blockchain is, is indeed a highly interesting piece of technology which would have many very useful applications.  As just one example, imagine replacing property registers with blockchain.  Myriad opportunities for money laundering and corruption would disappear, and be replaced with an efficient technology. The fact that Bitcoin is also built on the blockchain is irrelevant.

Conclusions: Bitcoin Crash Will Kill The Trump Demographic

So none of the arguments described above succeed. They do nothing to deny that the Bitcoin Crash will kill the Trump demographic.

People in this country have had enough of experts

This is actually a quotation from a pro-Brexit politician, but we see the same pattern across the Brexit “debate,” in Trump vs Clinton, in global warming and in MMR Vaccine/autism.  In each case, you need to believe that you are right and anyone educated or with specialist knowledge is wrong.  You also need to believe that those people are lying to you — for no obvious reason.

The quality of the arguments raised by Bitcoin proponents can be seen to be extremely poor.

So now you can decide.  If you invest in Bitcoin, you are lining up with the people who mistrust experts.  If you voted Trump, you did the same thing, because you are probably a climate change denier.  So I think there is a very strong likelihood that many Trump voters are also holding Bitcoin.  

And they are going to pay a heavy price for both decisions. The only thing that will save them somewhat is they are poor. So they won’t lose that much in absolute terms. But it might still be a lot for them.

See Also:

The #Bitcoin Bubble Is Caused By The Halo Effect

The #Anecdotal Fallacy And The #Bitcoin Bubble

Bad Arguments for the Permanence of Bitcoin

The Psychology of Successful Trading: see clip below of me explaining my new book!

Categories
the psychology of successful trading Trading trading psychology

Bitcoin Bubble: Caused By The Anecdotal Fallacy

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There is currently a huge Bitcoin Bubble.  BTC actually has zero value so any trading at a non-zero value represents a bubble.  I will suggest here that the reason for this strange development is a cognitive bias known as The Anecdotal Fallacy.

What Is The Anecdotal Fallacy?

The Anecdotal Fallacy occurs when people ignore statistics and quote a story of events that happened to them.  Often, it will turn out not even to have even happened to them, but to “someone they know.”  While this step is an additional move away from constituting useful data, it is not the worst effect of this bias.  The main problem is that assessing probabilities on the basis of personal experiences is almost completely useless.  This is true even when those personal experiences actually occurred.

There is only one way to assess probabilities, and that is to use statistics on similar events.  This is hard.  In fact, even understanding it when it has been competently done by scientists or statisticians is hard.  It needs a lot of training and it seems as though our psychology is almost designed to trip us up.

The Anecdotal Fallacy is widespread.  Its use seems in many circumstances to be almost automatic.  If you give most people data on a topic, people will generally respond with what they think is a counterargument from their own experience.  Apparently intelligent and successful people fall into this error, so those qualities won’t help you.  For example, Rupert Murdoch recently tweeted a photo accompanied by the text: “Just flying over N Atlantic 300 miles of ice. Global warming!”

How Does The Anecdotal Fallacy Drive the Bitcoin Bubble?

This is a fairly extreme example which may have been deliberately provocative, but it is also quite stupid.  There are two mistakes here. One is the idea that global warming has to have happened already in all locations.  The second is that global warming would eliminate all ice on the planet.  These mistakes show a non-existent understanding of the problem.  The only way to assess the probability that global warming is a genuine threat is to look at graphs showing correlations between greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and temperature rises over several decades.*  Any personal experience is simply irrelevant to that task.

We also tend to over-estimate the probability of vivid events.  I see This as an aspect of the Availability Heuristic, which I think is related to the Anecdotal Fallacy.  We use the Availability Heuristic when we assess the probability of events by considering how hard it is to think of an example of that type of event.  Obviously we will make errors in probability judgment if some events are easier to recall than others, and more vivid events are more easy to recall.  I discuss this aspect of our psychology in the context of financial markets in my new book:

Why is the Anecdotal Fallacy relevant to the Bitcoin Bubble?

Everyone who is buying Bitcoin is doing so based on one of two events.  Either they have recently made a large amount of money from buying it or someone they know says they have.  Twitter is full of stories of people claiming they have made money.  This is vivid and alluring.  It draws more people in, which of course is what helps to sustain the Bitcoin Bubble.

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The problem is not that these stories are false.  A lot of people have indeed made a lot of money out of Bitcoin.  However, it is still a terrible investment.  In fact, I don’t think we can even call it an investment.  It has no fundamental value.  So it can crash to zero at any moment.  It will definitely do so; we just don’t know when.  So the problem is rather that people are using the Anecdotal Fallacy to assess the probability of Bitcoin rising.  They are wrongly thinking Bitcoin will rise forever.

What Should We Think About Bitcoin?

People making this mistake are forgetting the bubbles which have often happened in financial history.  Any “asset” which rises this quickly has been a bubble.  It has eventually crashed to zero.  It will do so as quickly as it went up.

The statistics are completely opposed to our psychology here.  Stay away from Bitcoin at all costs.

*The reason I say “several decades” is because we have only been taking detailed measurements for about 150 years.  However, we have data from ice cores etc going back much further.

See also:

The #Bitcoin Bubble Is Caused By The Halo Effect

Bad Arguments for the Permanence of Bitcoin

The Forthcoming #Bitcoin Crash Will Kill The #Trump Demographic

The Psychology of Successful Trading: see clip below of me explaining my new book!

Categories
the psychology of successful trading

Negativity Bias And Financial Markets

Introduction

Negativity Bias is perhaps the most expensive and dangerous item in our psychological repertoire insofar as it impacts on our performance in financial markets.  In this post, I will outline the bias and then discuss how its effects play out in markets.

Negativity Bias means that negative events affect us much more strongly than positive ones.  I should immediately distinguish this effect from the bias I was discussing in my previous post (https://timlshort.com/2017/11/05/attentional-bias-and-financial-markets/

There, I discussed the subset of Attentional Biases. People who are depressed or anxious pay more attention to mood congruent information.  Negativity Bias differs from that in that it affects everyone, irrespective of mood and psychiatric diagnosis.  Some forms of Attentional Bias do that as well, but in the previous post I considered only mood-related variants thereof.

The bias is a mis-calibration, like many of our cognitive biases.  There is a “right-size” for the amount of impact that an event should have on us which is related to the “intensity” of that event.  Obviously, intensity is rather a slippery concept here, but we can give some meaning to it with illustrations.  Two negative events of different intensities would be stubbing one’s toe and breaking an arm.  Two positive events with differing intensities would be receiving a birthday card or falling in love.

Data on Negativity Bias

So without Negativity Bias — and with what we might regard as a purely rational response to events — there would be a link between the intensity of an event and its impact upon us.  There would not be a link between whether the event  was positive or negative and the size of the impact of the event on us.  This does not mean that it is strange that we react negatively to negative events and positively to positive events (in fact, it would be very strange were this not so!).  What it means is that it is odd that we react more strongly to negative events than we do to positive events of the same intensity.

Experimental social psychologists measured this in financial terms using sums of money. They found that the mis-calibration is very strong: the factor is about 2.5.  In other words, we react 2.5x as strongly to losing $10 as we do to gaining $10.  So, losing something is much, much worse than gaining the same amount.

The Negativity Bias then will have huge impacts on our risk aversion. That we know is a key driver of performance in financial markets.  Many people perform extremely badly as a result of excess risk aversion.  In the current environment, it is unwise to be holding substantial amounts of cash.  People should have some emergency funds of course.  But if CPI is running at 3% and interest rates paid by the banks are more like 1%, then anyone holding cash in the bank is basically prepared to pay 2% a year in order to avoid any risk, as they see it.

See CPI stats: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices

Market Effects of Negativity Bias

As I see it, paying to avoid risk like this is just concretising the risk.  You don’t gain: you just get the loss in a form you can pretend doesn’t exist.  It would be much better — and in fact less risky understood correctly — to invest in something.  There is an enormous spectrum of assets and geographies out there from equities in the US, Japan, Emerging

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Markets and Frontier Markets to bonds issues by governments, investment grade corporates and junk corporates.  There are thousands of ETFs available offering the widest imaginable range of exposures.  Overcome your Negativity Bias and pick one.

See Also:

The Illusory Truth Effect And Financial Markets

Categories
the psychology of successful trading

Attentional Bias And Financial Markets

Introduction

Many cognitive biases affect our trading performance. One of them is Attentional Bias. I will describe what it does and explain how it affects your trades.

Are happy people better at picking up information that will make them happy?  Do sad people do the opposite?  Have you wondered how your mood can affect your behaviour

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in ways you don’t know about?  All of this is true and can be explained by considering one form of a Cognitive Bias called Attentional Bias.

We are subject to approximately 150 Cognitive Biases, at the last count.  All of them affect our thinking without us necessarily knowing too much about when they are at work or what the results are.  My project initially is to list and describe these mental subroutines before critically examining them and assessing how they work in a market environment.  The objective is to allow market participants to look out for the operation of Cognitive Biases in their own thinking and trade on the expectation that they will also figure prominently in the thinking of other players.

What is Attentional Bias?

One of the most important Cognitive Biases is Attentional Bias.  It comes in several forms, but all of them have in common that they systematically slant which information we pay attention to.  Obviously this has dramatic effects on thinking and market outcomes.  In this post, I will first describe Attentional Bias and then outline how it might play out in a market setting.

Much of the psychological literature on Attentional Bias looks at what we can term mood congruency.  The basic idea here is that we are more likely to look at information which fits our mood.  So, anxious subjects are more likely to look at anxiety-inducing information and depressed subjects are more likely to consider depressing information.  Clearly this is already rather unhelpful for such subjects, but my aims here are only to look at what this might do in markets.

Depression as an Example

This is widely important because generalised anxiety affects a significant proportion (estimated at between 5% and 30%) of the population.  This is people who are more-or-less anxious more-or-less all of the time. Since it is a significant  minority, it is likely that some of these subjects participate in financial markets, although it is possible that some anxious individuals will self-select out of stock markets.

Depression of sufficient gravity to merit a psychiatric diagnosis affects about 1% of the population; many more people will experience a less severe depression or a more episodic form.  Again, we can expect plenty of depressed market participants to be trading.

See: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

Experimental Data on Attentional Bias

Experimental investigations of mood-disorder linked Attentional Biases have focused on reaction time studies.  A pair of words was briefly presented to experimental subjects on a computer screen.  Sometimes, one of the words was replaced with a dot, which was the signal that a button should be pressed.  The experimenters record the time it took for subjects to press the button.  It would typically be in the range of several hundred milliseconds.

Sometimes, the other word presented on the other side of the screen to the dot was a threatening word.  The word could be socially threatening (‘humiliated’) or physically threatening (‘injury.’)  The experimenters found an RT spike. That’s what psychologists call a delay in reaction time.  People took longer to see and react to the dot if a threatening word appeared on the other side of the screen.  These effects were quite large.

Perhaps most interestingly, the RT spikes were larger for anxious or depressed subjects, especially if the threat word was specifically related to either anxiety or depression.

What Effects Of Attentional Bias Should Such Individuals Be Aware Of?

It is obvious that such effects could impair traders on a trading floor who are making rapid trade decisions themselves.  Information near their field of vision which is threatening — such as a negative Bloomberg headline — could grab the trader’s attention and cause a delay in response time even if it is unrelated to the trade under consideration at the time.

While this is a real issue, I want to consider non-professional traders as well. In general, you should avoid day-trading. 85% of day traders lose money.  

Day-trading is popular among people new to investing.  The aim is to minimise risk by not holding any positions over-night.  However, the necessarily short-term nature of this approach means that one can really only benefit from ‘noise’ in stock movements and there is no way to rationally forecast noise.  Relying on luck is even worse in markets than elsewhere because the punishment is swift. It is better to be a buy-and-hold investor.  

Don’t Trade Depressed — or in Any Strong Emotional State

If you are depressed or anxious, don’t trade. It is almost always better to do nothing.

Negative mood-congruent information will grab attentional resources and make traders much more likely to exit positions.  This may or may not be the right decision to make. You should make such a decision rationally and with a fair and open consideration of the relevant data.  Often this will not be what everyone else is doing, so my approach lends itself naturally to a contrarian investment stance.  There are other good reasons to be a contrarian investor, including that it fits with a long-term approach — so it is not something much engaged in by day-traders.

If you are permanently depressed or anxious, then you should get treatment. Abstain from trading until you see an improvement.  If you can’t improve, then I am sympathetic, but I would suggest hiring financial advisers in that circumstance.  It would be one thing less to be concerned about and would likely have more optimal outcomes, despite the extra fees involved.

See Also:

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

The Psychology of Successful Trading: see clip below of me explaining my new book!

The Late Evaluation Effect And Financial Markets

Sherlock Holmes as Enemy of Confirmation Bias

Categories
the psychology of successful trading

Cognitive Biases And Stock Markets

What is a Cognitive Bias?

A Cognitive Bias is an element in our psychology which makes decisions for us.  In fact, given there are so many of them, you might even say that our psychology is just Cognitive Biases.  I discuss about 20 of them and give market context in my new book:

https://www.routledge.com/The-Psychology-of-Successful-Trading-Behavioral-Strategies-for-Profitability/Short/p/book/9781138096288

One example which I discussed in a previous post is Hindsight Bias.  This makes us think that everything which has happened was inevitable.  This in turn makes us very bad at knowing what level of probability we assigned to past events.   We seem to remember that we said that a prior event was going to occur with 90% probability when in fact, we gave it a probability of 30% before that event occurred.  This will obviously have unhelpful effects in the context of markets.  It will make us greatly overestimate our chances of knowing what is going to happen next, which may make us trade with over-confidence.  There is nothing quite like over-confidence to kill market performance.

Learn More About Cognitive Biases

As I said, the book covers around 20 biases and their effects in markets in much more detail than I can give above.  The thing is though, that there are way more biases than that.  In fact, in the chart below, you can see just how many there are.

Every one of these biases will affect your market thinking and that of everyone else involved.  So it looks like we all have some work to do!

In the links below I give you more information about a wide set of cognitive biases. These are all in addition to the ones I cover in the book. Many of them are very surprising.

See Also:

#Narcissism and #Unexpected Behaviour

The Illusory Truth Effect And Financial Markets

If You Like Gin And Marmite, You Are Probably A Better Trader

The Late Evaluation Effect And Financial Markets

The #Bitcoin Bubble Is Caused By The Halo Effect

The #Anecdotal Fallacy And The #Bitcoin Bubble

The Picture Superiority Effect And Financial Markets

Negativity Bias And Financial Markets

Categories
Trading

Empathy Is Not All Good

Introduction

People love empathy. But it’s not always positive and is often dangerous.

I have recently seen an interview with a poker champion in which he claims that “empathy” is one of the strengths of his game.  I will suggest this is false for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, we don’t know what it is.  Secondly, what is more likely to be useful is the related but distinct concept of “Theory of Mind.”  I think there are many parallels between poker and financial markets, so my position amounts to an argument that you

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don’t want empathy to make your stock portfolio perform.

What is Empathy?

There are many things that empathy might be. I list several possibilities below. There are many more.

  • Feeling the same emotion as you
  • Being able to say what emotion it is that you are feeling
  • Feeling a similar emotion to you
  • Feeling a weakened form of the emotion that you feel
  • “Sympathising” with your situation
  • Imagining what I would feel in your situation

Certainly, this is already complicated enough, without asking difficult philosophical questions like “what does ‘same’ mean here?” or “what is the effect of similar?”  And we haven’t got on to the main point yet.

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In poker and in markets, what you want to be able to do is predict and explain the behaviour of others.  That is what is known in psychology as a Theory of Mind task.  I have argued in my first book that the way we do this is by simulating others.  We imagine that we are in the situation that the others are in and see how we would feel.  We then predict that they will behave the same way as we would given the resulting emotions.  Note that this does not fit neatly into any of the categories above.

Here’s some philosophical analysis asking what empathy is and criticising it:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2041-6962.2011.00069.x

Why Empathy Is Not All Good

This then shows the first problem with claiming that empathy is good for performance.  However, this isn’t a useful piece of advice without defining what empathy actually is.  And secondly, think about what it would do if you felt people’s emotions.  Do you want a surgeon who is about to operate on you to be paralysed with fear because you are?  Do you want a pilot to experience the emotions of passengers as he wrestles with the controls in a storm?

So I think that when it comes down to it, what you want is actually a good Theory of Mind.  In fact, as I discuss in my book, there is experimental evidence that better traders have better Theory of Mind.  For that reason, I spend an early chapter explaining how we think Theory of Mind works.  It can be improved I think by taking account of cognitive biases and that will lead to better trading performance.  It will therefore improve your poker game too!

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

The Psychology of Successful Trading: see clip below of me explaining my new book!

#Narcissism and #Unexpected Behaviour

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the psychology of successful trading

Women Are Better Traders Than Men

Introduction

There is a good amount of evidence that non-professionally, women are better traders than men. I will outline it here.

This does not mean that female professional traders under-perform male professional traders.  I have not seen a lot of data one way or the other on that point, though apparently there are some indications the female-run hedge funds also outperform.

https://www.wbs.ac.uk/news/are-women-better-investors-than-men/

Why Are Women Better Traders than Men?

There are a few interesting reasons as for why this might be.  One is that females are better at “Theory of Mind” than males.  Theory of Mind is the label for how we predict and explain the behaviour of others.  One would expect then that since much of market out-performance is driven by predicting the behaviour of other market participants, that strong Theory of Mind would be possessed by better traders.  And this indeed is what the data show.  Since I don’t believe that anyone has explained Theory of Mind to traders, I also devote an early chapter of the book to that topic.

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The other interesting possibility relates to confidence.  There is a curse of over-confidence that afflicts at least non-professional traders.  They fall in love with their own judgment.  But it is only a fickle love.  In three months, they will be in love with a new idea and a new stock.  This makes traders commit the cardinal error of over-trading.  It is well-known that “buy-and-hold” outperforms as a style over the long term.  The fact is though that many retail trading accounts turn over several times in the course of a year.

Conclusions

It turns out that females are not less over-confident than males in one sense: they also form beliefs which they assert as confidently.  However, it seems that female traders are less likely to act on these beliefs.  So they are protected by this from letting their over-confidence lure them into over-trading.

If you are male, you can improve your trading by waiting longer. Do less than you are doing now.

See Also:

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

Categories
psychology the psychology of successful trading Trading trading psychology

Problems Unwinding PFI

Introduction

PFI is politically unpopular. For that reason, politicians often announce that they will roll it back. Plenty of projects like hospital construction would be impossible without PFI. Many of the arguments against it fail since they do things like add up 30 years of interest and say that that is the cost of the project. There will moreover be significant problems unwinding PFI due to the bonds issued. I will outline that below.

Who Wants to Unwind PFI?

It was at one point Labour Party policy to unwind PFI. PFI contracts would be reviewed and if necessary, brought back in-house.  The report of that is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/sep/25/john-mcdonnell-labour-would-bring-pfi-contracts-back-in-house

Private investors who have put money into PFI schemes will need compensation.  A spokesman said “a future Labour government would compensate shareholders in PFI companies by swapping their shares for government bonds.” 

That might be acceptable, though equity holders may not be at all happy about being placed in a different part of the capital structure. They would have a completely different risk/reward structure and also have exposure changed to a different entity. 

It would work if they got enough government bonds.  I am not sure how popular a “stuff their mouths with gold” policy to ensure silence (and no lawsuits) will be but we will see.  The real problem however lies elsewhere.

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How Does PFI Work?

The way PFI works is that the government or an NHS trust signs a contract with a private sector entity, often a consortium the members of which will include prominently construction and financial firms.  The contract, very basically, will say “you agree that we will have a usable hospital between three and thirty years from now” and “we agree to pay you cash amounts for the same period.”  This removes risk from the government because it no longer has to build the hospital — which incidentally it probably cannot afford to do in any case — and any other interruptions to service during the lifetime of the contract. 

This by the way is why it is not an objection to PFI that it costs more: it should cost more because the government has avoided a great deal of risk.  We know that government projects go over-budget all the time. With PFI that risk passes to the private sector. Most critics do not price risk correctly.

The private sector consortium now has a good chance of receiving government cashflows for 30 years, providing it can build the hospital without problems.  These cashflows are excellent for backing bonds: or in the jargon, they are good candidates for securitisation.  Because they are such good candidates, almost all of them will have been.  One reason why they are so good is that there is very strong demand for such long bonds — from everywhere in these low rate times — but especially from pension funds.  Naturally they want long bonds because they have long liabilities.

What are the Problems Unwinding PFI?

Here’s the problem.  These investors focus on Repayment Risk.  This is the risk that you give them their money back before they were expecting it.  This sounds like good news for the investors, but it isn’t. The pension fund wants interest for 30 years at a rate fixed today. Now you have given them their money back they won’t get that.  This is especially painful for them if rates have declined in the meantime.  The current ultra-low rates environment just underlines this.  Imagine 10 years ago you bought a bond paying you 6% a year for 30 years and now they give it you back and say “go ahead and find another bond that pays you that much…”

Because investors hate this so much, they insist on what is known as a Spens clause.  This basically says that if you repay early, you have to roll up the remaining excess interest payments for the remaining life of the bond and hand that over now.  This will be unimaginably expensive because the excess interest will be calculated primarily from the original rate paid by the bonds and the general rate available.  That difference will be huge in a lot of cases because rates generally are so low.  So you will have to roll up a huge difference for maybe 20 years.

Conclusions: Problems Unwinding PFI Mean You Shouldn’t Do It

Conceivably the government could legislate to take out the Spens clauses.  But that would mean government had intervened radically in contracts agreed between consenting experts in full possession of their faculties…and would destroy the reputation of the City as a secure global marketplace.  We don’t need that ahead of Brexit.  In any case, it would also kill most of the pension funds.  Many of those are foreign, so even if the government were able to lean on the local ones, they would still pick up some fearsome litigation. Problems unwinding PFI are such to make it a bad idea even if PFI was a mistake, which it isn’t.

See Also:

The Psychology of Successful Trading: see clip below of me explaining my new book!

Cognitive Biases And How They Affect Stock Markets

Jacob Rees Mogg Is Wrong To Say That Loss of Passporting Will Not Be A Problem For The City

UK Government Spending: Where It Needs To Be Cut And Why