We’ve had some great guests recently, and have many more coming up, so we decided to slip in a quick Q&A episode. No significant, recent travel for Meb, so we dive into questions quickly. A few you’ll hear tackled are:
- Some folks talk about how the inflation numbers are manipulated by the government, and how the calculations have changed. Is there any merit to this?
- What is your opinion on market neutral strategies? If you had to build a market neutral ETF, what strategy would you use?
- Your buddy, Josh Brown, indicates that a significant portion of valuations, specifically CAPE, are the confidence in the stability of the stock market, which will justify high valuations here in the U.S. This makes intuitive sense, but I’d like your thoughts.
- Have you given any thought to the application of a trend following approach over a lifetime? Specially, use buy-and-hold when younger, but move to trend as one approaches retirement?
- Based on your whitepapers, you’ve indicated that trend following is not designed to increase returns, but rather, to limit/protect your portfolio from drawdowns. If this is the case, how does an increase in the allocation toward trend in your Trinity portfolios correlate to a more aggressive portfolio? It seems if “more trend” is supposed to reduce drawdowns, it should be found in Trinity 1 instead of Trinity 6.
- Have you done any research on earnings growth rates compared with CAPE to get a more accurate indicator of expected returns? For example, while the CAPE for many countries in Europe is low, their growth rates are also considerably lower than the U.S., which could justify the lower CAPE as compared with the U.S. Your thoughts?
- Does your “down 5 years in a row” rule apply to uranium, or is it too small?
As usual, there’s plenty more, including a listener wondering why Meb didn’t challenge Rob Arnott on a discussion topic during Rob’s episode, why Meb is in a cranky mood (involves auditing), and a request for more gifts of tequila from listeners. All this and more in Episode 40.
In Episode 39, we welcome the legendary Ed Thorp. Ed is a self-made man after having been a child of The Depression. He’s a professor, a renowned mathematician, a fund manager who’s posted one of the lengthiest and best investment track records in all of finance, a best-selling author (his most recent book is A Man for All Markets), the creator of the first wearable computer, and finally, the individual responsible for “counting cards.”
Meb begins the episode in the same place as does Ed in his new book, the Depression. Meb asks how that experience shaped Ed’s world view. Ed tells us about being very poor, and how it forced him to think for himself, as well as teach himself. In fact, Ed even taught himself how to make his own gunpowder and nitroglycerine.
This dovetails into the various pranks that Ed played as a mischievous youth. Ed tells us the story of dying a public pool blood-red, resulting in a general panic.
It’s not long before we talk about Ed’s first Las Vegas gambling experience. He had heard of a blackjack system developed by some quants, that was supposed to give the player a slight mathematical advantage. So Ed hit the tables with a strategy-card based on that system. At first, his decisions caused other players at the table to ridicule him. But when Ed’s strategy ended up causing him to hit “21” after drawing 7 cards, the players’ opinions instantly changed from ridicule to respect.
This was the basis from which Ed would create his own counting cards system. Meb asks for a summary of how it works. Ed gives us the highlights, which involve a number count that helps a player identify when to bet big or small.
Meb then asks why Ed decided to publish his system in academic journals instead of keeping it hush-hush and making himself a fortune. Ed tells us that he was academically-oriented, and the spirit of science is to share.
The conversation turns toward the behavioral side of gambling (and investing). Once we move from theory to practice, the impact of emotions plays a huge role. There’s a psychic burden on morale when you’re losing. Meb asks how Ed handled this.
Ed tells us that his early days spent gambling in the casinos were a great training ground for later, when he would be “gambling” with tens of millions of dollars in the stock market. He said his strategy was to start small, so he could handle the emotions of losing. As he became more comfortable with his level of risk, he would scale his bets to the next level, grow comfortable, then move up again from there. In essence, don’t bet too much too fast.
This dovetails into the topic of how to manage money using the Kelly Criterion, which is a system for deciding the amount to bet in a favorable situation. Ed explains that if you bet too small, won’t make much money, even if you win. However, “if you bet too much, you’ll almost certainly be ruined.” The Kelly Criterion helps you determine the appropriate middle ground for position sizing using probabilities.
It turns out that Ed was so successful with his methods, that Vegas changed the rules and eventually banned Ed from their casinos. To continue playing, Ed turned to disguises, and tells a fun story about growing a beard and using contact lenses to avoid identification.
Meb tells us about one of his own card-counting experiences, which was foiled by his partner’s excessive Bloody Mary consumption.
Next, we move to Wall Street. Meb brings up Ed’s performance record, which boasts one of the highest risk-adjusted returns of all time – in 230 months of investing, Ed had just 3 down months, and all were 1% or less. Annualized, his performance was over 19%.
Ed achieved this remarkable record by hedging securities that were mispriced – using convertible bond and options from the same company. There was also some index arbitraging. Overall, Ed’s strategy was to hedge away as much risk as possible, then let a diversified portfolio of smaller bets play out.
Meb asks, when you have a system that has an edge, yet its returns begin to erode, how do you know when it’s time to give up the strategy, versus when to invest more (banking on mean reversion of the strategy). Ed tells us that he asks himself, “Did the system work in the past, is it working now, and do I believe it will it in the future?” Also “What is the mechanism that’s driving it?” You need to understand whether the less-than-desired current returns are outside the range of usual fluctuation. If you don’t know this, then you won’t know whether you’re experiencing bad luck (yet within statistical reason) or if something has truly changed and your “bad luck” is actually abnormal and concerning.
Next, Meb asks about Ed’s most memorable trade. You’ll want to hear this one for yourself, but it involves buying warrants for $0.27, and the stock price eventually rising to $180.
There’s plenty more in this fantastic episode, including why Ed told his wife that Warren Buffett would be the richest man in America one day (said back in 1968)… What piece of investing advice Ed would give to the average investor today… Ed’s interest in being cryogenically frozen… And finally, Ed’s thoughts on the source of real life-happiness, and how money fits in.
The show ends with Meb revealing that he has bought Ed and himself two lottery Powerball tickets, and provides Ed the numbers. Will Ed win this bet? The drawing is soon, so we’ll see.
All this and more in Episode 39.
In honor of this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Episode 38 is a special, bonus “gambling” podcast. We welcome mystery guest, E.V. Better, which is an alias for “Expected Value Better.”
Meb starts by asking E.V. how he got to this point in his career. E.V. had a traditional finance background, working at a long/short hedge fund for 5 years, but realized he could apply certain predictive analytics that work in the financial world to the sports betting world. He helped create a basketball model at Dr. Bob Sports and enjoyed it so much that he made the jump from traditional finance.
Next, Meb requests a quick primer for the non-gamblers out there; for instance, how the various types of bets works, the “lines,” the most popular bets, and so on. E.V. gives us the breakdown.
The conversation then drifts toward examples of “factors” when it comes to gambling (such as “value” or “momentum” is in the stock market). E.V. tells us there are really two schools of thought in traditional investing – fundamental and technical investing. When it comes to gambling, there are similarly two schools of thought; you have the strength of a team that’s measured by traditional stats (for example, net yards per pass) or technical factors (having been on the road for 14 days…having suffered 3 straight blow-out losses). When you combine these two factors, you better a better idea of which way to go with your wager.
These leads to two questions from Meb: One, how many inputs go into a multi-factor model? And, two, how do you replace older factors that don’t have as much influence or predictive power as they used to? E.V. gives us his thoughts.
Meb asks about “weird” or interesting factors that are effective. E.V. points toward “travel distance,” though the effect has diminished over time as travel has become easier. He also points toward “field type.” This leads into a discussion about betting against the consensus (contrarian investor, anyone?). And this leads into a common investing mistake – recency bias. For example, because the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year, people expected them to be great again this year…and they didn’t even make the playoffs (Meb is still bitter).
Meb steers the direction away from the NFL. Whether basketball, baseball, or whatever other sport, you’re simply trying to find an edge over the house. Meb brings up “variability” (the more games the better if you have a slight edge), and asks how this changes over different sports.
E.V. says duration of season is a huge factor. Also, the level of data available for analysis is key (for example, the amount of data in baseball is amazing). But overall, E.V. says the goal is reduce the variance to make thing as simple and predictive as possible to find your edge.
Meb asks about underrepresented sports (curling, or NASCAR) offering more, or better opportunities (think “small caps” versus the “Apples” of the investing world). E.V. says the issue is finding a counter-party. You might be a great curling modeler, but have fewer market participants from which to profit.
This leads into how to quantify an edge, and what a good edge value should be. E.V. says a 10%+ edge would be fantastic, but it’s important to be conservative in your estimate of just how big your edge is. After all, you won’t have a consistent edge every game. Meb makes an interesting correlation to investing you’ll want to hear.
Next, Meb asks about gambling as an asset class. Where would gambling fit into a portfolio and how would it work together? E.V. says sports is a unique alternative asset class that’s uncorrelated to other markets. This quality makes gambling an interesting addition to a portfolio.
Next, Meb moves to “quick hits” – shorter questions, many of which came from listeners via Twitter.
- What’s the worst bad beat you’ve seen?
- Have you looked at “intra-game” gambling, or do you only focus on full-game bets?
- How does a sport with a small dispersion in scoring (like soccer) affect how you bet versus a high-scoring sport (like basketball)?
- Have you thought about any lines that change over the course of a day based on the concept of betters losing in the morning and becoming increasingly aggressive in the afternoon (going on tilt, trying to win back money).
- What do you think about “the hot hand”?
You’ll want to hear E.V.’s answers.
Finally, we get to the topic du jour – the Super Bowl. Meb asks E.V. directly, “Who do you like with New England at -3?” If you’re thinking about betting this Sunday, don’t miss it.
There’s far more in this bonus episode, including discussion of betting on the results of the Super Bowl’s coin toss… How long it will take for Luke Bryan to sing the National Anthem… How many times will “Gronkowski” will be said by the commentators during the Super Bowl broadcast… Want to put the odds in your favor? Then join us for Episode 38.
In Episode 37, we welcome John Bollinger, creator of Bollinger Bands, one of the most widely-used analytical tools in investing.
As John is also a market historian, Meb start by asking him about his historical influences – those individuals who helped shape John’s perspectives on the markets and trading. John gives us his thoughts, identifying who he believes is one of the most important figures in technical analysis. This leads to an often-forgotten takeaway – that many of the most effective market concepts have been around for a long time. Some very profitable strategies that still work today were being explored 100 years ago.
Meb redirects, asking John about his background. It turns out, John was in the film business as a cameraman. But by a few twists of fate, he ended up in front of the camera, providing technical commentary on markets for a fledgling financial broadcast network.
This leads into a discussion of John’s famous “Bollinger Bands.” He gives us an overview of the tool, and how he came to establish it. In essence, Bollinger Bands can help investors identify relative market bottoms and tops, helping find direction for profitable trades.
Meb then asks if John’s thinking on Bollinger Bands have changed since the early days. John tells us that the core concept stands the test of time, though he has added some extra indicators.
Next, Meb asks about combining two types of analysis – technical and fundamental – something John calls “rational analysis.” For many people, you fall into one camp or the other. But John was able to find overlap between them. He tells us how, and even ropes in two additional types of analysis to include – quantitative and behavioral. He thinks combing all four works better than using any single one. Meb asks how you actually use them all together, to which John gives us his thoughts.
Meb then asks which sector John is currently identifying as a good source of potential trading profits – but he immediately discounts the validity of his own question. You’ll want to hear why. This leads into a great takeaway – using the right charts for entry/exit in a trade. Specifically, a trader may use a short-term chart to initiate a position, but then not move to a medium-term chart to help him navigate how long to hold the position. Instead, he keeps looking at the short-term chart, which obviously will oscillate, and potentially scare the investor out of the trade. John says “People have this time frame confusion that I think does a huge amount of damage.”
Meb then asks about trade management. John says the most neglected issue is position sizing. People need to know how much capital to commit to their strategy, and there is a mathematical “optimal” answer. In essence, the problem is “betting too large.”
This leads John to reference the trading concept of “regret” – the percentage of time you’re in a drawdown. Turns out it’s about 80% or 90% of the time you’re invested. The only times you’re not in a drawdown are when you’re setting new highs, and that’s pretty rare. But most investors hate drawdowns and just don’t do well with this reality (part of the reason why investing is so hard for most of us).
There’s far more in the episode, including the most influential books John has read, Bitcoin, currencies, how to trade volatility, and John’s most memorable trades (good and bad). What were they? Find out in Episode 37.