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Showing posts from 2008

Happy New Year

I get to close out 2008 on hospital room duty with my son. He's doing well - had his breathing tube out yesterday, is eating regular food, and slowly recuperating. He should be moved out of the ICU tomorrow and into a regular room. With some luck, he might be home by Monday the 5th.

The Unknown Wife and Daughter are going to a neighbor's house for a little New Year's cheer (the non-alcoholic kind, since Unknown Wife is expecting), and then home by about 10.

Here's hoping 2009 finds you healthy, prosperous, and happy.

Paddy Hirsch Explains Quantitative Easing

Yet another excellent whiteboard talk by Paddy Hirsch, senior editor at Marketplace. In this one, he explains "Quantitative Easing"

Quantitative easing from Marketplace on Vimeo.

How Do You Use Credit Default Swaps (CDS) To Create "Synthetic Debt"?

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about "synthetic debt". I just read a pretty good explanation of synthetics in Felix Salmon's column, so I thought I'd give a brief summary of what it is, how it's used, and why.

First off, let's start with Credit Default Swaps (CDS). A CDS has a lot of similarities to an insurance policy on a bond (it's different in that the holder of the CDS needn't own the underlying bond or even suffer a loss if the bond goes into default).

The buyer (holder) of a CDS will make yearly payments (called the "premium"), which is stated in terms of basis points (a basis point is 1/100 of one percent of the notional amount of the underlying bond). The holder of the CDS gets paid if the bond underlying the CDS goes into default or if other stated events occur (like bankruptcy or a restructuring).

So, how do you use a CDS to create a synthetic bond? here's the example from Salmon's column:

Let's a…

Bad News

We just got som bad news regarding the Unknown Son. As many of my regular readers already know, he's gone through a lot - he's a two-times cancer survivor.

In 2002 he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a particularly nasty and resistant childhood cancer. After a great deal of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, more chemotherapy, and experimental treatments (including an autologous (i.e. "self") stem-cell transplant, he went into remission in 2005.

In January of 2008, he was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor (a kidney tumor), which resulted in the removal of his right kidney and, after more chemo, he was given another clean bill of health this summer.

Now it looks like he has another tumor - in the lower part of his right lung. We just found out about it two days ago as a result of routing follow-up scans. He's scheduled for more surgery this coming Monday (the 29th). He'll get the tumor removed, which will give us the best information as to what exactly i…

Window Dressing and Other Mutual Fund Games

What do the following terms have in common?
Window DressingPainting The Tape/Banging The Close
Comparison Shopping
The answer is that they're all games that mutual fund managers play at the end of the year to make their portfolios' performance look better. The Investing section of today's Wall Street Journal has a short piece that describes these games:
Window dressing happens when the portfolio manager sells off securities just before the end of the reporting period so that they don't show up in the annual (or quarterly) listing o the portfolio's securities. Painting the Tape (also called Banging the Close) occurs when a portfolio manager holding a security buys a few additional shares right at the close of business at an inflated price. For example, if he held shares in XYZ Corp on the last day of the reporting period (and it's selling at, say $50), he might put in small orders at a higher price to inflate the the closing price (which is what's reported).…

President Bush and The Military

I try to keep politics mostly out of Financial Rounds because it generally gets people far too worked up. Likewise, I try not to post too much about President Bush. But this piece in the Washington Post caught my eye.
For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice Prresident Dick Cheney have waged a clandestine operation inside the For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney White House. It has involved thousands of military personnel, private presidential letters and meetings that were kept off their public calendars or sometimes left the news media in the dark. Their mission: to comfort the families of soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to lift the spirits of those wounded in the service of their country. Read the whole thing here.

Regardless what else you think about President Bush, he clearly appreciates and honors the role the military plays and the sacrifices those soldier…

Awesome Explanation of the Economic Crisis

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I didn't realize this, but every year Harvard's Kennedy School invites new members of congress for a three-day "briefing" by Harvard profs on various topics. This year, Jeff Frankel came up with a graphic explanation of the current economic crisis. Here it is:

Now that's what I call an information-rich slide.

Want To See Your Favorite Hedge Fund's Holdings?

You can't see all their holdings. But you can see quite a bit.

Section 13(f) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 requires all institutional fund managers with more than $100 million in assets to report their holdings each quarter to the SEC *(within 45 days of the end of the quarter). The hard copies of these filings go back 30 years, but they've been available for free online through the SEC's EDGAR database since 1999. The form name is (not surprisingly) "13F" or "13F-HR". Like many academics, I've used the electronic database of 13F filings put out by Thomson Financial (which has information back to the early 80s on electronic media, runs 5-10 gigabytes, and requires you to have some programming chops to access) in my research. But you can access a fund's data one filing at a time through the Edgar site.

It won't show things like derivatives holdings (at least usually not) or short sales. But if will give you an interesting look…

When Worlds Collide: Spitzer Lost Money With Madoff

From Clusterstock.com: Elliott Spitzer Lost Money With Madoff:
Add the name Eliot Spitzer to the list of prominent people allegedly ripped off by Wall Street trader Bernard L. Madoff. Yesterday at Slate's holiday party Spitzer, who is writing a column for the online publication, confirmed that his family's firm had investments with a Madoff subsidiary.
I love it when two stories intersect (however loosely). It sounds like the Seinfeld episode "The Pool Guy"when George's girlfriend Susan starts being friends with Elaine.

HT: FinanceProfessor.com

The 12 Days of Global Warming

Whether you believe in global warming or not, this is pretty funny. At least I thought so. And besides--anything that makes fun of Al Gore is always worth a look just on general principles.


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It's All Done But The Grading (And The Bargaining)

I gave my last exam (to my MBA class) last night. I thought it was a pretty easy one, but as usual, there were three students (out of twenty eight) still working at the end of three hours' time. I've come to the realization that I could give four hours (or even five) for an exam, and there would STILL be a few people working to the bitter end. A few observations from the exam (none of them surprising):
My favorite student got the Terry Pratchett/Discworld references sprinkled on the exam, and one of my others caught a couple of 1980s movie references. In between walking up and down the aisles, I wrote about a hundred lines of SAS code
One of my students already has sent an email asking if we can meet "to discuss his grade." Anyone want to guess how that'll play out?
Now all I have to do is grade them, set grades for the semester, and wait for the inevitable emails arguing for higher grades.

Oh wait - I already got one of those...

Winner's (and Loser's) Curse with Swoopo.com

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Winner's curse is the well-known phenomenon where the winner of an auction is often just the person who's most likely to have overpaid for the item in question. So, often the winner is the loser.

Then I heard about Swoopo.com. It's been called "pure distilled evil in a business plan". Here's their setup:
Bidding for an item starts at $0.15Each bid raises the price by $0.15Bids cost $0.75 to make.Here's the kicker - a bid in the final seconds extends the auction for 15 seconds. So, auctions can go on and on.
Of course, they post the "savings" you would receive if you bought the item at the current price as a prod for people to continue betting.

They also hold "penny auctions" on their front page - a bid only increments the price by a penny. I recently saw a TomTom GPS sold for about $12. That means 1200 bids at $0.75 per bid, for revenue of $900, on something that costs them between $300 and $500. Not too shabby.

This is a behaviora…

Some Links On Distressed Debt Investing

One of my students is interviewing soon for an internship in an investment bank's fixed income department, and another is going to be starting soon in a credit analyst position, So, these pieces on distressed debt investing were pretty timely.

Michelle Harner over at the Conglomerateposted a very nice piece with some links about distressed debt investing. She highlights the difference between "vulture investing" and "investing for control" (basically traders vs. longer-term investors). She gives a couple of pretty good references. One, from Knowledge@QWharton lays out the basics of "distressed for control" investing:
Simply put, their line of work is to make a profit from companies that have failed to do so and are on the brink of bankruptcy. Unlike traditional hedge funds, however, their investment doesn't stop at buying significant portions of these companies' debt for pennies on the dollar, tidying up the balance sheet and then selling at …

It's Final Exam Time

I give my last final exam of the semester tomorrow to my MBAs. Just for the heck of it, I named all the companies and individuals in the problems after characters from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. I wonder if anyone in the class will notice?

If they do, I'll probably give them extra credit.

Bill Miller: The Stock Picker's Defeat

From 1991 to 2005, Bill Miller (superstar mutual fund manager for Legg Mason's Value Trust) beat the S&P every year - a record no other manager has ever come close to matching. Then, this last year the bottom fell out and his fund lost 58% (about 20% more than the typical fund.

The Wall Street Journal has a great interview of Miller, and here's the best line:
This meltdown has provided a lesson for Mr. Miller and other "value" investors: A stock may look tantalizingly cheap, but sometimes that's for good reason.
It's a very good piece for discussing in class, since it touches on a lot of issues related to market efficiency. Read the whole thing here.

When Diversification Doesn't Work

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I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with correlation...

The Long-Run and International Evidence on the Value Premium

The term "Value Premium" refers to the empirical observation that firms with low price multiples (i.e Price/Book, Price/Earnings, Price/Cash Flow) have tended to have higher returns than their high-multiple counterparts - even after controlling for risk. People give a lot of possible reasons for this - we have a bad model for controlling for risk, there are behavioral biases, or it's simply a case of data diving.

I just came across a paper by a group known as the Brandeis Institute titled "Value vs. Glamour: A Global Phenomenon" that seems to rule out the data diving story. They examine the evidence for the value premium both across time (the mid 1960's to the present) and internationally. They found that
While the degree of outperformance of value stocks vs. glamour stocks varied across data sets, what strikes us as most significant was the consistency the value premium exhibited:
across valuation metrics, such as price-to-book, price-to-cash flow, price-t…

The Final Throes of the Semester

It's that time of the semester:
Only one meeting left for each of my classes.
My student-managed fund survive their end-of semester presentation to the advisory boardI've graded and handed back all assignments except for final examsI've even given out and collected my evaluations
Now all I have to do is make up my finals, give them, and grade them.

The crop is almost in. And man, oh man is it about time.

One of the things I like about this career is that it has a rhythm to it - we have new "crops" each semester, and a feeling of accomplishment once the semester is done. But that final week or two is always a bit crazy.

So, to all my readers: If you're a student, good luck on your exams and projects. If you're faculty, hang in there - it's almost time for the break.

New Blog on Markets

Al Roth (the George Gund Professor of Economics at Harvard) is extremely well known in the fields of game theory and market design. For just a few examples, he's published highly cited work on the market for donor organs, matching medical students with residencies, and matching public school children with schools. He also

Now he has a blog, titled (appropriately enough) Market Design. It's definitely worth a look-see.

HT: Marginal Revolution

Credit Default Swaps and Arctic Expeditions

This weekend I posted a video of a "whiteboard" talk by Paddy Hirsch of Marketplace, in which he explains CDOs and the credit crisis. Here's another one where he explains Credit Default Swaps (CDS) using the analogy of an arctic expedition.

Since I'm teaching Fixed Income next year, I'm sure some of these will make their way into my class.

We've Had Some Budget Cuts

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Yes, like most state schools, Unknown University had had some budget cuts - about 10% so far from the original budget. So these three strips by Scott Adams were pretty funny. A bit close to home, but funny.



One of The Best Explanations of the Credit Crisis I've Ever Seen

Every once in a while you come across an explanation that makes you realize that just really aren't all that good a teacher. Here's another one to add to the pile. In this video, Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch gives one of the best explanations of CDOs and how they contributed to the current credit market woes that I've yet seen:


He's also got some other videos up on YouTube that I'll post in the next couple of weeks.



Happy Thanksgiving

Here's wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the Unknown Family. We've got a great, great many things to be thankful for - job, family, health, living situation, etc...). For now, we're off to the Unknown Sister-in-Law's house to engage in some extreme eating - three sisters in the family, and all (and Grandma, too) are great cooks.

Now go overdose on Tryptophan.

(Bad) Governance at The University

For good corporate governance, it's important that the independent directors on the board are really independent. In particular, they shouldn't have business relationships with the company other their board service. If they did, it would make it hard for them to rein in the CEO, for fear that they'd lose the business.

There's been tons of work on this topic both in the academic and practitioner literatures. But I haven't seen much on similar relationships for universities. I'm sure that a lot's been done- I just haven't seen it.

Until now.

There's a good illustration in the Boston Globe of directors at Suffolk University (actually, trustees, which serve a similar role for a university) with significant business ties to the school. It turns out they just awarded the University president a 2.8 million dollar pay package. Of course, there were "good reasons" for doing so. Here's the lede from the story:
Boston lobbyist Robert Crowe w…

All The Monty Python You Could Ever Want

At this point in the semester, we're all tired, frustrated, and looking towards the end of the term. So things that make us laugh become even more important. Luckily, there's now a Monty Python YouTube Channel. Here's the announcement from the MP boys themselves: For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we've figured a better way to get our own back: We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault.

What's more, we're taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what's e…

The NYU Finance Department Has a Blog!

NYU has one of the largest and best finance faculties around (most surveys place them squarely in the top 5 programs in terms of research output). It turns out that they now have a blog: Stern Finance.

It looks pretty promising. Although it's less than 2 months old (the first post was made on September 26), it already has a lot of high-quality content, with participation from a pretty large nuimnber of the faculty. Just this last month, it has posts by Viral Acharya, Marti Subramanyam, Edward Altman, and Joel Hasbrouk among others).

It's definitely one to add to your feed reader.

I've Had Deans Like Catbert

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Mark Cuban Charged With Insider Trading By SEC

Mark Cuban, HDnet founder and owner of the Dallas Mavericks was just charged with insider trading by the SEC. The commission alleges that Cuban received a call from tje Mamma.com CEO about a pending PIPE offering of Mamma's stock. The call was supposedly prefaced by a disclaimer from the CEO that the information was confidential. The SEC complaint alleges that Cuban then used this insider information to sell all his Mamma.com shares in after-hours trading, thereby avoiding a loss of about $750,000. In case you're interested, here's a link to the complaint.

It should make for an interesting case. Cuban has the resources to fight this thing pretty much as far as he wants (even potentially all the way to the Supreme Court), and is definitely stubborn enough to do exactly that. He's already posted a response to the complaint on his blog:
Mr. Cuban stated, “I am disappointed that the Commission chose to bring this case based upon its Enforcement staff’s win-at-any-cost…

Weird Happenings on My Feeds

In the last few days, I've noticed big fluctuations in my feed readership along with a lot of strange things on Bloglines: all of a sudden, 200 new posts are listed for one blog or another. Is this happening to everyone, or just to me because of the last few political cartoons I posted?

A Churchill Quote Relevent to the Current Economic Crisis

Compliments of Newmark's Door
In fact, my favorite Churchill story is the one about the time that Churchill was standing at the urinal in the men's room of the House of Commons. Atlee came into the room and stood at the urinal next to Winston's. Churchill looked up at him, zipped up, moved a couple of urinals farther down and resumed his business. "Why Winston, I had no idea you were so modest.", said Atlee. "It's not modesty, Prime Minister. It's only that every time you find something that is large and functions well, you try to nationalize it, and I thought it best not to take a chance!".
What will they nationalize next?

The Financial Crisis From A To Z

Tunku Varadarajan at Forbes has a pretty clever piece titled "The Financial Crisis From A-Z". Here are a few of the items that tickled my fancy:
C is for Credit Default Swaps, defined for me by a Wall Street watcher as: Risk whatever you want, and we insure it; risk too much, taxpayers insure it.

L is for leverage (a means of maximizing your losses), liar loans, Lehman (pronounced "lemon")--and the losses/liabilities that unite them all.

M is for where it all started: the mortgage (which, aptly, means death-pledge). Like the dog, it comes in a variety of breeds, "sub-prime" being a cross between a pit bull and a chihuahua.

Q is for quants, who forgot that, every so often, past performance is no indicator of anything at all.

S is for securitization, the process by which one passes off cat food as caviar.
The other 21 letters are pretty good too. Read the whole thing here.

HT: The Big Picture.

New Blog

As a new blogger, Financial Rounds benefitted from a number of higher-profile bloggers mentioning it. So, I think it's important to pay the favor forward and highlight new blogs of note.

The latest new one is a put out by The Applied Portfolio Management Program at Washburn University.

Unlike other academic blogs, this one is unique in that material is contributed both by faculty and by students in the program.

Go check it out, and add them to your feed reader - it's been added to the blogroll. And if you come across any other ones, drop me a line.

Professor Time vs. Grad Student Time

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That reminds me - I have to check up on my grad assistant to see how he's doing on the assignment I gave him at the beginning of the semester.

Great Source For Financial Information

The student-managed investment fund class I teach is fortunate to be in a trading room with a lot of resources - because of a prominent alumni, we have access to everything from analyst reports to trade and quote data. But for those who don't have these resources, check out Tickerpedia - it has analyst forecasts, recommendations, SEC filings, a neat chart of ratios from various sources, and much more.

It's interesting how much the reported ratios change by data source. As one example, for GATX corp, the reported operating margin (trailing 12 months) ranged from 18.92% (reported on Reuters) to 46.7% (on Marketwatch).

HT: Jim Mahar at Finance Professor

Post Election Analysis From South Park

Compliments of South Park. Hey - I suspected it was an insidious plot of some kind all along.

Caution - may not be safe for work, unless you can close your office door and turn the audio WAY down.

A Joke For The Science Nerds

Apropos of nothing:
Heisenberg gets pulled over by the cops for speeding. Cop walks up to his care and asks,"sir, do you have any idea how fast you were going?"

Heisenberg replies, "no, but I know exactly where I am."Don't ask me why - I just thought it was funny.

Update: if you haven't managed to get your geek on, click here (hey - a couple of people asked, and I'm nothing if not accommodating).

Can I Bwing My Mommy? Puh-Weeze?

A new student (I'll call him SnowFlake from now on) walked into my office last week asking for advice on classes. He'd transferred to Unknown University from a private school (which, by the way, has a reputation for drastically inflating grades). He needed some advice on which classes to take, and since I'm listed as his advisor, I seemed like the right person to check with. But he also wanted some advice on how to study since he's flunking intermediate accounting, and "that's never happened in any of my classes before".

SnowFlake starts out by blaming the instructor (who, by the way, is one of the best in the college). After some questions and comments on my part like "Gee, that doesn't sound like Professor X at all. Are you sure?", it turns out that he hadn't been keeping up with the work, and hadn't worked more than a problem or two from the end of chapter material. Instead, he tried to cram for the first exam, and did poorl…

We Voted

The Unknown Family just went to the polls and voted. Unknown Son went into the booth with me, and Unknown Daughter went in with the Unknown Wife. We let our kids fill out the ballots (they were paper ones), and then feed them into the machine.

It's pretty cool explaining how our political system works to an 8 year old and a ten year old. This year, I think I'll start working through the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights with them - it's never too early, and most people (myself included) don't know enough about these foundations of our country.

Happy Halloween

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I usually don't post political stuff (because of the moonbat factor). But I just got this from a former student and it tickled me, so what the heck.

Godspeed, Dean Barnett

I've always enjoyed Dan Barnett's writing and commentary, whether at SoxBlog, the Weekly Standard, or guesting on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. I just heard that he passed away after a long fight against Cystic Fibrosis. He was clearly one of the good guys. To get a small sense of the man, read this excerpt from his pamphlet "The Plucky Smart Kid With The Fatal Disease: A Life With Cystic Fibrosis"
As I grew sicker, I had what for me was an extremely comforting insight. I came to view serious and progressive illness as an ever constricting circle with oneself at the center. The interior of the circle represents the contents of one’s life. As the circle gets smaller, things that were inside get forced out. Some of these things are dearly missed; others that were once thought precious get forced to the exterior and turn out to go surprisingly unlamented.t the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, love. These things stay w…

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Meltdown

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Another thing for my "class" folder:

HT: The Big Picture

Finance and Economic Courses on the Web on The Web

Increasingly, people are putting their lectures, teaching material, and (in some cases), entire courses on the web. Here are a few I've recently come across:

A Short Course In Behavioral Economics: Daniel Kahneman (yes, the Nobel Laureate) has recorded and posted videos of a two day conference called "Thinking about Thinking".

Robert Schiller's Spring 2008 Financial Markets Class at Yale: Schiller has done a great deal of work in market efficiency, and also created the Case-Schiller Index of Home Prices.

While surfing through Yale's Open Classes, I also found a class titled Game Theory, by Ben Polak, a widely published economist. He seems to cover all the big topics: Nash (and other) Equilibrium concepts, Adverse Selection, Signalling, and even Evolutionary Game Theory.

If you know of other finance/econ classes on the web, let me know in the comments section and I'll post them here.

You Get What You Pay For: Designing Incentive Compensation Plans

While I'm not currently working in that area, I try to keep on on topics related to compensation design and effects. One of the ongoing themes of this literature is that a program designed to incent employees to do one thing often has unintended consequences. As an example, the Unknown Wife put me through grad school working for a cell phone company. At one point, she was a commission auditor - the job was important because salespeople often tried to make their quotas by miscoding things rather than by just selling more (I'm shocked! Shocked, I say!). So, they needed people like her to check everyone's sales.

There's a great piece on this topic by Joel Sposky in Inc magazine.. Here's a choice snippet:
I'm always on the lookout for these incentive schemes gone wrong. There's a great book on the subject by Harvard Business School professor Robert Austin -- Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations. The book's central thesis is fairly simple:…

Are Hedge Funds Good at Reading The Market>

The tentative answer seems to be "Yes".

According to a new study "Unbundling Hedge Fund Betas" by by Ulloa, Giamouridis, Mesomeris, and Noorizadesh there's evidence that hedge funds increase betas prior to market upswings. Here's the abstract:
This article is concerned with the systematic exposures of equity hedge fund managers. In particular we seek common equity hedge fund systematic exposures through rigorous model selection techniques. We study their time variance to examine if equity hedge fund style characteristics are stable through time. Most importantly, we explore the informational role of manager decisions to shift their exposures to certain styles. Our results suggest that equity fund managers are exposed to three dominant style strategies, namely the 'market', 'value' and 'momentum'. We also discover that there is a considerable degree of variability in the factor exposures over time for the various dominant sources of …