Thursday, July 06, 2006

Testosterone & Markets

How does one disentangle youthful exhuberance from recklessness or separate age's wisdom from over-conservatism? These are particularly interesting questions from the point of view of investment and speculation, and I believe, become particularly germane following a period where volatility and diminuation have been absent from price action for a longer-than-normal duration.

I have no categorical answers, but I have some anecdotes to share beginning high atop the petit Luberon in Vaucluse some years ago. After a lovely picnic amidst the herbs & cicadas, our group descended towards Oppede down a path that turned into a large and steep field of loose scree. My friend and I had done this walk dozens of times, though we were with a group of young people who were on the mountain for the first time. Descending thorugh a field scree, with the right pitch can be as exhilarating as skiing, pulled by gravity, softened by deep but hard loose stones. We picked up the pace, and within the limits of safety, began surfing through the stones. The others made their way, too, surfing at their own pace, or excusing themselves from what must be sais, was a risky undertaking to begin with. A few moments later, one of the younger and most exhuberant members of the group, brimming with testosterone and enthusiam, came bounding past us, taking dangerously giant steps. Mid-stride, I look over at my experienced friend and we shook our heads in disbelief and exchanged looks that said "That lad is insane and it will end in tears". But a few minutes later, we saw him splayed across the rocks, with bright-red blood oozing from a large and nasty gash atop his head. Bad luck? Possibly. Overconfidence & testosterone? Probably.

I drive a motorcycle myself which might be considered a risky endeavor (at least by the actuaries). But I am neither reckless, nor unnecessarily aggressive. I take advantage of the benefits that the motorcycle offers to bypass traffic jams, always looking for the unexpected: the car that is signalling left. but turns right; the motorist exiting from a blind drive, etc. This caution is driven by fear that comes with experience and wisdom. It results from a rapid mental cost vs. benefit analysis which says the advanatge of early arrival, or satisfication at having beaten the traffic is insufficient to the cost of death or incapacitation. It is that simple. Yet, every day, I am surrounded by other motorcyclists - mostly young men their late teens and twenties - who arrive on the "wrong side" of the cost vs. benefit calculation. They weave recklessly through cars and fellow motorcyclists, pass cars at high-speed around blind corners, tempt fate of on-coming traffic with cavalier non-chalance, and overtake around cars that have stopped to let someone pass. I realize that I could be accused of being overly conservative, of the kind that comes with age and family. But few of my aged peers die or or paralyzed needlessly or painfully. This fate is reserved for the reckless and young. Interestingly, they are not without skill as riders. Most are better than I, with many driving from young ages and participating in motocross. No. Their achilles heel lies in their inability to visualize potential risks; to imagine mechanical failure; to anticipate that others might be fallible. In short, they are onverconfident, probably driven by raging levels of testosterone.

Which brings me to markets, speculators, and hedge funds. For one cannot but see the parallels between youthful enthusiam and confidence - often a prerequisite for outsized returns (without respect to risk). But it is also a primary contributor to crash & burn syndrome. Age does (or at least should) breed a brand of conservatism that teaches one to respect markets, but to value the power of independent thought. To look forward, rather than backward. To approach risk laterally, and from many dimensions. To question the paradigm of "what is working", and look to those that are not for potential ideas. I am certain that there are smart and capable young investors, wise beyond their years, and every bit as capable as older peers. But they are rare. Youth, by definition, is prefaced by single-mindedness, that is a boon during a bull-market, but a potentially fatal flaw when risk rises, paradigms shift, and the ground upon which one stands rapidly turns to quicksand. Take a moment to reflect upon the benefits of age and wisdom.....

2 comments:

pi said...

So where are we with rate hike at BOJ next week? Probabilities please if you have them.

"Cassandra" said...

My opinion, as a simple seer-ess remains that the BoJ, since it is not a consensus-busting organization, and still feels some residual guilt for the aftermath of their bubble, will, whatever it does, disappoint monetary hawks. And like the Fed they will piss-off a significant constituents whatever they do, but the MoFs case for delay or temperance is unsound and Fukui knows it. Unfortunately, I cannot be numerically precise beyond these thoughts.

Although my "Tanigaki Scrapbook" rant was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I do believe it is essentially true, and that the goal of Japan Inc. is anything but interested in a "sober & healthy yen", [certainly as it relates to the Int; Monetary System & reflects objective trading position] but rather to specifically preserve parochial mercantile advantage. I understand this is less useful than reducing it to 25bp @90% confidence, to someone wishing to position Nikkei, Yen or JGBs, but hey, Cassandra of old wasn't in the business of picking winning BiG-6 combos...

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