Market Cycle Reflexivity Poll for 11/21/14 – 11/28/14

Last week’s poll results are here.

Here’s the poll covering the coming week. Remember that you need to vote each week for a good baseline to be developed to establish trend. Please forward this to as many people you know that are market participants. If you came here via a Twitter or Stocktwits link it would be a big help if you RT’s those to help us get the sample size up.

Also, this is specific to the U.S. equities market so please keep that in mind as you’re casting your vote.

Updates are periodically available on my Twitter feed @davebudge

Thanks for voting.

Market Cycle Reflexivity Poll Results for 11/20/14

The bears increased their lead this week. Here are the stats:

Poll ending 11/20 – Mean = 4.02 Median = 4.5 Mode = 5.

Poll ending 11/14 – Mean = 3.75 Median = 3.5 Mode = 5.

The sample size is still small with the N = 120 but  roughly a 47% increase in participation from last week.

I’m not sure what to make of the numbers and probably need several more weeks of data. Progress with participation needs to improve as well so tell your friends. I’ll have the new poll up sometime today.

Click the graph below to enlarge.



The General Theory of Reflexivity: A Primer For Today’s Market

The last two years of the U.S. stock market’s relentless bid has been, to say the least, at thing of wonder – especially for traders who have been around for more than a couple of decades. From the vantage point of many fundamental/macro analysts, it has repeatedly pushed the upper bounds of value and has yet to take time to even catch its breath. One can argue that the fundamentals looking forward combined with a very low interest rate environment and reduced share float through buybacks have efficiently discounted the risk premium.

That said, it’s hard to reconcile the momentum of this market in the context of 2% – 2.5% economic growth with virtually flat median household income and shallow consumer credit growth. The market has also walked straight through any and all geopolitical risks as “noise”. I cannot remember a market performing so strongly with such a backdrop. To the extent it is or is not supported by fundamentals, it seems appropriate to look to other theories which support the market’s recent momentum.

The basis of The General Theory of Reflexivity

Although Reflexivity Theory is widely attributed to George Soros, it was originally developed as a sociological construct by William Thomas in the 1920s, known as the Thomas theorem, and built upon by sociologist Robert Merton in the late 1940s. The outcome of their work was to define the idea of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” where in predictions often lead component actors to behave in ways that make the “prophecy” become true. As defined in Wikipedia:

“…that once a prediction or prophecy is made, actors may accommodate their behaviours and actions so that a statement that would have been false becomes true or, conversely, a statement that would have been true becomes false – as a consequence of the prediction or prophecy being made. The prophecy has a constitutive impact on the outcome or result, changing the outcome from what would otherwise have happened.”

In the 1950s, philosopher Karl Popper took up the idea in his treaties on fallibility (the uncertainty of knowledge) where the act of studying a scientific phenomenon can affect the outcome. That is where a young George Soros was introduced to the construct while Popper acted as his mentor at the London School of Economics.

Here is how Soros explained it in his speech at the Central European University in 2009:

“I can state the core idea in two relatively simple propositions. One is that in situations that have thinking participants, the participants’ view of the world is always partial and distorted. That is the principle of fallibility. The other is that these distorted views can influence the situation to which they relate because false views lead to inappropriate actions. That is the principle of reflexivity. For instance, treating drug addicts as criminals creates criminal behavior. It misconstrues the problem and interferes with the proper treatment of addicts. As another example, declaring that government is bad tends to make for bad government.”


The influence of Popper was profound on Soros’ thinking about economics putting into question the General Equilibrium Theory (GHT) that price is determined to move to equilibrium at the intersection of supply and demand. In modern finance, GHT is the underpinning of the Efficient Market Hypothesis and as well as the foundation of Modern Portfolio Theory. Conventional economics views markets as generally efficient in price discovery. Soros’ theory of economic reflexivity sees quite the opposite.

Equilibrium vs. Reflexivity

  • An increase in demand will lead to higher prices which will decrease demand
  • … rising prices is a sign to buy, hence further increasing price
  • A drop in supply will lead to higher prices which will increase supply
  • A falling price will lead many investors to sell, thus further reducing price

Source “Reflexivity in Social Systems, the Theories of George Soros, Stuart A. Umpleby, the George Washington University.


Feedback loops – the basis of all market reflexivity.

Soros defines both positive and negative feedback loops but the names are somewhat misleading. Positive loops work in moving prices both up and down. The defining characteristic is that they work to amplify disequilibrium. That is to say they move prices further from intrinsic value. Negative feedback loops are, as one can guess, actions that bring prices closer to intrinsic value or reality. Soros believes the common state of feedback is in positive loops.

There are several parts of human activity which contribute to positive feedback loops:

  • Humans act on imperfect information (fallibility.)
  • Bias reinforces bias and effects the course of events (bias can change the fundamentals.)
  • Positive feedback loops continue until such time as the deviation from the fundamentals are no longer tenable (causing instability before collapse.)

Soros often cites these historic phenomenon as his best examples:

  • The conglomerate boom of the 1960s and 1970s
  • The venture capital boom of the 1990s
  • The high tech bubble of 2000
  • FX markets over several time frames
  • The mortgage and housing bubble of 2006

There is a certain simplicity and common sense to all of this and, one can suppose, that trading strategies have been built upon this construct since the Buttonwood Agreement. The notion of fading a “crowded trade” is old and time tested. On the other hand, our human nature tends for us to ignore this in the heat of the market. So even with its simplicity it’s both hard to do and harder to replicate.

From an investing strategy it probably makes more sense to apply reflexivity principles to individual sectors since, usually, there are constant rotations.

In follow pieces I plan to look at reflexivity implications in other behavior models such as the shift from fundamental analysis to technical analysis, the notion of central banks effect on share values, the current “buyback” boom and the commodities markets.

In the meantime, it’s of great interest to me (and I hope others) where traders/investors think we might be in the overall stage of the broad market reflexivity cycle. I have created an ongoing poll that I plan to re-run each week to see if a trend can be established. For lack of a better description I think of it as a first derivative sentiment survey (but lets understand the irony of the reflexivity of the survey itself.) The sample sizes have thus far been too small to be very meaningful but, if it participation grows we may learn something from it.

You can find the survey here. I’ll also post periodic updates on my Twitter feed @davebudge.
Trade ‘em well this week.

Originally published at on 11/18/14

Market Cycle Reflexivity Poll for 11/14/14 – 11/21/14

Last week’s poll results are here.

Here’s the poll covering the coming week. Remember that you need to vote each week for a good baseline to be developed to establish trend. Please forward this to as many people you know that are market participants. If you came here via a Twitter or Stocktwits link it would be a big help if you RT’s those to help us get the sample size up.

Also, this is specific to the U.S. equities market so please keep that in mind as you’re casting your vote.

Updates are periodically available on my Twitter feed @davebudge

Thanks for voting!

web polls

Weekly Reflexivity Poll Results

Watching the votes come in over the week was interesting simply that in the small sample size I could see the various bull/bear camps vote when certain people would retweet my appeals to get people to vote. With a total vote count of 83 it’s rather to hard to divine any statistical meaningfulness other than how my limited following thinks about the subject matter.

I wonder if the lack of voting, given the push from some pretty high-profile traders, indicates a general lack of understanding of reflexivity or if people really don’t care. I assume that day traders are less inclined to think about market cycles than those with longer time frames.

There was also some mention of peoples’ dislike for George Soros. I assume that has to do with his politics – which is a rather silly logical fallacy as to the validity of the theory (not that I like much of Soros’ political thinking – but that’s another subject.) We’ll see if we can get better participation over the coming weeks.

Just as a reminder though, You need to vote every week in the new poll for a good baseline to be established. I’ll have a separate post up for that soon.

Still, as my friend Andrew Kassen pointed out:

Here are the numbers for what ever they’re worth.

mean = 3.75

median = 3.5

mode = 5


Comments are open if you care to say anything but to keep the trolls out you have to have one approved comment in the past for your words to show up. Ergo, if you write something it may take me a few hours to approve it. After that you’ll be able to comment freely. Be patient.

And thanks for participating.

Soros Market Reflexivity Cycle

George Soros developed theory on market cycles and sentiment where he describes what he calls “reflexivity.” I’m interested in understanding the trend of where traders and investors think we are on this scale regardless of their trade discipline. I plan to run a new poll every week starting on Fridays and ending on Thursdays of each week. Then I’ll plot the results against the $SPX.

It may take a few months to get the sample sizes meaningful so early results might be weak gauges. But I plan to keep doing it for a while to see if it catches on.

So, regardless of the the folly you might think of this. Please vote. I’m looking to establish a long term trend to gauge shifts in market sentiment.

I’ll put out a reminder on Twitter and Stockstwits.

A few things about the poll

1 – The system tries to let only one vote per poll (but this can be gamed.) Please don’t vote more than once.

2 – The poll is completely anonymous if you’re worried about trolls on Twitter, etc. giving you crap about your views.

3 – Don’t kill yourselves trying to come up with a correct answer. There isn’t one.

4 – Would love for you to share this with your friends.

5 – Thanks for voting.

Below are the market stages as Soros describes them. I have included a few in between levels for those how can’t quite decide. Please select one.


Extemporaneous Random Brain Seepage

I worry about shit.

Domestic Macro

I keep hearing that the US economy is on a solid growth trajectory but, frankly, I see a mixed picture at best. Yes, unemployment claims are down and (shitty) job creation looks good. Industrial capacity utilization is up and so is sentiment. So we have that.

On the other hand, CapEx is still not doing much except in commercial RE and, so far, the oil patch. But with pressure on oil prices the latter might fade off quite a bit. That needs to be watched pretty closely since YTD it has been about $200B and 1/3 of total domestic CapEx.

Wage growth still is crap and I don’t see reason to think it’s going up in any meaningful way. We seem to have become an economy selling each other burgers. I don’t think this is a permanent condition, yet I don’t see the corner we need to turn on in the immediate horizon.

Still, good economic news tends to come out of the penumbra (edge of shadows for the unfamiliar) of the economy so I might be surprised to the upside. For now I give the domestic outlook a big “meh”.

Global Macro

I’ve been saying since its inception that the Euro has a fatal design flaw. Nothing has changed my mind on that.  The lack of political unity of the EZ will continue to cause member nations to be at odds with each other. The clown candidate Grillo is pushing for the reinstatement of the Lira (let’s hope they divide the old currency by 10,000 if it ever comes back). Not that the joker pol has any real clout but it certainly speaks to the social mood that A) this guy is taken seriously and B) Italy’s re-adoption of a sovereign currency actually makes sense on some level.

And then there’s the Germans with the constant teutonic refrain of “No” to the ECB.

I can’t predict the outcome of if/when the whole EU experiment fails but I’m inclined to think it comes with a shit storm if it does. Just something to keep an eye on.

In the mean time almost the entire EU economy could be headed into a triple-dip recession. I can’t image that there’s not some significant spill-over into the US economy.

While all this is going on the Abe economy continues to suck. Sure, like everywhere else in the world, it’s a mixed picture. But putting up a big tax increase while trying to QE your way into lift-off velocity seems deeply conflicted. And the BOJ’s Kuroda is starting to worry about the hammering of the Yen even though he has more than a large hand in making it. Once a bolder starts rolling downhill it can be hard to stop.

China has been telling us that they have a handle on defusing the trigger on their shadow banking debt bomb. Reminds me a lot of “the sub-prime crises is largely contained” kind of talk. The good thing is that the Chinese don’t need Congress to approve any bail-out.  The Chinese government is the greatest Keynesian machine in the history of the world (if you know me you’ll understand that’s not a complement) insofar as they figure out ways to build unproductive assets on a magnificent scale. Off the top of my head I can’t remember the hedgie who said (Chanos?) that China is the only country in the world that knows their annual GDP on January 1st. At some point, though, it shows up as a dead weight loss and kills productivity. I think Chinese debt is a bigger issue than the market has discounted for. Time will tell.

Please Shut the Fuck Up!

I spent the better part of Thursday and Friday scraping my brains off the wall as the various central bankers were shooting their mouths off and confusing the market. I wasn’t alone and it’s good to see some actual smart person confirm my outrage. Kevin Ferry at The Contrarian Corner went ape shit on douche-bag Fed backtracking. Read the whole thing but here’s a bit that sums up the mood.

Remarkably, we are to believe that a sudden 100 BP shift in the color coded Eurodollars over a month and a 450k drop in open interest -IN A DAY ! – resulted in no P/L damage to anyone. We are going out on a limb here..Somebody got hurt…BAD. We’ll find out who and how bad over the next few months.

Dysfunctional markets are driven by liquidation and It’s always about the positions. I’d love to see a damaged speculator sue the Fed for following their guidance. Now lets see who wants to come back and play again.

I’d love to see it too but it’s little more than the fanciful thoughts of the angry.

By now the market is starting to learn that the term “Forward guidance” means part “we have no fucking idea what we’re going to do” and part “we think we can jawbone our way out the the structural imbalances we’ve created.”

The problem with the those people talking at all is that their thinking out loud isn’t guidance it’s bullshit and little more than speculation sauced up with a large serving of unearned credibility.  What we’re left with is a market that is confused and makes far too many fucking decisions on the moves of monetary policy instead of plain old supply/demand business modeling.

I’m not smart enough to know what the outcome of this big money experiment will be (and anyone who says they do is quite full of shit.) But I do know that sending conflicting signals to the market is probably the opposite of what they (only?) imagine to be the benefits of “forward guidance.”

As polemics go I’m probably only getting started on this screed. I’ll save you all and stop here. Understand, though, I’m a long-time seasoned Fed watcher and I’ve never seen this type of communication incompetence in my life.


The question remains whether the markets will go up or down from here. The answer is “yes.” I’ve made my bets to the downside but if I had a nickle for every time I’ve been wrong I’d be rich.

All I can do is what I do best and outline the risks, buy cheap assets and sell expensive ones.

My TA pals are doing yeoman’s work these days trying to find an edge in a market structure we haven’t seen for a couple of years. There are enough on both sides of the trade that I’m forced to pay less attention to technicals here since I get conflicting opinions from people for which I have major respect.   As my friend Andrew Kassen points out, sometimes TA causes apophenia. Too many ink blots does little more than confuse my feeble mind so I’m going back to my (often wrong) big picture stuff.

To sum it all up I have just to quote Hill Street Blues; Be careful out there.

The Power Of Saving

I love that the term YOLO (you only live once) has become part of the modern zeitgeist. Yes, by all means, carpe diem! The problem, of course, is that the one time you live may end up being a very, very long time.

Members of the financial community take for granted time value of money mathematics. My experience, however, informs me that a striking minority of people really understand it’s power.

If you or your kids have a long time horizon, little spending choices can make a huge difference to long term savings.

Here are some examples to play with to show how saving will reflect in the long run with just a wee bit of sacrifice. Plug them into the savings calculator.

1 latte a day at $3.50 = $105/mo
1 pack of cigarettes a day at $6 = $180/mo.
1 cocktail a day at a bar at $5.00 = $150/mo.
A $300/mo reduction on housing expense

You can think of more (lots more) I’m sure. If I had young kids I’d be pounding this stuff into their brains starting at about age 10 (OK, I have but only with limited success.) You should too.

For any time horizon over 20 years I think 7% is a good estimate for a stock portfolio. Play with it. Then forward it to every kid on the planet.

Equity Prices And The Indexing of Everything

I was in graduate school when the Spooz were first approved for trading. The academic argument for the contract was based on the solid premiss of risk arbitrage like other commodities contracts.  The argument holds up today as well as it did then in that regard. At the time, however, academics joked that, if the entire market moved to trading nothing but indexed products, there would be no price signal at the individual  level of public companies to establish value. They joked because they thought this was implausible if not impossible.  Maybe they were right.  But I see the marginal effects of indexing starting to manifest themselves more robustly. That sends me down an intellectual rabbit hole.

As an active portfolio manager I see the effects every day. For example, the spot price of oil has a direct effect on energy ETFs. Thus, when oil is under pressure, most of the $XLE component prices come under pressure regardless of how the spot price of oil effects their operations. And the larger the exposure to an index of an individual name the more pronounced the sympathetic move in price. Thus, I my opinion, this reduces market efficiency in the context of asset values – at least in the short run.

Recently, I’ve seen many economists urge both institutions and individuals to forgo active management for indexing.  Yesterday, in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig wrote:

The debate about whether you should hire an “active” fund manager who tries to beat the market by buying the best stocks and avoiding the worst—or a “passive” index fund that simply matches the market by holding all the stocks—is over.

Whether most know it or not, this is the strongest practical application of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. And for all the ridicule he’s taken, Eugene Fama must be smiling. And Jack Bogle has a lot of “I told you so” ammo. Economist have a faith in efficient equilibrium. At the macro level they’re mostly right. But on the micro level they know that disequilibrium always exists.

Assuming this trend will continue – at least until active managers learn how to exploit the inefficiencies I mentioned above much better –  the average advisor will look for alpha in sector selection, “smart beta” (more a marketing term than a risk strategy IMO) or minimizing risk via Modern Portfolio Theory (which was pretty useless during the Global Financial Crises.) Financial advisors, in whom the 80/20 rule is obvious, will likely follow the crowd and go all index. Yes, “Dare to be average!” has always been the cri de coeur  of the retail money management business.

For the value manager, however, the inefficiencies created by indexing might be the biggest advantage to gaining long term alpha in many years.  Doing so, however, will not be for the faint of heart and if your clients are sensitive enough to count your performance tick-by-tick you might think of either getting different clients or different work. The focus on long term alpha often means significant periods of under-performance and every money manager knows that “what have you done for me lately” is ever-present. The need to clearly communicate your investment approach is more important than ever. What you have to deal with is this:

Asness and Liew argue that just a few anomalies are robust across time, countries, and asset markets, notably momentum and value. On value, they note that a trading strategy of high minus low, that is long a portfolio of cheap stocks (high book value to price) and short a portfolio of expensive stocks (low book value to price) has generated consistently high returns relative to (CAPM) risk over time, albeit not without occasional terrifying episodes.

[Emphasis mine.] Personally, I’m not changing my investment style. I have always underperfomed in raging bull markets and more than made up for it in other times. But long term alpha should always be the goal of a portfolio manager in my view. And being an index junkie reduces the number of great opportunities in the market that exist.

None of this is to say that long term alpha can not be gained in other approaches. It can. But I’m partial to value because it has a better track record in market draw downs. That’s just me.

On a related note, Twitter is abuzz with all this talk today. In the process I ran across this Cliff Asness piece on Fundamental Indexing. It’s very much worth reading.





Investing If Time Were No Object

A few years ago Tyler Cowen penned a little book, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better (the eBook is on sale today for $3.79 and I recommend you buy it right now.) In usual Cowen style, the premise is highly controversial and has been pooh-poohed by both academics and innovators alike. It’s worthwhile, I think, to look closely to what Cowen sees.

In a nutshell Cowen is saying that our standard of living has not seen the big strides that came from things like the mass migration of people from farming to the industrial economy, the advent of truly life enhancing technology shifts like electrification and its derivatives such as refrigeration, washing machines, central heating, etc. And, I think most importantly, the mass education of the American population. As the book’s description reads:

Median wages have risen only slowly since the 1970s, and this multi-decade stagnation is not yet over. By contrast, the living standards of earlier generations would double every few decades.

Regardless of one’s opinion on that thesis, I think it has important implications; not for the future of the developed world but for everywhere else.

More recently, Marc Andreessen has been tweet-storming the tectonic shift in global economics that will be caused by the advent of the inexpensive smart phone. This is a simple idea; this new technology puts in the hands of everyone access to the sum of human knowledge and the ability to trade goods and services with near frictionless ease. Which brings me back to Cowen.

To me the important part of The Great Stagnation is not in the current state here but in the story of prior to 1970. Productivity exploded in the developed world as time was freed from the labor of managing household chores (the biggest economic boon in history by the way), the procurement of food and clothing and the extension of productive hours that came from the light bulb. The developing world, though the advantage of trade (read Recardo re: comparative advantage), is about to increase both productivity and, hence, earnings as a consequence of this rapidly proliferating technology. The smart phone will have similar effects to our history by bringing education to the masses as well. These are like the conditions in place that resulting in the mind-blowing advance in living standards we experienced from the first industrial revolution.

There’s a rub (there’s always a rub.) In the west we have been blessed by (classical) liberal institutions. There is no dismissing that The Enlightenment philosophers had a durable effect on free trade and the capitalistic construct. The developing world has some way to go to change there anachronistic government structures that will allow the type of trade we take for granted in the west. But we can see it changing everywhere – from China’s state capitalism model to the enthusiasm for India’s liberal new reformist prime minister, Narendra Modi. I expect we’ll see it continue everywhere in one form or another as access to knowledge sweeps the world at an increasing rate. But it will take time.

As a portfolio manager I understand the benefits of investing in EMs for both growth and portfolio diversification. That, however, is so pedestrian that it’s not much worth the time to write about.

But, what if time was no object in one’s investing frame? How would you invest then?

I manage my kids IRA’s and help them with their 401(k)s. I also am building accounts for my grandkids. For my kids I’m allocating 50% of their portfolios to EM. For my grandkids it’s the same but half of that I’m putting in Africa – the area where I think there is more potential in both the spread of liberal society and gains from access to knowledge. There is where the growth will be in the next 50 years. Will it be a bumpy ride? Probably. What does that have to do with the long term?

I might wrong and my kids push back a bit (although they don’t pay that much attention.) But if I were starting out today that’s what I’d do with my own money.

I’ll write about what I would do with the other 50% in another post. But investing looks different if one can take the time constraints out of the calculus. It’s an exercise worth doing.