To Become a Better Investor, Think Like Darwin

On financial innovations — read derivatives and securitizations — and the need for more collaboration :

People respond to incentives, and so if we want to take on much bigger challenges, we need to collaborate across thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of people. How do you get 100,000 people to work together? It’s not that easy. In the old days, it was religion and before that it was simple fiat rules, tyranny. The Egyptians built some beautiful pyramids, but they did that with hundreds of thousands of slaves over decades. If we rule out slavery as a possible means of societal advances, there really isn’t any other choice. If we need 100,000 people to cure cancer, to deal with Alzheimer’s, to figure out fusion energy and climate change…I don’t know of any other way to do that other than financial markets: equity, debt, proper financing and proper payout of returns. I think that in many cases [finance] probably is the gating factor. That, to me, is the short answer to the question about why finance is so important.

→ Nautilus

In Defense Of The Gaussian Copula

The Gaussian copula is not an economic model, but it has been similarly misused and is similarly demonised. In broad terms, the Gaussian copula is a formula to map the approximate correlation between two variables. In the financial world it was used to express the relationship between two assets in a simple form. This was foolish. Even the relationship between debt and equity changes with the market conditions. Often it has a negative correlation, but other times it can be positive.

That does not mean it was useless. The Gaussian copula provided a convienent way to describe a relationship that held under particular conditions. But it was fed data that reflected a period when housing prices were not correlated to the extent that they turned out to be when the housing bubble popped. You can have the most complicated and complete model in the world to explain asset correlation, but if you calibrate it assuming housing prices won’t fall on a national level, the model cannot hedge you against that happening.

→ The Economist

Bowie: The Man Who Sold Royalties and Brought Music to Bonds

Credit : Terry O’Neil

Sure, this might be the last thing to come up when remembering Bowie, but hey—that’s genius :

The man behind “The Man Who Sold the World” was the first recording artist to go to Wall Street to tap the future earnings of his music, paving the way for a thriving market for esoteric securities backed by everything from racehorse stud rights to commercial washing machines.

David Bowie, who died from cancer at age 69 on Sunday, sold $55 million of bonds in 1997 that were tied to future royalties from hits including “Ziggy Stardust,” “Space Oddity” and “Changes.” Following his example were singers James Brown and Rod Stewart and the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden. Securities backed by royalties allow artists to raise money without selling the rights to their work or waiting years for payments to trickle in.

“Bowie’s bonds were as groundbreaking as his music,” said Rob Ford, a London-based money manager at TwentyFour Asset Management, which oversees 5.3 billion pounds ($7.7 billion). “Not only were they followed by a number of other artists, but they set the template for deals backed by a whole range of assets.”

And to conclude :

Bowie “changed the way people think about art and commerce,” Pullman said.

See you on Mars.

→ Bloomberg

Down Is a Dangerous Direction

CEOs and financiers were desperate to answer that question, for during those years of high productivity and low wages, immense profits and “returns” kept accumulating in brokerage accounts and banks. But a bank can’t keep its money in the bank. Under the pressure of those swelling piles of capital, the answer they offered to worker-consumers like Duane was: instead of paying you enough to buy what you produce, we’ll lend you the money.

→ Guernica

Your New Landlord Works on Wall Street

So a bullish outlook for housing would seemingly augur a long-awaited recovery to Main Street. But the more you look into it, the clearer it becomes that it’s not being driven by the typical American families who lost their homes in the economic crash. In fact, it’s being fueled by the banks and hedge funds whose speculation caused that crash in the first place.

→ New Republic