The Mirage Of The Financial Singularity by Robert Shiller, Project Syndicate
H/T Young Money
NEW HAVEN – In their new book The Incredible Shrinking Alpha, Larry E. Swedroe and Andrew L. Berkin describe an investment environment populated by increasingly sophisticated analysts who rely on big data, powerful computers, and scholarly research. With all this competition, “the hurdles to achieving alpha [returns above a risk-adjusted benchmark – and thus a measure of success in picking individual investments] are getting higher and higher.”
The ACAP Strategic Fund's managers see a "significant scarcity of attractive asset allocation choices globally," but also a strong environment for fundamental stock picking. Q2 2021 hedge fund letters, conferences and more According to a copy of the fund's second-quarter investor update, which ValueWalk has been able to review, its managers currently hold a balanced Read More
Many believe that we are almost there. Even legendary investors like Warren Buffett, it is argued, are not really outperforming the market. In a recent paper, “Buffett’s Alpha,” Andrea Frazzini and David Kabiller of AQR Capital Management and Lasse Pedersen of Copenhagen Business School, conclude that Buffett is not generating significantly positive alpha if one takes account of certain lesser-known risk factors that have weighed heavily in his portfolio. The implication is that Buffet’s genius could be replicated by a computer program that incorporates these factors.
If that were true, investors would abandon, en masse, their efforts to ferret out mispricing in the market, because there wouldn’t be any. Market participants would rationally assume that every stock price is the true expected present value of future cash flows, with the appropriate rate of discount, and that those cash flows reflect fundamentals that everyone understands the same way. Investors’ decisions would diverge only because of differences in their personal situation. For example, an automotive engineer might not buy automotive stocks – and might even short them – as a way to hedge the risk to his or her own particular type of human capital. Indeed, according to a computer crunching big data, this would be an optimal decision.
There is a long-recognized problem with such perfect markets: No one would want to expend any effort to figure out what oscillations in prices mean for the future. Thirty-five years ago, in their classic paper, “On the Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets,” Sanford Grossman and Joseph Stiglitz presented this problem as a paradox: Perfectly efficient markets require the effort of smart money to make them so; but if markets were perfect, smart money would give up trying.
Markets seem to be driven by stories, as I emphasize in my book Irrational Exuberance. There are stories of great new eras and of looming depressions. There are fundamental stories about technology and declining resources. And there are stories about politics and bizarre conspiracies.
No one knows if these stories are true, but they take on a life of their own. Sometimes they go viral. When one has a heart-to-heart talk with many seemingly rational people, they turn out to have crazy theories. These people influence markets, because all other investors must reckon with them; and their craziness is not going away anytime soon.
Maybe Buffett’s past investing style can be captured in a trading algorithm today. But that does not necessarily detract from his genius. Indeed, the true source of his success may consist in his understanding of when to abandon one method and devise another.
Full article here Project Syndicate more on book below
Alpha still exists! But that doesn’t mean it is easy to find, or even worth the pursuit.