Thursday, November 17, 2011

The war between traders and economists

Christopher Joye in Business Spectator:

"There is a mostly unknown, subterranean battle of wills that takes place every day between high-profile economists who are paid to divine our future, often many months, or years, in advance, and “traders”, that is, financial market investors, who are reluctantly influenced by their analytical brethren.

I have lots of friends who fall into both camps. If there is one constant amongst traders, it is that they universally hate economists. The typical refrain is that economists (strategists and analysts too) are overpaid astrologists who could not hit a dart-board if it was pinned to their faces.

Economists, frankly, do not have much of a comeback to this criticism, since empirically they know, with some unstated sorrow, that their forecasting records over the long-run are, in truth, no better than the proverbial monkey pegging darts at a target.

Whenever I hear a trader lambast an economist, or the analyst fraternity at large, it has always irritated me, for reasons that I have not previously articulated. It was one of those subliminal push-backs that I get when a part of my brain knows something to be right or wrong, but has yet to thread the thoughts together as to why exactly, and comprehensibly, this might be the case.

These two cohorts do make for fascinating contrasts. As a group, economists and strategists tend to be detail-oriented, thorough, cerebral, well-behaved, and lucid, if not eloquent. Of course, you have some unavoidable genetic dispersion in terms of actual aptitude. Some are especially proficient at making a lot of noise and grabbing attention, but sadly fall short in the underlying horsepower stakes. Others have unusually impressive bandwidth, and would likely be successful at most things they turned their minds to.

The rarest breed of them all is the economist who would make, or has made, an outstanding trader. This is generally someone imbued with an unusual conjunction of qualities: bona fide intellect; the ability to quickly synthesise meaning from disparate information; and, most crucially, the capacity to make rapid, probability-weighted decisions. That is, someone with well-informed conviction. Oh and throw brass balls into the mix. You need to be able to accept and assume 'risk'.

What about traders? Well, pure traders, as opposed to traditional 'investors', are either gamblers or bookmakers...

Continued at Business Spectator