December 31, 2017

A Purely Technical Analysis of Bitcoin From a Famed Technical Analyst

(Full Disclosure: I do not own any cryptocurrencies, nor do I encourage anyone of owning cryptocurrencies. It is illegal to do so in many countries, so do your own careful due diligence. Stay informed of the laws and regulations of your country of residence so as not to do anything illegal. What follows is for information only.)

For a technical analyst (not boasting but I am a Chartered Market Technician, as is Michael Kahn of Barron's, the author of the quoted passage below), the insane moves of Bitcoin are heaven sent for applying the dark arts on. 

Mr. Kahn has written a great article doing just that on 12/28/2017 at 3:27 pm U.S. Eastern Time. Noting the exact date of the article is of the utmost importance with such a fast-changing financial instrument. I'm not crazy enough to endorse his analysis. Do as I did, read it with a grain of salt. 

He's an honest, experienced and extremely competent technical analyst. But, as I always said, technical analysis is a great tool for describing price action, it is however much less adept at predicting price action. So do your own due diligence and, as with all very volatile financial products, think loss protection and ruin avoidance first and foremost. I strongly discourage anyone from investing more than a very small percentage of their risk capital in bitcoin-related products, simply because the probability of losing it all is very high. Avoiding them altogether would also be a smart strategy! 

I must admit, however, that following the gyrations of cryptocurrencies on a chart, with a few technical indicators (Bollinger Bands, 11-period and 22-period Exponential Moving Averages), using Japanese Candles and, most important of all, a logarithmic scale, is fascinating to any pure technical analyst worth his or her salt!

Let me end this entry with an excerpt from Michael Kahn's post (he is, which is a good indication of his professionalism and competence, very careful about all his pronouncements):

"[...] With bitcoin, there are no analyst guesstimates about future earnings. There are no interest-rate worries. There are no macro- or micro-economic concerns to distract from the charts. And there are no artificial market hours to create trading surges at regulated times.
As Chris Carolan, proprietor of SpiralCalendar.com, put it, “The bitcoin time series is the purest expression of human fear and greed response cycles ever constructed.”
Carolan also pointed out that trading action since the start of the year followed an arc based on the Fibonacci series. He called it a chart of mathematical perfection and generously posted it on his Twitter feed for all to see.
Without getting too wonky, the Fibonacci series of numbers from the world of mathematics describes many natural phenomena from the spiraling of a snail’s shell and how flower petals sit around their center all the way up to how galaxies are built. It makes sense that it would also describe how a purely technical market trades.
The bad news for crypto enthusiasts is that bitcoin broke its Fibonacci arc to the downside. Similar to the break of a major trendline or moving average, it tells us the glory days for bitcoin are over -- at least for a while.
Moving back to my simpler chart projections, the larger December head-and-shoulders pattern on the daily chart targets about $8,760 on the downside. That’s not even close to a 90% crash but we’ll have to see what happens if and when the market gets there.
Further, as with all speculative frenzies, the fall tends to erase the entire speculative run-up. For me, the final phase began in November at about $8,100. Therefore, a good first target zone is in the mid-$8,000s give or take a healthy percentage.
Remarkably, that only takes the market back to late November. While a hefty 50% price retracement, it is not much of a time retracement.
If we consider that the speculative phase started in May at a price of about $1,400, going back to November would only be a one-month pullback in an eight-month rally. The big problem for bitcoin investors is that the downside target could be as low as $1,400 as this whole fever unwinds. In my November column, I suggested $1,200 was the number.
If you think this matches the trajectory of the Dutch Tulip Bulb bubble and crash of 400 years ago, you may be right.
For now, I do not want to tell the market where it needs to go. The signs suggest -- at least for now -- that there is significant downside ahead. However, at the same time, they do not tell us whether it will merely be a correction or the end of bitcoin as we think we know it.
Should the market find its legs soon and climb back above resistance at about $16,000, then all bearish bets have to be taken down. In that case, maybe an upside target of $25,000 would be conservative.

December 30, 2017

Ulysses S. Grant's Biography by Ron Chernow

I can't recommend enough the new massive Ulysses S. Grant biography by Ron Chernow (who penned the biography of Hamilton that was the basis for Lin-Manuel Miranda's celebrated Broadway Musical of the same name; he also participated in the writing of the musical). I greatly enjoyed Chernow's biographies of J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller.

It is essential reading for U.S. history lovers. It contains so many aspects of the Civil War and Reconstruction that are not generally known and shed a new contrarian light on so many historical episodes that it's mind-boggling: so many good deeds, so many missed opportunities, so much bloodshed. It also goes a long away toward explaining many aspects of the racial problems America has had to contend with to this very day. And in that sense, it is essential reading to anyone wanting to put a cogent narrative upon many things that have been going on lately. Anything that contributes to a better understanding of the history of the world and therefore could possibly prevent us from repeating historical mistakes of grievous consequences is a blessing.

Forget everything I just said, just get the book, in any form or shape (paper, electronic, audio), and read it.

This is one history book that will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end and enlighten you.

December 27, 2017

The Scientific Method and its Intentional Twisting by Professional Doubt Merchants

This is probably the best article I've read on the Scientific Method, its beauty, its limits and its intentional twisting by professional doubt merchants of all ilks from Tobacco Companies to Climate Change deniers.
"Doubt merchants aren’t pushing for knowledge, they’re practicing what Proctor has dubbed “agnogenesis” — the intentional manufacture of ignorance. This ignorance isn’t simply the absence of knowing something; it’s a lack of comprehension deliberately created by agents who don’t want you to know, Proctor said"

October 20, 2017

Fed Chair Nomination

This will be a dynamic post as we enter the Fed Chair Nomination period, a critical juncture for the U.S. economy, for the current U.S. administration and finally (and this is my main concern) for the global financial markets. I will be quoting and linking to articles I find interesting. I may also share some of my thoughts on the subject.

Current Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been at the helm since February 3, 2014, when she was appointed by President Barack Obama, and her term ends on February 3, 2018. Who appointed her is relevant to her chances of being renominated for a second term. Other relevant points include:

  • Her perceived performance as chair by the Market participants, the White House, the punditry (media analysts, economists and in-house bank and investment bank experts).
  • The anticipated effect her non-renomination would have on the Markets 
  • The political repercussions of the decision. 
  • The identity, qualifications, perceived biases of the other possible candidates, who are all identified in the article quoted below.

Here's a quote from a Bloomberg article in favor of reappointing Janet Yellen as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System:
Yellen and her predecessor Ben Bernanke built broad consensus within the Fed in support of radical measures, and that consensus helped restore calm and confidence in financial markets and the wider economy. It would be rash to cast these gains aside.
[...] At the moment, an abrupt change in policy isn't called for. Faster progress on normalizing interest rates and reducing the Fed's distended balance sheet would be good, but that is not to call for a fundamental rethink. An appointment raising the possibility of such a change would be a needless risk. The best and safest choice is Yellen.
Here's a quote from a Business Insider article by David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff, formerly a long time chief economist at Merrill Lynch and one of the most respected voices in Finance, who plays down the importance of who's the head of the Federal Reserve and places more weight on the institution in general:
"The Fed is a democracy, not a dictatorship," [David Rosenberg] told Business Insider. "This chatter and talk about who the next Fed chairman is is interesting, but I think it's less relevant than a lot of other people do." 
Alan Greenspan is one example of a chairman who became bigger than the institution, Rosenberg said. But he was an exception. 
This just in: we have a favorite! Namely, Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell, according to this Politico article.
Powell, known as Jay, has been heavily favored by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is leading the Fed chair search for Trump. 
Other finalists include former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, Stanford economist John Taylor and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
"They’re all at the same level of consideration at this time. The president said himself on Tuesday, he likes all of the candidates and has great respect for them all," White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said.
 
Of the five finalists, Powell would likely face the least opposition to confirmation in the Senate, according to interviews with nearly a dozen members of the Banking Committee.
Here's his bio from the Federal Reserve website.

If you believe in the wisdom of crowds and trust prediction markets, here's a link to PredictIt.

Here's an article that recommends choosing the most politically savvy contender rather than the best technocrat. I would tend to agree but it's hard to judge somebody's political chops before a crisis hits. Having been "in the room" and witnessed crisis management up close is certainly a big plus. Janet Yellen was a voting member of the FOMC in 2009. Draw your own conclusion (Narayana Kocherlakota does it here). Here's a quote from the article:
But the next time major economic volatility comes around, Fed decisions will be scrutinized and politicized like never before. This will happen in the mainstream media, on social media, and perhaps by our very own president in his tweets or offhand remarks. The key factor for any Fed leader will be the ability to maintain and project a coherent, unified voice at the Fed, so that the Fed remains an island of relative sanity in the polarized nation. This will be a problem of crisis management, but unlike Bernanke’s crisis management it will be fought first and foremost in the trenches of public opinion. 
What does this mean for the short-listed candidates? Former Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota made a strong case in Bloomberg View for Janet Yellen, and I agree she has done a good job to date. I am less sure she will be able to lead and build consensus in 2019, when the appointed board members will all be Republicans and the bloom of the economic recovery may have worn off. She still deserves serious consideration, but I would judge her less on her monetary policy decisions and more on how she might manage relations with the board, president and public during a crisis. One of the major arguments in her favor is simply that Trump often appears to be tougher and more erratic with his own nominations than with holdovers from President Barack Obama’s era, and perhaps he would continue to regard her as one of the latter. 
Is this it?
President Donald Trump stoked the sense of drama surrounding his choice for the next Fed chairman Friday as he tweeted out a video teasing an announcement he said would come next week. 
The president is leaning toward appointing Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell to be the next chairman of the Fed, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Jerome Powell is set to become the next Fed Chairman. He has been supportive of all Janet Yellen's decisions and rationales, but, despite what the following excerpt would have you think, that says little about what he may do going forward. We shall see.
Mr. Powell, a Fed governor since 2012, is a Republican with deep roots in the party’s establishment and in the financial industry. He has steadily supported the Fed’s current approach to monetary policy and financial regulation, creating an expectation that he would bring continuity to the role. 
One person familiar with the president’s thinking described Mr. Powell as the "safe" choice and the one who most closely fit Mr. Trump’s penchant for filling his government with characters from “central casting,” as he often puts it.
It's a done deal.

It is now official. It's important to note that Jerome Powel, unlike his four predecessors is not an economist, which leaves a fairly big question mark.
But some argue that there is more uncertainty surrounding Mr. Powell’s approach than for other recent Fed chairs. Lewis Alexander, chief United States economist at Nomura Securities, said it is unclear how aggressive Mr. Powell would be in responding to an economic slowdown. 
“I don’t think it’s right to think of Powell as a Yellen clone,” Mr. Alexander said. “In terms of the core issues of monetary policy, we just don’t have much of a baseline for him.” 
Mr. Powell would also be the first Fed chair in four decades who does not have a degree in economics — meaning his opinions may not be as fully formed as some of his predecessors. He also lacks a body of academic work that analysts could parse for his views.
(Latest Update: 11/03/2017)

October 10, 2017

Richard Thaler, Behavioral Economics and A.I.

Richard Thaler is the third Behavioral Economics giant to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics after Daniel Kahneman (2002) and Robert Schiller (2013). I found his intellectual autobiography very enlightening:




 Here's the 10/9/2017 Nobel Prize press release, from which I quote this fascinating tidbit:
Lack of self-control: Thaler has also shed new light on the old observation that New Year's resolutions can be hard to keep. He showed how to analyse self-control problems using a planner-doer model, which is similar to the frameworks psychologists and neuroscientists now use to describe the internal tension between long-term planning and short-term doing. Succumbing to shortterm temptation is an important reason why our plans to save for old age, or make healthier lifestyle choices, often fail. In his applied work, Thaler demonstrated how nudging – a term he coined – may help people exercise better self-control when saving for a pension, as well in other contexts.
and here's a quote from a New York Times article:
Professor Thaler has played a central role in pushing economists away from that assumption. He did not simply argue that humans are irrational, which has always been obvious but is not particularly helpful. Rather, he showed that people depart from rationality in consistent ways, so their behavior can still be anticipated and modeled.
Richard Thaler is one of the fathers of Behavioral Economics, whose basic assumption is that human beings, far from being the Homo Economicus of orthodox, neo-classical economics, can behave in irrational ways. Tangentially related is the subject of Artificial Intelligence. A commentator in the New York Times article mentioned above, Bey Melamed posted: "I wonder how Thaler's theories clash with / are supported by or commensurate with artificial intelligence. If / when AI has reached sufficient sophistication it should be able to (or even measured by the ability to) make human decisions with appropriate irrationality sprinkled in, no?"

My response to this comment is that alternatively, in a more sinister vision of the future, AI could be programmed to follow all the rules and behaviors of Homo Economicus, never showing the irrational idiosyncrasies exhibited by humans. Since we have a huge theoretical framework for just such creatures, it would make sense to replace human agents by algorithms across many domains. It is already the case in Financial Markets, where algorithmic, non-human traders have been taking over many tasks human traders used to perform. That would, of course, accelerate the replacement of humans by programs and algorithms, a pervasive process already under way. A failure to adapt to this trend will result in negative outcomes such as mass unemployment, community disintegration and social upheaval.

Here's another great New York Times article (from a 2001 NYT magazine profile) on Richard Thaler, written by Roger Lowenstein, the author of When Genius Failed, the definitive book on the saga of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management (LTCM, 1994-1998):
Thaler spearheaded a simple but devastating dissent. Rejecting the narrow, mechanical homo economicus that serves as a basis for neoclassical theory, Thaler proposed that most people actually behave like . . . people! They are prone to error, irrationality and emotion, and they act in ways not always consistent with maximizing their own financial well being.

July 28, 2017

Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani, one of the most feared, respected and fearless book critics of our times is leaving her high priestess perch as the New York Times Chief Book Critic. I am sure she will keep reviewing books from wherever she lands next. As I am sure many writers are breathing a sigh of relief at the news of her stepping down. She will be greatly missed by book lovers. Here is a list of some of her more trenchant and prophetic reviews of the last 4 decades.

“Beloved.” “Infinite Jest.” “White Teeth.” “Team of Rivals.” Four decades of signature reviews and essays by The Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic.
NYTIMES.COM

March 2, 2017

Pity the Bear Chin

I wrote this last year on 3/2/2016. One year later and the Bears are still taking it on the chin. Only the S&P 500 is 450-point or about 20% higher!

The Bears are taking it on the chin this week, the S&P 500 Index having breezed through the 1950 level of resistance. It will however all be meaningless if it dips back below it by Friday's close. If the index closes above 1950 on a weekly basis, 2000 becomes the next big (huuuuuuuge) resistance level. Everything is still in play. I might (don't hold me to it) write up a more detailed analysis of the stock market this coming weekend.

February 24, 2017

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Shameful. Unforgivable. I'm not big on soccer but this has to be the most cruel sacking in the history of sports.

In soccer, as in life these days, you're as good as your last performance. As they say in the financial markets, past performance is in no way indicative/predictive of future performance. In other words, "what have you done for me lately?" is the only question that matters in this brave new world. Is it good or bad? I think this is no longer a moral issue, it's just the zeitgeist. Get used to it.