Friday, 19 December 2014

My thoughts on the 'Black Swan'

Sorry to disappoint any ballet fans out there, but the 'Black Swan' I talk of here, is the metaphor popularized by Nicholas Naseem Taleb, in his excellent book, "Fooled by Randomness", which was used to describe market risk.

The idea was based on early studies on nature, where only white swans had been discovered. When the discovery of black swans was made, it turned previous thought and analysis on its head.

Taleb used the metaphor to describe events that the market does not see coming. One example of a Black Swan would be the Russian default in 1998, whose effects caused a market crash and the collapse of a Wall St hedge fund; complete with bailouts. The sub-prime mortgage debacle of late 2007, is another situation where previous expectations were flipped upside down. Ratios and risk measures that had created a boom in mortgage lending were suddenly irrelevant and the effects were chaotic.

My thoughts in relation to the Black Swan are based on my experience in the market. In mid-2007, the stock markets and housing markets seemed too-good-to-be-true (they were) BUT, until the Black Swan became clear it was only safe to play the current trends, regardless of your thoughts on the market. I use this only to highlight that when the market is showing extreme exuberance, there is still profit to be made going long with tight downside protection. In 2007, the bullish belief was so great, that the market bounced higher following the collapse of Lehman Brothers: one of the largest Wall St banks with extreme contagion risk.

The present action in the stock markets are similar to the markets of 2007, but until we get our 'Lehman moment', it is not advisable to fight the trend. When the Black Swan comes it will be clear.

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