Sunday, August 17, 2008

Inefficient Markets

This caught my attention.
Thomson Reuters is looking into ways of reducing the discount in its share price between the UK and the US - a discount that widened yesterday after the price fell 5pc in London but rose 1.5pc in New York on slightly down-beat second-quarter results.

Chief executive Tom Glocer unveiled the company's first results since the April merger of Thomson and Reuters, showing an 11pc increase in second-quarter sales and organic growth of 7pc against 9pc in the first three months. Mr Glocer said that he was puzzled by the continued London discount, and was looking to reduce the gap.

Now these shares represent exactly the same thing--a piece of ownership in the company, equal in size regardless of where the share was bought.

Felix Salmon takes this as a sign that markets are irrational, at least at the moment.

Does anybody out there still believe in the efficient markets hypothesis? If so, I disprove it thus.

Thomson Reuters is listed both in the UK and in the US. As CEO Tom Glocer says, "a share in one place is exactly economically equal to another". And yet the shares in New York trade at a whopping 20% premium to the shares in London.

I do understand why this bothers Glocer: it makes a mockery of the idea of a company's stock as a yardstick of its value and performance. But whatever the underlying reasons for this are, they're unlikely to be within Glocer's control. His main task should be running the company: leave the arbitrage to the hedge funds.

The arbitrage here is to short the U.S. shares and long the U.K. shares, on the assumption that the two prices will converge and that the arbitrageurs will therefore make riskless profits for no money down.

I don't have a clue why the price should be different in the two markets, but there are ordinary reasons why seemingly identical securities would be priced different. Different tax laws in the UK and the US, for example*. But apparently this difference is larger than can be explained by ordinary differences in the two markets.

*One of my cases in Fixed Income Management was to explain why a callable Treasury bond seemed to be priced differently than a synthetic bond composed of a non-callable bond and STRIPS. The main part of the case was constructing the synthetic bond, but I was really proud that my team figured out that a different tax treatment for STRIPS make the cash-flows from the callable bond and the synthetic bond to be different--and that would cause the two otherwise identical seeming securities to be priced differently.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Machine for Calculating Risk

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Machine for Calculating Risk, H.C. Westermann, 1962.

Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Bros., et al, could have used this.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008


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Bentonite is a kind of clay. In my job, I've become familiar with it because it is used in drilling mud--the man-made mud that is forced down through drilling tubing and then back up outside of the drilling tubing in order to prevent the well from collapsing (before it is cemented) and to carry the rock cuttings from the drill to the surface. Bentonite is relatively light weight clay, so it is used in the shallow part of an oil or gas well; a heavier mineral, barite, is used when drilling in the deeper, higher-pressure regions.

Now it turns out that bentonite was used as a little piece of misinformation to help build up belief that Iraq was connected to terrorism. After 9/11, the country was attacked again--this time via anthrax sent through the mail to targets in politics and the media. Several people died, and the case remained unsolved until, apparently, very recently. They were in fact about to arrest an American bioweapons scientist, but he conveniently committed suicide before he could be indicted and made to testify.

When the anthrax was mailed, it was accompanied by stereotypical radical Islamist "death to America"-style notes. Obviously people were scared of additional Islamist terror attacks, so few had any trouble believing the notes were authentic.
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Glen Greenwald has a somewhat rambling article about this, where he talks about how ABC news reported that the anthrax contained traces of bentonite, which led to a disturbing conclusion.
ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."
ABC was had--there was never bentonite in the anthrax. Indeed, Greenwald suggests that ABC's source at Ft. Detrick, where the anthrax was being tested, could have been the alleged mailer himself, who worked there. Greenwald's question is, who provided this false lead to ABC? ABC is not saying--but if it was Bruce Ivins, it seems as if ABC should say so. Someone wanted this attack linked to Iraq--we citizens should know who it was, and why.

And I'm curious, why would bentonite be used in weaponizing anthrax? I don't know much about it beyond its oil-filed use, except that it is also apparently used in winemaking.

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