How to Read Financial News Redux: Separate the Narrative from the Noise

The primary article within the How to Read Financial News Redux collection mentioned how prices drive narratives. That’s as a result of readers need a story, particularly if the reason confirms what they already consider. 

The following installment mentioned understand consensus. Typically the consensus is right and the market narrative reliably explains worth motion. However I realized early in my profession that outdated narratives solid an extended shadow and will obscure the reality. 

OPEC and Oil Costs

When it got here to grease costs within the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties, the consensus narrative centered on the Group of the Petroleum Exporting International locations (OPEC). OPEC managed oil costs for a very long time, and analysts spent numerous hours dissecting its each transfer. And that labored for some time.

However by the Nineties, OPEC’s affect had pale. Solely the media hadn’t caught on. In order that they continued to interpret oil costs by means of the OPEC prism. Many traders accepted this interpretation and didn’t look any deeper on the oil and vitality markets.

That turned out to be an enormous mistake. Why? As a result of whereas OPEC had been the narrative, it was now simply the noise. And the standard knowledge didn’t acknowledge the shift till it was too late.

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A Cautionary Story from Metallgesellschaft

Within the early Nineties, I used to be a small-cap vitality fund supervisor and international analyst for large-cap vitality at Schroders. I studied vitality costs, significantly oil futures, refining margins, differentials in costs amongst vitality merchandise, and the earnings mixture of the large oil companies — publicity to grease, gasoline, refining, and chemical compounds.

In 1993, Metallgesellschaft (MG) took giant positions in futures contracts as a hedge. And all of it went terribly fallacious. By September, MG had purchased 160 million barrels of oil swaps and futures. And incurred a $1.5 billion loss in December 1993.

MG’s buying and selling dominated the futures market and this affected oil costs, particularly as oil merchants obtained wind of MG’s vulnerability. “As long as its huge position was in the market, MG hung there like a big piñata inviting others to hit it each month,” Ed Krapels wrote in 2001.

Oil costs fell 30% from April 1993 to December 1993 earlier than rebounding 45% by July 1994. The media blamed the volatility on OPEC and modifications in demand.

Oil Value Volatility, West Texas Intermediate, 19931994

OIl Prices 1993 1994
Sources: MacroTrends, Proper Mix Investing, LCC

What Did the Media Say?

Ultimately, the media reported on the scandal at MG, and Time included it in its 2012 record of “Top 10 Biggest Trading Losses in History.” However a lot of the monetary literature has centered on MG as a cautionary story about derivatives and threat administration.

Not everybody was fooled. As Krapels noticed:

“. . . by Sept. 30, 1993, MG’s positions comprised 16% of all of the open curiosity excellent within the NYMEX oil contracts . . . In line with MG, the place it was rolling over out there every month was so massive that it was distorting the traditional equilibrium of provide and demand. The corporate says its huge place was equal to 85 days’ value of the whole output of Kuwait.

Sadly, only a few individuals picked up on the implications of Krapels’s new narrative. To the very best of my data, the remainder of the monetary media caught with the standard clarification: Oil worth volatility in 1993 and 1994 could possibly be attributed to the same old suspects — OPEC and provide/demand.

Misplaced within the Sands of Time

Even after the MG revelations got here out, the following information protection failed to include the brand new details about oil futures into the narrative. As a substitute, the media fell again on the outdated deceptive OPEC story.

Monetary historians haven’t performed a lot better. You would possibly suppose that MG would go away clear footprints within the sand and reside on as an ethical fable with apparent classes. However you’ll be fallacious — I needed to do a lot of detective work to seek out the appropriate clarification. And I already knew what to search for. And like monetary information media, most historians nonetheless attribute the oil worth volatility of 1993–1994 to OPEC.

Why did I perceive these occasions? As a result of I used to be managing an vitality fund and had entry to sell-side analysts, buying and selling rumors, and the same old assortment of unpublished scuttlebutt — info that almost all traders and the media can’t entry, even after the very fact.

So I realized that whenever you don’t perceive why costs are shifting, it pays to recollect a selected aphorism:

“Perhaps somebody is aware of one thing you don’t.”

This has served me effectively. Particularly when the market goes towards me. When it’s unimaginable to separate the narrative from the noise, you could be greatest served by simply liquidating your place. 

My Favourite Filters

Some commentators are like noise-canceling headphones. They’re unique thinkers with out hidden agendas and may filter out the static and suggestions. I already mentioned Jeff Miller and Brian Gilmartin, CFA, however my two different favourite sources are

Ask Open-Ended Questions

As you research the consensus and the favored market narratives, you’ll uncover anomalies. This occurred to me final 12 months once I learn Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2018.

Slide 218 confirmed the worldwide leaders of the web. A graphic ranked the highest 20 private and non-private companies by market valuation. Curiously, each single firm on the record is domiciled in america or China.

Why isn’t there a single firm from Brazil, Germany, Israel, Japan, or the UK? There was no clear reply. Intrigued, I dug deeper into tech and China and developed my very own idea.

  1. Economies of scale and community results create a winner-take-all setting, so market leaders have big benefits.
  2. The globe is splitting into two financial spheres: An Asian one the place China is preeminent, and one other the place america is most influential.

Impressed by concepts from DataTrek, I delved deeper and located that China and america strategy know-how and privateness and safety in vastly alternative ways.

I’m not a tech analyst, however I consider these divergent approaches will have an effect on technological analysis and improvement, particularly in facial recognition and different points of synthetic intelligence (AI). No matter how this performs out, the outcomes may have profound impacts on investing, economics, and society.

All as a result of I noticed slide 218 and requested, Why?

Go Deep

My funding course of and studying habits are designed to be streamlined and provides me time to go deep. I conduct open-ended analysis as a result of I consider it has extra worth than finding out every day information and every day worth actions. I shouldn’t have an informational benefit in buying and selling, so I anticipate to be the sucker on the desk. As an affiliate informed me a very long time in the past:

“There are traders who’re smarter than you, have higher instruments than you, and who work tougher than you. How will you compete with them?”

This doesn’t imply that you just by no means have an edge — typically you do. However this recommendation taught me to be humble about my funding course of and to give attention to threat administration in my positions and portfolios.

I learn quite a lot of white papers, corresponding to Meeker’s, which takes time to digest. This strategy isn’t for everybody, however I take pleasure in it and will even be good at it.

Along with white papers, I like to recommend the next:

  • The web catalog at your native library: Why seek for books on Amazon when your native library will get it without spending a dime? My hometown library has on-line instruments to look and request books. Borrowing has two benefits over shopping for:
    • It encourages you to take probabilities on unknown authors and matters. Perhaps you take pleasure in what you chose or possibly you hate it. However serendipity stimulates your creativity. Personally, I attempt to learn quite a lot of latest books, simply to get a way of the zeitgeist.
    • It imposes a deadline so that you don’t wind up with a stack of excellent intentions. Because the deadline looms, you skim the guide and be taught what you may. And if the guide actually is sweet, you renew it.
  • Audible: Audio books are nice for the automobile, the treadmill, and different occasions when you may’t learn. I like to recommend The Nice Programs and these two investing-focused lectures:


It takes psychological vitality to tune out distractions and keep centered, and with a child in the home, I would like each trick within the guide. I like to recommend the next:

  • Scale back interruptions: I learn long-form materials early within the morning or at scheduled occasions throughout enterprise hours. I am going offline, with no cellphone, e-mail, or textual content alerts. Simply me and my espresso.
  • Use an hourglass: You possibly can’t alway unplug for hours on finish, so typically I exploit sand timers to maintain from zoning out. There’s one thing about sand operating by means of an hourglass that helps me carry on process and on schedule.
  • Use white noise: For occasions when you may’t remove distracting sounds, you may masks it with white noise, a fan, or an air conditioner.
  • Put on earmuffs: I favor earmuffs over earplugs as a result of they’re simpler to placed on and take off. I’ve an enormous, ugly pair that lets my spouse know I’m “below the dome.” They convey to individuals that you just’re attempting to pay attention. (Simply don’t abuse the privilege and tune individuals out all day.)
  • Hearken to music: Typically I put on earmuffs on high of noise-isolating earphones. It’s a great way to improve the sound of cheap headphones. It may well additionally allow you to focus, although you may be the final one out of the constructing if a fireplace alarm goes off. Instrumental music helps me tune out distractions, and inspirational songs assist me plow by means of paperwork, which I hate with an ideal hatred.

On a aspect observe, I’ve seen that funding paperwork simply retains getting longer and longer. Now that the varieties are saved electronically, there’s no restrict to how lengthy they may change into. 

My prediction? By 2030, the paperwork shall be so lengthy, our avatars will learn it for us and signal on our behalf.

Within the fourth and remaining installment of this collection, we’ll take a look at “reminiscence contamination,” which occurs when our recollection of occasions is corrupted by a mixture of reality, half-truths, hypothesis, and fabrication.

For those who preferred this submit, don’t overlook to subscribe to the Enterprising Investor.

All posts are the opinion of the writer. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially mirror the views of CFA Institute or the writer’s employer.

Picture credit score: ©Getty Photographs/Fuse

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Robert J. Martorana, CFA

Robert J. Martorana, CFA, has labored on the buy-side since 1985 as a inventory analyst, portfolio supervisor, analysis director, monetary advisor, and editor of a hedge-fund web site. In 2009, Martorana based Proper Mix Investing, a fee-based RIA that manages particular person portfolios and does consulting for the asset administration business. RBI has one distinctive declare to fame in that it helps an orphanage in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Since 2011, Martorana has printed over 1,000 pages of contract analysis, and he’s co-author of Alts Democratized by Wiley Finance.

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