Chris Lau - Seeking Alpha

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On George Soros - Taleb's Perspective

There are two ideas in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness worth addressing. They are highly pertenant states of the mind that is necessary in navigating through the markets.

The first is on the idea of changing one's mind:
An old trading partner of Taleb's, a man named Jean-Manuel Rozan, once spent an entire afternoon arguing about the stock market with Soros. Soros was vehemently bearish, and he had an elaborate theory to explain why, which turned out to be entirely wrong. The stock market boomed. Two years later, Rozan ran into Soros at a tennis tournament. "Do you remember our conversation?" Rozan asked. "I recall it very well," Soros replied. "I changed my mind, and made an absolute fortune."

Speculating how or why Soros could change is mind would be a fruitless exercise. Taleb's interpretation was that George Soros knew how to handle randomness by keeping a critical open mind and changing his opinions with minimal shame. (Which carries the side effect of making him treat people like napkins.)

The second ideas is on the idea of knowing...nothing:

My lesson from Soros is to start every meeting at my boutique by convincing everyone that we are a bunch of idiots who know nothing and are mistake-prone, but happen to be endowed with the rare privilege of knowing it.
When managing money, especially one's own, the first rule above everything else is, as Warren Buffett said it best:

"Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1"

Soros, for whatever reason, knew when to change his mind, but he did not do so on a whim or a guess (as it sounded in the book). There was detailed work done when an investment strategy was developed. However, when an strategy and investment thesis is carried out but is not working, even more work is needed to make up for losses.

The second idea is about being in a state that frees our mind from trying to control or model the unknown. Not everything may be forecast or predicted, and that which is unexpected to take place can take place. Knowing this (without actually knowing the unexpected) is something investors need to account in the analysis of stocks and the stock market.

Questions that Need Answering:

Here are a few things happening in the market that need resolution:

1. The U.S. 30-year Treasury prices are rising (yields are falling), and yet the stock market is rising. Is U.S. debt not the "safest haven" for investing? How are the debt auctions doing well if China is said to be buying metals instead of U.S. debt?

2. The S&P 500 rally since March was on declining volume, was without conviction, and sentiment was that of complacency (as indicated by the volatility index). Is there a risk of big players stepping in (or out) of the market in the next few weeks?

3. Will there be more government stimulus packages? Once the current programs run out, will markets ask for more?

4. If insiders are heading to the exits (insider selling is 95:1) why would ordinary investors be buying?

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