Short & Sweet
Beware the Black Swan
‘There’s no clean way out.’

photograph of two black swans on pond with many white swans

“The clan over the years’ matured and turned unruly,” writes Credit Bubble Bulletin’s Doug Noland. “Myriad severe development issues are increasingly on full display. The halcyon sandbox days are over for good, replaced by a confluence of insecurity, greed, and now constant infighting. To be sure, rich Uncle’s years of lavish generosity fostered a bunch of spoiled malcontents. The lax benefactor has come to realize he can no longer finance all the dysfunction and is desperate to craft a plan for exiting the relationship without unleashing mayhem. Some have structured their lives to stand on their own, while others’ very survival is at stake. All have developed bad habits, with some succumbing to deadly addictions. One camp says, ‘it’s time to get on with our lives without being further warped by all this charity money.’ Another is threatening to do harm to themselves. There’s no clean way out. Uncle fears calamity and harbors serious regret.”

Heightening the sense of impending danger, we would add our own observation that financial markets are full of eddies, crosscurrents, and strong undertows driven by excessive leverage and machine-based trading wherever the Fed might care to look. Today, the potential madness of machines is just as big a worry as the madness of crowds – their programming subject to the same frailties as their human creators. In fact, with algorithmic trading accounting for 60%-73% of U.S. equity trading, an argument could be made that machines now comprise the crowd.

“Since these automated strategies typically use artificial intelligence programs to analyze and react to market momentum, rather than economic fundamentals per se,” writes Gillian Tett points in a recent Financial Times editorial, “this tends to exacerbate a herding effect, not just in commodity markets but in any asset class. And since the institutions selling these derivatives bets need to hedge their own risks with other instruments, extreme robo-herding creates distortions across market niches that can suddenly unravel, causing wild volatility.” To make a very long story short, credit markets have a history of reacting unpredictably, and sometimes violently, to rising rates: Beware the Black Swan …… 


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