Archive for the ‘Black Swan’ Category

The ‘Black Swan does not exist’ culture

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

The recent turmoil at Wall St. is nothing ordinary. It is a catastrophe which is hitting the wallet of an average American. Housing market collapse to credit crunch to skyrocketing price of consumables (fuel, eggs, milk, cereal, coffee); though fuel is leading the march with crude lingering at $100/barrell. The falling dollar is swinging the price of imports like banana, coffee, and even fruits from Latin America.

Was the collapse inevitable — you bet! The analogy is very simple. During my college days of binge drinking, my buddies used to make me believe that I can survive few more shots than last time. More resilient (practice as they narrated!). Survived, yeah, but I was wasted and stoned before knowing what happened to me (I vomited, and my friends carried me to my dormitory room). Who suffered? The person (me) assumed that he can take more of it. The same happened to Wall St. The risk was out of the calculation and out of control drinking is showing it’s aftermath in the US and may reach the rest of the world. Remember, in college when the first-timers find out about drinking, they join the “habitual” crowd to enjoy the party. Ditto with Wall St.

Nassim Taleb defines ‘Black Swan’ as a metaphor where the seemingly improbable is considered close to non-existent. Like the Dot com bubble of 1998-2000, the 9/11 attacks, like the recent financial collapse and our overall attitude towards life where we are made to believe that the improbable does not exist.

Black Swan in it’s definition is a large impact catastrophe with far-reaching consequences, something very large, touching a lot of people. However, what I see is that a large scale ‘Black Swan’ event is a culmination of our individual behavior towards things which are possible but are beyond a conventional calculation in our everyday risk assessment model. For example, people bought houses with high risk loans, assuming the value of house would go up (hey, it was going up for the last 3-4 years). During the dot com bubble venture investors, stock market and traders on the street were made to believe that Internet is going to revolutionize the production of sliced bread. It did bring revolution, it is changing our lives, but that change will be consummated over decades and not in just couple of years as perceived during the height of the dot com bubble.

It’s a systemic behavior change — We are made to think positive! Positive is good, but counting the dollars in the pocket before entering a Tag Heuer store is pragmatism. I think we have stopped being pragmatic. The average rating for a stock before it busts is always more or equal to “Hold”. How many Sell ratings have you seen compared to Buy? When was the last time your son’s school teacher said that the child is faring not so well? Have you heard the “recession” (R-word) from the financial chieftains although everybody knows we are in one already?