Below is a link to an interview with Shamubeel Eaqub on National Radio’s Sunday Morning programme. NZ Institute of Economic Research principal economist on the the country’s evolving rental market, the basis of his new book ‘Generation Rent – Rethinking New Zealand’s Priorities’.
House prices may boom or bust but the long-term trend is clear: for more New Zealanders than ever, home ownership is out of reach. Incomes simply have not kept pace with skyrocketing property prices.‘Generation Rent’ calls into question priorities at the heart of New Zealand’s identity.
In this BWB Text, Shamubeel and Selena Eaqub investigate how we ended up here, and what can be done to ensure all New Zealanders – home owners and renters alike – live in affordable and secure housing.
James Surowiecki (writer in the New Yorker) wrote a very informative review (in the New York Review of Books) of Michael Lewis’ book ‘Flash Boys’ about the rise of high-frequency trading (HFT) on Wall Street. As the name suggests, high-frequency traders buy and sell in large volumes and at an extraordinary fast pace, trading thousands of times a second. The decisions of the trader are driven by complex algorithms which are designed to follow a defined set of instructions in order to generate profits at a speed and frequency that is impossible for a human trader. The defined sets of rules are based on timing, price, quantity or any mathematical model.
It is estimated that 70% of trading in US stocks is done using. Lewis notes that:
By the summer of 2013, the world’s financial markets were designed to maximize the number of collisions between ordinary investors and high-frequency traders – at the expense of ordinary investors, and for the benefit of high-frequency traders, exchanges, Wall Street banks, and online brokerage firms.
Advocates of HFT will tell you that HFT provides liquidity and this means that the market has a lot of buyers and sellers which suggests that you can make trades without moving the price too much. A liquid market means that people will be more likely to invest. However there are those that worry about the liquidity of HFT as it could be illusory as it could disappear very quickly if stock prices collapse. Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England put it – the fear about this liquidity is that ‘in wartime, it disappears’. Furthermore, HFT has also produced huge swings in stock prices. On 6th May 2010 – know as the ‘Flash Crash of 2.45pm’ – the DJIA fell 9% in 5 minutes but then recovered most of that loss in the subsequent few minutes. But what is most worrying is that nobody can agree what happened because nobody had any control over it. It seems that we are writing things (algorithms) that we can no longer read. We should be worried about HFT as it reduces the amount of the quantity of real and valuable information in the stock market system. It make the system as a whole less stable and more risky. And it devotes an enormous amount of resources to an arms race that is of dubious value.
HFT and the real economy
A recent study of the commodity market found that up to 70% of all price movements in those markets didn’t correlate to events in the global economy. The price movements were driven by algorithms reacting to internal action in the market. This not only makes the market dumber but also a lot more unstable as humans find it impossible to oversee it – e.g Flash Crash of 2.45pm. If HFT traders add liquidity to the market then when the market crashed on 6th May they should have stepped in by buying falling prices of stocks. Turmoil in the markets is nothing new but the speed that it happens today makes trading harder to control raising systemic risk. Some companies will go to get great lengths to improve the speed of trades. In July 2010 a one-inch cable was completed to send a signal from Chicago to New Jersey at a cost of US$300 million. The improvements brought down the estimated roundtrip time of the signal from 13.1 milliseconds to 12.98 milliseconds. But when you are an algorithm 0.3 milliseconds is a long time. The billions of dollars that have been put into HFT over the last 6 years have only had a small impact on the ordinary investor. HFT looks like an arms race as it consumes an enormous amount of resource but generates very little social value and damages the market in the process.
I will be disappearing for a couple of weeks to the beach where there is no internet access. Therefore here are some books that might be worthwhile reading over the festive season – reviews are from Amazon.com. I will be back again on 5th Januray – have a great xmas and new year.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
by Michael Lewis
Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post–financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading—source of the most intractable problems—will have no advantage whatsoever.
GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History
by Diane Coyle
Why did the size of the U.S. economy increase by 3 percent on one day in mid-2013–or Ghana’s balloon by 60 percent overnight in 2010? Why did the U.K. financial industry show its fastest expansion ever at the end of 2008–just as the world’s financial system went into meltdown? And why was Greece’s chief statistician charged with treason in 2013 for apparently doing nothing more than trying to accurately report the size of his country’s economy? The answers to all these questions lie in the way we define and measure national economies around the world: Gross Domestic Product. This entertaining and informative book tells the story of GDP, making sense of a statistic that appears constantly in the news, business, and politics, and that seems to rule our lives–but that hardly anyone actually understands.
How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say–And What It Really Means
By John Lanchester
To those who don’t speak it, the language of money can seem impenetrable and its ideas too complex to grasp. In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester — author of the New York Times best-selling book on the financial crisis, I.O.U.—bridges the gap between the money people and the rest of us. With characteristic wit and candor, Lanchester reveals how the world of finance really works: from the terms and conditions of your personal checking account to the evasions of bankers appearing in front of Congress. As Lanchester writes, we need to understand what the money people are talking about so that those who speak the language don’t just write the rules for themselves.
Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism
by Cass R. Sunstein
Based on a series of pathbreaking lectures given at Yale University in 2012, this powerful, thought-provoking work by national best-selling author Cass R. Sunstein combines legal theory with behavioral economics to make a fresh argument about the legitimate scope of government, bearing on obesity, smoking, distracted driving, health care, food safety, and other highly volatile, high-profile public issues.
Will Self called John Lanchester’s previous book on money and banking – the bestselling ‘Whoops!’ – as ‘the routemap to the crazed world of contemporary finance we’ve all been waiting for’. If ‘Whoops!’ was the routemap, then his new book ‘How to Speak Money’ is the phrasebook. It shows you that it’s possible to learn to speak the language of money. Possible, desirable and perhaps even necessary if we’re to avoid feelings of complete helplessness and bafflement when confronted with the big financial forces that shape our lives.
Just attending the New Zealand Association of Economists 55th Annual Conference and it was great to hear Diane Coyle present as one of the Keynote speakers. I was originally alerted to her work by Geoff Riley – an economics teacher at Eton College and co-founder of the Tutor2u website – while I was on a Fellowship. He recommended her book ‘The Soulful Science’ back in 2007. The book aims to show how the discipline of economics has changed over the last decade and brings together economic growth and human behaviour.
Her talk was based on the research into her new book GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. She goes right back to the Domesday Book which was a manuscript record of how much each landholder in England and Wales had in land and livestock, and what it was worth. This was completed in 1086 on orders of William the Conqueror. Further mentions of Adam Smith and Karl Marx and what they tended to focus on as an economic indicator. Interesting to note that Holland has included prostitution in its GDP calculations and that the Italian statistical body recently announced that it will include prostitution, drug trafficking, and alcohol-and-tobacco in its calculation of GDP. However Italy is just complying with international accounting standards and reporting illegal economically productive activity is required under European Union rules. But as it is part of the informal economy how do you actually measure drug deals, prostitution etc and therefore its contribution to a country’s GDP?
There is also the intangible economy – how do you measure the output of Vodafone v Skype? Also how are sustainability, variety and innovation measured? If her talk was anything to go by her book seems well worth it.
This year the annual conference of the New Zealand Association of Economisst takes place at the Auckland University of Technology from the 2nd – 4th July. One of the keynote speakers is Diane Coyle from the UK who runs the consultancy Enlightenment Economics. She also has a great website called ‘The Enlightened Economist’ in which she reviews economics and business books. She is the author of several books, including recently:
GDP: A Brief and Affectionate History (Princeton University Press, 2014 forthcoming),
The Economics of Enough (Princeton University Press 2011)
The Soulful Science (2007),
She also edited ‘What’s the Use of Economics: Teaching the Dismal Science after the Crisis’ self-questions economics by economists of a discipline that did not anticipate the crisis and has barely changed since despite its self-evident shortcomings.She was previously Economics Editor of The Independent and before that worked at the Treasury and in the private sector as an economist. She has a PhD from Harvard.
Below is a link to the conference website:
Here is a video from a PBS interview with Michael Lewis talking about his new book “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.” Much of the stock market trading that occurs today is done with computer servers, completing hundreds of millions of orders in a system known as high-frequency trading. Author Michael Lewis has made this practice the subject of his latest book.
Click below to view an adaptation from The New York Times magazine.
The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street