This blog post originally appeared on RealMoney Silver on May 4 at 7:39 a.m. EDT.
More than any time in recent memory, with four daily moves of over 15
points since last Tuesday, the market has felt like it has no memory from day to day over the past week.
Large daily market moves have become almost random events, as increasingly (to paraphrase the Oracle of Omaha), Mr. Market appears to be more of a momentum-based voting machine than a fundamentally based weighing machine these days.
The S&P 500 dropped by 28 points last Tuesday, climbed 16 points last Thursday, declined 20 points on Friday and rose 15 points yesterday.
How do we explain these sharp moves in either direction?
Determining daily share price causality is always a slippery slope.
While there are legitimate issues to address later in the year, the current pattern of economic data seems consistently better, and investor sentiment remains upbeat, so there shouldn't be much indecision in economic quarters that would contribute to such uneven daily price movements. Plus, the
suit seems relatively isolated and, for now, company-specific, so events in that case should not be a meaningful contributor to the moves either.
One possible explanation for some portion of the recent large and random moves is the proliferation of momentum-based, high-frequency trading accounts and hedge funds.
While the role of the traditional stock investor is to assess the net present value of a corporation's earnings and share price, many quantitative funds deride the notion of fundamental value (and ignore net present value calculations) in favor of worshiping at the altar of price momentum. The momentum-based approach, which is generally auto-correlated, tries to find repeating patterns and generally extrapolate trends by going long what is in favor and going short what is out of favor.
It wasn't always this way. For some time, most quant funds attempted to be long value and short mis-value -- some still do -- but over time, many of their computer models changed into momentum-based programs, the purpose of which is to exploit a trend in motion.
Money (especially of an investment kind) goes to where it is treated the best, and the quant funds have been getting a lot of the marginal cash flow into hedge funds over the past several years. As such (and given their high-volume methodology), an increasingly large percentage of the trading on the
is quant-program-related; by some measures, these strategies account for between 50% and 70% of daily trading volume.
How "The Quants" Control Wall Street
The net of this is that quant funds control a lot of capital, they increase volatility (in both directions), and their investment style attaches little or no value to fundamentals; instead, they utilize algorithms that worship at the altar of price momentum.
By exaggerating broader market moves as well as individual stock price moves, quant funds might be inflicting more damage than good in the efficient pricing of equities.
It's fine and dandy when stocks are rising and the "machines" distort the moves both in scope and in duration to the upside, but, as I witnessed vividly when portfolio insurance was a disruptive force in the stock market massacre of October 1987, those distortions can and will occur in either direction.
Computer-generated market programs almost always end up badly for the markets, but for now, they are adding to the fireworks and to the festivities.
As the wise man once said, "This too shall pass."
As Grandma Koufax once said, "There's no business like mo business."
I say, Kill the quants ... before they kill some of us!
Doug Kass writes daily for
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At the time of publication, Kass and/or his funds had no positions in the stocks mentioned, although holdings can change at any time.
Doug Kass is the general partner Seabreeze Partners Long/Short LP and Seabreeze Partners Long/Short Offshore LP. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security.