Tech debt metaphor maximalism
I really like the “tech debt” metaphor. A lot of people don’t, but I think that’s because they either don’t extend the metaphor far enough, or because they don’t properly understand financial debt.
Pretty good financial debt explainer, too.
The Block-Barrel Spread Is Widening
The gap in price between a 40-pound block of fresh cheddar and a 500-pound barrel has widened steadily over the last two years. At the end of 2018, the average block-barrel spread hovered around $0.12. That’s well above the $0.07 average spread calculated for 2017 and triple the traditional $0.035 spread.
Virtu CEO Doug Cifu Explains the Future of HFT (Podcast)
When the GameStop and Robinhood story exploded at the end of January, suddenly everyone took an interest in market structure, and things like payment for order flow, and the role that high-frequency trading shops play in enabling free retail trading. This of course gave rise to lots of conspiracy theories about ways retail traders are taken advantage of. On the new Odd Lots, we speak with Doug Cifu, the CEO of Virtu, which is one of the largest HFT shops in the country, to get his perspective on how this part of the market really works.
Hour long, pretty thorough.
Wrecking sandwich traders for fun and profit
However, nothing is risk-free on the blockchain, and exploitative trading strategies such as sandwich trading and front-running actually increase in risk the more the engineer attempts to generalise their ability to capture opportunities.
To illustrate to novice traders the risks of playing in the mempool, I have conducted a demonstration of a new trading alpha I call “Salmonella”, which involves intentionally exploiting the generalised nature of front-running setups. The goal of sandwich trading is to exploit the slippage of unintended victims, so this strategy turns the tables on the exploiters.
Citi Can’t Have Its $900 Million Back
Last August, Citigroup Inc. wired $900 million to some hedge funds by accident. Then it sent a note to the hedge funds saying, oops, sorry about that, please send us the money back. Some did. Others preferred to keep the money. Citi sued them. Yesterday Citi lost, and they got to keep the money. I read the opinion, by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, expecting to learn about the New York legal doctrine of finders keepers—more technically, the “discharge-for-value defense”—and I was not disappointed. But I was also treated to a gothic horror story about software design. I had nightmares all night about checking the wrong boxes on the computer.
People Are Worried About Payment for Order Flow
Okay let’s do payment for order flow again, because people are talking about it and that always stresses me out. Here’s an intuitive description of how it works.
SPAC Magic Isn’t Free
Maybe the biggest capital markets story of 2020 was the boom in special purpose acquisition companies. A SPAC raises money from investors in a “blank check” initial public offering, puts the money in a pot, and goes out and looks for a private company to merge with. 1 In the merger, the target private company gets the money in the pot and the SPAC shareholders get shares in the new combined company; the result is that the target company has raised cash and gone public through the merger. It is an alternative to an IPO that can offer more speed and certainty and perhaps even a better price.
We have talked about SPACs before, but I have somehow neglected to express appreciation for the clever and elegant bit of financial engineering at the heart of the SPAC structure. Here’s how a SPAC works:
Ethereum is a Dark Forest
In the Ethereum mempool, these apex predators take the form of “arbitrage bots.” Arbitrage bots monitor pending transactions and attempt to exploit profitable opportunities created by them. No white hat knows more about these bots than Phil Daian, the smart contract researcher who, along with his colleagues, wrote the Flash Boys 2.0 paper and coined the term “miner extractable value” (MEV).
Phil once told me about a cosmic horror that he called a “generalized frontrunner.” Arbitrage bots typically look for specific types of transactions in the mempool (such a DEX trade or an oracle update) and try to frontrun them according to a predetermined algorithm. Generalized frontrunners look for any transaction that they could profitably frontrun by copying it and replacing addresses with their own. They can even execute the transaction and copy profitable internal transactions generated by its execution trace.
A Decade of ‘Unicorns’ Ends With a Little Less Magic
Despite their growing numbers and valuations, the performance of unicorns has been a mixed bag. On the whole, an investor in the second half of the decade was likelier to have put money into a unicorn that was unprofitable and whose value has dropped as a public company than an investor in the decade’s first half, The Wall Street Journal found.
You Can’t Just Call Loans Options
Also tech companies as banks, the bank of crypto and index funds.
A weird feature of U.S. tax law is that, if you do a thing purely to get around tax rules, then that is bad and a sham and the IRS can look through it and make you pay your taxes. But if you do the thing not only to get around tax rules but also to get around other rules (like margin requirements), then from the IRS’s perspective you have a valid business purpose and you might be able to keep your good tax treatment. “We’re not just gaming your rules, we’re gaming other regulators’ rules too” is, surprisingly, an argument that might persuade the IRS.
The advertising for the Apple card calls it “A new kind of credit card. Created by Apple, not a bank.” That appears to be true of the appearance of the physical card. But the credit algorithms were created by a bank, to Apple’s eventual embarrassment. It is just a little odd that Apple seems to have been so incurious about the algorithms. It’s a tech company!
The Deadly Consequences of Rounding Errors
In politics, stock markets, space, and the battlefield, tiny software calculation mistakes have had enormous consequences.
Sometimes those fractional cents aren’t stolen—they simply vanish. In the early 1980s, a new stock index at the Vancouver Stock Exchange tracked a steady and mysterious loss in value. An investigation revealed that floor() was being used instead of round(), with the lost fractions of cents accumulating to almost a 50 percent loss of value in 22 months. The programming mistake was finally fixed; the index closed around 500 on a Friday and reopened the following Monday at over 1,000, the lost value restored.
We Could Really Use Some Money
In better times, really not that long ago at all, we talked about WeWork as a clever financial arbitrage, segmenting the market so that it could appeal to debt investors as a boring stable real-estate company while appealing to equity investors as a fast-growing high-multiple tech company. Now, in worse times, it is the opposite: If you invest now, you can get some terrifying debt that lenders don’t want combined with some cursed equity that the stock market doesn’t want.
Did WeWork founder Adam Neumann disturb a mummy and trigger an ancient curse? Was a WeWork built on a haunted graveyard, unleashing powerful dark energies and also elevated levels of formaldehyde? How do you have such a relentless parade of negative financial news and then find out that your phone booths cause cancer? “Our phone booths might cause cancer” was not an IPO risk factor. Nobody had “phone booths cause cancer” on their WeWork Disaster Bingo cards.
The Shaw Family Admission Plan
Mostly about buying college admissions through donations, but also how he runs his house.
The 68-year-old Shaw made his estimated $7.3 billion fortune by bringing the computing revolution to finance. D.E. Shaw & Co., the legendary hedge fund that bears his name, pairs proprietary trading algorithms with obsessive risk management. Less well publicized, however, are the various ways in which Shaw has applied his fund’s risk-averse, quantitative approach to nearly every aspect of his life. Employees tell stories about Shaw wanting Chinese food or a comfortable mattress, and Shaw staff exhaustively researching and testing the options in advance. It was company lore that before Shaw traveled, an assistant would take the exact same trip — same car service, same airport, same seat on the plane — to eliminate any inefficiencies. Shaw has been said to purchase tickets for several different flights on the same day in case his plans change.
Goldman Sachs Tries Banking for the Masses. It’s Been a Struggle.
Goldman’s new consumer bank, which operates under the brand Marcus, has lost $1.3 billion since launching in 2016. It spent heavily to buy startups and cloud-storage space, hire hundreds of techies, and build call centers in Utah and Texas. Loans have gone bad at a higher rate than that of rivals.
A credit card developed with Apple Inc. was a coup, but a costly one: Thousands of engineers across Goldman were diverted to finish it in time for an August debut, delaying other projects. Apple ads for the card carried the phrase: “Designed by Apple, not a bank”—a line that didn’t appear in a giant banner ad in Goldman’s lobby this fall.
Plus some other interesting details in here.
Marty Weitzman’s Noah’s Ark Problem
Marty Weitzman passed away suddenly yesterday. He was on many people’s shortlist for the Nobel. His work is marked by high-theory applied to practical problems. The theory is always worked out in great generality and is difficult even for most economists. Weitzman wanted to be understood by more than a handful of theorists, however, and so he also went to great lengths to look for special cases or revealing metaphors. Thus, the typical Weitzman paper has a dense middle section of math but an introduction and conclusion of sparkling prose that can be understood and appreciated by anyone for its insights.
The Noah’s Ark Problem illustrates the model and is my favorite Weitzman paper.
Don’t Put Your Valuables in the Bank
On the other hand if you have valuable stuff you can leave it with the bank, and the bank will keep it in a box for you, but that is sort of an accident. It is not a core banking function, not really a banking function at all except for historical reasons. And sometimes they’ll drill open the box and throw your stuff out!
Original story: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/19/business/safe-deposit-box-theft.html
It turns out that, statistically, heart surgeons are better at heart surgery than barbers are. What about dermatologists, are they better at sourcing and identifying private-equity and venture-capital investments than private-equity professionals are?
Who Can Pay Venezuela’s Debts?
Also racing sponsorships, credit ratings, ice-water celebrations and Trump on crypto.
This was a good one.
How Discount Brokerages Make Money
This is outside of my usual software-oriented beat, but sometimes people are wrong on the Internet. Most recently, people have been wrong about payment for order flow, an esoteric topic in the investing industry which seems vaguely unsavory to Hacker News commenters, Michael Lewis , etc.
Explaining why payment for order flow isn’t a big deal requires a more in-depth discussion of discount brokerages. All stats below are as of 2018; citations for the annual reports are at the bottom.
KPMG Audit Professionals Manipulated the Scoring of Training Exams
In today’s edition of edit a URL and go to jail...
KPMG sent participants in training programs a hyperlink that directed them to the applicable exams. Embedded in the hyperlink was an instruction to the server that specified the score necessary to pass the exam. Thus, the characters “MasteryScore=70” meant participants were required to answer at least 70 percent of the answers accurately to pass the exam. By changing the number in the hyperlink, audit professionals could change the score required to pass.
58. For a period of time up to November 2015, certain audit professionals, including one partner, altered the URLs for their exams to lower the scores required to pass. Twenty-eight of these auditors did so on four or more occasions. Certain audit professionals lowered the required score to the point of passing exams while answering less than 25 percent of the questions correctly.
Also: 25%??? Come on guys, that’s worse than random chance!
Don’t Buy the Wrong Electricity
Second: It’s a thing that happens often enough that ICE Futures has a procedure to report trades like this as errors and adjust their prices. A normal part of electricity futures markets is people buying the wrong contract because they didn’t read the name all the way through, and then going to the exchange and saying “whoops wrong contract,” and the exchange fixing the trade.
Instead he’s accused of doing it basically as a form of … protest art, I guess? It happened to him, he was mad, so he did it to other people “to prove the point that” … that … that you’d be mad too if it happened to you? He was driven by that most universal of human motivations, the desire to annoy other people with the thing that was annoying him. Really it’s the most relatable kind of market manipulation.