Black Box Trading : Why They All “Blow-Up”

While in Greenwich Ct. one afternoon I will never forget a conversation I had with a leading quantitative portfolio manager. He said to me that despite its obvious attributes “Black Box” trading was very tricky. The algorithms may work for a while [even a very long while] and then, inexplicably, they’ll just completely “BLOW-UP”. To him the most important component to quantitative trading was not the creation of a good model. To him, amazingly, that was a challenge but not especially difficult. The real challenge, for him, was to “sniff out” the degrading model prior to its inevitable “BLOW-UP”. And I quote his humble, resolute observation “because, you know, eventually they ALL blow-up“…as most did in August 2007.

→ Global Slant

Mastering the Machine

“In any given market, Bridgewater may have a dozen or more different indicators. However, even when most or all of the indicators are pointing in a certain direction, Dalio doesn’t rely solely on software. Unless he and Jensen and Prince agree that a certain trade makes sense, the firm doesn’t make it. While this inevitably introduces an element of human judgment to the investment process, Dalio insists it is still driven by the rules-based framework he has built up over thirty years. “When I’m thinking, ‘What is going on today?,’ I also need to make the connection to ‘How does what is happening today fit into our framework for making this decision?’ ’’ he said. Ultimately, he says, it is the commitment to systematic analysis and systematic investment that distinguishes Bridgewater from other hedge funds. “I hear a lot of people describing what’s happening today without the proper historical context and without the framework of how the machine works,” he says.”

The New York Magazine on the culture of Bridgewater :

The path to Principles began early in Bridgewater’s history, when Dalio began to think that employees, like economies, could be understood as following patterns. Transcendental Meditation informed his belief that a person’s main obstacle to improvement was his own fragile ego; at his firm, he would make constant, unvarnished criticism the norm, until critiques weren’t taken personally and no one held back a good idea for fear of being wrong. Dalio’s chosen investment system depended on such behavior. Unlike at a hedge fund such as Steven Cohen’s SAC Capital, where star traders are given chunks of the firm’s capital to run quasi-independent desks (and offset each other’s losses), everyone at Bridgewater essentially contributes to the same strategy as they work under Dalio and his longtime confidants and co-CIOs Bob Prince and Greg Jensen. Dalio thought radical transparency could optimize the hive mind. “The culture makes you have to listen to other people,” says Giselle Wagner, a former Bridgewater chief operating officer.

→ The New Yorker

Inside The Biggest-Ever Hedge-Fund Scandal

Hint : S.A.C.

The tactics echoed the approach the F.B.I. had used to dismantle the New York Mob. The plan was to arrest low-level soldiers, threaten them with lengthy jail terms, and then flip them, gathering information that could lead to arrests farther up the criminal hierarchy.
Over time, agents produced an organizational chart with names and faces, just as they had with La Cosa Nostra.
At the top of the pyramid was Steven Cohen.

It took me quite some time to read this gigantic piece, but as always, The New Yorker delivered a brilliant investigation. Here is another one from Vanity Fair.

→ The New Yorker

Fast Traders Are Getting Data From SEC Seconds Early

The SEC uses Tradeworx datas to analyze the market and causes of flashcrashes, while high-frequency traders get a prime access to the SEC’s datas to place bets. Fair trade.

Hedge funds and other rapid-fire investors can get access to market-moving documents ahead of other users of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s system for distributing company filings, giving them a potential edge on the rest of the market.

→ WSJ