Diversity and markets — Evan Apfelbaum

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Evan Apfelbaum

We usually think of ethnic diversity as a matter of social policy, not a factor that could impede market bubbles. But new research by me and a team of colleagues suggests a surprising new reason to consider diversity as a hedge against speculative bubbles: in two studies, we find that markets comprised of ethnically diverse traders are more accurate in pricing assets than ethnically homogeneous ones. Our paper, which came out Nov. 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that ethnic diversity leads all traders, whether of majority or minority ethnicity, to price more accurately and thwart bubbles. The reason isn’t because minority traders had special information or differential skills; rather, their mere presence changed how everyone approached decision-making.  Traders were more apt to carefully scrutinize others’ transactions and less likely to copy others’ errors in diverse markets, and this reduced the incidence of bubbles.

To conduct our research, we constructed experimental markets in the United States and Singapore in which participants traded stocks to earn real money. We randomly assigned participants to ethnically homogenous or diverse markets. We found that markets comprised of diverse traders did a 58 percent better job at pricing assets to their true value. Overpricing was higher in homogenous markets because traders are more likely to accept speculative prices, we found. Their pricing errors were more correlated than in diverse markets. And when bubbles burst, homogenous markets crashed more severely.

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How bad data fed the Ebola epidemic — Rachel Glennerster, Herbert M’cleod and Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

From The New York Times

The West African Ebola outbreak first hit Sierra Leone in May 2014, followed by an explosion of cases in the capital Freetown in the autumn. The epidemic now counts more than 10,500 cases across Sierra Leone, with signs that the spread is slowing.

The early days of the crisis were characterized by a sense of immense fear, anxiety and alarm, regionally and globally. In Sierra Leone, a three-day, countrywide, military-led lockdown in September fed the fear in West Africa and beyond. Many flights originating in unaffected African countries were restricted. African students were prevented from attending some American schools, and there were countless reports of discrimination against Africans across the globe. Pictures of health workers in full protective suits became a ubiquitous symbol of the panic.

Misleading reports, speculation and poor projections from international agencies, government ministries and the media about the Ebola outbreak exacerbated the problem. The fear that was spread by the dramatic reports that accentuated the negative, undermined confidence, made it harder to encourage people to seek care, and misdirected attention away from Sierra Leone’s urban areas, where data suggest the economic effects of Ebola have been concentrated.

Valid, credible and timely data is essential during a global crisis. Without reliable data, efforts to assist affected people and to rebuild damaged communities can be misdirected and inefficient.

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Japan is still in Deflation — Roberto Rigobon

MIT Sloan Professor Roberto Rigobon

From Nikkei (published 10/21/14)

Next week is a big week for those keeping track of the success of Japanese economic policies. New interest rate numbers will be released on October 29 and these numbers represent the most current report card on Abenomics, as the policies of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are called.

Abenomics was presented just weeks after Abe took office in 2012 as the ultimate solution to almost two decades of stagnation in the country.  The program has three pillars: monetary easing, structural reforms and renewed fiscal stimulus. One of the most important goals of Abenomics is increasing inflation, and ultimately changing inflation expectations—hoping to reverse a decade of deflation. To do so, the government began printing Yens in abundance.

Initial signs of success showed in the exchange rate, asset prices, and inflation rate. In fact, the official CPI for July 2014 shows a large annual inflation rate by Japanese standards: 3.4 percent. And from that perspective, it seems as if Abe’s policies have been effective and the job has been accomplished.

More recently, however, the economy has once again shown signs of weakness: Inflation expectations remain surprisingly low at around 1 percent, asset prices and bond markets seem to be unconvinced by the achievements, and the real economy is starting to slow.

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GM can recover if it changes the culture — Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

From Detroit Free Press

It’s been a rough year for General Motors. The company has recalled more than 28 million vehicles worldwide and is liable for billions of dollars in automotive repairs and victim compensation. It suffered an 85% drop in its second-quarter earnings and faces multiple state investigations, not to mention class-action lawsuits related to safety issues. Can GM recover from this massive crisis?

It can make a comeback, but the recovery hinges on changing the organization’s culture. For years, GM focused on cost-effectiveness and the bottom line, creating what the new CEO Mary Barra calls “a pattern of incompetence and neglect.” To address the current crisis, she of course needs to fix the safety problems, but she also needs to create a new company culture. Safety must become the priority over cost savings in order to regain consumer and market trust, and GM’s focus needs to be on the customer.

So far, Barra, who inherited the crisis when she was promoted to CEO this past January, is moving in the right direction. By firing 15 employees who were involved in the lack of communication about safety issues, she sent a powerful message both within and outside of the company about the company’s changing priorities.

Read the full post at the Detroit Free Press.

Neal Hartman is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Ben Shields — Thoughts on Patriots’ Deflategate

MIT Sloan Lecturer Ben Shields, the former director of social media and marketing at ESPN and co-author of The Sports Strategist, talks about deflate-gate, the investigation into whether the New England Patriots used deflated footballs in the Jan. 18 AFC championship game. Shields explains why the Patriots are prone to negative press and social media backlash and what the organization should do as a result.