Commentary: the BlackRock letter sets ambitious goals. Here’s how CEOs can meet them – Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen

From Fortune

Should public companies focus on earning profits for their shareholders, or should they serve broader societal needs? Larry Fink, the head of BlackRock, the largest fund manager in the world, recently issued a letter to company CEOs stating: “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

Yet the same letter tells public companies that they should adopt a strategic plan with “a path to achieve financial performance.” The letter reconciles these potentially conflicting objectives by pushing companies to pursue “long-term value creation” rather than short-term profits. In other words, they can enhance their long-term financial returns to shareholders by serving the needs of other stakeholders—even if this lowers short-term profits.

While BlackRock was trying to sensitize companies to their social responsibilities, the letter could undermine the accountability of corporate directors to their shareholders. CEOs could hypothetically justify any decline in annual earnings by claiming they were serving all stakeholders in hopes of increasing long-term financial results. How will shareholders later assess whether these stakeholder-focused policies actually resulted in higher financial returns? And does the long term mean five, 10, or even 20 years? Read More »

You’re probably paying more for your car loan or mortgage than you should – Christopher Palmer

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Christopher Palmer

From The Conversation

The Federal Reserve makes headlines from New York to Hong Kong anytime it lifts its benchmark interest rate. Rightfully so, as any increase tends to drive up borrowing costs on everything from credit cards to auto loans and mortgages.

There’s a more important factor that determines how much you’ll pay when you borrow money to buy a car or home, and it’s entirely in your hands: it’s the lender you choose. That’s because how much a lender might charge you for a loan can vary dramatically from one to the next. That’s why it pays to shop around.

My research on auto loans shows that most consumers don’t do that, which can cost them hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the life of a loan or lead them to purchase a lower-quality car than initially planned. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to avoid that.

Bargain hunters

Most of us shop until we drop for price bargains on clothes, computers or virtually anything else. With the internet, finding the best deal among products and companies is easier than ever. Read More »

Imagine If Robo Advisers Could Do Emotions– Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo

From the Wall Street Journal

At a conference last year, I was approached by an audience member after my talk. He thanked me for my observation that it’s unrealistic to expect investors to do nothing in the face of a sharp market-wide selloff, and that pulling out of the market can sometimes be the right thing to do. In fact, this savvy attendee converted all of his equity holdings to cash by the end of October 2008.

He then asked me for some advice: “Is it safe to get back in now?” Seven years after he moved his money into cash, he’s still waiting for just the right time to reinvest; meanwhile, the S&P 500 earned an annualized return of 14% during this period.

Investing is an emotional process. Managing these emotions is probably the greatest open challenge of financial technology. Investing is much more complicated than other chores like driving, which is why driverless cars are already more successful than even the best robo advisers.

Despite the enthusiasm of tech-savvy millennials—the generation of investors now in their 20s and 30s who are just as happy interacting with an app as with warm-blooded humans—robo advisers don’t take into account the limits of human cognition; they don’t make allowances for emotional reactions like fear and greed; and they can’t eliminate blind spots. Robo advisers don’t do emotion. When the stock market roils, investors freak out. They need comfort and encouragement. During last August’s stock-market rout, Vanguard Group told The Wall Street Journal it was “besieged” with calls from jittery investors and had to pull volunteers from across the company to handle the call volume.

But what if a robo adviser could identify the precise moment you freak out and encourage you not to sell by giving you historical context that calms your nerves? Better yet, what if this digital adviser could actively manage the risk of your portfolio so you don’t freak out at all?

Imagine if, like your car’s cruise control, you can set a level of risk that you’re comfortable with and your robo adviser will apply the brakes when you’re going downhill and step on the gas when you’re going uphill so as to maintain that level of risk. And if you do decide to temporarily take over by stepping on the brakes, the robo adviser will remind you from time to time that you need to step on the gas if you want to reach your destination in the time you’ve allotted. Instead of artificial intelligence, we should first conquer artificial emotion—by constructing algorithms that accurately capture human behavior, we can build countermeasures to protect us from ourselves.

Robo advisers have great potential but the technology is still immature; they’re the rotary phones to today’s iPhone.

Marvin Minsky, the recently deceased founding father of artificial intelligence, summarized the ultimate goal of his field by saying that he didn’t just want to build a computer that he could be proud of, he wanted to build a computer that could be proud of him. Wouldn’t it be grand if we built a robo adviser that could be proud of our portfolio?

See the post at  WSJ “The Experts” 

Andrew W. Lo is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering, principal investigator at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and chief investment strategist at AlphaSimplex Group.

 

 

Post MiFID II, dark trading should return to basics – Haoxiang Zhu and Carole Comerton-Forde

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Haoxiang Zhu

From Oxford Business Law Blog 

On January 3, 2018, the revised Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, or MiFID II, became effective across EU member states. This comprehensive and far-reaching regulation will shape European capital markets in years to come. Among other things, MiFID II puts several restrictions on dark pools in European equity markets: (i) Broker Crossing Networks are essentially banned; (ii) dark pools that rely on “reference prices” on exchanges can only execute trades at the midpoint of exchange best bid and offer; and (iii) dark pools are subject to volume caps of 4% for a single venue and 8% across all dark pools (colloquially referred to as the double volume caps). On the other hand, MiFID II keeps the “Large in Scale” (LIS) waiver, so sufficiently large transactions can still go through without being counted toward, or affected by, the double volume caps.

Jargon and technical details aside, these MiFID II rules essentially push dark trading to return to basics: the matching of large institutional orders to reduce price impact (for both sides). Price impact—the very act of buying or selling moves prices adversely—can be quite costly for institutional investors, especially in today’s market where alphas are hard to generate and high-frequency traders watch every market movement at the microsecond level. By reducing the price impact of trades, investors enhance returns. Read More »

This is your brain on stocks–Andrew Lo

MIT Sloan Prof. Andrew Lo

From MarketWatch

Ever since I was a graduate student in economics, I’ve been struggling with the uncomfortable observation that economic theories often don’t seem to work in practice. That goes for that most influential economic theory, the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, which holds that investors are rational decision makers and market prices fully reflect all available information, that is, the “wisdom of crowds.”

Certainly, the principles of Efficient Markets are an excellent approximation to reality during normal business environments. It is one of the most useful, powerful, and beautiful pieces of economic reasoning that economists have ever proposed. It has saved generations of portfolio managers from bad investment decisions, democratizing finance along the way through passive investment vehicles like index funds.

Then came the Financial Crisis of 2008; the “wisdom of crowds” was replaced by the “madness of mobs.” Investors reacted emotionally and instinctively in response to extreme business environments — good or bad — leading either to irrational exuberance or panic selling.

Read More »