Friday, November 17, 2017

"How To Forecast Markets": A Departing Top JP Morgan Strategist Reveals What He Learned After 30 Years

Unlike most "A Look Back at my Illustrious Wall Street Career and Lessons Learned"—type stories (Henry Clews' Fifty Years in Wall Street excluded) this piece, despite the clickbaity headline, is pretty good.
From ZeroHedge:
One of the most popular JPMorgan analysts, traders and commentators, Jan Loeys, head of global asset strategy and author of the weekly "The JPMorgan View" piece is moving on (to a different, non-client facing part of the company), and is using his last weekly address to JPM clients to recap the main lessons he has learned over his 30 year career.

For those carbon-based traders who still trade on the basis of fundamental analysis, inductive reasoning, and discounting, and forecasting the future - instead of merely relying on the fastest laser-based algos to react to the news or hoping for central bank bailouts - we have excerpted the entire piece, and are excited to note that while Loeys may be leaving, he will be replaced by two of our favorite JPM analysts and commentators, Nikos Panigirtzoglou and Marko Kolanovic, who under John Normand will take over as JPM's new Cross-Asset Strategy team.

So, without further ado, here is the latest, and last, from JPM's Jan Loeys, explaining "What have I learned?" after 30 years of doing this...

What have I learned?
How to forecast markets?
  • The theory and empirical literature of Finance are the best starting point as they deal directly with asset prices. Next are macro economics and statistics. Markets are not Math or Engineering, but a forever learning and adapting system with all of us observing and participating from the inside. Quantitative techniques are indispensable, though, to deal with the complexity of financial instruments and the overload of information we face. Empirical evidence counts for more than theory, but you need theory to constrain empirical searchers and avoid spurious correlations.
  • The starting point of Finance is the Theorem of Market Efficiency which posits that under ideal conditions what we all know should be in the price. Only new information moves the price. Hence, it is changes in expectations about the future that drive asset prices, not the level of anything.
  • How to forecasts view changes? The good news is that changes in opinions about fundamentals such as growth and inflation tend to repeat. This is one driver of momentum in asset prices, and is likely driven by the positive feedback between risk markets and the economy that forecasters naturally find very difficult getting ahead of.
  • I live by Occam’s Razor: If you can explain the world with one variable, don’t use two. This keep-it-simple rule does not deny that reality is complex, nor does it say anything about simple minds. It forces one to focus on the most important fundamental drivers of markets and to cut out the clutter. It reduces the risk of becoming a two-handed strategist.
  • The mode and the mean. There is a fundamental difference between an asset price and a forecast. A forecast is a single outcome that you consider the most likely, among many. In statistics, we call this the mode. An asset price, in contrast, is closer to the probability-weighted mean of the different scenarios you consider possible in the future. When our own probability distribution for these different outcomes is not evenly balanced but instead skewed to, say, the upside, the market price will be above our modal view. Asset prices can thus move without a change in modal views if the market perceives a change in the risk distribution. An investor should thus monitor changing risk perceptions as much as changing modal views.
  • Do markets get ahead of reality? They do, yes, exactly because asset prices are probability-weighted means and the reality we perceive is coded as a modal view. Information arrives constantly and almost always only gently moves the risk distribution around a given modal view. Before we change our modal view of reality, the market will have seen the change in risk distribution and will have started moving already.
  • Are some markets faster than others? I hear frequently in one market, say equities, that they are monitoring other markets, such as credit or bonds, for early signs on what stocks will do. But I hear the reverse frequently in the bond world. I do not like either view and just assume that all markets react at the same speed as they see all information at the same time....