Finance History
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Episode 73
Featuring Daniel Peris
Demetri Kofinas speaks with Daniel Peris about the history of financial theory, how certain theories like MPT, CAPM, efficient markets, etc., became the dominant paradigm by which investors have come to understand risk, and what happens when happens when everyone is using them.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Daniel Peris, a Senior Portfolio Manager at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh where he oversees the firm's dividend-focused products. He is the author of three books on investing, most recently: "Getting Back to Business: Why Modern Portfolio Theory Fails Investors, and How You Can Bring Common Sense to Your Portfolio." Before transitioning into asset management, Peris was a historian focused on modern Russian history. He is the author of a book and several articles on the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

Today’s conversation is about the evolution of financial theory, beginning with the rough and tumble world of 19th-century finance with its stock syndicates, market corners, and curb exchanges. Where big personalities like Daniel Drew, James Fisk, and Jay Gould conspired and fought to take from Joe Public, and from each other, the riches afforded to them by laissez-faire capitalism and the industrial revolution.

 

The discussion is broken into two parts. The first deals with the world as it was before 1929 with its unregulated, unstructured, and highly inefficient markets. The second part explores the world after the Great Crash, where a confluence of forces – economic, demographic, institutional, and intellectual – supported the procurement and distribution of a new set of financial theories that promised to explain away uncertainty and guide the allocation of risk in the pursuit of profits.

 

As inheritors of this new world, we cannot help but function under the fallacies of its paradigms. One of these fallacies is the notion that economies are independent phenomena that operate, by and large, according to a certain set of physical laws. Most people will acknowledge that our economic and financial models are imperfect, but most people also think of them as being somewhat analogous to models developed in the natural sciences. Because of this false comparison to physics (equilibrium) and nature (normal distributions), people often remain unaware of the centrality of politics in theories of the economy. Economies are not independent phenomena that answer only to the laws of nature. They are political and social phenomena that exist within a political system. Theories of the economy that do not take into account the system within which they operate are flawed...in some cases, significantly so.

 

Austrian theories of money and credit, for example, are better at describing how the banking system operates in a laissez-faire society, whereas Modern Monetary Theory is better at describing how it works in our current, fiat-based system of unrestrained credit growth. What often happens is that devotees of these different schools are actually advocating for a specific set of policies, under the pretense that their views are scientific and that their policies derive logically from some objective view of how an ideal economy operates, when in fact, they are based on political values and societal ideals. The MMT school is full of progressive social-democrats who want governments to play a larger role in the economy, whereas the Austrian school is full of conservative libertarians who want less government. This sorting along political lines is not a coincidence. Investment theories operate rather differently than theories about the economy, in that there is no argument in the investment world about what matters most. It’s profits.

 

In light of this fact, the discrepancies between various investment theories require alternative explanations that do not rely on political ideology or moral sentiment. It would seem sufficient to declare that the widespread adoption of theories like Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH), Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), etc., was enabled by the growth of a large middle class with excess income available for investment that had not directly experienced the boom and bust of the Roaring 20’s and accelerated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. Entrepreneurially minded financial industry professionals saw an opportunity, but this opportunity required a more streamlined approach to investing and one that would put themselves, and their clients, at ease.

 

The need to bring order to the chaotic world of prices has encouraged the adoptions of systematic investment strategies that claimed the ability to quantify risk. When it comes to investing other people’s money, having a more coherent, easy-to-understand theory that provides the illusion of control is a very valuable tool. From an evolutionary point of view, it is no wonder how theories purporting to quantify risk and target reward proliferated so quickly. It was in everyone’s interest that they do so.

 

How these theories came together to form the dominant, ideological template of risk-adjusted-return measured against exposure to the broader market is the essence of today’s episode. Its significance can be found in the implications associated with equating diversification with correlation: trading idiosyncratic risk for systemic risk and what happens when everyone is doing it.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Daniel Peris, Ph.D., CFA, is Senior Vice President and Senior Portfolio Manager at Federated Investors, Inc., in Pittsburgh. Before transitioning into asset management, Peris was a historian focused on modern Russian history. He is the author of two prior books on investing, The Strategic Dividend Investor, and The Dividend Imperative, as well as a study of early Soviet history.

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Investing
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Special Episode
Featuring Howard Marks
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Special Episode
Featuring Howard Marks
In this Christmas Day special, Demetri shares twenty-five minutes of never-before-heard audio from his conversation with Howard Marks, but not before announcing the long-awaited-for launch of the Hidden Forces subscription. Subscribers can gain access to overtime segments, transcripts, and rundowns from each and every episode.

In this Christmas Day special, Demetri Kofinas shares twenty-five minutes of never-before-heard audio from his conversation with Howard Marks, but not before announcing the long-awaited-for launch of the Hidden Forces subscription service. Subscribers can gain access to overtime segments, transcripts, and rundowns from each and every episode. Subscriptions require creating a Patreon account, but can be accessed directly through the Hidden Forces website via subscription tabs located within any particular episode.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

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Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

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Investing
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Episode 70
Featuring Andrei Shleifer
This episode centers on the subject of beliefs: how they impact markets and how economists and financial practitioners like Andrei Shleifer are attempting to model them using data about people’s expectations, assumptions, and attitudes in order to make better informed investment and policy decisions.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Andrei Shleifer, professor of economics at Harvard University. Dr. Shleifer is the most cited economist in the world according to RePEc’s database. Throughout the course of his career, Andrei Shleifer has worked in the areas of comparative corporate governance, law & finance, behavioral finance, as well as institutional economics. He has published seven books, including, A Crisis of Beliefs: Investor Psychology and Financial Fragility with his co-author Nicola Gennaioli.   

 

Demetri’s conversation with Andrei centers on the subject of beliefs: how they impact markets and how economists and financial practitioners are attempting to model them using data about people’s expectations, assumptions, and attitudes in order to make better-informed investment and policy decisions.

 

The first half of the episode is devoted to exploring the mechanics of the 2007-2008 credit crisis, and the role played by structured products and derivatives, off-balance sheet vehicles, money market funds, GSE’s, and a policy of ultra-low interest rates that fueled over-confidence in the power of regulators and in the sustainability of the status quo. In the second half, Dr. Shleifer provides us with a more formal approach to thinking about Hyman Minsky’s instability hypothesis and how market participants can draw radically different conclusions about that same data when their beliefs about the world change dramatically.

 

Given the destabilizing forces of populist politics, trade tensions, and changing geopolitical fault lines, the ability to draw valuable insights from data about expectations and beliefs is invaluable for any investor or policymaker looking to gain a sense of market sentiment: where it stands and where it might be going.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Andrei Shleifer is John L. Loeb Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. from MIT. Before coming to Harvard in 1991, he has taught at Princeton and the Chicago Business School. Shleifer has worked in the areas of comparative corporate governance, law & finance, behavioral finance, as well as institutional economics. He has published seven books, including The Grabbing Hand (with Robert Vishny), Inefficient Markets: An Introduction to Behavioral Finance, and A Crisis of Beliefs: Investor Psychology and Financial Fragility (with Nicola Gennaioli), as well as over a hundred articles.

 

Shleifer is an Editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and a fellow of the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Finance Association. In 1999, Shleifer won the John Bates Clark medal of the American Economic Association. According to RePEc, Shleifer is the most cited economist in the world.

 

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Sed egestas, ante et vulputate volutpat, eros pede semper est, vitae luctus metus libero eu augue. Morbi purus libero, faucibus adipiscing, commodo quis, gravida id, est. Sed lectus. Praesent elementum hendrerit tortor. Sed semper lorem at felis. Vestibulum volutpat, lacus a ultrices sagittis, mi neque euismod dui, eu pulvinar nunc sapien ornare nisl. Phasellus pede arcu, dapibus eu, fermentum et, dapibus sed, urna.

Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

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Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

Suspendisse mauris. Fusce accumsan mollis eros. Pellentesque a diam sit amet mi ullamcorper vehicula. Integer adipiscing risus a sem. Nullam quis massa sit amet nibh viverra malesuada. Nunc sem lacus, accumsan quis, faucibus non, congue vel, arcu. Ut scelerisque hendrerit tellus. Integer sagittis. Vivamus a mauris eget arcu gravida tristique. Nunc iaculis mi in ante. Vivamus imperdiet nibh feugiat est.

Markets
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Episode 68
Featuring David R. Kotok
David Kotok discusses a wide-range of issues currently facing the global economy including trade, the US Dollar, European monetary policy, corporate bonds, as well as what markets he thinks are most at risk from interest rate tightening and as protectionist measures introduce new anomalies into the American economy.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with David Kotok, co-founder and CIO of Cumberland Advisors. David Kotok’s articles and financial market commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and other publications.   

 

This is a fascinating conversation that spans a wide-range of issues currently facing the global economy, as well as subjects and themes stretching as far back as 5th century Athens. Demetri asks David Kotok for his opinion on a series of topics including trade, the US Dollar, European monetary policy, as well as what markets he thinks are most at risk as the Fed continues down its path of tightening and as protectionist trade measures introduce new anomalies into the American economy. Kotok also shares his experience investing during the turbulent years of the 1970s and how the lessons he learned during that decade can be applied today.

 

David also gives his outlook for credit markets, specifically the riskier areas of the corporate bond market that include leveraged loans and middle market lending. Investors will find this conversation helpful, as they adjust their strategies to protect themselves against some of the non-linear impacts of government policies while still positioning themselves and their clients to profit from the rising tide of economic growth.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

David R. Kotok co-founded Cumberland Advisors in 1973 and has been its Chief Investment Officer since inception. He holds a B.S. in economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, an M.S. in organizational dynamics from The School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Mr. Kotok’s articles and financial market commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and other publications. He is a frequent contributor to Bloomberg TV and Bloomberg Radio, Fox Business, and other media.

 

Mr. Kotok has served as Program Chairman and currently serves as a Director of the Global Interdependence Center (GIC), whose mission is to encourage the expansion of global dialogue and free trade in order to improve cooperation and understanding among nation states, with the goal of reducing international conflicts and improving worldwide living standards. Mr. Kotok chaired its Central Banking Series and organized a five-continent dialogue held in Cape Town, Chile, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Milan, Paris, Philadelphia, Prague, Rome, Santiago, Shanghai, Singapore, Tallinn, and Zambia (Livingstone). He has received the Global Citizen Award from GIC for his efforts.

 

Mr. Kotok is a member of the National Business Economics Issues Council (NBEIC), the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) and served on the Research Advisory Board of BCA Research. Mr. Kotok has served as a Commissioner of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and on the Treasury Transition Teams for New Jersey Governors Kean and Whitman. He has also served as a board member of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and as Chairman of the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. He has authored or co-authored four books, including the second edition of From Bear to Bull with ETFs and the newest book Adventures in Muniland.

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Investing
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Episode 63
Featuring Howard Marks
Demetri Kofinas speaks with legendary value investor Howard Marks about the greatest challenge facing the next generation of value investors. Howard serves as the co-chairman and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a leading investment management firm responsible for over 120 billion dollars in client assets.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with legendary value investor Howard Marks. Howard serves as the co-chairman and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a leading investment management firm responsible for over 120 billion dollars in client assets.

 

This week’s conversation centers on the market cycle, its origins and impact. Howard shares his philosophy on risk management, asset bubbles, contrarianism, and what he calls second-level thinking – an approach thinking about value that puts price front and center. The two also explore how markets and the economy have changed over the last fifty years and how the drivers of a secular bull-market in finance may already have come to an end. They explore how a new-normal economy, characterized by low-returns on capital is unleashing political and social forces that have yet to be fully appreciated, let-alone priced into financial assets. Howard Marks shares his views on what it means to be a contrarian investor, how he thinks about risk management, and what his philosophy is around value investing. He also reflects on what his fifty years in finance have taught him about human psychology, herd behavior, and what he calls “bubble-thinking.”

 

Finally, Demetri asks Howard what he sees as the greatest challenge facing the next generation of investors. He reflects on the rotation of money out of active and into passive investment vehicles, theories of secular stagnation, and shares his opinion on what skills he believes investors will need in order to survive and thrive in the next market downturn.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Howard Marks, serves as the co-chairman and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a leading investment management firm responsible for over 120 billion dollars in client assets. Since the formation of Oaktree in 1995, Mr. Marks has been responsible for ensuring the firm's adherence to its core investment philosophy; communicating closely with clients concerning products and strategies; and contributing his experience to big-picture decisions relating to investments and corporate direction.

 

From 1985 until 1995, Mr. Marks led the groups at The TCW Group, Inc. that were responsible for investments in distressed debt, high yield bonds, and convertible securities. He was also Chief Investment Officer for Domestic Fixed Income at TCW. Previously, Mr. Marks was with Citicorp Investment Management for 16 years, where from 1978 to 1985 he was Vice President and senior portfolio manager in charge of convertible and high yield securities. Between 1969 and 1978, he was an equity research analyst and, subsequently, Citicorp's Director of Research. 

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Finance History
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Finance History
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Episode 59
Featuring Grant Williams
The crisis in emerging markets, the collapse in cryptocurrencies, and the palace intrigues of Elon Musk, are the phenomena of a quantum world where the laws of classical economics break down, space-time preferences collapse, and quantum entanglements lead to spooky correlations that threaten the very fabric of market capitalism.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Grant Williams about the crisis brewing in emerging markets, the collapse in cryptocurrencies, and the palace intrigues of Elon Musk. All of these phenomena exhibit the common feature of “quantum weirdness at the zero-bound,” where the laws of classical economics break down, space-time preferences collapse, and quantum entanglements lead to spooky correlations that threaten the very fabric upon which markets are made and prices discovered.

 

Grant Williams is perhaps known best for industry leading, long-form conversations with some of the most brilliant fund managers, short sellers, and financiers from around the world. He is also the founder and editor of the popular financial newsletter, “Things that Make you go Hmmm,” as well as a co-founder of Real Vision. Grant began his career working in the City of London in 1985, joining the trading desk of John Galvanoni at Fleming & Company. Not long after, Grant moved to Tokyo, where he was busy trading the Nikkei from 1986 until its epic collapse in 1989. A financial journeyman, Grant has never ceased to travel, moving from one city to the next for the last thirty-five years. In 2013, Grant Williams and Raoul Pal came together to set the seeds for Realvision, a subscription media company that aims to become the Netflix of financial media.

 

This is an episode full of laughter, history, and creative wisdom. It’s a conversation you will not want to miss.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Play
Episode 43
Featuring Elizabeth C. Economy
Episode 43
Featuring Elizabeth C. Economy

Grant Williams is perhaps known best for industry leading, long-form conversations with some of the most brilliant fund managers, short sellers, and financiers from around the world. He is also the founder and editor of the popular financial newsletter, “Things that Make you go Hmmm,” as well as a co-founder of Real Vision. Grant began his career working in the City of London in 1985, joining the trading desk of John Galvanoni at Fleming & Company. Not long after, Grant moved to Tokyo, where he was busy trading the Nikkei from 1986 until its epic collapse in 1989.

 

A financial journeyman, Grant has never ceased to travel, moving from one city to the next for the last thirty-five years. In 2013, Grant Williams and Raoul Pal came together to set the seeds for Realvision, a subscription media company that aims to become the Netflix of financial media.

 

@ttmygh

ttmygh.com

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Grant Williams | Quantum Uncertainty and Spooky Correlations at the Zero-Bound
Business
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Episode 53
Featuring Gillian Tett
Gillian Tett shares stories about her experience at the Financial Times and explains how her background in anthropology has helped her identify financial bubbles in technology and the economy. Topics include corporate debt, unicorns, ETFs, EMEs, volatility, dollar carry-trade, protectionism, interest rates, populism, and geopolitics.

“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” said the famous Yankee captain, Yogi Berra, and yet, this hasn’t stopped us from trying. Attempting to predict the future is a sport as old as civilization itself. Oracles and wishing wells litter the landscape of humanity’s past. Yet, in a world whose outcomes are no longer determined by the forces of nature, ordaining the future has become a matter of market introspection. Learning how to cultivate a sense of objectivity, empathy, and cultural awareness can be the difference between staying ahead of the curve or falling far behind it.

 

Gillian Tett has managed well by this measure. The Managing Editor of the Financial Times US is trained as a cultural anthropologist who applies her knowledge of human cultural practices, values, and norms towards trying to identify key trends in finance and the economy. In this almost hour-long conversation with Demetri Kofinas, Gillian shares stories about her experience covering financial markets, as well as how her background as a cultural anthropologist has helped her to spot financial bubbles in technology and the economy.

 

Prior to the crisis, Gillian Tett and her team of capital markets reporters were some of the only financial journalists to cover the arcane world of credit derivatives. Since 2008, she has been one of the most important journalistic voices in all of economics and finance, moderating panels and conducting interviews at the most prestigious conferences and private gatherings around the world.

 

Our conversation begins in Tajikistan, where Gillian studied local wedding rituals as part of her doctorate in cultural anthropology. She would later draw a useful comparison between Tajik wedding rituals and what she was seeing in the space of credit derivatives (specifically, the innovations happening at JP Morgan). The conversation quickly shifts to the 2008 financial crisis, and what the now managing editor of the Financial Times learned from her experience covering the panic of ’08-’09. This was a period in which central banks engaged in extraordinary measures aimed at shoring up the global financial system for fear that if they did not, a banking collapse would ensue. Fortunately, the system survived, but not without leaving some lasting scars…

 

The rest of Demetri’s conversation with Gillian Tett is an exploration of the current financial landscape. Where have the risks accumulated post-2008? Much of today’s investment capital has accumulated in technology stocks and in technology-related companies. Private placements have boomed, and pre-IPO valuations have skyrocketed. Unicorns like Uber, Theranos, and a litany of cryptocurrency ICO’s have shot straight to the moon. The growth of wealth and income inequality since 2008 can be seen in these sky-high valuations.

 

Sovereign balance sheets have also exploded as a legacy of the crisis, but little has been discussed about the growth in corporate debt over the last six to eight years. Not only is the amount of corporate debt important, but the form that debt has taken is telling. Hampered by new regulations, as well as the memory of the last crisis, banks have curbed back their lending only to see bond make up the difference, buying up new offerings across the risk curve. Emerging markets have been a big beneficiary, not only of the appetite for high-yield debt but also, of loose monetary policy. The dollar carry-trade has become a powerful funding mechanism for emerging market economies and companies, which are now at risk of a dangerous snap back as the Fed continues to tighten, raising interest rates and shrinking the size of its balance sheet. Volatility remains low, but with prices having made all-time highs across various asset classes, geopolitical tensions between the United States, Russia, and China may prove the straw that breaks the market’s back. Additionally, the developing trade war with China, as well as the protections measures taken against Canada and Europe may finally create the type of consumer price inflation that the Fed has been begging for. You know what they say? Be careful what you wish for…

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

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Episode 6
Featuring Joan Freese
Episode 6
Featuring Joan Freese

Gillian Tett serves as US managing editor, leading the FT’s editorial operations in the region across all platforms. She writes weekly columns for the Financial Times, covering a range of economic, financial, political and social issues throughout the globe.

 

Tett previously served as assistant editor, US managing editor from 2010-2012, and prior to this as the assistant editor responsible for the FT’s markets coverage. Her other roles at the FT have included capital markets editor, deputy editor of the Lex column, Tokyo bureau chief, Tokyo correspondent, London-based economics reporter and a reporter in Russia and Brussels.

 

Tett’s latest book The Silo Effect, published by Simon & Schuster in September 2015, looks at the global economy and financial system through the lens of cultural anthropology.

 

Most recently in 2016, Tett received honorary degrees from the University of Exeter in July and the University of Miami in May; and in 2015, an honorary doctorate from Lancaster University in the UK, one of the top ten British universities. In 2014, Tett was named Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards, with judges describing her column as “provocative, revealing, often counter-intuitive” and commending her for covering “a gloriously eclectic range of themes”. She also received the 2014 Royal Anthropological Institute Marsh Award, which recognizes an individual who works outside academia and has used anthropology or anthropological ideas to contribute to a better understanding of the world’s problems. In 2012, she received a Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) Award for best feature article, “Madoff Spins his Story.” Her other awards include a President’s Medal by the British Academy (2011), being recognized as Journalist of the Year (2009) and Business Journalist of the Year (2008) by the British Press Awards, and as Senior Financial Journalist of the Year (2007) by the Wincott Awards.

 

She is the author of New York Times bestseller Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe (Little Brown, UK and Simon and Schuster, US) published in May 2009, and Saving the Sun: A Wall Street Gamble to Rescue Japan from its Trillion Dollar Meltdown (Harper Collins,2003). Fool’s Gold won Financial Book of the Year at the Spear’s Book Awards in 2009.

 

Before joining the Financial Times in 1993, Tett was awarded a PhD in social anthropology from Cambridge University based on fieldwork in the former Soviet Union. While pursuing the PhD, she freelanced for the FT and the BBC. She is a graduate of Cambridge University.

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Stablecoins
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Stablecoins
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Episode 50
Featuring Nevin Freeman
The future of cryptocurrency may well depends on the success of stablecoins. According to Nevin Freeman, current stablecoin projects are doomed to fail. To explain why, this episode examines the fundamental properties of money, the meaning of value and price, and how existing stablecoins are trying to solve the hard problem of currency.

This is the year of the stablecoin, or so says Nevin Freeman, the founder of a new stable-value cryptocurrency project based in the San Francisco Bay area. In order to understand what stablecoins and how they work, we first need to understand money.

 

In order for something to qualify as money, it has traditionally needed to function as both a store of value, and as a medium of exchange for goods and services. The medium of exchange component of money allows it to function as a vital coordination mechanism for society, allowing humans and international governments and organizations to collaborate on a massive scale. Money is thus an intrinsic part of our capitalist infrastructure and, without currency, many of our most important institutions and organizational structures would collapse.

 

Yet, our system of money and credit is not without its share of problems. Middlemen, financial intermediaries, and other central organizations often charge exorbitant fees for their services. These same intermediaries often function as “gatekeepers,” permitting or preventing access to financial counterparities at their discretion. The mismanagement of our financial system by such institutions has become a major source of systemic risk, the brunt of which is disproportionately carried by those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

 

Cryptocurrencies offer a possible solution to many of the most prominent problems associated with fiat currency systems. However, there are significant roadblocks on the path to widespread adoption. As we mentioned, in order to qualify as money, a currency needs to both the medium of exchange and store of value functions. This becomes difficult to do when currency volatility can wipe out 50% of your net worth in a single day or double the cost of your company’s inputs overnight.

 

It is no secret that crypto markets are remarkably volatile. Even the most prominent cryptocurrencies - Bitcoin and Ether - fluctuate wildly. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a decentralized currency to function as an effective store of value if its price varies by as much as 15% on any given day and in any given direction. Even if the cryptocurrency in question were rarely to drop in price, upside volatility can create a speculative feed-back loop that discourages anyone from actually using it as a medium of exchange. Why would you pay someone’s salary in bitcoin if you expected the currency to be worth more after you sold it? In this sense, even a highly volatile asset with little downside risk that serves as a great store of value can still be a poor medium of exchange.

 

Until cryptocurrencies are able to function as both a store of value and as a medium of exchange, they are unlikely to become truly mainstream or see real-world adoption. Yet, as previously mentioned in the case of bitcoin, a cryptocurrency’s capacity to store value directly undermines it’s use as a medium of exchange. How do we resolve this paradox?

 

This is where stablecoins come in. They aim to solve the problems of our volatile crypto markets by establishing price-stable cryptocurrencies that are pegged to some other stable asset, for example, the US dollar. Notably, these pegs are not determined by supply and demand. Instead, stablecoins effectively “price themselves” by making a standing promise to fulfill any buy or sell order at a set price, regardless of changes in demand for the currency by market participants. In traditional currency pegs and exchange rate mechanisms, currency boards manage the value of the peg by overseeing the promise to buy or sell at a preset conversion price. So, how does a currency peg work in the case of stablecoins?Here is an overview of how the most prominent stablecoin projects on the market promise to do this today:

 

Traditional asset-backed stablecoins: In short, under this system, each unit of the particular stablecoin is backed by a corresponding unit of fiat currency. Let’s use the US dollar as an example. According to this system, a third-party issuer sells tokens for one dollar each. The issuer then keeps all the dollars taken in from these sales in an account. If an individual holding a unit of the stablecoin wishes to cash out, the third party gives a US Dollar to the holder and removes a unit of the stablecoin.

 

The problems with this method loom large. First, there’s the obvious fact that, at any moment, the organization or individual issuing the stablecoin can abscond with all the money that’s supposed to be in the bank account. Second, a government or other centralized organization could freeze the aforementioned account of the issuer, which would grind the project to an abrupt halt. In short, there’s a lot of risk and a lot of trust needed for this method to function properly.

 

Collateralized Debt Stablecoins: Under this system, instead of attempting to back units of a stablecoin one-to-one with a fiat currency, the stablecoins hold a ratio greater than one-to-one of a crypto asset (or more commonly, various kinds of crypto assets). The way this works is rather simple. An individual who holds a crypto asset can deposit this asset into a smart contract, which creates a stablecoin for them. 

 

The peg (the value of the stablecoin) is primarily maintained by the promise of future redemption for collateral if the stablecoin price diverges from the target for too long or the value of the collateral begins to drop. In either of these cases, all of the stablecoin holders can trade their coins for $1 worth of the collateralized crypto assets. In theory, speculators will step in to buy stablecoins below the target price based on this promise of future redemption and that will keep the price stable all of the time. The primary problem with this system is that that the underlying collateral is, by its very nature, volatile. As a result, in order to ensure itself against significant price drops, the system needs to hold a significant amount of collateral (often two-to-one, or even more). This is also a much more complex system, making it difficult to implement in a way that is efficient.

 

Future Growth-Backed Stablecoins: According to this system, the value is maintained by neither fiat or cryptocurrency holdings. Instead, a central account is created that uses algorithms to maintain the stability and manage the supply of the cryptocurrency in the face of fluctuating demand. It accomplishes this by increasing the number of stablecoins when the price goes up and decreasing the number when the price goes down. The increase in stablecoin supply is meant to reduce the market price of the coin to its target level. Conversely, when the price of the stablecoin drops below its target price, the system will reduce the supply of stablecoins and increase the price of the coin so that it returns to its target level. The primary issue with this method is tied to speculators. If they happen to lose interest in purchasing or actively begin to short the stablecoin, then the peg eventually breaks because the entire mechanism becomes worthless.

 

At the moment, it remains unclear which system, if any, will work. History has not been kind to currency boards, and the challenges of implementing a purely digital version of a currency peg has never before been tried until now.

 

In order to better understand the nature of stablecoins, and the promise that they have, Nevin Freeman joins us for a conversation about money and the fundamental properties of currency.

 

Ultimately, this is an exploration of how we can make cryptocurrencies a true store of value, while at the same time enabling these decentralized currencies to function as real and viable mediums of exchange.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Nevin Freeman began life as an environmentalist in southern Oregon, where he studied wilderness preservation, thought about climate change, and considered ways of producing energy more efficiently. He stuck with this theme in college, studying mechanical and transportation system engineering in Portland, Oregon, in hopes of producing more efficient vehicles. But upon graduating, Nevin realized his understanding of the global ecosystem was simplistic and he was not on track to single-handedly solve global climate change the way he had imagined as a child.

 

After reflecting on why he wanted to preserve the ecosystem on the planet in the first place and realizing the thing he valued was flourishing of conscious beings, Nevin took a much broader approach to thinking about global problems and opportunities, integrating himself into the Future of Humanity Institute community, and co-creating the Effective Altruism movement – a group of people relying on reason and evidence to find the highest leverage ways of improving our world. He co-produced the first Effective Altruism Summit, directed the second one, and facilitated its transition to what is now Effective Altruism Global.

 

Nevin has spent his recent years building Paradigm Academy, a company builder in the Bay Area that specializes in recruiting and training ambitious, altruistic founders. Last year, Nevin left his full-time role at Paradigm to spin off Reserve, a full-stack open currency designed to bring economic stability to regions in the world with inflation problems. The Reserve team comes largely out of the Effective Altruism community, where many people aim to earn profits in order to fund the most important causes in the world.

 

Nevin's mission in life is to solve the coordination problems that are stopping humanity achieving its potential, and he’s particularly concerned about averting the long-term risks posed by the development of artificial intelligence. You can reach him through LinkedIn.

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Investing
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Episode 39
Featuring Mark Spiegel
Elon Musk is heralded as the hero of the 21st century. He seems to be single-handedly revolutionizing neuroscience, travel, artificial intelligence, and space flight. But are Musk’s actions more about sensationalism and showmanship than actual substance? Here, Mark Spiegel discusses bull markets, tech bubbles, and the cult of Elon Musk.

When asked to name a hero of the modern age, most people don’t have to think long before giving their answer. Elon Musk is the man who sits at the helm of this era’s most disruptive industries. Through SpaceX, Musk is democratizing space and leading humanity into an era that’s dominated by privately held companies — an era in which anyone can, quite literally, reach for the stars. His Boring company is set to revolutionize travel by making vacuum-powered, ultra-high-speed transportation systems a reality. And Elon Musk is even transforming that which is most immutable: the human brain. In 2016, Musk founded Neuralink to develop implantable brain-computer interfaces and meld the human mind with machines. Then, of course, there is Tesla, the electric car company that has shaken the foundations of the fossil fuel industry and given society its first self-driving vehicles. Or, has it?


The cult of Elon Musk surpasses anything we have seen in decades. Even Steve Jobs did not command as much adoration from his congregations of the faithful. And yet, something is rotten in the state of Denmark…

 

Tesla sits at the intersection of a number of powerful forces: the ready availability of cheap financing, the growing wealth and income gap, and the preponderance of technology in popular culture. In this sense, Tesla is about more than just electric vehicles or the car manufacturing business. It is a poster child for the financial excesses, stock price manipulations, and cult-like followings of Silicon Valley.


And as the Federal Reserve continues to tighten by raising interest rates, companies like Tesla, which have relied on cheap financing in order to fund their businesses, are feeling increasing pressure. Exhibit A: the company’s stock, which was besieged by speculative shorts and heavy selling in March of this year. Tesla’s stock recouped more than half of those losses shortly thereafter but, serious questions remain about the company’s path towards profitability. Indeed, does it even have one?


Even if Tesla can raise the capital it needs from investors over the next six months, can it manage to overcome the major production challenges that have plagued the Model 3? What happens when Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes, and Porsche each come to market with their own electric vehicles, some of which are cheaper than Tesla’s suite of electric cars? Finally, what about Elon Musk?

 

The famous short seller Jim Chanos, who took down Enron in the early 2000’s for defrauding its investors, has made similar claims against the popular Silicon Valley car executive. And Chanos isn’t alone in his rebukes. Mark Spiegel, Managing Member and Portfolio Manager of Stanphyl Capital Partners, has also been openly critical of Elon Musk, whom he believes is committing securities fraud by misleading investors about the capabilities of Tesla's present and future products and financial prospects.


In last week’s episode, we asked about the path towards profitability for Tesla. In this week’s episode, host Demetri Kofinas is joined by Mark Spiegel, who questions the credibility of Elon Musk as CEO of the electric car company. We examine whether Tesla can survive the onslaught of bad publicity amid a rocky period for capital markets and for the company’s stock. Ten years from now, will we look back at Tesla as the poster child for this latest bull market?

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Mark is an Investor, Managing Member of Stanphyl Capital, and perpetual wiseguy. He has noted that he “buys deep value and short bubbles, and I doesn't do it quietly.”


Twitter - https://twitter.com/markbspiegel

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Venture Capital
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Episode 37
Featuring Josh Wolfe
Demetri speaks with Josh Wolfe, co-founder of Lux Capital, about his perspective on investing in a discussion that ranges from the material to the immaterial. We learn to capitalize on the breakthroughs of science while freeing ourselves from the impulses of the herd. Topics include artificial intelligence, energy investments, and more.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, host Demetri Kofinas speaks with Josh Wolfe, co-founder of Lux Capital. Lux Capital is a venture firm that specializes in the hard sciences, supporting scientists and entrepreneurs who pursue counter-conventional solutions to the most vexing puzzles of our time. Josh is also a founding investor and board member with Bill Gates in Kymeta, which makes cutting-edge antennas for high-speed global satellite and space communications. He is a Westinghouse semi-finalist and published scientist who previously worked in investment banking at Salomon Smith Barney and in capital markets at Merrill Lynch. In 2008, Josh Wolfe co-founded and funded Kurion, a contrarian bet in the unlikely business of using advanced robotics and state-of-the-art engineering and chemistry to clean up nuclear waste. He is a columnist with Forbes who has lectured at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, NYU and been invited to The White House and Capitol Hill to advise on nanotechnology and emerging technologies.

 

The fields of science, technology, and investing are not new territory for Hidden Forces listeners. These are subjects that we have covered at length with previous guests, including Geoffrey West, Ray Monk, Robert Johnson, Christopher Cole, and Tim O'Reilly. Rarely, though, do we find ourselves in conversation with someone like Josh Wolfe, who has made a multi-billion dollar business of investing in and around ground-breaking technologies and innovations in the hard sciences. Some of these breakthroughs include artificial intelligence, advancements in medicine and biotechnology, gene editing, energy technology, and much, much more.

 

In an effort to help us understand how he capitalizes on these breakthroughs, Josh Wolfe shares his unique perspective on investing with us, as well as his methodology for learning about the forces shaping our unknown future. What role does art play in informing our understanding of the world? How do we gain direction for our work from the insights provided to us by our passions? What information can we glean from the substance of our curiosities? How important are the presence of internal strife and discontentment in propelling us towards success? Can we learn to nurture our contrarian impulses in the face of our instinct to follow the herd?

 

In a philosophical discussion that ranges from the material to the immaterial, Josh Wolfe inspires us to reckon with the paradox of our own humanity. Are we simply animals born in an indeterminate world whose mysteries we are helpless to uncover? Or, are life's greatest mysteries - the nature of reality and the hard problem of consciousness - open to same types of empirical analyses and reasoning that have propelled our species forward since the earliest days of human enlightenment? 

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation at @hiddenforcespod

 

 

 

Josh Wolfe co-founded Lux Capital to support scientists and entrepreneurs who pursue counter-conventional solutions to the most vexing puzzles of our time in order to lead us into a brighter future. The more ambitious the project, the better—like, say, creating matter from light.

 

Josh is a Director at Shapeways, 3Scan, Lux Research and Kallyope and helped lead the firm’s investments in Planet, Echodyne, Clarifai and Authorea. He is a founding investor and board member with Bill Gates in Kymeta, making cutting-edge antennas for high-speed global satellite and space communications. Josh is a Westinghouse semi-finalist and published scientist. He previously worked in investment banking at Salomon Smith Barney and in capital markets at Merrill Lynch. In 2008 Josh co-founded and funded Kurion, a contrarian bet in the unlikely business of using advanced robotics and state-of-the-art engineering and chemistry to clean up nuclear waste. It was an unmet, inevitable need with no solution in sight. The company was among the first responders to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. In February 2016, Veolia acquired Kurion for nearly $400 million—more than 40 times Lux’s total investment.

 

Josh is a columnist with Forbes and Editor for the Forbes/Wolfe Emerging Tech Report. He has been invited to The White House and Capitol Hill to advise on nanotechnology and emerging technologies, and a lecturer at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia and NYU. He is a term member at The Council on Foreign Relations and Chairman of Coney Island Prep charter school, where he grew up in Brooklyn. He graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Economics and Finance.

 

@wolfejosh

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Sed egestas, ante et vulputate volutpat, eros pede semper est, vitae luctus metus libero eu augue. Morbi purus libero, faucibus adipiscing, commodo quis, gravida id, est. Sed lectus. Praesent elementum hendrerit tortor. Sed semper lorem at felis. Vestibulum volutpat, lacus a ultrices sagittis, mi neque euismod dui, eu pulvinar nunc sapien ornare nisl. Phasellus pede arcu, dapibus eu, fermentum et, dapibus sed, urna.

Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

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Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

Suspendisse mauris. Fusce accumsan mollis eros. Pellentesque a diam sit amet mi ullamcorper vehicula. Integer adipiscing risus a sem. Nullam quis massa sit amet nibh viverra malesuada. Nunc sem lacus, accumsan quis, faucibus non, congue vel, arcu. Ut scelerisque hendrerit tellus. Integer sagittis. Vivamus a mauris eget arcu gravida tristique. Nunc iaculis mi in ante. Vivamus imperdiet nibh feugiat est.