Sunday, May 23, 2010

How the Media Lies

The following is a great example of one way in which the media lies.  No, this is not directly related to finance, investing or economics but it is important to recognize these practices whether one is looking to research a stock or understand global politics.

The US mainstream media has been chillingly silent regarding the escalating tensions between North Korea and South Korea. That has begun to change now that it has been confirmed that a torpedo from a North Korean military ship is what caused the sinking of a South Korean military ship.  Unfortunately, our media cannot be trusted to present the facts in an honest fashion when reporting on such subjects.

Here is one example that I stumbled across on Saturday afternoon.  The headline from The Drudge Report, a so called conservative news source, reads NKOREAN LEADER AUTHORIZED ATTACK ON SOUTH:

When I clicked on the link it brought me to The New York Times, a so called liberal news source.  The article in question is titled U.S. Implicates North Korean Leader in Attack.  This does not sound quite as damning as The Drudge Report headline but it sounds quite conclusive, no?  Let's keep in mind that publications like the Times usually have an editor write the headlines and not the actual author of the article.  Now let's read what the article actually states:

A new American intelligence analysis of a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship concludes that Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of North Korea, must have authorized the torpedo assault, according to senior American officials who cautioned that the assessment was based on their sense of the political dynamics there rather than hard evidence.

“We can’t say it is established fact,” said one senior American official who was involved in the highly classified assessment, based on information collected by many of the country’s 16 intelligence agencies. “But there is very little doubt, based on what we know about the current state of the North Korean leadership and the military.”

So an unnamed American intelligence official believes that the North Korean leader must have called for the attack simply because of his vast understanding of the North Korean leadership.  I have no idea if this unnamed official is right or wrong but what he is stating is clearly different from the Times headline and even more different than what Drudge went with.  This type of reporting, by both major political leanings in this case, needs to stop.  The Korean situation is very serious and deserves to be reported in a serious manner.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

High Frequency Trading Run Amok

So the big news of the day was the huge sell off in US markets.  The final tally was -340 points on the DOW (-3.20%), -37.72 on the S&P500 (-3.24%) and -82.65 on the NASDAQ (-3.44%).  This is a bad day but the intraday lows is what has everyone really talking.  In the span of only a few minutes the market veered completely off the rails, with the DOW dropping nearly 1000 points on the day before recovering most of the losses nearly as fast.

The initial explanation for the plunge was the rumor that a Citi trader fat fingered an order of Proctor and Gamble (PG).  We did not buy this explanation for two reasons.  First, the market was already sliding well in advance of the alleged PG trade.  Second, the volume in Proctor and Gamble stock during the alleged mistaken order was not nearly as great as one would expect given the explanation.  After the market close came official word from Citi that they have no evidence that an erroneous trade was made on their partOur initial take was that the obvious culprit was program trading gone awry, and lo and behold that is now what the NYSE is reporting.

The chart pattern marked out today by all of the indexes is very familiar to anyone who has been watching stocks like Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG and several others intraday over the course of the last few years.  The five stages of such market activity are as follows:
  1. Gradually sliding prices throughout the day
  2. This is followed by a massive waterfall
  3. A V-bottom is created
  4. A large spike right back up is generated
  5. The day ends with a continued rise into the close
Here is a view of today's DOW with these five stages labeled:

This type of market activity is the sure sign of high frequency computer trading run amok and is not something that you will see when human traders participate in an orderly market.

In our minds today's market activity begs two questions.
  1. What kind of dopey artificial markets have we created and why would any sane individual want any part of them?
  2. To this you trust your retirement funds?