Sunday 27 April 2014

Trading Strategies Based on Analyst Conference Calls

The idea from this blog came from the "Extra-Curricular Topics" I teach in my MBA classes, a 10-minute interlude where I teach an academic paper with significant real-world relevance. This expanded to an opt-in Google Group where I wrote to former students summarizing an interesting paper that I come across in a seminar or conference, and from there came this blog. However, the first few blog posts ended up being on different topics - this is the first post on the intended theme. 

One very interesting paper I saw presented at the LBS external seminar series is by Lauren Cohen (HBS), Dong Lou (LSE), and Chris Malloy (HBS). It uses analyst conference calls to form a trading strategy. After Regulation FD, firms are no longer allowed to disclose information selectively to certain groups of investors and not others, so analyst conference calls are an important way in which they disseminate information. All analysts are allowed to participate. 

However, what I didn’t know until I saw the talk, was that firms can choose which analysts they would like to speak and ask questions in the meeting. Analysts can signal if they would like to ask a question, but the firm has full discretion on which analysts to call upon. The paper shows that certain firms will selectively choose optimistic analysts (i.e. those who give them high ratings) and prevent pessimistic analysts from doing this. Such a strategy is bad in the long-run, because analysts that are not allowed to speak may end up dropping their coverage of the firm (and analyst coverage is useful for boosting stock liquidity). However, myopic firms who are focused on boosting the short-term stock price may engage in this strategy – indeed, these are firms that are just about to issue equity (so they want to prop up the short-term stock price) and end up announcing earnings that just meet the earnings forecast or beat it by 1 cent (suggesting they’ve done something myopic like cut R&D to meet the target).

The conference call information is public information which can be used to form a long-short strategy: sell the firms that engage in such manipulation and buy the firms that don’t. This strategy earns 95 basis points per month, nearly 12% per year, which is huge alpha. The manipulating firms also end up having negative earnings announcements in the future, having to restate previously announced earnings (implying that the previous earnings were falsified), and using discretionary accounting accruals to artificially boost earnings. This paper is a great example of using a clever institutional detail (the fact that it’s the firm who gets to decide who speaks on a conference call) to find an extremely profitable trading strategy.

You might think - shouldn't the SEC ban companies from being allowed to selectively pick and choose who speaks? Well, actually there's a good reason for allowing companies this discretion. It allows them to stop Bruce Wayne from Wayne Enterprises from calling in (see p13 of 

Saturday 5 April 2014

Top Ten TED Talks

London is a great city, but one of its downsides is that it takes a long time to get to most places. The TED Talks app has significantly enriched my commutes. Here are my top ten TED talks:

1) The Family I Lost in North Korea, and the Family I Gained (Joseph Kim). Perhaps the most poignant TED talk I've heard, about a boy who list his family in North Korea. About how simple acts of kindness can transform someone's life.

2) Are We In Control Of Our Decisions? (Dan Ariely). On how "nudges" (e.g. by companies selling products, or policymakers) can radically affect people's behavior. One of the leading lights in behavioral economics; his other TED talks are also excellent.

3) Perspective Is Everything (Rory Sutherland). Fascinating talk on "framing" (a concept in behavioral economics on how you present a concept). By a top advertising professional, as knowledgeable as any top behavioral economist on this field; his other TED talks are also excellent.

4) The Puzzle of Motivation (Dan Pink). How intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation (using rewards). I thought I already knew this idea, but this went into far greater depth than what I'd heard before. 3 million views.

5) How Great Leaders Inspire Action (Simon Sinek). Leadership and inspiration doesn't require you to do superhuman feats (what you do), but stem from how and why you do something. 2.5 million views.

6) Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (Amy Cuddy). How adopting particular body language has a causal effect on your performance. This is something I was naturally skeptical about, being an dull economist, but this was an illuminating talk based on scientific evidence.

7) The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong (Dan Pallotta). We often think that charities shouldn't spend on advertising, on hiring good managers - but such investment pays many times over.

8) Teach Every Child About Food (Jamie Oliver). The critical importance of nutrition for health. You may think that you've heard it all before, but this is powerfully and cogently argued, and has the potential to change your everyday life.

9) Building US-China Relations By Banjo (Abigail Washburn). The power of music to create community and cross boundaries - that diplomats, politicians and economists couldn't cross.

10) The Surprising Science of Happiness (Dan Gilbert). We spend our whole lives chasing after happiness, but we can actually manufacture it ourselves.