## Game theory in the stock market: On the Island of the Green-Eyed Tribe, blue eyes are taboo

In response to
yesterday’s piece a friend pointed out that John Maynard Keynes’ “stock market as a beauty contest” parable is an example of common knowledge game in modern game theory. Game theory is essentially a study of strategic decision making.
Hearing his comment I almost fell from my chair. “
Ab game theory bhi padhna padega?” I wondered. But as good friends usually do, my friend mailed across some excellent reference material. (You can read the two pieces by Ben Hunt who writes the Epsilon Theory newsletter here and here).
In this piece I have summarized the two pieces written by Ben Hunt and tried to explain how the stock market is currently working from a game theory point of view and what are the learnings that we can draw from it.
First we need to understand what a common knowledge game is. In order to understand that we will go through the example of the island of the green eyed tribe. On this island people have eyes that are green in colour. Anyone having blue eyes, is supposed to leave the island in a canoe at dawn, the morning after he has found out.
However there are two problems. There are no mirrors on the island. So no one knows what is the colour of their eyes. Further, residents are not allowed to tell each other what is the colour of their eyes. So, if Ajay knows that the colour of Vijay’s eye is blue, he is not allowed to tell Vijay about it.
To summarise, the island of the green eyed tribe is a small island. Given this, every resident knows the eye colour of everyone else who lives on the island, but himself.
In a normal scenario, if the island has residents with blue eyes, they could continue to live on the island. This happens because they themselves do not know they have blue eyes and no one else can tell them about it.
Now let’s say a missionary lands up on the island and declares that at least one resident of the island has blue eyes. Further, let’s say only one resident on the island has blue eyes. So what will happen in this case? This individual, let’s call him Ajay, knows that everyone else has green eyes, so he comes to the conclusion that he must be the one with blue eyes. Hence, next morning he gets into a canoe and leaves the island.
Simple!
Now let’s complicate the situation a little more. Let’s say two residents, Ajay and Vijay, have blue eyes. What do you think will happen here? Ajay and Vijay have seen each other and each thinks that the other has blue eyes. They themselves do not know that they have blue eyes. Hence, Ajay thinks that Vijay will leave the island on a canoe the next morning and vice versa.
Next morning, neither Ajay nor Vijay has left the island. This leaves both Ajay and Vijay confused. But they soon figure out the situation. Ajay thinks that Vijay hasn’t left the island because he has seen someone else with blue eyes. At the same time Ajay knows that everyone else other than Vijay has green eyes. Hence, that leaves only him with blue eyes.
Vijay also realises the same thing. The next morning both Ajay and Vijay leave the island. As Ben Hunt writes in an excellent newsletter titled
A Game of Sentiment and dated November 3, 2013, “The generalized answer to the question of “what happens?” is that for any n tribe members with blue eyes, they all leave simultaneously on the nth morning after the Missionary’s statement.”
But that is something for economists who carry out game theory experiments to ponder on. What is the learning here for stock market investors? Before the missionary lands up on the island every resident of the island knows the colour of the eyes of every other resident on the island. But this is private information which is locked up in the minds of the residents.
The missionary comes and changes this situation. He does not turn the information locked up in the minds of residents into public information, meaning he doesn’t tell them loud and clear that Ajay and Vijay are the ones with blue eyes.
Nevertheless, he turns what is private information until then into common knowledge. And common knowledge is different from public information.
As Hunt writes in a newsletter titled
When Does the Story Break and dated May 25, 2014, “Common knowledge is simply information, public or private, that everyone believes is shared by everyone else. It’s the crowd of tribesmen looking around and seeing that the entire crowd heard the Missionary that unlocks the private information in their heads and turns it into common knowledge. This is the power of the crowd watching the crowd, and for my money it’s the most potent behavioral force in human society.”
Further, it takes time for the residents of the island to realize what they know. It doesn’t happen immediately. As Hunt writes “The truth is that an enormous amount of
mental calculations and changes are taking place within each and every tribesman’s head as soon as the common knowledge is created. The more tribesmen with blue eyes, the longer the game simmers. And the longer the game simmers the more everyone – blue-eyed or not – questions whether or not he has blue eyes.”
In the example of Ajay and Vijay, it took them a day to realize that both of them have blue eyes. And once they did, they left the island the next morning, i.e two days after the missionary made the statement.
If there had been three people with blue eyes, it would have taken them three days and so on. That is how the dynamic works. So Ajay is watching Vijay and thinking that Vijay has blue eyes and hence, needs to leave the island. A similar dynamic is playing up in Vijay’s mind as well about Ajay.
The next day Vijay hasn’t left the island and Ajay realizes that Vijay is thinking the same thing about him, as he is thinking about Vijay. And once they have figured out they leave the island. So, nothing happens for two days and then they leave the island. In case of three people with blue eyes, nothing happens for three days and then they leave the island.
The point being it takes time for common knowledge to seep through and then there is immediate action.
If all that has left you wondering what all this has got to do with the stock market, allow me to explain. “If you haven’t observed exactly this sort of dynamic taking place in markets over the past five years, with nothing, nothing, nothing despite what seems like lots of relevant news, and then – boom! – a big move up or down as if out of nowhere – I just don’t know what to say. And I don’t know a single market participant, no matter how successful, who’s not bone-tired from all the mental anguish involved with trying to navigate these unfamiliar waters,” writes Hunt.
In the Indian context, the Sensex was yo-yoying over the last few years but has made a definitive move in 2014, with gains of nearly 33%. “And then boom,” is the best way to describe this move. That’s the power of the “crowd watching the crowd” for a while and then suddenly deciding to invest because the “common knowledge” of they thinking that everyone else is investing, seeps through.
That’s one part. The other part here is that of the “missionary” and the message he is sending out. The message will be believed depending on how credible the missionary is viewed to be and how loud is his voice. In the media this loudness and credibility is established by being seen at the right place. And that’s how the message is amplified.
As Hunt writes in
A Game of SentimentHow do we “see” a crowd in financial markets? Through the financial media outlets that are ubiquitous throughout every professional investment operation in the world – the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, CNBC, and Bloomberg. That’s it. These are the only four signal transmission and mediation channels that matter from a financial market CK (common knowledge) game perspective because “everyone knows” that we all subscribe to these four channels. If a signal appears prominently in any one of these media outlets (and if it appears prominently in one, it becomes “news” and will appear in all), then every professional investor in the world automatically assumes that every other professional investor in the world heard the signal.”
And this has an impact on the financial markets. In an Indian context one could add
The Economic Times to the list as well. Fund managers want to be featured in these publications because it increases their ability to influence the financial markets. The stories they want to tell people about explaining the various reasons behind what is an “easy money” driven bull market are more likely to be believed.
The big missionaries in the current scenario are the central banks. What they say is closely watched.
As Gary Dorsch, Editor, Global Money Trends newsletter, wrote in a recent column “Bad economic news is treated as bullish news for the stock market, because it lead to expectation of more “quantitative easing.” And the easy money flows that are injected by central banks go right past goods and services (ie; the real economy) and are whisked into the financial markets, where it pushes up the prices of stocks and bonds. In simple terms, what matters most to the stock markets are the easy money injections from the central banks, and to a lesser extent, the profits of the companies whose stocks they are buying and selling.”
But that is something that fund managers are not very comfortable talking about.

This piece originally appeared on www.equitymaster.com on Nov 26, 2014

## Sensex at 28,000: Will the real Indian stock market investor please stand up?

Vivek Kaul

I have cooked my own food for over 12 years now. Over the years, as boredom from cooking on a daily basis has set in, the quality of what I cook has deteriorated. These days the food I cook is just about edible.
Given this, I like to watch some mindless television while eating. This ensures that I don’t pay attention to what I am eating and as a result, don’t end up cribbing to myself. What works best in this scenario, especially during lunch time, are business news channels.
If you are the kind who still watches them, you would know that a major part of the day on these channels is spent in trying to figure out which way the stock market is headed. The anchors of these channels talk to so called “experts” who give their “
gyan” on why they feel the market moved the way it did, and which way they think it’s headed in the future.
More often than not these experts are optimistic and keep telling us that the market is only going to go up from here. Nevertheless, as you and I know that is not how things always turn out. It is especially interesting on days the markets rise, to see these experts thump their chests and tell the viewers “I told you so!”
The reasons for their optimism vary from day to day. It can be low inflation on one day and the hyperactive Modi government on another. On days they run out reasons they like to tell us the “India growth story is still intact”. Come rain or sunshine, these experts always have their reasons ready. And that makes it great fun to watch.
(I have to confess here that I have this recurring dream where I have been invited to a studio of a business channel and am asked “Mr Kaul, which way do you think the stock market is headed?” And I look write into the eyes of the anchor and tell her “Mam, it’s headed only one way and that’s up”.
“Why do you say so?” she asks, with her eyebrows fluttering. And I reply: “The whole country of the system is juxtaposition by the haemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”)
Jokes apart, these experts especially the Indian ones, never really tell us the real reason behind the Indian stock market going up.
Between April 2007 and October 2014, the foreign institutional investors(FIIs) made a net purchase(gross purchase minus gross sales of stocks) of Rs 2.06 lakh crore in the Indian stock market. During the same period the domestic institutional investors(DIIs) made net sales of Rs 22,715 crore.
Things get more interesting once we look at the numbers between September 2008 (the month the current financial crisis started) and October 2014. During this period, FIIs have made a net purchase of Rs 2.76 lakh crore. In the same period, the DIIs made net sales of Rs 95,219 crore. These data points tell us very clearly who is really driving up the Indian stock market. In the aftermath of the financial crisis breaking out in September 2008, the developed nations of the world led by the United States and United Kingdom carried out quantitative easing or printed money and pumped it into their respective financial systems, to keep interest rates low.
This was done in the hope that at low interest rates people would borrow and spend more, and all the spending would help revive economic growth. What happened instead was that large financial institutions managed to borrow money at low interest rates and invested it in financial markets all over the world. This has driven up stock markets all over the world, including the BSE Sensex.
The inflow of foreign money has been particularly strong this year. As Abhishek Saraf and Abhay Laijawala of Deutsche Bank Market Research point out in a recent report “On a year to date basis too, India has witnessed the highest FII inflows into equities at ~US\$14billion.”
This has helped the Sensex rally by more than 33% since the beginning of this year. But the interesting thing is that DIIs have continued to stay away. Since the beginning of this year they have made net sales of Rs 27,241.5 crore.
Nevertheless, October 2014 has been an exception to this, with the DIIs making a net purchase of Rs 4,103 crore. This is for the first time since August 2013, when the net purchase of the DIIs was higher than that of the FIIs. In fact, FIIs made net sales of Rs 1683 crore during the course of the month.
The question to ask here is why have the DIIs not invested anywhere as much as the FIIs have in the years since the financial crisis broke out. The answer lies in the fact that DIIs (primarily insurance companies and mutual funds) ultimately invest money they collect from the retail investors.
The retail investors had bailed out of the stock market lock, stock and barrel, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. They haven’t returned since. A major reason for the same was the fact that insurance companies sold expensive unit linked insurance plans (or Ulips) to retail investors.
Many agents promised investors that their money once invested in the stock market would double in three years. That clearly did not happen, and individuals who had bought Ulips essentially went around footing the bill for the high commissions that insurance companies paid their agents. And this ended up giving the stock market a bad name.
Also, many retail investors started entering the stock market only in late 2007, when the market was already at a very high level and ended up making losses. As Deepak Parekh said in a speech last week in Mumbai “Retail investors tend to enter stock markets on the highs and lose confidence on the lows.”
Further, DIIs represent only the indirect participation of the retail investor in the stock market. What about the direct participation? This is very minuscule. As Parekh pointed out “On the retail side, the picture is grimmer. Direct participation of retail investors in Indian capital markets is 1.4% of the population compared to China at 9.4%, UK at 16% and US at 18%.”
Or as maverick investor Shankar Sharma once told me during the course of an interview “The Sensex is just a two square mile phenomenon — Fort to Nariman Point. That is about all that is interested in the Sensex.”
Parekh in his speech estimated that after excluding promoter shareholding and the retail segment, which do not have too much liquidity, FIIs dominate close to 70% of the market. What this clearly tells is that it is the FIIs have used the “easy money” provided by the central banks of Western countries to drive the Indian stock market, and, in turn, have benefited the most from it as well. This has also helped the BSE Sensex cross the level of 28,000 points more than a few times in the recent past.
Given this, the next time you see an Indian expert trying to give you reasons on why the stock market is rallying, try and tell this to yourself: “he knows not what he is talking for he is on television.”
To conclude the question to ask here is whether it is time to allow big provident funds like the employee provident fund, the government provident fund and the coal mines provident fund to invest a part of their corpus in the stock market? This will be one way of ensuring that some regular Indian money also keeps coming into the stock market and foreign investors are not the only ones to benefit. And that is something worth thinking about.

The article originally appeared on www.equitymaster.com on Nov 11, 2014

## A 400 year old economic theory explains who really runs the Indian stock market

Vivek Kaul

On September 12, 2008, the Bank of England, had total assets worth £83.8 billion on its books. In the six years since then, the total assets of the British central bank have gone up by a whopping 385.6% to £ 404.3 billion, as on September 17, 2014.
Things haven’t been much different in the United States. The Federal Reserve of United States had assets worth \$905.3 billion as on September 3, 2008. Since then it has jumped to \$4.45 trillion, as on September 17,2014. An increase of close to 392%.
The total assets of the Bank of Japan have more than doubled since the start of 2011. In January 2012, the total assets of the Japanese central bank had stood at 128 trillion yen. Since then, it has more than doubled to 275.9 trillion yen at the end of August 2014.
Since the start of the financial crisis in the middle of September 2008, Western central banks have printed money big time. This money has been pumped into the financial system by buying bonds. These bonds have ended up as assets on the balance sheet of central banks.
The idea behind this, as I have often mentioned in the past, was to drive down long term interest rates, leading to people borrowing and spending more at lower interest rates. This would, in turn, lead to economic growth, the hope was.
When central banks started printing money, the Cassandras (which included yours truly as well) started to point out that the era of high inflation was on its way. The logic offered was fairly straight forward. With so much money being pumped into the financial system, it would lead to a lot of money chasing the same amount of goods and services in the economy, and that would drive prices up at a rapid rate, and lead to high inflation.
But that did not turn out to be the case. The Western world had already taken on huge loans before the financial crisis broke out and was in no mood to borrow and spend all over again.
This lack of inflation has been used by central banks to print and pump more money into the financial system. The hope now is that with all the money that has been pumped into the financial system some inflation will be created. This inflation will lead to people spending more. The logic here is that no one wants to pay a higher price for a product, and if prices are going up or likely to go up, people would rather buy the product now than wait. And this will lead to economic growth. That in short is the gist of what the policy of the Western central banks has been all about over the last few years.
The economist Milton Friedman had suggested that a recessionary situation could be fought even by printing and dropping money out of a helicopter, if the need be, to create inflation.
And this is what Western central banks have done since September 2008, in the hope of reviving economic growth. While they may not have been able to create “some” conventional inflation as they wanted to, there is a lot else that has happened. And that needs to be understood.
When central banks print money, they do so with the belief that money is neutral. So, in that sense, it does not really matter who is standing under the helicopter when the money is printed and dropped into the economy. But the Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon who lived during the early eighteenth century, showed that money wasn’t really neutral and that it mattered where it was injected into the economy.
Cantillon made this observation on the basis of all the gold and silver coming into Spain from what was then called the New World (now South America). When money supply increased in the form of gold and silver, it would first benefit the people associated with the mining industry, i.e., the owners of the mines, the adventurers who went looking for gold and silver, the smelters, the refiners and the workers at the gold and silver mines.
These individuals would end up with a greater amount of gold and silver , i.e., money. They would spend this money and thus drive up the prices of meat, wine, wool, wheat, etc.
This rise in prices would have impacted even people not associated with the mining industry, even though they wouldn’t have seen a rise in their incomes, like the people associated with the mining industry had.

This is referred to as the Cantillon Effect. As analyst Dylan Grice puts it : “Cantillon, writing before the days of Adam Smith, was the first to articulate it. I find it very puzzling that this insight has been ignored by the economics profession. Economists generally assume that money is neutral. And Milton Friedman’s allegory about the helicopter drop of money raising the general price level completely ignores the question of who is standing under the helicopter.”

The money printing that has happened in recent years has been unable to meet its goal of trying to create consumer-price inflation. But it has benefited those who are closest to the money creation. This basically means the financial sector and anyone who has access to cheap credit.
Institutional investors have been able to raise money at close to zero percent interest rates and invest it in financial assets all over the world, driving up the prices of those assets and made money in the process.
As the economist William Bonner put it in a column he wrote in early 2013: “The Fed creates new money (not more wealth… just new money). This new money goes into the banking system, pretending to have the same value as the money that people worked for. And people with good connections to the banks take advantage of the cheap credit this new money creates to aid financial speculation.”
This financial speculation has led to massive stock market rallies all over the world.
As I wrote in a piece last week The Dow Jones Industrial Average, America’s premier stock market index, has rallied more than 30 percent since October 2012. This when the American economy hasn’t been in the best of shape. The FTSE 100, the premier stock market index in the United Kindgom, has given a return of 15 per cent during the same period. The Nikkei 225, the premier stock market index of Japan has rallied by 53 per cent during the same period. Closer to home, the BSE Sensex has rallied by around 43 per cent during the same period.”
Let’s take a closer look at the Indian stock market over the last two years. The foreign institutional investors have invested Rs 1,82,789.43 crore during this period (up to September 19,2014). During the same period the domestic institutional investors sold stocks worth Rs 1,07,327.65 crore.
It is clear from this that foreign money borrowed at low interest rates has been driving the Indian stock market. The domestic investors have continued to stay away.
So, even though a lot of domestic investors may talk about the India growth story being strong, they really don’t believe in it. If they did, they would invest money and not simply talk about it.

Hence, even though the economic growth through large parts of the world continues to remain subdued, the stock markets can’t seem to stop rallying. The explanation lies in the access to the “easy money” that the big institutional investors have.
And this access to easy money will continue in the days to come. The Bank of Japan,
the Japanese central bank is printing around ¥5-trillion per month and is expected to do so till March 2015. The European Central Bank is also preparing to print €500-billion to €1-trillion over the next few years. All this money will be available for big institutional investors to borrow at very low interest rates.
The Federal Reserve of United States has made it clear that even though it will go slow on printing money in the days to come, it is unlikely to start pumping out all the money that it has put into the financial system any time soon.
Hence, the stock market bubbles around the world are likely to continue in the days to come. As Claudio Borio and Philip Lowe wrote in
the BIS working paper titled Asset prices, financial and monetary stability: exploring the nexus  “lowering rates or providing ample liquidity when problems materialise but not raising rates as imbalances build up, can be rather insidious in the longer run. They promote a form of moral hazard that can sow the seeds of instability and of costly fluctuations in the real economy.”
The worst, as they say, is yet to come.
The article originally appeared on www.FirstBiz.com on Sep 27, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

## A case for gold at \$10,000 per ounce

Vivek Kaul
The funny thing is that the more I think I will not write on gold, the more I end up writing on it. So here we go with one more piece analysing the prospects of the yellow metal.
The recent past has seen a host of analysts and economists turn negative on gold. One of the reasons for this has been the feeling that the developed world (US, Europe and Japan i.e.) which had been reeling under the aftermath of the financial crisis since 2008 is now on a roadmap to sustainable recovery.
The irony is that analysts and economists jump at any opportunity to predict a recovery but are nowhere to be seen when a recession is looming. As Albert Edwards of Societe Generale writes in a report titled We still forecast 450 S&P, sub-1% US 10year yields, and gold above \$10,000 released yesterday “There are some ever-present truths in this business. Economists usually forecast a return to trend growth and will never forecast a recession. Equity strategists tend to forecast the market will rise 10% each year and will never forecast bear markets.”
So dear readers this is an important fact to be kept in mind when reading any dire forecast on gold. As Edwards puts it “The late Margaret Thatcher had a strong view about consensus. She called it: “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects.” The same applies to most market forecasts. With some rare exceptions…analysts dont like to stand out from the crowd.”
And the consensus right now seems to be that gold is done with its upward journey. The logic being offered is that all the money printing that central banks around the world have indulged in since the end of 2008, has helped them repair their respective financial systems and economies. (To know why I don’t believe that is the case click here).
To achieve this economic stability a huge amount of money has been printed. As Gary Dorsch, an investment newsletter writer wrote in a recent column “So far, five central banks, – the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank have effectively created more than \$6-trillion of new currency over the past four years, and have flooded the world money markets with excess liquidity. The size of their balance sheets has now reached a combined \$9.5-trillion, compared with \$3.5-trillion six years ago.”
While this money printing has ‘supposedly’ helped the countries in the developed world move towards economic stability, at the same time it has not led to any inflation, as it was expected to. And this is the main reason being cited by those who have turned bearish on gold.
Gold has always been bought as a hedge against the threat of high inflation. And if there is no inflation why buy gold is the argument being offered.
On the face of it this seems like a fair point to make. But lets try and understand why it doesn’t work. It is important to understand that free money does not and cannot exist. As Dylan Grice of Societe Generale wrote in a report titled The Market for honesty: is \$10,000 gold fair value? released in September, 2011 “Since there can be no such thing as a government, or anyone else for that matter, raising revenue ‚at no cost‛ simple logic tells us that someone, somewhere has to pay.”
The point being that when the government finances itself by getting the central bank to print money, someone has to bear the cost.
The question is who is that someone. As Grice wrote “This is where the subtle dishonesty resides, because the answer is that no-one knows. If the money printing creates inflation in the product market, the consumers in that product market will pay. If the money printing creates inflation in asset markets, the purchaser of the more elevated asset price pays. Of course, if the printed money ends up in asset markets even less is known about who ultimately pays for the government’s ‘free lunch’…The ‘free lunch’ providers will be the late entrants into whatever asset-bubble or investment fad the money printing inflates.”
So how does this work in the current context? While the money printing hasn’t led to product inflation in the developed world, the stock markets in the developed world, particularly in the United States and Japan, have been rallying big time. Despite the fact that the respective economies are not in the best of shape. Hence, the money printing even though it hasn’t led to consumer price inflation, it has led to inflation in the stock market. And those investors who will enter these stock markets late, will ultimately bear the cost of all the money printing.
Money that leaves the printing presses of the government need not always end up with people, who use it to buy consumer products and thus push up their price. As Grice puts it “By now, some of you might feel this all to be irrelevant. Surely, you might be thinking, the plain fact is that there is no inflation. I disagree. To see why, think about what inflation is in the light of the above thinking. I know economists define it as changes in the price of a basket of consumer goods, the CPI(consumer price index). But why should that be the definitive measure, given that it’s only one of the many possible destinations in money’s Brownian journey from the printing presses? Why ignore other destinations, such as asset markets? Isn’t asset price inflation (or bubbles as they are more commonly known) more distortionary and economically inefficient than product price inflation?”
The consumer price index which measures inflation is looked at as a definitive measure by economists. But there are problems with the way it is constructed. As a recent report titled Gold Investor: Risk Management and Capital Preservation released by the World Gold Council points out “The weights that different goods and services have in the aforementioned indices do not always correspond to what a household may experience. For example, tuition has been one of the fastest growing expenses for US households but represents only 3% of CPI (consumer price index). In practice, tuition costs correspond to more than 10% of the annual income even for upper-middle American households – and a higher percentage of their consumption.”
This helps in understating the actual inflation number. There are other factors at play as well which work towards understating the actual inflation number. As the World Gold Council report points out “Consumer price baskets are frequently adjusted to incorporate the effect that advancement in technology (e.g. in computer hardware) have on prices paid. These so called hedonic adjustments can overstate reductions in price compared to what consumers pay in practice. For example, a new computer can have the same nominal price as it did five years ago, but adjusting for the processing speed and storage capacity it appears cheaper.”
Then there are also methodological changes that have been made to the consumer price index and the way it measures inflation over the years, which in practice do not always reflect the full erosion of the purchasing power of money.
The following chart shows that if inflation in the United States was still measured as it was in the 1980s would be now close to 10% instead of the official 2%.

The moral of the story is that the situation is not as simple as those who have turned bearish on gold are making it out to be. Given that, how does one view the recent fall in prices of gold on the back of this evidence? As Edwards puts it “Gold corrected 47% from 1974-1976 before rising more than 8x to US\$887/oz in 1980. A steep correction is normal before the parabolic move.”
Both Edwards and Grice expect gold to touch \$10,000 per ounce (one troy ounce equals 31.1 grams). As I write this gold is currently quoting at \$1460 per ounce, having risen from the low of \$1350 per ounce that it touched sometime back.
Central banks around the world have tried to create economic growth by printing money. But their efforts to do so are likely to backfire. As Edwards writes “My working experience of the last 30 years has convinced me that policymakers’ efforts to manage the economic cycle have actually made things far more volatile. Their repeated interventions have, much to their surprise, blown up in their faces a few years later. The current round of QE will be no different. We have written previously, quoting Marc Faber, that “The Fed Will Destroy the World” through their money printing. Rapid inflation surely beckons.”
And that’s the point to remember: rapid inflation surely beckons. And to be prepared for that it is important to have investments in gold, the recent negativity around it notwithstanding.
To conclude let me again emphasise that this is how I feel about gold. I may be right. I may be wrong. That only time will tell. So please don’t bet your life on it and limit your exposure to gold to around 10% of your overall investment.
It is important to remember the first few lines of Ruchir Sharma’s Breakout Nations: “The old rule of forecasting was to make as many forecasts as possible and publicise the ones you got right. The new rule is to forecast so far into the future that no one will know you got it wrong.”

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on April 26, 2013

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek. He has investments in gold through the mutual fund route)

## Are you a victim of the Sajid Khan syndrome?

Vivek Kaul
The residents of the island of New Guinea first saw the white man in 1930. The white men were strangers to New Guineans. The New Guineans had never gone to far off places and most of them lived in the vicinity of where they were born, at most making it to the top of the hill around the corner. Given this, they were under the impression that they were the only living people.
This impression turned out to be wrong and the New Guineans started to develop stories around the white men who had come visiting. Jared Diamond writes in
The World Until Yesterday that the New Guineans told themselves that “Ah, these men do not belong to earth. Let’s not kill them – they are our own relatives. Those who have died before have turned white and come back.”
The New Guineans tried to place the strange looking Europeans into “known categories of their world view”. But over a period of time they did come to realise that Europeans were human after all. As Diamond writes “Two discoveries went a long way towards convincing New Guineans that Europeans really were human were that the feces scavenged from their campsite latrines looked like typical human feces (i.e., like the feces of New Guineans); and that young New Guinea girls offered to Europeans as sex partners reported that Europeans had sex organs and practiced sex much as did New Guinea men.”
To the men and women of New Guinea, Europeans were what former American defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the “unknown-unknown”. As Rumsfeld said “[T]here are known knows; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown-unknowns-there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
People take time to adjust to unknown-unknowns, like the New Guineans did. But there are also situations in life in which individuals, institutions and even countries tend to ignore the chance of something that they know can happen, just because it hasn’t happened in the recent past or it hasn’t happened to them specifically. For such people, institutions and countries, the option tends to become an unknown-unknown even though it is not one in the specific sense of the term.
Take the case of film director Sajid Khan whose most recent movie was
Himmatwala. Before the movie was released the director often said “I can’t say I am a great director but I am the greatest audience, since childhood I have done nothing other than watching films. Cinema is my life. I can never make a flop film because I make film for audience and not for myself .”
Of course this statement was right before
Himmatwala released. Khan’s previous three outings as director Heyy Babyy, Housefull and Housefull 2 had been a huge success. Himmatwala fizzled out at the box office and its first four day collections have been nowhere near what was expected. As the well respected film trade website Koimoi.com points out “The numbers are too bad for a film like Himmatwala, which was expected to create shattering records at the Box Office being a ‘Entertainer’ and moreover due to the coming together of two successful individuals – actor Ajay Devgn and director Sajid Khan for the first time. However, the formula didn’t work this time it seems!”
Khan’s overconfidence came from the fact that none of his previous films had flopped and that led him to make the assumption that none of his forthcoming films will flop as well. He expected the trend to continue. Khan had become a victim of what Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls the ‘availability heuristic’.
Kahneman defines the availability heuristic in
Thinking, Fast and Slow as “We defined the availability heuristic as the process of judging frequency by “the ease with which instances come to mind.”” In Khan’s case the instances were the previous three movies he had directed and each one of them had been a superhit. And that led to his overconfidence and the statement that he can never make a flop film.
Nate Silver summarises the situation well in The Signal and the Noise. As he points out “We tend to overrate the likelihood of events that are nearer to us in time and space and underpredict the ones that aren’t.” And this clouds our judgement.
Another great example is of this are central banks around the world which have been on a money printing spree.
As Gary Dorsch, Editor, Global Money Trends points out in a recent columnSo far, five central banks, – the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank have effectively created more than \$6-trillion of new currency over the past four years, and have flooded the world money markets with excess liquidity. The size of their balance sheets has now reached a combined \$9.5-trillion, compared with \$3.5-trillion six years ago.”
This money has been pumped into various economies around the world in the hope that banks and financial institutions will lend it to consumers and businesses. And when consumers and businesses spend this borrowed money it will revive economic growth. But that has not happened. The solution that central banks have come up with is printing even more money.
One of the risks of too much money printing is the fact it will chase the same number of goods and services, and thus usually leads to a rise in overall prices or inflation. But that hasn’t happened till now. The fact that all the money printing has not produced rapid inflation has led to the assumption that it will never produce any inflation. Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States, the American central bank, has even gone to the extent of saying that he was 100% sure he could control inflation.
Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has made similar statements. “
Certainly those people who said that asset purchases would lead us down the path of Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe I think have been proved wrong ,” he has said. What this means is that excess money printing will not lead to kind of high inflation that it did in Germany in the early 1920s and Zimbabwe a few years back.
King and Bernanke like Sajid Khan are just looking at the recent past where excess money printing has not led to inflation. And using this instance they have come to the conclusion that they can control inflation (in Bernanke’s case) as and when it will happen or that there will simply be no inflation because of money printing (in King’s case).
As Albert Edwards of Societe Generale writes in a report titled
Is Mark Carney the next Alan Greenspan “King’s assertion that because the quantitative easing(another term for money printing) to date has not yet produced rapid inflation must mean that it will never produce rapid inflation is just plain wrong. He simply cannot know.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a lot more direct in Anti Fragile when says “central banks can print money; they print print and print with no effect (and claim the “safety” of such a measure), then, “unexpectedly,” the printing causes a jump in inflation.” Just because something hasn’t happened in the recent past does not mean it won’t happen in the future.
People who make economic forecasts are also the victims of what we can now call the Sajid Khan syndrome. They expect the recent trend to continue.
The Indian economy grew by 8.6% in 2009-2010 and 9.3% in 2010-2011. And the Indian politicians and bureaucrats told us with glee that the Indian economy had decoupled from the world economy, which was growing very slowly in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission is a very good example of the same. In a television discussion in April 2012, he kept insisting that a 7% economic growth rate for India was a given. Turns out it was not. The Indian economy grew by 4.5% in the three months ending December 31, 2012. Ahluwalia was way off the mark simply because he had the previous instances of 8-9% rate of economic growth in his mind. And he was projecting that into the future and saying worse come worse India will at least grow by 7%.
It is not only experts who become victims of the Sajid Khan syndrome taking into account events of only the recent past. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when aeroplanes collided into the two towers of the World Trade Centre, many Americans simply took to driving fairly long distances, fearing more terrorist attacks.
But driving is inherently more risky than flying. As Spyros Makridakis, Robin Hograth and Anil Gaba write in
Dance with Chance – Making Your Luck Work for You “In 2001, there were 483 deaths among commercial airline passengers in the USA, about half of them on 9/11. Interestingly in 2002, there wasn’t a single one. And in 2003 and 2004 there were only nineteen and eleven fatalities respectively. This means that during these three years, a total of thirty airline passengers in America were killed in accidents. In the same period, however, 128,525 people died in US car accidents.” Estimates suggest that nearly 1600 deaths could have been avoided if people had taken the plane and not decided to drive,.
So what caused this? “Plane crashes are turned into video images of twisted wreckage and dead bodies, then beamed into every home on television screens,” write the authors. That is precisely what happened in the aftermath of 9/11. People saw and remembered planes crashing into the two towers of the World Trade Centre and decided that flying was risky.
They just remembered those two recent instances. What they did not take into account was the fact that thousands of planes continued to arrive at their destinations without any accident like they had before. So most people ended up concluding that chances of dying in an aeroplane accident was much higher than it really was.
The same logic did not apply to a car crash. As the authors write “Car crashes, on the other hand, rarely make the headlines…Smaller-scale road accidents occur in large numbers with horrifying regularity, killing hundreds and thousands of people each year worldwide…We just don’t hear about them.” And just because we don’t hear about things, doesn’t mean they have stopped happening or they won’t happen to us.
Another version of this is the probability of dying due to a terror attack. As Kahneman writes “Even in countries that have been targets of intensive terror campaigns, such as Israel, the weekly number of casualties almost never came close to the number of traffic deaths.”
A good comparison in an Indian context is the number of people who die falling off the overcrowded Mumbai local train network in comparison to the number of people who have been killed in the various terrorist attacks in Mumbai over the last few years. The first number is higher. But its just that people die falling off the local train network almost everyday and never make it to the news pages, which is not the case with any terrorist attack, which gets sustained media coverage sometimes running into months.
To conclude it is important to look beyond the recent past and ensure that like Sajid Khan and others, we do not fall victims to the Sajid Khan syndrome.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on April 4, 2013.

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)