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Enemies Real and Imagined

By Rusty Guinn | July 21, 2021 | 10 Comments

I think there’s a non-zero chance that the delta-variant becomes something that markets really are focused on. Maybe that happens months from now. Maybe days.

But until that happens, the delta-variant narrative explaining markets is a wall of worry, an artificially easy hurdle to climb for a market that only really cares about a dovish Fed sticking to its transitory inflation story.

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Shot … Chaser

P&C insurer Lemonade (LMND) went public last year and now has a $5 billion market cap. They’re not just a sleepy insurance company, of course. No, no … they’re actually a cutting edge AI Company! TM.

They’ve deleted the tweet above and issued a classic non-denial denial on their blog:

Let’s be clear: 

AI that uses harmful concepts like phrenology and physiognomy has never, and will never, be used at Lemonade.

We have never, and will never, let AI auto-reject claims.

LOL. So their AI Jim textbot + video recognition program (I am not making this up) isn’t using phrenology and it can’t auto-reject claims. No, no … the supervisor will reject the claim. BITFD.

— Ben Hunt | May 28, 2021 | 7:47am

Raccoonery in Action

Honestly, I kinda like Chamath-the-CNBC-talking-head. He’s iconoclastic and smart. A little too much Ben Shapiro / college debate team-esque with the “if I talk really fast maybe you’ll just ignore that jaw-droppingly stupid thing I just said”, but better than the usual CNBC fare regardless.

But Chamath-the-portfolio-manager? Raccoonery in action.

Here’s the Social Capital 2020 annual letter, published five months into 2021. There’s no mention of the disastrous year to date, which demands that you ask the core Epsilon Theory question: Why am I reading this NOW? But even taken on its own terms – hey, let’s talk about 2020 performance going into June, 2021 – this is just a complete crock.

Chamath describes his fund’s performance as “gross IRR” over aggregated multi-year periods. We have no idea of the fund’s performance in 2020, even in “gross IRR” terms, but are required to compare 2011-2019 average annual return to 2011-2020 average annual return. Then Chamath compares his “gross IRR” to S&P 500 total return over the same periods. Then he compares that to Berkshire Hathaway over “the first nine years” of the two investment funds. LOL.

The final picture below – a tweet I put out after a Chamath tweet storm in early March – highlights the rest of his raccoon math.

When I think about all the compliance pushback I’ve gotten on investor letters and marketing decks over the years … when I think about all of the SEC and regulatory proctology exams my funds have endured … this just makes me so angry.

— Ben Hunt | May 27, 2021 | 10:25 am

The Diversification Problem

Good chart out from Barclays this morning showing the key problem for investors and financial advisors as inflation fears take root: bonds no longer provide portfolio diversification.

— Ben Hunt | May 26, 2021 | 11:35am

Inflation as Ad Campaign

An ET Pack member sent me this. Anyone else come across ads that directly call out inflation expectations? Would love to collect more screenshots like this!

— Ben Hunt | May 24, 2021 | 10:43 pm

Many People Are Saying … Bitcoin is Art

The Bitcoin Is Art thesis that I put out back in 2015 (The Effete Rebellion of Bitcoin) and recently put forward again (In Praise of Bitcoin) is finding a lot traction recently in mainstream publications like Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. I don’t think I’ve ever started a narrative snowball before … it’s a weird feeling!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I guess.

Bitcoin Is a Lot Like the Art Market (Bloomberg 5/21/2021)

Both cryptocurrencies and contemporary art rely on scarcity and hype because they have no other real value — though crypto has less price control.

Bitcoin Is More Modern Art or Religion Than Money (Bloomberg 5/21/2021)

Like a shark suspended in formaldehyde, it has value only if we believe it does.

Yes, Bitcoin Is Useless. Many Will Say: So What? (WSJ 5/24/2021)

Cryptocurrencies may ultimately have no intrinsic value, but humanity’s love for useless things means they aren’t necessarily worth nothing.

— Ben Hunt | May 24, 2021 | 7:10 pm

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Low Demand, Low Supply, High Price Expectations

From the ET Forum …

So that’s where we are in our local real estate market – low demand, low supply, high price expectations – and my sense is that this is where we are in lots of markets … not just CT residential real estate. Maybe it’s just the summer doldrums, I dunno. Maybe I’m just taking my local experience as more meaningful than it is. I’d be really interested to hear if anyone is seeing or experiencing the same, either in RE or anywhere else.

Because this is how stagflation happens.

Seasonality is so tough to parse, especially against pandemic-affected seasonality, but it sure seems like inventory got legitimately bought down in Q4/Q1, after which brokers sold that experience and y-o-y % changes to drive a corresponding increase in supply.

Also no idea wtf is going on in multi-family / condo land around here, but definitely seems distinct from the single-family experience.

— Ben Hunt | July 28, 2021|

Let Me Make the Songs

Epsilon Theory may have gotten its formal start in 2013, but the soft launch took place in 1991. That’s when my partner Ben finished his doctoral work at <lifts nose slightly> a school up in Cambridge. His work there (and his 1997 book, Getting to War) focused on how news could be used to predict the likelihood of war. It also analyzed how news was used by institutions and individuals to foment an appetite for and belief in the necessity of war, which is related to but not the same as the ability to use that news for predictions.

So yes, we were interested to read about Project Cassandra, a collaboration between German academics and military leaders to quantify the risk of conflicts using…literature. The Guardian covers it here in what I think is a very worthwhile read.

Jürgen Wertheimer, who set up Project Cassandra, standing in front of a green chalkboard
Jürgen Wertheimer, head of the Cassandra Project (Source: The Guardian, Dominik Gigler)

The project is really interesting. It confirms, or at least shares, many of the core principles of our Narrative Machine project. Not least among them is the recognition that oft-mined sentiment possesses a fraction of the influence of memes with subjective power that can only be identified objectively through words and phrases of meaning. Or the observation of identifiable, recurring story archetypes.

Leaving aside that we focus on different universes of creative output, our projects DO differ in one respect. The Cassandra Project appears to place great emphasis on the ability to quantify the popular and critical acclaim of a fictional literary work. For example, more popular, more viral, more well-regarded work would have different influence, which is a perfectly sensible hypothesis.

Because we focus on a larger and more frequent dataset of news, blogs, press releases and transcripts, we get to do two different things: first, instead of estimating how much of an audience has heard an idea and how much that idea has changed their minds, we can more easily observe how much a specific memetic idea has reproduced within the dataset over time.

Second, because our dataset includes items which are nominally news / non-fiction content, we can observe the extent to which explicit and implicit opinion language is being deployed, which also provides a window into the narrative-shaping efforts of common knowledge missionaries.

Two different approaches to a similar problem. I prefer ours, because I feel more confident saying that an idea has reproductive legs by observing how it changes the language other people use to discuss it, and because knowing some of the intentions of powerful institutions and influential individuals is an indispensable part of any effort to quantify the potential effects of narrative.

But there are absolutely features of the zeitgeist which will only manifest in the arts, in literature, and in the groanings and yearnings of those who make the songs. For that reason alone, we think the Germans have the right of it here in the way that the Scots did before. It’s a very cool project.

Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.

Andrew Fletcher, Commissioner of the Old Parliament of Scotland (1703)

— Rusty Guinn | July 8, 2021 | 12:32 pm

Proof of Plant: A New Vision for Crypto, Part 1

By Ben Hunt | June 23, 2021 | 35 Comments

I want to change the language of crypto from mining to growing. I do not mean this in a metaphorical sense. I mean a proof-of-plant method for literally growing cryptocurrency tokens as a representation of the value stored in the human cultivation of plants.

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Reinventing the Financial System

By Marc Rubinstein | June 15, 2021 | 4 Comments

If you’re like me, you’ve been put off from digging deeper into DeFi by the terrible signal-to-noise ratio of anything crypto-related on the interwebs. That’s why I found this DeFi primer (using Maker DAO as a specific example) by ET contributor and banking analyst Marc Rubinstein to be so fantastic.

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Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar

By Ben Hunt | May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

More on Information Theory.

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Recent Notes

Cursed Knowledge #3: The Molassacre

By Harper Hunt | July 26, 2021

The Boston Molassacre was one of the great tragedies of the early 20th century. So why isn’t it treated like one?

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Ever Grande

By Marc Rubinstein | July 26, 2021

The Chinese real estate developer Evergrande is the epitome of Too Big To Fail. It is truly Ever Grande.

So what happens if it does, in fact, fail?

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Enemies Real and Imagined

By Rusty Guinn | July 21, 2021

I think there’s a non-zero chance that the delta-variant becomes something that markets really are focused on. Maybe that happens months from now. Maybe days.

But until that happens, the delta-variant narrative explaining markets is a wall of worry, an artificially easy hurdle to climb for a market that only really cares about a dovish Fed sticking to its transitory inflation story.

Read more

Welcome to Metaworld

By Rusty Guinn | July 16, 2021

The language of practically every topic of any social importance is now defined by people discussing how other people are discussing it. It’s true for the environment, race, politics and now – violent crime.

Welcome to Metaworld.

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ET Podcast #12 – Proof of Plant

By Ben Hunt | July 16, 2021

I think this is how crypto can change the world. Not as “money” and not as Bitcoin! TM and not as a security and not as this speculative coin versus that speculative coin. Not by facilitating a market of goods, but by facilitating a market of GOOD.

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What is Robinhood?

By Marc Rubinstein | July 12, 2021

What is Robinhood? It’s the conflation of gambling and investing. Which is … fine. I guess. But spare me the “we’re democratizing finance” BS.

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Cursed Knowledge #2: Weinstein and the Oscars

By Harper Hunt | July 5, 2021

Harvey Weinstein is a terrible person who did terrible things. But he doesn’t get nearly enough credit, or more accurately blame, for his role in destroying the integrity of the Academy Awards and fundamentally altering how Hollywood makes movies.

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I’m So Tired of the Transitory Inflation “Debate”

By Ben Hunt | July 1, 2021

When a famous person shakes his or her finger at you, they’re not telling you a fact.

They’re telling you how to think about a fact.

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Litigation Finance

By Bruce Packard | June 28, 2021

The formation of new “asset classes” and their associated narratives is a fascinating sight.

Using Burford Capital as a case study, new ET contributor Bruce Packard gives us a great primer on litigation-finance-as-an-asset-class.

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Day-One Advice for New Hedge Fund Portfolio Managers

By Brent Donnelly | June 25, 2021

Over the last 6 months, there’s been a mass influx of new hedge fund PMs, many from bank trading seats leaving for greener (?) pastures. I’ve been in both seats. I’ve had good years and disappointing years. So I present this advice with the utmost humility …

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Proof of Plant: A New Vision for Crypto, Part 1

By Ben Hunt | June 23, 2021

I want to change the language of crypto from mining to growing. I do not mean this in a metaphorical sense. I mean a proof-of-plant method for literally growing cryptocurrency tokens as a representation of the value stored in the human cultivation of plants.

Read more

Cursed Knowledge #1: The Fast Saga

By Harper Hunt | June 21, 2021

The Fast and Furious movies are famous for intense action and ridiculous plots. But the truth about how these stories get made has more to do with the drama happening behind the camera than in front of it.

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ET Podcast #11 – A Working Narrative

By Ben Hunt | June 16, 2021

We write a LOT about work. And the responses we get are … weird.

Once again, the most important narratives are the ones we tell ourselves.

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Reinventing the Financial System

By Marc Rubinstein | June 15, 2021

If you’re like me, you’ve been put off from digging deeper into DeFi by the terrible signal-to-noise ratio of anything crypto-related on the interwebs. That’s why I found this DeFi primer (using Maker DAO as a specific example) by ET contributor and banking analyst Marc Rubinstein to be so fantastic.

Read more

A Working Narrative

By Rusty Guinn | June 7, 2021

The future of remote work after the pandemic ends has been a part of the zeitgeist for more than a year.

Now it IS the zeitgeist. It is also a narrative battlefield being actively conflated with a half dozen other major social and policy topics.

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ET Zeitgeist: Deadly Theatre

By Ben Hunt | June 4, 2021

What is Deadly Theatre?

It’s corporate logos for Pride Month. It’s speaking gigs for Deborah Birx. It’s the cover up for Leon Black.

#BITFD

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ET Zeitgeist: Raccoons Never Sleep

By Ben Hunt | May 28, 2021

Lemonade (LMND) isn’t just an insurance company. No, no … they’re an AI Company! ™.

Plus Chamath is up to his old tricks.

I hate raccoons.

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ET Zeitgeist: With Enemies Like This

By Ben Hunt | May 21, 2021

This has been a bad week for Bitcoin and Bitcoin! TM alike. There’s no getting around that.

But whenever Paul Krugman and the Wall Street Journal agree on something … I want to be on the other side of that trade!

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Mortgage Mayhem

By Marc Rubinstein | May 18, 2021

Mortgages are pretty standard fare in the world of finance, but the American version is special: it grants its user a free option to refinance if they can get a cheaper rate elsewhere.

Every lender thinks they can thrive in this market. But every lender can’t be right.

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Financing the American Home

By Marc Rubinstein | May 18, 2021

As a non-American there are many things I don’t understand about America.

Most of all though, I don’t understand the most American of products: the 30-year fixed-rate fully prepayable mortgage.

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