Does technical analysis actually work?

Photo Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Many traders have claimed to use technical analysis to guide their forecasts and hence make money on the financial markets using this method of analysis, however in this article I will actually argue my case against it. But firstly, what does it actually mean?

Technical analysis essentially entails the use of past price information to predict future price movements. For example, a basic (albeit crude) way to use technical analysis would be to say that if Stock A has currently established a support level of $25 a share over a period of, say, a few months, and today it reaches that level again, but breaks it, dropping to $24.50 a share, then that is a bearish signal on Stock A in the near term future. To me, the first problem with this is that you ONLY use price to inform your trading decisions.

The theory of value investing can give us a valuable lesson to relate to this point – human beings are irrational and hence the market does not always accurately value different companies. For example, during the euphoria associated with the early stages of the dot-com bubble shares rose to a high of $14, with the company becoming defunct not even one year later. Such behaviour is indicative of the fact that share price does not always tell the full story of a company’s basic fundamentals, and simply trading on technical indicators is to rely on human emotion rather than solid fundamentals, which is a recipe for potential losses. This illustrates the first deficiency of technical analysis: the fact that the share price of a company is not the sole indicator of its business fundamentals.

However, a counterargument to this point would be that it is indeed possible to use technical and fundamental analysis in tandem to achieve profitable results. While this may be true, it’s interesting to question how much of this profitability is down to the technical analysis itself, and how much is down to just luck. Technical analysis is fraught with ambiguity; different methods of technical analysis have been seen to be contradictory to each other and, moreso, applying different methods of analysis to different financial instruments can possibly yield the same result. There is little room for nuance or financial instrument-specific related analysis actually related to the company or currency pair (for example) itself. This is surmised well in a quote from Warren Buffett, where he says “I realised technical analysis didn’t work when I turned the charts upside down and didn’t get a different answer.” Much of technical analysis is also based on human psychology, which renders it increasingly invalid given the increasing prevalence of algorithm-based trading strategies in the financial markets.

Moreso, arguably for technical analysis to work in analysing different financial instruments an implicit assumption is that traders and investors have perfect information about the underlying instrument being traded. To falsify this, let’s use a case study:

Volkswagen AW

On the 21st of September, 2015, the first trading day after which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Notice of Violation to Volkswagen (VW) was made public, the share price of Volkswagen AG fell by 20% on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Hence, all forecasts of this share price before the EPA’s announcement based on technical analysis were either completely wrong, or simply correct due to pure chance. While, indeed, fundamental analysis would have also been unable to predict this happening, the 24.7% decline in sales of Volkswagen vehicles in the US in November 2015 from November 2014 at least provides a fundamental indicator of a potential impact on VW’s bottom line, which share price (although it may have done in this case) is not at all guaranteed to do, as there may be other, external influences on the share price that cloud the impact of this scandal.

To conclude, in my opinion technical analysis is a flawed method of analysis of financial market instruments for three main reasons, the first of which is that price does not always reflect all information freely available. In addition to this, the fact that the analysis leaves little room for financial instrument-specific related nuance and also that there may be other information which is not freely available and thus not reflected in, for example, share prices, discredits the notion of technical analysis as a feasible method of analysing the financial markets. Although many traders claim to have successfully traded the financial markets using technical analysis, for the reasons mentioned above I personally do not find technical indicators worth the time compared to fundamental indicators.

Sorry for not writing for so long – public exams really took my time away!

The EU needs to change. Here’s how

It’s the 1st of January, 2002. 12 European countries have officially began to use Euro notes and coins as legal tender. It was seen by some then as a sign, a sign of the peace and togetherness which being a member of the European Union engendered, and a sign of the success which the European Union was enjoying.

Oh, how wrong those people were.

Since the beginning of 2002, 7 more countries have joined the eurozone, Greece has gone back and forth from the depths of economic hell, and a refugee crisis has threatened the very fabric of what the EU stands for.

Oh, and there was that whole Brexit thing.

It’s not an exaggeration in any sense of the word to state that the past few years have been eventful for the EU. However, in truth, much of the blame for the EU’s tumultuous past lies squarely on the shoulders of the EU itself. From the sheer stupidity of the idea of uniform monetary policy for almost 20 countries to the EU’s resistance to compromise with member states on almost anything, it’s fair to say that the organisation has not done itself any favours recently. However, the Union’s death-knell has not come yet. It is possible that if the EU introduces key reforms in significant areas, they could snatch stability from the jaws of disintegration. However, these reforms need to be sweeping, and come sooner rather than later, starting with the abolishment of the eurozone entirely.

Essentially, what the eurozone is is a monetary union which currently comprises 19 of the 28 EU member states; intuitively, all of these countries therefore use the euro as their currency. The monetary policy of the eurozone countries is decided by a large organisation known as the European Central Bank (or ECB). You might already see what the problem with this is, which is that a one size fits all policy cannot possibly work with 19 different countries with completely different economic and financial circumstances to each other. Whilst globalisation has made these countries more interconnected than ever before, there still remain considerable differences; one wouldn’t liken the financial situation of Greece to that of Germany, for example. If one country’s central bank heads wanted to raise interest rates, they likely couldn’t get the ECB to; it has the interests of 18 other countries to think about as well. The result of this is lacklustre growth, accompanied by growing discontent within the eurozone directed towards the ECB, and each other for acting as barricades to collective success. Therefore, the EU is left with two possible choices: ditch the euro, and let each country’s central bank dictate monetary policy, or take control of the fiscal policy of each eurozone country themselves. Given the large political and diplomatic consequences which the latter would have, it would be wise, nay, essential for the euro to go, leaving each country to synergise their own fiscal and monetary policies, facilitating the increased growth and prosperity of these countries and therefore the EU as a whole.

Moreover, the arrogance of the EU in forcing austerity upon countries such as Greece to meet their budget deficit targets, when these countries are already in recession, is confusing at best and asinine at worst. Austerity during a period of recession simply dampens consumer confidence and spending even further, creating a negative cycle of economic contraction and reduced prosperity. Proponents of Keynesian thought here would say that what Greece and countries like it require would be large fiscal stimulus packages to help trigger a positive multiplier effect and bolster the economy through long run economic growth. Having not followed this route, Greek annual economic growth rates are still firmly negative, and showing no signs of changing anytime soon. Had Greece not gone down the road of austerity, it could have potentially trimmed its budget deficits during a period of growth, rather than shatter consumer confidence and therefore any prospect of economic growth in its short-term horizons. For the EU to not see this, even now, is hinging on delusional and suggests that they see their ideas as worth more than recent evidence; the last thing you want from a respectable political institution. This arrogance and blind faith in the powers of austerity needs to go, and soon.

Complementing this arrogance is a string of inefficient directives and rules that have misallocated funds and endangered key sectors of European economies. For example, the famous CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) regulates price levels of food, artificially inflating them and therefore resulting in an oversupply and wastage of food. Arguably, some EU legislation introduced such as this is counterproductive rather than constructive, and the EU member states would do better without it. Granted, almost all countries have that element of bureaucracy within themselves, but if the EU wants to go back to competing with the likes of America, China and India on the global stage, it needs to cut down on these regulations to ensure the most efficient allocation of resources possible within its borders. Compared to its euro and austerity problem, however, this is relatively minor, and should the EU change its policy stance drastically in the way outlined here, it could potentially live to see another day. If not? Well, let’s just say that the dream of EU economic prosperity could be just that, a dream, shunned from the gates of reality by its own stupidity and stubbornness.

The choice is theirs.

Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” has failed. But why?

Who would have thought that it would be in the Land of the Rising Sun that three arrows could miss their target so wildly?

Of course, I’m talking about the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe’s, three arrows of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reform that were intended to claw Japan out of a dangerous cycle of recession and deflation. At the time, it seemed like the perfect policy, with fiscal stimulus intended to increase demand for goods and services and monetary easing by the Bank of Japan intended to generate the 2% inflation that Japan has so longed for, increasing aggregate demand and therefore triggering a virtuous cycle of economic growth. In addition to this, the structural reform intended to increase the competitiveness of Japanese industry with regards to the world as a whole should have ideally bolstered and healed Japanese companies’ future prospects, after years of sluggishness. Yet as so often turns out, while Abe’s plans seemed to be worth their weight in gold on paper, they have failed to revitalise Japan and return it to the supreme economic status which it once had. Amongst a whole host of other indicators, Japan’s inflation rate fell to -0.4% in July 2016, lowering the proverbial coffin into the ground of another seemingly great set of economic policies. But why has it failed when it looked so good on paper? How has Abe fallen flat yet again? Could external factors be preventing the three arrows from working their magic?

Well, when you take into account Japan’s rapidly changing demographic, the answer to the latter question would be resoundingly in the affirmative. Since 2010, Japan’s population growth has been negative and birth rates have steadily declined while life expectancy continues to rise. On the health side of things, this is a massive breakthrough for the country, but economically, what it means is that Japan now is faced with the problem of a gradually dwindling labour force. Hence, although Abe is injecting billions upon billions of fiscal stimulus into the economy, the decline in labour force has resulted in a decrease in consumer demand in spite of his policies, due to less people having the money in their pockets to actually spend in the first place. In this regard, what Abe could further focus on is spearhead a further push for immigration to bolster aggregate demand and consumer spending, in turn boosting growth before the arduous and potentially unfruitful wait for Japanese societal norms regarding children to change (he has made great strides towards this with his Abenomics 2.0 programme). Perhaps in the case of Japan, this policy would be far more beneficial to her than any fiscal package that Abe could come up with; it would certainly at least be worth a try.

One side effect of recent Japanese economic policy (in particular the monetary policy of setting negative interest rates) has also been a devaluation of the Japanese yen, allowing Japanese firms to become complacent in the face of high profits. Due to the weak yen increasing Japanese firms’ revenues from abroad, the result is a lack of incentives for these firms to innovate and increase productivity. Due to this, the economy’s productive capacity has stagnated, hindering its potential for long run economic growth. Recent reports indicate that distinguished figures such as former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, declaring that “monetary policy is reaching its limits” in many developed countries. Due to this, it is feasible that the cut in interest rates to negative levels, while effective on paper, has not worked so well in reality because it disincentives innovation within Japan, and without innovation, it is extremely difficult for a capitalist framework to thrive and prosper. Therefore, perhaps an appreciation of the yen against the dollar would not be as disastrous as many pundits claim, and instead, may indeed provide a route by which Japanese firms can finally move forward.

Social attitudes in Japan currently are also not exactly conducive to economic progress. Due to many of the current Japanese young generation having known nothing but economic stagnation, deflation (or very low inflation), and failed government policy, these young people, traditionally some of the big spenders in a modern economy, have failed to provide the Japanese machine with a much needed boost. It has gotten so bad that one individual said to the Financial Times that she feels as if she is “more conservative than [her] grandmother.”, such is the backwards direction which Japan has gone in with regards to spending. The solution to this is much less science than it is alchemy, and the only way which Japan can really try and fix this problem is a bottom-up approach to incentivise spending amongst young people. In my opinion, this could be achieved by portraying spending on goods and services as some sort of natural duty, invoking patriotic sentiment and therefore triggering spending to lurch from its slumber. However, Japan’s problems are both deep and wide ranging, and will take years, or perhaps even decades of consistently successful government policy to solve. While Abenomics is well-intentioned, it simply has and will not work in practice, and perhaps what Abe and his fellow policymakers need to do is to think a little bit outside of the box.

How will Obama be remembered?

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – The photographer is Will White.

On January 20, 2009, the United States of America finally turned its back on George Bush and appointed Barack Hussein Obama as their 44th President. At the time, it was looked at as a landmark occasion; the first African-American President in the history of the most powerful country in the world. Many now say that this victory for equality has been overshadowed by backwards, regressive policy that has gone against the very agenda of progressivism that Obama stood for election for. However, others instead espouse the idea that Obama has laid the proverbial stepping stones for future progressives to unite America through economic policy. Regardless of whichever side you take, it’s undoubtable that the Obama administration has divided opinion like almost no other in contemporary politics and economics. Obama’s tax cuts for the wealthiest in society are something which have been campaigned for by many in the past, but some on the left side of the spectrum still regard him as far too business-friendly to be in any way compatible with the vision of equality for all Americans. In this regard, many of his policies have not necessarily been the most popular, yet it is still important to take into account the economic climate which the 55-year-old inherited from his Republican predecessor; the images of widespread depression and angst certainly add context to the debate, context that is needed when analysing any presidency from an economic perspective.

Today, in a global economic environment of stagnation and extraordinarily low interest rates, many are justified in claiming that we have never really escaped the proverbial wreckage of the Great Depression. Yet more economists than not claim that Obama’s Keynesian fiscal stimulus package to the tune of $787 billion, largely in the form of tax cuts to families, was instrumental in making sure that America did not stuck in a period of prolonged economic stagnation, amidst an environment of lesser trust in the prospects of the economy, and therefore less investment. According to James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth College, the multiplier effect (the increase in final income arising from any new injection of spending) was between 1.96 to 2.31 for low-income spending, 1.85 for infrastructure spending, and finally in the range of 0.47 to 1.06 for stimulus as a whole. While this was not the only study carried out on Obama’s fiscal stimulus package, the methodology of the survey the two economists used is significant because they not only compared employment growth at state and county level, but they also compared month-by-month data to see how employment figures were changed at the point when the stimulus was injected into the economy. The significant upward trend generated by the stimulus here is thereby significant as it supports heavily the claim that the package was needed in order to usher America out of the stagnation that it previously endured; so Obama doesn’t seem to have done too badly so far.

The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill also was a significant piece of legislation that Obama signed during his presidency. Described by the Washington Post as “the most ambitious overhaul of financial regulation in generations”, there’s no denying that the Bill has had and will continue to have significant effects on the way financial firms think about their operations going forward. However, it does not ameliorate the problem of the massive moral hazard which banks are allowed to possess when analysing whether to cut down on their portfolio risk or not. In the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King’s book “The End of Alchemy: Banking, the Global Economy and the Future of Money”, King argues that this is precisely what could lead to another catastrophic recession, and argues instead for a “pawnbroker for all situations” solution, one in which banks have to take significant measures before having any chance of being bailed out. Whilst I would suggest that one reads King’s book for more insight into this claim, the fundamental underlying principle is that banks will take risks if you allow them to, putting taxpayers at risk of having to bail them out once again, and for this reason, I argue that the legislation Obama approved has not gone anywhere near far enough.

And now we come to perhaps the most contentious issue of all: Obamacare. Although the program still has its glaring faults and areas where it should really be improved in order to improve the accessibility of healthcare for every American, it has to be said that the healthcare program has had overwhelmingly positive effect. For example, businesses with over 50 employees are required to have a health insurance program, with tax credits for these businesses also being put in place to help them finance this program. In my opinion, this strikes a near-perfect balance between stamping the need for increased healthcare coverage for the most vulnerable members of society and easing financial constraints on business, allowing these firms to flourish and expand their operations. If I had to summarise Obama’s economic policy in a few words, I’d use the phrase “getting there”. Whilst the African-American has made key policy moves that have steered America in the right direction, there are still large gaps that need to be filled and policy moves that need to be implemented to progress America’s economy further. He hasn’t done it all, but he’s definitely laid the foundations.

Shrey Srivastava, 16

Why central banks should target 4% inflation

Photo by Remy Steinegger

It is October 29, 1929 , also known as Black Tuesday. The Great Depression, one of the largest economic downturns in history, has just begun. Unbeknownst to the everyday man and woman, this will last a backbreaking decade, during which these everyday people will see their dreams slashed in the face of lower wages. That is, if they even find a job in the first place; unemployment will reach almost 25% in America at the height of the depression in 1933. During this time, it’s obvious that we will start looking to policymakers for solutions to this problem, however, even they have been silenced by the lunacy of the gold standard: there are no solutions in the pipeline.

Time for a voyage into the future. 1990, specifically – New Zealand. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has just introduced a pioneering measure that will shake up monetary policy: the inflation target. They say they target a rate of price increase of 0 to 2%. Fast forward 22 years, and on the 25 January 2012, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the most famous central bank in the world, the Federal Reserve, has introduced a 2% inflation target. Nowadays, the magic “2” is the norm, with central banks from the Bank of England to the Bank of Japan adopting the target. The problem? Well, there’s more than one, but the most arresting drawback is that we’re veering into very dangerous territory should we be even slightly amiss in meeting these targets.

Say we undershoot from our inflation target. That can happen, right? People make mistakes – even big, bad central bankers. If prices, therefore, appreciate by only 1% a year, that’s not too bad. But say we adjust the degree of error even more, and then we’re veering dangerously into deflationary territory – a nightmarish decrease in prices. In both my opinion and the opinion of many others, deflation is far worse than even high levels of inflation. This is because a deflationary slump in an economy causes people to think twice about purchasing goods and services, reducing demand for these goods and services, decreasing their prices to levels lower than they already are. Intuitively, this causes job layoffs as the reduction in demand causes a corresponding reduction in corporate revenue, and so the freshly unemployed aren’t very likely to buy non-essentials like a bottle of Coke or a packet of gum, let alone a new house. The ensuing vicious downward price spiral amidst a plethora of redundancies has historically been extremely difficult to get out of; deflation can batter an economy like nothing else. Where do we look for an example of this? Back to the past, that’s right – the Great Depression, where prices plummeted and redundancies soared due to a collapsing banking sector.

Moreover, recessions happen. We can’t prevent all of them, and it’s a fact of life that the average person is overwhelmingly likely to experience at least one or two in their lifetimes, if not many more. It’s how a central bank deals with the recession that defines how strong and robust their monetary policy is, and when you can only decrease interest rates by a small amount, then you’ve got a problem. Take the Bank of England. Interest rates currently sit at staggeringly low levels: 0.5%, to be precise. Let’s assume they meet their inflation target of 2%, and so the nominal interest rate (the interest rate when we don’t take into account inflation) will be 2.5%. Now, let’s hypothesise that they increase their inflation target to 4% and meet it (I know, I’m optimistic about their abilities). Now we have a wiggle room of a whole 4.5% should we face a recession, so we have a greater chance of stimulating the economy and getting it back on track. Even taking into account that central banks may not meet these targets, it’s logical to believe that they’ll at least achieve a higher inflation rate than before, and so regardless of the scenario, the overwhelming likelihood is that we’ll have more chance of beating back a recession than before.

Finally, we need to lend the companies that are the backbone of our economy a hand in being able to dish out nominal wage increases. Again, let’s take a scenario whereby we have higher inflation, say 3% (due to central banks undershooting the 4% inflation target) and the nominal wages of not very productive employees operating in, for example, McDonalds rise by 2%. In reality, they’ve still got 1% less purchasing power than they did before, however McDonalds’ 2% rise in wages keeps them happy and satiated; they won’t go on strike or resign or do all the things that corporations fear so much. Say we had a much lower inflation rate, perhaps 1%. Now, McDonalds is in hot water because they can only increase wages by a small, small amount, risking the ire of its employees. If the inflation rate went even lower, then we have even more of a problem; McDonalds cannot hand out relatively large nominal wage increases, as if they were to do so, their costs would increase, therefore enabling a reduction in profits. So now we have annoyed corporations, annoyed employees and perhaps an economy on the verge of recession, with very little room to alter interest rates when we enter one. All because of those dastardly low inflation rates.

Since 1990, the inflation target has become one of the key symbols of monetary policy and central banking. We need to increase it; I think it’s time to change this symbol for the better.

Do you?

Shrey Srivastava, 16

Capitalism has hit a crossroads

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

This is morbidly fascinating.

Without us even knowing it, we’ve stumbled across one of the most critical moments we’ve ever reached with regards to our economic ideologies. For decades, the unbridled, free market bent of capitalist thought has dominated society, with the capitalist ethos themselves being the key to the “good life” in the words of John Maynard Keynes. But while it remains the key to ensuring economic prosperity for as great a number of people as possible, its critics have been slowly growing, and people are slowly becoming aware of the gradual damage it’s doing to our societal values. The old Keynesian notion of the good life really doesn’t stand up when we take into account that the Western world is now gradually becoming unhappier and unhappier. The pursuit for material goods and relativist, superficial wealth has resulted in the average person becoming far more preoccupied with their money than ever before, and hence unhappier. Really, though, who can blame them? When laissez-faire capitalism, which in itself rewards the accumulation of capital above all else, has changed all our lives in some way, we’ve no choice but to conform. And that, in itself, is the problem. That is why capitalism needs to change.  Continue reading “Capitalism has hit a crossroads”

Is short selling unethical?

Let me start by stating what short selling is. Straight from Investopedia, it is “the sale of a security that is not owned by the seller, or that the seller has borrowed. Short selling is motivated by the belief that a security’s price will decline, enabling it to be bought back at a lower price to make a profit.” I’m pretty sure that all of you can already see the ethical qualms which people might have about this, and you’re not wrong, either.

A number of countries have outlawed this, including countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Belgium. The reason that they have outlawed this is that their governments feel that short selling accelerates the decline of a stock, thereby “kicking them while they’re down”, if you will.

Another reason why people believe that short selling is unethical is that it promotes the spreading of false information in order to artificially engineer the downturn of a stock, so that they can make a quick buck. Regulatory authorities have been trying to stop this false spreading of information for ages, so I completely understand this. However, in this technological age, people know which information is trustworthy and from a reliable source and which information isn’t.

It’s like those fake “celebrity death notices” that you see. Nobody really believes them or cares about them anymore. What I believe is that, yes, short selling could be construed, and rightly construed, as unethical as it puts companies further into the red, but some of the disadvantages to a country and to its economy are grossly exacerbated, and have given short selling a negative image when, really, that shouldn’t be the case at all. Isn’t all trading a bit unethical anyways?

My problem with using moving averages

One of the first things that traders learn when they are starting off is the technique of using moving averages. The statistical definition of one is “a succession of averages derived from successive segments (typically of constant size and overlapping) of a series of values.” Now, these are good if the price is remaining at about the same level over a period of time, but what if a stock is appreciating or depreciating rapidly?

The data that moving averages are based on is entirely from the past, and, as they say, you can’t predict what direction the market will go in. Yes, maybe it’s been bullish over the past month, but tell me about now. When a stock is volatile, moving averages serve little to no function, as a small spike in any direction can result in huge losses, and what past trends were does not affect that.

It does not take into account significant changes in supply and demand. A great example of this would be the price of crude oil. Great, you’ve used a moving average for when it was at $100/barrel, but how is that going to help you when supply has skyrocketed and the price has fallen to $50/barrel?

Even if a stock has been at the same level for a long time, how will moving averages help you then? There would just be a horizontal line. You could say that you should buy when the price goes above the moving averages, but stocks often exhibit cyclical behaviour, and the stock is just as likely to plummet as it is to skyrocket.

All in all, because of these reasons, I don’t believe that moving averages are a very effective tool, as all they are based on is past data and they just don’t work for volatile stocks.