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Medallion isn’t magic…probably

Jim Simons recently participated in three interviews hosted by MIT, covering mathematics, finance, and philanthropy. These are rare and lengthy conversations with one of the industry’s most interesting and private people. As much as I enjoyed the talks, the finance portion reaffirmed my belief that Renaissance’s Medallion fund probably doesn’t owe its success to magic. No methods or technologies they employ would individually shock or awe, and I’d wager there’s no silver bullet or big secret to what they do. Believing this doesn’t diminish what Medallion has achieved, I don’t think, at all.

Short is the New Long

Kathryn Kaminski, Chief Research Strategist and Portfolio Manager at AlphaSimplex, will be moderating a panel at our upcoming Time Summit on April 30th / May 1st, in Pinehurst, NC. This panel will be preceded by a presentation from David Dunning, social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, where he will showcase his work on hypocognition – “the lack of linguistic or cognitive representation for an object, category, or idea.” In other words, hypocognition characterizes behavior in the presence of unknown unknowns. The panel will focus on the implications of hypocognition and how this could be applied to investments and finance.

Alternative data

There was a piece in the Financial Times last week entitled “New crop data providers cash in on US shutdown” (paywall). It detailed how the US government shutdown impacted many areas of businesses from the National Transportation Safety Administration to the USDA. The USDA crop reports were interrupted for an extended period of time, leaving many agricultural traders in the dark on government reported stocks of soybeans, corn, wheat. Third party alternative data providers have stepped in to fill the gap, using their own process of data collection and predictive analysis to produce their own set of balances.

Bridge Alternatives adds Chris Gorman as Partner

Bridge Alternatives, a financial services firm specializing in investment advisory and derivatives brokerage, announced today that Chris Gorman has joined the firm as a Partner. Chris will bring his expertise in the commodity and macro space to the Bridge Alternatives platform as they look to enhance their offering.

Process is more important than approach

There was an opinion piece recently posted on Bloomberg titled “Why the Quants Aren’t Adding Up.” In it, Satyajit Das describes why the recent relative underperformance of quantitative strategies (by his measure) is indicative of fundamental problems inherent to the technique. It’s the best, most vivid example I’ve yet found of confusing process (the steps taken to make a decision) and approach (the tools chosen to implement process).

Unknown Unknowns and the Problem of Hypocognition

I came across this Scientific American article in August and was struck by its relevance to a number of conversations we were having with investors. Without going into great detail, we were discussing a couple of investment opportunities that could be classified as esoteric or “off the run.” In many of the initial conversations, investors were trying to dig deeper into the opportunity in order to find an analogous thread that they could follow back to a previous investment or experience. While this is extremely valuable in helping suss out the types of risk inherent in any possible investment, what if the exercise misses the mark completely? What if we are applying our past experience incorrectly, neutering our ability to assess something that is truly novel?

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