Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Feature Book Review: The Quants by Scott Patterson (Math Geniuses) ザ・クオンツ: スコット・パタースン 世界経済を破壊した天才たち

I first thought this book would be dry, but I was very wrong. It reads like a mystery thriller in many ways. It is a great quantitative finance backgrounder for anybody wanting to know how hedge funds and investment banks moved into the quant space. Citadel, Renaissance, Morgan Stanley's PDT team or the Global Alpha team at Goldman Sachs, are all explained in great detail. You get to know who the key people have been who have driven trading to new levels. They all have unique stories and personal backgrounds, and poker seems to be a theme that is repeated that ties many of them together. Clearly numbers are a passion to many of the key quant traders. I do not think this is a learned habit, but comes to a few very naturally. 

The true titans of quant trading are real human beings and they are all driven to succeed in various ways. Edward Thorp is a key early figure who may have started this new computerised money stream. He began by playing poker and counting cards with the mathematical accuracy of odds making. While at MIT he created a poker betting system that worked and later wrote a book on it. It was called "Beat the Dealer" and has inspired many other quants who have a similar dual interest in quant mathematics and poker. Many other inspiring quant backgrounds are also profiled all throughout the book. 

They include Peter Muller, a California boy who created PDT (Process Driven Trading). This was the internal quant hedge fund team within Morgan Stanley that generated billions is P/L for the firm. Cliff Asness worked at Goldman Sachs in the Global Alpha team, but left to start his own quant firm called AQR that now runs over USD180BN in AUM. Boaz Weinstein started as a credit derivatives trader within Deutsche Bank and was blessed with being in the right place at the right time. Although he always was focused on finance and had an internship even in high school at age 17. He started young and created Saba Capital after he left Deutsche Bank. It now runs over USD1BN in AUM.

Jim Simons, the code cracker from the US government left academia and started his own firm Renaissance Technologies with a very unique style with over USD100BN in AUM. Unlike many others, he prefers PhD staffers with NO financial background. Why teach great minds to "unlearn" any financial viewpoint, just start them fresh with an open mind. Ken Griffin, wanted to learn about the stock market as a child at age 12. He traded from his dorm room at Harvard and created Citadel Investment Group straight out of college. This was due to his ability to figure out convertible bond arbitrage and the profits waiting to be made. He now runs over USD26BN in AUM. Clearly there is no shortage of variety in the personalities of these quant entrepreneurs.

There is no secret to making money in the end. The pure quant goal of finding "the truth" or ultimate money making program is like a mirage, and is forever on the horizon. A lot of work is needed to think of, conceptualize, plan, practice and test before going live. It is a never ending process that never ends. Markets themselves change, so no perfect quant program can ever exist. The individuals who started quant trading and those who continue today are driven people. They are outliers and can never be considered ordinary in attitude. They need to find the number. It is in their nature. They do not seem to compromise or just leave it until later, whenever that could be. 

The Top 3 Takeaways from this book that really impact any reader are:

1) There is a lot of history to the quant space going back to the 1960s when computers first began to spread widely. There also seems to be a direct link between poker and the motivations of many of the key quant founders. 

2) The value of quant trading brings together the power of a single computer program instead of a dozen trader minds. The leverage of this potential only gets higher with every new more powerful computer. There is no limit to its improvement over time.

3) The capital markets are always driven by innovation, and quant trading has already found its place. From now on, how much of any manual trading will be left in the hands of humans, is the only real unanswered question. The power of trading algos can only refine itself over time.

The main point that needs to be understood is that quant trading has its place, but is imperfect by its very nature. Past behavior may repeat itself, but not always in ways that seem logical. Accepting the imperfect is needed by even the best quants. Perfect storms do exist within financial markets. Black swans are a reality. Never, is a very long time for many, but so called "one in a million events" seem to happen more frequently than may quants can sometimes accept. Two of the biggest worries that the author makes in 2010 are about the future. Would crashes happen quickly, as in within 5 minutes? Well, flash crashes and the end of Knight Ridder proved that would be true. The second was about the ETF liquidity crunch. Is this the next bubble that will pop from leverage? Time will tell. Quant finance has its place and serves its function well most of the time. Overall 99% is a pretty good number to me, even if it is not 100%. I see and fully accept any quant market P/L value, and do not worry about the missing fraction, but then again, I am not a quant. This book was very eye opening and very engaging. Highly recommended!

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