Wall Street’s Math Wizards Forgot a Few Variables

September 14, 2009

by Steve Lohr
Monday, September 14, 2009
The New York Times

In the aftermath of the great meltdown of 2008, Wall Street’s quants have been cast as the financial engineers of profit-driven innovation run amok. They, after all, invented the exotic securities that proved so troublesome.

But the real failure, according to finance experts and economists, was in the quants’ mathematical models of risk that suggested the arcane stuff was safe.

The risk models proved myopic, they say, because they were too simple-minded. They focused mainly on figures like the expected returns and the default risk of financial instruments. What they didn’t sufficiently take into account was human behavior, specifically the potential for widespread panic. When lots of investors got too scared to buy or sell, markets seized up and the models failed.

That failure suggests new frontiers for financial engineering and risk management, including trying to model the mechanics of panic and the patterns of human behavior.

“What wasn’t recognized was the importance of a different species of risk — liquidity risk,” said Stephen Figlewski, a professor of finance at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. “When trust in counterparties is lost, and markets freeze up so there are no prices,” he said, it “really showed how different the real world was from our models.”

In the future, experts say, models need to be opened up to accommodate more variables and more dimensions of uncertainty.

The drive to measure, model and perhaps even predict waves of group behavior is an emerging field of research that can be applied in fields well beyond finance.

Much of the early work has been done tracking online behavior. The Web provides researchers with vast data sets for tracking the spread of all manner of things — news stories, ideas, videos, music, slang and popular fads — through social networks. That research has potential applications in politics, public health, online advertising and Internet commerce. And it is being done by academics and researchers at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook.

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6 Millionaire Traits That You Can Adopt

June 23, 2009

by Stephanie Powers
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Millionaires have more in common with each other than just their bank accounts — for some millionaires, striking it rich took courage, salesmanship, vision and passion. Find out which traits are most common to the seven-figure bank account set, and what you can do to hone some of these skills in your own life.

1. Independent Thinking

Millionaires think differently. Not just about money, about everything. The time and energy everybody else spends attempting to conform, millionaires spend creating their own path. Since thoughts impact actions, people who want to be wealthy should think in a way that will get them to that goal. Independent thinking doesn’t mean doing the opposite of what the rest of the world is doing; it means having the courage to follow what is important to you. So, the lesson here is to forge your own way, and let your success drive you to financial spoils – rather than doing it the other way around and trying to chase the money.

Just look at David Geffen. A self-made millionaire with $4.5 billion to his name in 2009, this American record executive and film producer was college dropout, but made millions founding record agencies and signed some of the most prominent musicians of the 1970s and ’80s. Although he didn’t take what many assume to be the usual path to success, his tireless work ethic and sense of personal conviction about artists’ potential allowed him to rack up a sizable fortune.

2. Vision

Millionaires are creative visionaries with a positive attitude. In other words, wealthy people not only have big dreams, they also believe they will come true. As such, wealth seekers should set lofty goals and not be afraid of uncharted territories.

Bill Gates, the world’s richest person in 2009, did just that. The American chairman of Microsoft (MSFT) is one of the founding entrepreneurs who brought personal computers to the masses. Gates jumped into the personal computers business in 1975 and held on tight, creating Microsoft Windows in 1985. When consumers began to bring computers into their homes, Gates was ready to profit from this new age.

3. Skills

Writer Dennis Kimbro interviewed successful people to determine the traits they had in common for his book, “Think and Grow Rich” (1992). He found that they concentrated on their area of excellence. Millionaires also tend to partner with others to supplement their weaker skills. If you don’t know what you are good at, poll friends and family. Use training and mentors to refine your strong skills.

4. Passion

Billionaire investing guru Warren Buffett says “Money is a by-product of something I like to do very much.” Enjoying your work allows you to have the discipline to work hard at it every day. People who interact with money for a living, bankers for example, often love creating new deals and persuading others to complete a transaction. But finding your dream job may take time. The average millionaire doesn’t find it until age 45, and tends to be 54 (on average) before becoming a millionaire. Kimbro found that millionaires tried an average of 17 ventures before they were successful. So, if you want to be rich, stop doing things you don’t enjoy and do what you love. If you don’t know what you love, try a few things and keep trying until you hit on the right thing.

5. Investment

Millionaires are willing to sacrifice time and money to achieve their goals. They are willing to take a risk now for the opportunity of achieving something greater in the future. Investing may include securities or starting a business – either way, it is a step toward achieving great financial rewards. Start investing now.

6. Salesmanship

Millionaires are constantly presenting their ideas and persuading others to buy into them. Good salesmen are oblivious to critics and naysayers. In other words, they don’t take “no” for an answer. Millionaires also have good social skills. In fact, when writer T. Harv Eker analyzed the results of a survey of 753 millionaires for his book, “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind” (2005), he found social skills were more important than IQ. Just look at Donald Trump. His fortune has fluctuated over the years, but his ability to sell himself – whether as a TV personality or as the force behind a line of neckties – has always brought him back among the ranks of celebrity millionaires.

The ability to communicate with people is essential to selling your idea. Contrary to the traditional view of salesmen, millionaires cite honesty as an important factor in their success. If you want to be a millionaire, be an honest salesman and polish your social skills.


Becoming a millionaire is not a goal that can be achieved overnight for most people. In fact, many of the world’s richest people built their wealth over many years (sometimes even generations) by making smart but often bold decisions, putting their skills to the best use possible and doggedly pursuing their vision. If you can learn anything about millionaires, it’s that for many of them, their riches are not necessarily what most sets them apart from the rest of the world – it’s what they did to earn those millions that really stands out.

Buffett boosts wealth to top Gates on Forbes list

October 10, 2008

Fri Oct 10, 2008 2:28pm EDT
By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is again the richest American, deposing Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, after Forbes magazine recalculated the fortunes of some of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

The magazine took another look at the fortunes of some of the billionaires on its Forbes 400 list to assess the effect of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Depression and released a select list naming some of those hit hard.

But while 17 billionaires on Forbes list lost more than $1 billion in the past month, Buffett managed to boost his wealth by $8 billion to $58 billion, pushing him ahead of Gates, whose fortune fell to $55.5 billion from $57 billion.

Gates had been ranked No. 1 on the Forbes 400 list for the past 15 years with his Microsoft fortune.

Buffett made his money by building his company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRK.a) into a $199 billion conglomerate that invests in undervalued companies with strong management. Late last month his company said it would invest $5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS).

“We chose to focus on some of the more high-profile billionaires on The Forbes 400, and print a sampling of those who lost over $1 billion during the month of September,” said Forbes senior editor Matthew Miller.

Bank Stocks Cede Biggest S&P Weighting to Technology

May 21, 2008

By Elizabeth Stanton

May 21 (Bloomberg) — Bank stocks lost their position as the biggest industry group in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to technology companies after tumbling 31 percent since 2006.

Computer and software makers led by Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. accounted for 16.26 percent of the benchmark for large U.S. companies based on yesterday’s closing prices. Financials, led by Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., fell to 16.19 percent.

Banks slid the most among 10 industries in the S&P 500 last year and are the worst-performing group so far in 2008, as lower U.S. real-estate prices led to losses on mortgage debt and derivatives approaching $380 billion globally.

“The earnings power of the financial sector has been impaired because of the credit crunch,” said Thomas J. Lee, chief U.S. equity strategist at JPMorgan in New York. “Technology is benefiting from a global economy that’s been expanding, particularly in emerging markets.”

As the S&P 500 has retreated 3.7 percent this year, its financial components have decreased almost 13 percent. Bear Stearns Cos. lost the most, dropping 89 percent as a run on the brokerage firm prompted the Federal Reserve to arrange a March 16 takeover by JPMorgan. The index declined 1.6 percent today.

Financial shares in the index declined almost 21 percent in 2007, their worst year since a 24 percent drop in 1990. They have plunged 31 percent since the end of 2006.

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