Archive for the ‘position’ tag
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After a series of nose-dives and precipitous declines, Zynga’s stock is hovering near $3 after opening at $10 in December of 2011. It’s a surprisingly weak position (even more surprising for shareholders) and despite rallies throughout the beginning of the year that saw Zynga top $14 for a while, the company is now facing the spectre of lower user counts and a difficult upwards climb and the stock seems deflated.
In response, an anonymous Zynga user took to Quora to explain how “devastated” he/she felt about the stock crash after working 10 hour days with “terrible management” in the hopes of a payout. The post had 600 upvotes, but since the post has gone viral, it’s been seriously downvoted and attacked by other Zynga employees have come out of the woodworks (all anonymously) to counter the original poster’s complaints.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Editor’s note: Paul Pfleiderer is the C.O.G. Miller Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-founder of Quantal International.
A few weeks ago, TechCrunch published a piece arguing software is better at investing than 99% of human investment advisors. That post, titled Thankfully, Software Is Eating The Personal Investing World, pointed out the advantages of engineering-driven software solutions versus emotionally driven human judgment. Perhaps not surprisingly, some commenters (including some financial advisors) seized the moment to call into question one of the foundations of software-based investing, Modern Portfolio Theory.
Given the doubts raised by a small but vocal chorus, it’s worth spending some time to ask if we need a new investing paradigm and if so, what it should be. Answering that question helps show why MPT still is the best investment methodology out there; it enables the automated, low-cost investment management offered by a new wave of Internet startups including Wealthfront (which I advise), Personal Capital, Future Advisor and SigFig.
The basic questions being raised about MPT run something like this:
- Hasn’t recent experience – i.e., the financial crisis — shown that diversification doesn’t work?
- Shouldn’t we primarily worry about “Black Swan” events and unforeseen risk?
- Don’t these unknown unknowns mean we must develop a new approach to investing?
Let’s begin by briefly laying out the key insights of MPT.
MPT is based in part on the assumption that most investors don’t like risk and need to be compensated for bearing it. That compensation comes in the form of higher average returns. Historical data strongly supports this assumption. For example, from 1926 to 2011 the average (geometric) return on U.S. Treasury Bills was 3.6%. Over the same period the average return on large company stocks was 9.8%; that on small company stocks was 11.2% ( See 2012 Ibbotson Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation (SBBI) Valuation Yearbook, Morningstar, Inc., page 23. ). Stocks, of course, are much riskier than Treasuries, so we expect them to have higher average returns — and they do.
One of MPT’s key insights is that while investors need to be compensated to bear risk, not all risks are rewarded. The market does not reward risks that can be “diversified away” by holding a bundle of investments, instead of a single investment. By recognizing that not all risks are rewarded, MPT helped establish the idea that a diversified portfolio can help investors earn a higher return for the same amount of risk.
To understand which risks can be diversified away, and why, consider Zynga. Zynga hit $14.69 in March and has since dropped to less than $2 per share. Based on what’s happened over the past few months, the major risks associated with Zynga’s stock are things such as delays in new game development, the fickle taste of consumers and changes on Facebook that affect users’ engagement with Zynga’s games.
For company insiders, who have much of their wealth tied up in the company, Zynga is clearly a risky investment. Although those insiders are exposed to huge risks, they aren’t the investors who determine the “risk premium” for Zynga. (A stock’s risk premium is the extra return the stock is expected to earn that compensates for the stock’s risk.)
Rather, institutional funds and other large investors establish the risk premium by deciding what price they’re willing to pay to hold Zynga in their diversified portfolios. If a Zynga game is delayed, and Zynga’s stock price drops, that decline has a miniscule effect on a diversified shareholder’s portfolio returns. Because of this, the market does not price in that particular risk. Even the overall turbulence in many Internet stocks won’t be problematic for investors who are well diversified in their portfolios.
Modern Portfolio Theory focuses on constructing portfolios that avoid exposing the investor to those kinds of unrewarded risks. The main lesson is that investors should choose portfolios that lie on the Efficient Frontier, the mathematically defined curve that describes the relationship between risk and reward. To be on the frontier, a portfolio must provide the highest expected return (largest reward) among all portfolios having the same level of risk. The Internet startups construct well-diversified portfolios designed to be efficient with the right combination of risk and return for their clients.
Now let’s ask if anything in the past five years casts doubt on these basic tenets of Modern Portfolio Theory. The answer is clearly, “No.” First and foremost, nothing has changed the fact that there are many unrewarded risks, and that investors should avoid these risks. The major risks of Zynga stock remain diversifiable risks, and unless you’re willing to trade illegally on inside information about, say, upcoming changes to Facebook’s gaming policies, you should avoid holding a concentrated position in Zynga.
The efficient frontier is still the desirable place to be, and it makes no sense to follow a policy that puts you in a position well below that frontier.
Most of the people who say that “diversification failed” in the financial crisis have in mind not the diversification gains associated with avoiding concentrated investments in companies like Zynga, but the diversification gains that come from investing across many different asset classes, such as domestic stocks, foreign stocks, real estate and bonds. Those critics aren’t challenging the idea of diversification in general – probably because such an effort would be nonsensical.
True, diversification across asset classes didn’t shelter investors from 2008’s turmoil. In that year, the S&P 500 index fell 37%, the MSCI EAFE index (the index of developed markets outside North America) fell by 43%, the MSCI Emerging Market index fell by 53%, the Dow Jones Commodities Index fell by 35%, and the Lehman High Yield Bond Index fell by 26%. The historical record shows that in times of economic distress, asset class returns tend to move in the same direction and be more highly correlated. These increased correlations are no doubt due to the increased importance of macro factors driving corporate cash flows. The increased correlations limit, but do not eliminate, diversification’s value. It would be foolish to conclude from this that you should be undiversified. If a seat belt doesn’t provide perfect protection, it still makes sense to wear one. Statistics show it’s better to wear a seatbelt than to not wear one. Similarly, statistics show diversification reduces risk, and that you are better off diversifying than not.
Timing the market
The obvious question to ask anyone who insists diversification across asset classes is not effective is: What is the alternative? Some say “Time the market.” Make sure you hold an asset class when it is earning good returns, but sell as soon as things are about to go south. Even better, take short positions when the outlook is negative. With a trustworthy crystal ball, this is a winning strategy. The potential gains are huge. If you had perfect foresight and could time the S&P 500 on a daily basis, you could have turned $1,000 on Jan. 1, 2000, into $120,975,000 on Dec. 31, 2009, just by going in and out of the market. If you could also short the market when appropriate, the gains would have been even more spectacular!
Sometimes, it seems someone may have a fairly reliable crystal ball. Consider John Paulson, who in 2007 and 2008 seemed so prescient in profiting from the subprime market’s collapse. It appears, however, that Mr. Paulson’s crystal ball became less reliable after his stunning success in 2007. His Advantage Plus fund experienced more than a 50% loss in 2011. Separating luck from skill is often difficult.
Some people try to come up with a way to time the market based on historical data. In fact a large number of strategies will work well “in the back test.” The question is whether any system is reliable enough to use for future investing.
There are at least three reasons to be cautious about substituting a timing system for diversification.
- First, a timing system that does not work can impose significant transaction costs (including avoidable adverse tax consequences) on the investor for no gain.
- Second, an ill-founded timing strategy generally exposes the investor to risk that is unrewarded. In other words, it puts the investor below the frontier, which is not a good place to be.
- Third, a timing system’s success may create the seeds of its own destruction. If too many investors blindly follow the strategy, prices will be driven to erase any putative gains that might have been there, turning the strategy into a losing proposition. Also, a timing strategy designed to “beat the market” must involve trading into “good” positions and away from “bad” ones. That means there must be a sucker (or several suckers) available to take on the other (losing) sides. (No doubt in most cases each party to the trade thinks the sucker is on the other side.)
What about those Black Swans? Doesn’t MPT ignore the possibility that we can be surprised by the unexpected? Isn’t it impossible to measure risk when there are unknown unknowns?
Most people recognize that financial markets are not like simple games of chance where risk can be quantified precisely. As we’ve seen (e.g., the “Black Monday” stock market crash of 1987 and the “flash crash” of 2010), the markets can produce extreme events that hardly anyone contemplated as a possibility. As opposed to poker, where we always draw from the same 52-card deck, in financial markets, asset returns are drawn from changing distributions as the world economy and financial relationships change.
Some Black Swan events turned out to have limited effects on investors over the long term. Although the market dropped precipitously in October 1987, it was close to fully recovered in June 1988. The flash crash was confined to a single day.
This is not to say that all “surprise” events are transitory. The Great Depression followed the stock market crash of 1929, and the effects of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 linger on five years later.
The question is, how should we respond to uncertainties and Black Swans? One sensible way is to be more diligent in quantifying the risks we can see. For example, since extreme events don’t happen often, we’re likely to be misled if we base our risk assessment on what has occurred over short time periods. We shouldn’t conclude that just because housing prices haven’t gone down over 20 years that a housing decline is not a meaningful risk. In the case of natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, asteroid strikes and solar storms, the long run could be very long indeed. While we can’t capture all risks by looking far back in time, taking into account long-term data means we’re less likely to be surprised.
Some people suggest you should respond to the risk of unknown unknowns by investing very conservatively. This means allocating most of the portfolio to “safe assets” and significantly reducing exposure to risky assets, which are likely to be affected by Black Swan surprises. This response is consistent with MPT. If you worry about Black Swans, you are, for all intents and purposes, a very risk-averse investor. The MPT portfolio position for very risk-averse investors is a position on the efficient frontier that has little risk.
The cost of investing in a low-risk position is a lower expected return (recall that historically the average return on stocks was about three times that on U.S. Treasuries), but maybe you think that’s a price worth paying. Can everyone take extremely conservative positions to avoid Black Swan risk? This clearly won’t work, because some investors must hold risky assets. If all investors try to avoid Black Swan events, the prices of those risky assets will fall to a point where the forecasted returns become too large to ignore.
A third and arguably pathological response to the Black Swan problem is to say that nothing is safe. An extreme event could significantly reduce the value of any asset (“We may not have seen it, but this doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen”). I doubt anyone has gone to this nihilistic extreme, and I mention it to make it clear that being aware of the potential for unknown unknowns is useful, but not at the cost of decision-making paralysis.
Of course, if you are that privileged investor with a reliable enough crystal ball, by all means use it. The problem lies in knowing whether it is reliable enough.
Although unknown unknowns and Black Swan events make evaluating investment risks more challenging, they don’t change the value of diversification and controlling the risks we do know about.
It’s particularly important that young people at the beginning of their investing careers understand why the sloppy arguments against MPT are so dangerous. With its insights about diversification and controlling risk, MPT provides the best foundation for developing low-cost portfolios like the ones being used by the Internet startups to “eat the personal investing world.”
With a down economy, and an overwhelming number of job applicants to any open position (well, maybe not in tech startups, but everywhere else), there’s a real need for tools that help businesses better sort through their over-crowded inboxes to find the best candidates from among thousands of emails with attached files, photos, resumes and cover letters. A new company called SortBox wants to help address that problem by getting rid of the email inbox altogether. Instead, it’s offering a simple, customized inbox designed just for the purpose of moving through job applications quickly.
The SortBox inbox was created to be very easy to use, however it joins a crowded market of companies innovating the talent acquisition/hiring space : there’s The Resumator, HireRabbit, Firefish Software, Jobvite, Ovation, and Sendouts, to name just a few, and Oracle acquired top competitor Taleo at the beginning of the year.
But a lot of the companies that are designing tools related to hiring are offering something robust, with a lot of features and configuration options. Obviously, that serves a need in this market, but SortBox wants to provide an alternative for businesses that don’t need that level of complexity. Its target market is not the enterprise, but rather the mom-and-pops, the small businesses, recruiters, and yes, even startups who are just looking to keep their actual inbox clutter-free.
Explains SortBox founder Justin Sherratt, “we purposefully removed many features, both on the scope and even commented out code because we wanted to come to market with an MVP product that was super easy to use,” he says. “In time we are going to add products and functionality.”
To get started with the system, you just click “create a Sortbox” from the SortBox homepage to create a web presence for that particular job. You then fill out the title, description, and other any other details about the position. Once posted online, when anyone visits the page, they apply by clicking the big blue “Apply” button at the bottom and upload their images, bios and their resume into the SortBox job listing. The system then organizes the content so that it’s all neatly laid out on one page for the business owner or hiring manager to view.
And you can really fly through the job applications, thanks to SortBox’s color-coded “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe” buttons at the top of each application. The system also supports multiple SortBoxes so you can advertise for more than one position at a time, and keep everything related to hiring in one central resource. Currently there’s no auto-posting feature included, but companies can post the custom link SortBox generates to places like Craigslist, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter on their own. In the future, support for auto-posting will be added.
SortBox was founded in April 2011 during Sherratt’s participation in the Founder Institute program in NYC. His background includes time spent at startups (RxCentric.com, 300 Monks, NinjaFinder), at recruiting agencies, and in film (producing, directing, and cinematography). Having been involved with the hiring process directly in many of these efforts – and even building tools like NinjaFinder to fix the problem of finding creative talent – he knew first-hand how difficult the current hiring process is today. This experience inspired him to build a tool that could simplify the process for any industry.
Prior to today’s public debut, the company has been running a private beta test with under 50 customers, which included startups like Wello.co and Kindara.com, and restaurants like Mixt Greens and Split Bread. Pricing for SortBox has not been worked out, but it will be a freemium-based service. You can try it for free from here now.
In the last few Google updates, there have been some significant changes to how the search results are displayed. The media machine has covered these events extensively as these updates have unfolded. Because of the unique position I’m in, I have an inside look at the ranking trends of thousands of pages and keywords around [...]
In the space of a little over a month, VMWare is making yet another acquisition to strengthen its position in cloud management: it is buying cloud log analytics platform Log Insight from its current owner Pattern Insight, the data management and search platform company. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
As part of the deal, the team working on Log Insight will transfer to VMWare, as will the technology underlying the product, Pattern Insight said in a statement.
VMWare made its name in the virtualization market, and this acquisition underscores how it is looking to carve out a similar role in managing the enterprise cloud space. Competitors in that area include Rackspace, HP, IBM and Dell. Other acquisitions that VMWare has made in the same area include DynamicOps and Nicira in July.
The growing popularity of cloud-based computing systems has had a knock-on effect in terms of how much data gets generated in the process. Products like Log Insight help companies monitor that data for problems in their data centers and in cloud environments. Current customers include Intel, Qualcomm, Tellabs and Motorola.
Log Insight was one of two core products at Pattern Insight, and the sale will allow the company to focus more on the other product, Code Assurance, which “identifies and removes all ‘known’ (previously fixed) defects in source code before it is released.”
A blog post from Spiros Xanthos, CEO & co-founder of Pattern Insight, describes Log Insight as “the culmination of our efforts aiming at management and real time operational analytics for IT data.”
He adds that he thinks the acquisition will help Log Insight grow into an even bigger company that could work not only in cloud but also virtualization environments. “VMware is ideally positioned in the middle of two of the most important shifts in IT in the recent years, virtualization and Cloud Computing,” he notes. “It therefore provides the perfect home for Log Insight and the team to continue innovating.”
Additional reporting, Alex Williams
Too bad it was doomed from the start.
You see, although the pretty app is innovative, unique, and beautifully designed, it crosses the line for Twitter API use. Over the past couple of years, Twitter has consistently asked developers to stop making Twitter clients — apps that scrape Twitter’s data (tweets, profile info, etc.) and reproduce it in a new API without Twitter’s advertising products (the promoted tweets, profiles, and trends that pay the young startup’s bills and that don’t currently have their own API).
From stages and in blog posts and memos, Twitter execs have been steering developers away from building clients, recommending instead focusing apps and third-party businesses on analytics, marketing, and other areas of opportunity. While the API technically still allows for client-building, that will be changing soon.
Specifically, Twitter’s API terms of service currently state that Twitter apps “cannot frame or otherwise reproduce significant portions of the Twitter service.” While the API still currently allows for clients — a legacy we’re sure will be corrected over the coming months and years — the terms of service place some strict rules on how clients display tweets and serve ads.
Twitter started out with a wide-open API for any kind of use, including building clients like Twheel. However, since 2010 or so, Twitter has been slowly applying pressure to the ecosystem of third-party apps and hoping that developers will get the loud-and-clear message: No more clients, please.
Twitter itself acquired a couple of the more popular clients, including iPhone app Tweetie and desktop app TweetDeck. Other apps, such as UberTwitter, Seesmic, and Hootsuite, have been put into the awkward position of competing with their own API provider.
Here’s a demo video/commercial showing what Twheel can do:
Starting in 2010 and continuing through 2011, Twitter began issuing strong and consistent messaging to developers: Don’t make a Twitter client using Twitter’s API. Don’t duplicate Twitter’s features, and don’t rename or redesign them. Most vitally, don’t channel users away from Twitter’s ads.
These changes were reflected in the company’s API documentation as well as in several memos and blog posts from high-profile Twitter platform employees.
So, why would the founders press forward with the app when it’s obvious Twitter isn’t smiling on such uses of the API?
We’re not sure if Twheel’s launch represents arrogance, ignorance, or high optimism on the part of its team, but of this we are sure: the app won’t be around for long.
In 2007, Twitter was still in its infancy and needed client apps to improve on its bare-bones design and create excitement and adoption for the young service. Co-founder Biz Stone said at the time, “The API has been arguably the most important, or maybe even inarguably, the most important thing we’ve done with Twitter. It has allowed us, first of all, to keep the service very simple and create a simple API so that developers can build on top of our infrastructure and come up with ideas that are way better than our ideas.”
But times have changed drastically over the past five years, and so has Twitter’s position on its own API and the developers that use it.
Twheel may try to save itself by incorporating other services; the team may reach some sort of agreement with Twitter; it could languish in the App Store with a few thousand downloads, allowing it to pass under Twitter’s radar. Or it could see its API access revoked. Or it could get quietly crushed during a Twitter API update. Time will tell; we’ve reached out to both companies for more information on the issues at stake and will update this post when we hear back.
Location-based apps for indoor purposes typically rely on wifi or similar technologies to determine the user’s position. Finnish IndoorAtlas, however, has come up with an alternative. Tapping into the magnetic fields that are naturally present on Earth, IndoorAtlas has launched a platform developers can use to create highly accurate location-based mobile apps without wifi or GPS.
IndoorAtlas’s location technology works independently of any external infrastructures such as wireless access points, and no hardware installation is needed, the company says. Instead, it relies on disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic fields created by a building’s internal structures. To create a location-based app using IndoorAtlas’ indoor positioning, developers begin by uploading floor plans to the IndoorAtlas’ Floor Plans software, which aims to make it easy to align a building’s floor plan with the geographic coordinate system. Next, they use the IndoorAtlas Map Creator for Android to create magnetic maps for the building; using the app, developers can map part of a floor, the complete floor or even multiple floors simply by walking a planned path through the area being mapped. Finally, developers can create location-aware applications using the IndoorAtlas Maps API.
Targeting developers of apps for store promotions, mobile gaming, logistics efficiency “or just finding one’s way around” inside shopping centers, airport terminals and similar venues, IndoorAtlas currently seeks developers around the world who are interested in mapping buildings, supplying floor plans or evaluating its software in exchange for early access to IndoorAtlas’s location technology. App-minded entrepreneurs: one to get in on early?
Spotted by: Hemanth Chandrasekar
Although you can now load an American Express card onto Google Wallet, AmEx wants to make sure consumers know that it’s not an American Express-approved product. (Disclosure: I have a very small position in $AXP.)
Bradley Minor, an AmEx spokesman, said that the company is in talks with Google and is evaluating Google’s new product to see if it meets AmEx’s standards for data transparency. American Express’s name was used in Google’s blog post about the launch without the company’s approval.
As I noted in my analysis of Google’s new wallet service, Google’s new approach to Wallet can hide important data from the card networks.
This presents a competitive threat to the card networks as well as a potential customer service headache.
Transactions have merchant category codes that allow card networks to analyze a cardholder’s behavior. AmEx knows how I spend my money. It knows how much I spend on restaurants, travel, and electronics. As I’ve written before, this is a gold mine of information that can be used to create incredibly relevant offers.
“The more data you have, the better you’re able to target not just deals, but offers and experiences to an individual,” Dan Schulman, AmEx’s Group President for Enterprise Growth told me in an interview earlier this year. Long term, Schulman expects the data about a transaction to have more value than the money card networks get for processing a transaction.
With Google Wallet, Google is obfuscating all of that information in a method that’s similar to how Groupon turns all its transactions into a black box.
Google Wallet could also undermine specific offers that AmEx creates, resulting in a customer service problem. You can load offers for merchants onto an AmEx card with Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare. If a consumer pays with Google Wallet using a registered AmEx card, it’s possible that the information AmEx needs to fulfill the offer gets blocked. The consumer, not knowing the mechanics of how such tracking is done, will know that they fulfilled the terms of the offer but didn’t get deal they were promised. That creates a negative impact on AmEx’s brand and the retailer that promoted the offer. And that customer is going to call AmEx with complaints, creating more work.
Filed under: VentureBeat
Stuck for an idea? Not sure how to structure your post? Use one of these handy suggestions (you might even want to print out the list and keep it near your computer).
And if you’ve got a favorite post type or template, let us know in the comments!
#1: The Beginner’s Guide to…
Even if you’ve not been blogging in your niche for very long, you can write a beginner’s guide. In fact, you’re in a great position to do so: you’ll be able to remember all the questions you had when you were just starting out.
#2: How to…
One very simple way to create a strong title is to start with the words “How to.” When you plan your post, come up with 5 – 10 steps to take readers through the process of accomplishing a particular task.
#3: 10 Tips and Tricks For…
Often, you’ll have lots of good advice that readers can pick and choose from — it doesn’t need to be followed step by step. In this case, a “tips and tricks” post works well. Come up with 10 or so strong ideas, and make sure each one can stand alone.
#4: The A-Z Guide To…
It takes some work to put together an A-Z guide … but this sort of post can make a fantastic resource for readers. You could write an A-Z guide for your whole niche (e.g. “The A-Z Guide to Blogging”) or for an aspect of your niche (e.g. “The A-Z Guide to Writing Great Content”).
#5: This [Week’s / Month’s] Best Posts On…
A round-up post is a great way to establish your expertise: it shows that you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what’s happening around the internet. By collating great recent posts (perhaps from the last week or month), you also point readers towards valuable resources.
#6: The Pros and Cons of…
Even if you have a strong personal opinion about a particular issue, you might want to present a balanced view. A “pros and cons” post can help do that — you give readers the advantages, and then the disadvantages, of a particular action/product/etc.
#7: How I …. And How You Can Too
This type of post works really well whether you’re new to your niche, or an established expert. Think of something you’ve accomplished that your readers would love to do — and tell them how you did it. Make sure you include some tips on how they can emulate your success.
#8: Seven Ways To…
This is a bit like a how-to post with a twist: you’re offering a bunch of different possible ways to do something. There’s often not a one-size-fits-all solution, so help your readers explore different ideas and encourage them to try a new technique.
#9: Review of…
Whatever niche you’re in, there’ll be books, products, services, and even other blogs that you can review. If there’s a major book or product coming out, get your hands on it as soon as you can (you might even ask the publisher for an advance copy) and let your readers know what you thought.
#10: What 5 Experts Say About…
Perhaps you know your readers want a post about a particular topic — but you don’t feel you know enough to write that post. Instead of trying to come up with the content yourself, look at blogs, books, or articles to see what experts in your field have said. (Make sure you attribute each quote.)
Do you have a favorite post type from the ones above… or a different idea to suggest? Let us know in the comments!
Bio: Ali Luke writes a regular column for DailyBlogTips. She will be leading blogging courses in London from September. If you’d like to learn more about blogging, with hands-on exercises and one-to-one support as part of a small group, then book your place today.
Original Post: 10 Blog Post Ideas You Can Use Right Now