ECB and BOJ may soon buy equities, Reuters reports

As if central bankers hadn't done enough damage already, the masterminds at the helm of the ECB and the BOJ may be considering to buy equities via ETFs, at least according to Reuters. How did they come up with this brilliant idea, you might ask yourself... well, it is to "support market sentiment and stock prices".

With unconventional measures, such as helicopter money, already a part of the public (and perhaps even closed) debate about how to prop up our (so they say) worryingly ailing economies, this should not even be that surprising to be honest: The BOJ has already been buying ETFs, the ECB is buying up bonds wherever it can find them and the Fed has so far chickened out of raising interest rates (and killed forward guidance in the process, but that's another topic).

Let me ask this though: Why don't they simply buy oil, if deflation is really what central bankers are concerned about? Seriously, how does buying equities and thus pushing up stock prices help the average citizen? Doesn't it merely make the portfolios of wealthy people more valuable and hence widen the gap between the middle class and the rich (the playing field is already too uneven for the poor, so let's not even bring them into the equation)? I'm not a friend of conspiracy theories or leftist gibberish about "the 1%", but if stock buying were to become a viable tool for the ECB to "pursue its mandate", as our man Draghi likes to put it, I would really have to sit down and do some serious contemplating about how this market is now functioning versus how it is supposed to work. I thought we were living in a social free market economy, but perhaps I've just been too stupid to see what's been going on these past few years. If what we have right now is not a centrally planned economy, at least with respect to price formation in securities markets and increasingly even access to markets, then I really don't know. What else is there to say?

Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box

As a follow-up to February's video post about quants, here's a related documentary from VPRO that highlights the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010.

I vividly remember that Thursday evening when, as a risk management intern on a London trading floor, I witnessed the stocks of the world's largest corporations fall 10% and more in a matter of minutes. Markets had already been down 3-4% that day in the light of continued heavy protests in Athens. The atmosphere was eerie to say the least. On the day before, a group of angry demonstrators had set fire to a local bank, killing three employees who could not vacate the building in time. Every time the news channels resumed their live broadcasts of the violent protests equity indices and the euro dipped further. Starting at 1 p.m. New York time (6 p.m. in London) the prices of US equities began to fall sharply, triggering the first Liquidity Replenishment Points, i.e. circuit breakers, for several NYSE-listed stocks, and the chaos quickly ensued from there.

It is still not understood what caused the Flash Crash exactly, but an individual trader, Navinder Singh Sarao, who operated out of his parents' house in a poor part of London may have played a role (according to US authorities, anyway). He is currently facing trial in America after having been extradited by his home country.

Quants: The Alchemists of Wall Street

The VPRO Backlight documentary Quants: The Alchemists of Wall Street provides a casual insight into the work of quantitative traders and researchers, "quants" for short. It features Paul Wilmott, a quantitative finance researcher and consultant, and Emanuel Derman, author of My Life as a Quant and professor in financial engineering at Columbia University, amongst others.