8 Fascinating Reads

Happy Friday! There are more good news articles, commentaries, and analyst reports on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating ones I read this week.

CNNMoney recalls what economists 80 years ago thought life would be like today:

Back in 1930, renowned economist John Maynard Keynes predicted technological advancements would mean we would all eventually work just 15 hours a week. That same year, evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley predicted the two-day work week. Both men warned that someday, we would have so much leisure time, we would be bored out of our minds.

"The human being can consume so much and no more," Huxley said in 1930. "When we reach the point when the world produces all the goods that it needs in two days, as it inevitably will, we must curtail our production of goods and turn our attention to the great problem of what to do with our new leisure."

Golden age
After the Asiana Air plane crash in San Francisco, pilot Patrick Smith puts air safety in perspective:

It is imperative to remember that Saturday's accident was the first multiple-fatality crash involving a major airline in North America since November 2001. (There have been a handful involving regional affiliates, but the majors have been virtually accident-free). The streak has ended, but it lasted nearly 12 years, with some 20,000 commercial jetliners taking off and landing safely in this country every single day -- an astonishing run. Is it perverse to suggest that Saturday's accident, awful as it was, serves to underscore just how safe commercial flying has become? That's asking a lot, I know, in this era of race-to-the-bottom news coverage, when speed and sizzle, not accuracy or context, are all that really count. 

I see, you see
From Mediumhere's an article on the science of why we don't believe in science. A lot of this is relevant to how people respond to investment analysis:

Sure enough, a large number of psychological studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their preexisting beliefs. In a classic 1979 experiment, pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies -- and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more "convincing."

Everyone panic
Interest rates are rising, and bonds are getting hurt. One early victim is bond giant PIMCO:

Pimco, the manager of the world's largest bond fund, suffered record outflows across its U.S. mutual funds of $14.5 billion in June, investment research firm Morningstar said on Monday.

The outflows were the greatest on Morningstar's records, which began in 1993, the firm said.

More to fall
Commodities investor Jim Rogers gives his take on gold. From an interview with Business Insider:

Business Insider: Two years ago, you told us you could see gold going to $1,200. How did you arrive at that level?

Jim Rogers: I'm sure it was all based on intuition from Business Insider, but gold had been up at that point 11-12 years in a row which is an anomaly.

I don't know any asset that's gone up 12 years without a down year, and gold needed and deserved a correction. And, if it's going to happen where would it go? $1,200 was between 35%-40% and 35%-40% reactions are commonplace, so that was the first number. I wish I could tell you I had a formula.

I'm not sure we've found the final bottom yet, it would make a lot of sense for gold having had 12 years up, to have at least a longer consolidation, a longer correction, maybe a few days, a few weeks, or a year or two. Why not 2014, 2015? My view is that gold is in the process of making a complicated bottom which could take a while. So I'm not buying gold. I haven't sold any gold or silver, but I'm not buying any. I'm watching and expecting a new low, which might be lower.

Josh Brown puts S&P 500 earnings (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) into context:

I got to watch strategist Rich Bernstein do his live dog-and-pony at a conference this past spring-he was excellent. One of my favorite quotes from his talk was:

"The market doesn't care about 'Good' or 'Bad' -- only better or worse than expectations."

This is so true, it's why Hewlett-Packard and BlackBerry had doubled off their lows in the recent past and why Apple couldn't resume its uptrend. Please tattoo this to your loved one's tush and reread it whenever they get out of the shower.

The good news is that no one is looking for much out of Q2 earnings, which are about to get started this week ... The media thinks this is a bad setup as the market sits below all-time highs. They don't understand that stocks form tops when everyone expects greatness and are disappointed. They've never traded before, so shhhhhh...

Speed limits
Tim Harford writes an idea on how to fix high-frequency trading:

A simple way for an exchange to improve matters would be to run an auction once a second, batching together all the offers to buy and sell that have been submitted during that second. Unsuccessful bids and asks would be published and would remain on the books for the next auction, unless withdrawn. One auction a second ought to be enough for anyone; it would deliver a stream of well-behaved data to regulators -- currently unable to figure out what is going on -- and it is plenty of time for a computer to weigh its options.

Sell high buy low
Business Insider writes about a remarkable turn of events:

In 2008, Michael and Xochi Birch sold their social network Bebo to AOL for $850 million. While it netted Michael Birch about $300 million (and nearly $600 million when combined with his wife's shares), the company crumbled shortly after the acquisition ... Now Michael Birch has purchased his company back for $1 million.

Enjoy your weekend. 

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  • Report this Comment On July 12, 2013, at 9:24 AM, wjcoffman wrote:

    Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more "convincing."

    So, the trick is to figure out how people's ideologies are developed. There are some camps that believe you have either God or science, but not both. Now here's a study showing people don't believe science. Did those people believe in God? Interesting to think about.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2013, at 3:23 AM, sliderw wrote:

    Thinking aloud crazily: Mandating 15-hour workweeks will perhaps spread work among more people and lead us to economists' "full employment."

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2013, at 8:14 AM, MartyTheCanuck wrote:

    sliderw : how did that work out for the French ?

    wjcoffman : I agree that people "chose" the studies they believe in, according to ideologies. But we also must admit that a lot of "scientific studies" are ideologically driven BS, especially in the "social sciences" or in economics. When people say they don't believe in science, it might not be physics or medicine they have in mind but more sociology or psychology, or some economics.

    On the first point, I think it is somewhat true. Yes we work 5 days a week in our western service-driven economies, but those service jobs often didn't exist 80 years ago. The increase in productivity of the manufacturing industries ( combined with imports ) free a lot of workers for the service industries. But we could work 2 days a week to produce enough goods for everybody, with a lower standard of life of course.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2013, at 8:22 AM, MartyTheCanuck wrote:

    On the death penalty "studies", one can assume that the people were either left-wing or right-wing to begin with, and that the right-wingers are more religious. But the bias was there on both sides, not matter who were more religious.

    I'm not surprised by this. The left is just as much "anti-science" as the right, except on different subjects or with different conclusions.

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