Monday, May 23, 2011

The Euro-zone Will Split - "It's the incentives, stupid!"

During the financial crisis I found it helpful to ask myself, "what is the worst that could happen?" and "what EXACTLY does that look like?"  By going through the steps of "the worst" it became apparent that the U.S. government could pump money into the system ad infinitum.  Despite the risk of inflation, this was the preferred course of action through stimulus packages and bail-outs.  Politicians knew that if the economy collapsed, in addition to widespread misery and unemployment, they too would lose their jobs come the next election.  As a result, the political imperative was to inflate.

We're seeing a different problem in Europe.  Spending cuts have caused economic malaise and the huge structural inefficiencies in the PIIGS (sorry) will not be addressed in less than 10 years - educational and institutional weakness take a while to progress past. 

Fiscal austerity is leading to economic deflation in vulnerable countries and social unrest.  Most people in Greece and the other PIIGS want employment and dignity.  They will soon be finished with the humiliation of budget cuts, indebtedness to German banks, and 20% unemployment.  Recall that unemployment and losing a sense of dignity inspire anger (and are even the fuel of suicide bombers). These are powerful forces.  The incentive for the populations of these countries is to default, exit the Euro, and start over with a "Junior Euro." 

Democratic citizens will demand a default.  If the current politicians won't do it, eventually they will elect ones who will.  As the political cycle moves forward, and one country successfully defaults (oh, wait, Iceland already did!) all the PIIGS will default (or "restructure" their debts).  No economist can defeat human nature. 

And the consequences?  Well, if you've read the excellent book "This Time Is Different," you'll see tables of data indicating that most countries that default a few years thereafter have better lending conditions.

Personally I'm surprised that this trade opportunity - to short PIIGS European debt and even better, Spanish banks - has remained open for so long.  Maybe another example of delayed learning (it takes us a while to learn and adapt to a new reality like the possibility of "developed" countries defaulting).

And implications of this default for the U.S.?  Near term money will move to U.S. dollars as the safet trade.  Long term?  Less inflation of commodities than you might think - China is going to have its own bubble pop (benignly, hopefully).  Definitely gold will do well.  Yes, gold is in a "bubble", but with real structural momentum behind it, it is likely to go on for a while. 

Happy Investing!
Richard L. Peterson, M.D.
rpeterson- at-

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mind Muscles(tm): Shred Your Stories

This series of blogs will look at new behaviors you can create that give you additional investing and trading choices that positively impact our risk and profitability. The foundation for these Mind Muscles(tm) can be reviewed at:

Each additional blog will introduce a market bias, myth or mind trap and demonstrate how to create a new behavioral skill that will give you a new positive response to market conditions. It is always easier and faster to make improvements by working with someone who can provide an outside frame of reference andsupport for change. We at MarketPsych are ready to provide coaching and training for you and your organization.


"The mind has a job. And that's to give us all the stories that prove that what it thinks is true."

Byron Katie

The world comes at us with a seemingly infinite amount of data every day. What we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is more than we can possible take in and analyze in real time. So our brains perform some wonderful services for us.

The amygdala, located in the limbic part of our brain scans our world for threats. It has no self-conscious awareness to slow it down, so it is very very fast (think startle reflex). It has libraries of threatening patterns and when it senses a pattern match in our environment, it reacts very quickly. I was jogging in the woods some time ago and found myself leaping sideways to the other side of the fire road. I was on a collision course with a rattlesnake. Without conscious thought, my body reacted quickly.

The brain also takes complex tasks and automates them so we don't have to consciously direct every detail. By combining patterns of neural activity into larger complexes neural structures, we can drive a car and while having a conversation with a passenger.

The brain also filters out huge amounts of information that isn't judged to relevant.

Additionally, it identifies, defines and codes raw data into a simple concepts. When the wake-up alarm goes off in the morning, our brain doesn't have to create all the logic to identify the raw decibels, pitch and tone as an alarm…it already has a "table" that simply says "alarm." If we didn't have these functions, the amount of data coming to us would be overwhelming. We couldn't even get out of bed.

But all this pre-processing also shapes the information that we receive in our conscious brain giving us a distorted sense of reality. And one of the most powerful distortions our brain creates is "stories." In addition to the pre-conscious information organizing process where our brain filters, deletes, automates and structures our information, the way we remember it and give it meaning is by creating stories around related parts of data.

During the height of the Japanese nuclear reactor scare recently, I was at a training that included a number of new age therapists. They were eating seaweed to help protect them from potential radiation. I called my daughter who works as a project manager at NASA and asked her about the risk. She sent me the assessments which stated that the risk is insignificant. I relayed that to the "seaweed munchers" and the response from one person between mouthfuls was, "Oh, the government just doesn't want us to know."

It is easy to chuckle and see this as a story fabricated by someone who needed to believe that they needed to protect themselves against an unseen, unfelt danger. However, it is much harder to see these fabricated stories in ourselves because they don't feel like stories, but they feel like reality.

As Byron Katie stated in the opening quote, stories are created after the fact, after our beliefs are in place to give us comfort that they are true.

As professional money managers, traders and investors, a costly bias is taking our own stories at face value. But if our stories are necessary, and we can't help but create them to give us meaning and memories, how can we deal with them as investors and traders? The answer is to see our stories as simply stories that we create. This awareness, without judgment or criticism allows us to reframe them and use them positively.

Once we see our stories as self-created, then we can observe them and learn from them. One of our jobs is to continually "Shred our Stories." This of course is a lot easier said than done because the closer our "stories" are part of our our survival mechanisms and beliefs, the more we become attached to them. However, when we frame our stories as models that simply help us navigate the current world, the easier it is to "shred" them when they no longer become useful.

You can create the "Story Shredder" Mind Muscle which will help you shred stories that are no longer useful. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

The first step is NOT to create useless stories in the first place. One way to do this is to watch or read the news as if it were a series of "fairy tales." Look at these fairy tales as a bucket of emotional content created to support what we want to believe. Pay attention to the emotional content and how it will shape the stories of others and their investing behaviors. Look at all other information sources in your life that feed the creation of stories and reframe them in a way that allows you to beaware of them without allowing them to feed your beliefs.

The second step is to practice "shredding." This original format was created by Byron Katie ( and I have adapted it for you. First, find a story that you depend on and believe to be true. To make this first one easy, find a story that isn't that critical to your life. Now ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Next, find a story that contradicts the story you are shredding. Tell yourself THAT story. Embellish it. Create all the details you can. Notice resistance to the new story. But do it anyway!

Let yourself fully experience the new stories. Find three examples in your life where the new story is true. This is not about making you wrong, just about discovering alternatives that give you "story freedom."

The Mind Muscle homework is to "Shred a Story a Day" using the four questions. You can start with non-critical stories and work your way up to the ones that are connected to your survival. As you do this, you will start to notice the "stories" others tell themselves and recognize them as stories. You will see the news, not as fact, but as interesting fairy tales that have an impact on the world. You will look at the market and notice the stories you bring to the interpretation.

Mind Muscles(tm) are like physical muscles, the more you use them, the stronger they get. However, just like muscles, you may notice some "fatigue and soreness" when you first start to exercise them, but keep it up! Soon you will be shredding stories as easily as a piece of paper.

As you build this Mind Muscle(tm) you will see more information with less bias and see new market patterns emerging early and faster.

Richard Friesen
Training & Development

Sunday, May 08, 2011



Hello, Fellow Investors!

MarketPsych took some time out of its busy consulting/speaking/writing schedule to share another Digital Short Film.

This one (once again starring Jim and Fast Eddie) explores the concept that behavioral finance people call, "Herding". A concept which, if you think about it, is really another way of saying "Peer Pressure."

Yes, Peer Pressure. That same powerful social force that perhaps in your younger days caused you to do things like get a "mullet" haircut, procure special oversized "warmers" for your legs (when, in fact, they were in no need of warming), and pretend you actually enjoyed your first cigarette.

Well, we're all older now. Wiser too. But peer pressure still lies at the heart of many investing failures. The key to overcoming this force (in high school or the stock market) is to develop a strong enough identity (i.e., sense of who you are) to make decisions based on what's right for you - not what you see others doing.

The concept is so important, we put it in the title of our book. (MarketPsych: How to Manage Fear and Build Your Investor Identity)

We invite you to click on the film clip above or if you prefer, here, to follow the adventures of Jim and Fast Eddie, and maybe have a laugh while you do so.

Please visit us at for more information on the books, products and services we provide to the financial community.

Happy investing. And hey... let's be careful out there.

-Dr. Frankenstocks

Frank Murtha, PhD