Monday, January 19, 2009

Careful Playing with Black Swan

Now that everybody and their stock broker have bought Taleb's book, everyone knows about black swan. A good number of people may have played with it, I fear.

If you bought deep-out-of-money long-term puts any time after last September, good luck, you probably won't get back to the waterline even if the market goes down 20% from here. Aside from time-decay, the implied vol (VIX) was so hysterically high last October that you have a good chance to lose money even if the market goes your direction.

As usual throughout our evolutionary history, most people follow and lose. Only a select few have what it takes to do the Black Swan Trade.

I'm not talking about the math behind options. Black and Scholes Themselves may not have what it takes to do the Black Swan Trade. I'll use a little anecdote to make my point.

A friend of mine bought some deep-out-of-money LEAPS puts on SPY back in April, 08, when market started rallying on Bear Stearns' bailout. He said "shit is gonna blow up again in September". Pretty succinct, don't you think? But market kept going up, VIX kept going down, as a result he was bleeding a little every day. But early September brought rumors about Lehman. He was almost back above the water! Here's what happened as he told me later (I'm paraphrasing):

There's a good chance that the government will bailout Lehman in the end. So I'll close this one and roll it forward. Then, after I sold the puts, I thought "VIX just shot up and, if the gov bails Lehman out this weekend, I'd be killed by the double whammy of market going up and VIX going down -- look what happened after Bear...just too much risk opening a position now. I'll sit the weekend out."

The rest, of course, is history. With hindsight, he could've opened another Black Swan trade right after the Lehman weekend anyway and made some money. But the risk of doing that back then was also high. Regardless, the point is that the satisfaction was gone. The glory was tarnished. Once you get that close to a ten-bagger, a two-bagger is hardly enticing.

Here's a guy who understands the math, the pitfalls, all the greeks. He saw it coming while the herd was cheering. He just left his would-be-perfect Black Swan Trade open for one weekend.

The Black Swan Trade requires extraordinary courage, persistence, and patience. The herd says you're wrong. The market proves you're wrong day after day for months or even years. Wife complains. Peers jab at you at the bar. Yet if you slack for one day, you may miss the single day you've been suffering months/years for.

It's a miserable way to make money.

No wonder Taleb quit his fund. No wonder he has such a strong urge to brag and show he's right. Now that he's totally famous and proven right, I'm still not sure he's satisfied or that he can ever be. (I'm not trying to psychoanalyze him per se. This is just a generalized observation.)

Maybe it's time to take another look at the Black Swan Trade you did.

1 comment:

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