Friday, April 16, 2010

Are Speculators Heroes?

Maybe. This past week in my macro courses I talked about the money demand motives. One of them is the speculative motive, so I explained what a speculator is. Very often speculators are maligned. But sometimes they perform a valuable service by figuring out a resource will be more scarce in the future and then bidding up the price of that resource today. That sends a signal to markets that we all need to economize on that resource or try to provide more of it. That doesn't mean that everyhting speculators do has a good result, just that it can.

It was said that speculators are heroes in the NY Times article titled Those Wall Street Gamblers Might Not Be Bad After All. From the 3-21-10 edition, p. WK 5. It was by NELSON D. SCHWARTZ. Exerpts:
"“If there are heroes in the financial system, these are the heroes,” said Frank Partnoy, a professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego. “They’re the people who bet against Enron, who bet against Lehman and warned it was insolvent.”

It’s not just academics who are coming to the defense of speculators. Earlier this month, BaFin, the regulatory agency that oversees financial markets in Germany, concluded that speculators weren’t behind Greece’s problems. A more likely cause was that investors were simply wary of lending the Greek government any more money following years of heavy borrowing and widening budget deficits."

"“Every time the market goes down, they blame short-sellers and speculators,” said Jim Chanos, a famous short-seller who manages more than $6 billion and was among the earliest voices to warn about Enron as well as the credit crisis. But his trades aren’t gambles at all. “We do as much fundamental research as anybody,” he said.

If that’s the case, speculators are far from being a plague on the markets. Instead, they help reduce risk by taking on the other side of popular trades, resisting the herd mentality that creates bubbles in the first place."

"The speculator “loves freedom, detests cant and abhors restrictions,” Edward Chancellor wrote in his 1999 book, “Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation.”

According to Mr. Chancellor, a financial strategist in Boston, speculators aren’t motivated by greed, after all. Instead, idealism fuels their trades.

“The essence of speculation remains a utopian yearning for freedom and equality which counterbalances the drab rationalistic materialism of the modern economic system with its inevitable inequalities of wealth,” he argued in his book."

"Victor Niederhoffer, a legendary hedge fund manager and self-described speculator..." said “But when my daughters ask me if my job is as important as the butcher’s, the doctor’s or the scientist’s, I answer that the speculator is a hero, and has been throughout history.”"

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