Sean Park Portrait
Quote of The Day Title
As industries become digital industries they become free.
- Chris Anderson, Editor, Wired Magazine

Articles tagged 'markets'

Are (traditional) financial markets broken?

I don’t have much invested in traditional public equity markets, just a handful of relatively small positions in my (self-directed) pension fund. I haven’t done any robust analysis but my intuition tells me that my average holding period for these positions is probably around 2-3 years, with perhaps a bit of trading (lightening up or adding to existing positions) one or twice a year. And watching the markets from the sidelines over the past month or so certainly hasn’t made me regret this modest, passive allocation. When massive, mature companies trade up and down by 10 or 20% in a period of days – with no or little company specific news, confidence in the market’s ability to set prices in an orderly fashion clearly goes out the window. Indeed, the (public) equity markets are dangerously close to losing their ability to provide one of their key benefits: price discovery. And if/when this comes to pass, there will be serious knock-on effects on their other prime (and beneficial) function of capital allocation (and providing access to capital to companies and access to companies to investors.)

The risk is that a tipping point is reached at which the traditional public equity markets cease to be relevant venues for raising capital or investing. As many people have recently remarked (Kill the Quants Before They Kill Us, Beat high-frequency trading machines by not playing their game, etc.) possibly the key driver of this trend is the relentless increase in algorithmically-driven machine trading (high-frenquency or otherwise.) Now don’t get me wrong, I am neither a luddite, nor am I fundamentally opposed to these trading strategies; rather all other things being equal I would probably consider myself a proponent. In moderation, these types of trading strategies add both liquidity and heterogeneity to the market and as such help create a more robust trading ecosystem. But recently, the equilibrium of this system has come unstuck. Anecdotally, it is now assumed that upwards of 60% of trading volumes on the main public stock exchanges are accounted for by algorithmic/machine-directed trading. On some days and in some stocks, I understand that this can be as much as 80+%.

And most of these strategies don’t involve any judgement as to the valuation per se of a company; basically, as the Onion put it so brilliantly many years ago: they are just “trading” a “blue line”.

Blue Line Price History

NEW YORK–Excitement swept the financial world Monday, when a blue line jumped more than 11 percent, passing four black horizontal lines as it rose from 367.22 to 408.85.

So nobody is actually setting the price! (…or more accurately, the “price-setters” in the markets are mostly being overwhelmed by the trend-trading machines.) This does have the side effect of creating real trading and investment opportunities for on the one hand a small number of smart nimble day traders and on the other hand a small number of very long term investors (who have the luxury of having deep pockets and patience) but for the vast majority of investors (professional or private) the market dynamics and extreme short term volatility make participation more and more painful. This is particularly the case in a low-return environment such as today. Clearly execution (entry and exit points) have always been important, even to long term investors, but never have they been make or break like they have been in August: who cares if you have a carefully crafted investment thesis that predicts a 20-40% appreciation over 2-3 years in Company A when depending on the day of the week on which you entered the position, the thesis is rendered somewhat moot by a 20% swing in the share price.

And it’s no wonder that strong, growing private companies are often loathe to have their shares listed: what right-thinking CEO wants to deal with that insanity???

So what’s the solution? I don’t pretend to have an answer, but I do have a couple suggestions that perhaps point in the right direction for smarter people than I to develop into actionable plans:

  • design structural dampeners (through exchange rules and regulations) that limit the volume of algorithmic trading to some maximum proportion (to be A/B tested to find the optimal point – 40? 50? 60? percent?); this could also be a dynamic number, for example increasing or decreasing with intraday volatility to damp same
  • encourage the continued development of private secondary markets (SharesPost, SecondMarket and others) and help to develop them as real alternatives (and complements) to traditional public equity markets.

It’s really important that our global capital markets operate robustly and efficiently. In fact it’s never been more important. I believe that reasonable, robust solutions exist (or can be developed.) But I fear that the inertia and prejudices of entrenched incumbents (exchanges, banks, regulators, governments and investors) will make finding these solutions exceedingly difficult. I hope I’m wrong. Until then, be careful out there (and think about re-allocating some of your capital to the private markets; you’ll sleep better at night!)

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Markets in everything, part 743.

Markets in compute power, much talked about by me and others are now it seems finally here (from The Economist:)

Fundamentally, SpotCloud works like other spot markets. Firms with excess computing capacity—operators of data centres, cloud providers, hosting firms—put it up for sale. Others, who have a short-term need for some number-crunching, can bid for it. Enomaly takes a cut of between 10% and 30% depending on the size of the deal. But there is an important difference: SpotCloud is what Enomaly calls an “opaque market”, meaning that the firms offering capacity do not have to reveal their identity. Thus selling computing services for cheap on SpotCloud does not cannibalise regular offerings.

SpotCloud Screenshot

Our friends at Timetric are already tracking historical spot pricing for AWS, and I hope they’ll be able to do the same for the SpotCloud historical data.

Compute cloud spot prices, Amazon web services on Timetric.

Who says we aren’t living in interesting times?

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Probably the best start-up you’ve never heard of.

Today Markit Group announced that General Atlantic has invested $250 million, valuing the 7 year old company at a whopping $3.3 billion. Founded by Lance Uggla, Kevin Gould and Rony Grushka in 2003 to address the growing need for quality data in the burgeoning credit derivatives market, what followed was several years of unbelievably good execution and disciplined acquisitions which has positioned the company as a critical component at the heart of the trillion dollar OTC derivative markets. The products they provide aren’t considered sexy (something that is often given all too much importance in this status conscious industry) – but their data, valuations, indices, trade processing and other products and services are the plumbing that is key to the continuing operation of many financial markets. They are a great example of creating value by building a great platform and understanding how to monetize data. I had the good fortune to be a non-executive director from 2003 to 2006 and I can say without hesitation that this team is one of the best I’ve ever seen and fully deserve the success they have achieved. (Congratulation guys. Awesome, truly awesome.)

And I am certain there is more to come. Their primary constraint has and will likely continue to be the physical/logistical limitations of growing as fast as they have but each year they only improve and in terms of acquisitions the company they most remind me of (in terms of disciplined and deliberate execution) is Cisco. Besides, General Atlantic doesn’t invest in companies where they don’t think they can make 20-30% annual returns or more.

And yet many (most) people in the ‘start-up’/'tech’ scene whether in the UK or the US have never (or only vaguely) heard of Markit. (For example, I counted only about 50 or so tweets referencing the announcement today, less than for any TechCrunch launching start-up…) Why is that? Obviously I can’t say for sure but (in no particular order) would guess the explanation perhaps lies in the following:

  • not venture capital funded; funding initially came from it’s cornerstone customers, the investment banks, and then later from some very smart hedge funds
  • focused on the wholesale financial services industry (and not on consumer or media or other mass markets)
  • key products and services (and associated economics) unknown to those outside finance and even worse generally considered ‘boring’
  • management team laser focused on execution, not PR (although to be fair they had this luxury not needing to sell to the mass market)
  • and so folks like TechCrunch and VentureBeat don’t know or write about them (aka “if a startup isn’t listed in CrunchBase does it really exist?” syndrome)

Indeed for me, Markit is a poster child for the cognitive, cultural and expertise chasm that exists between ‘Wall Street’ and ‘the Valley’ (or the ‘City’ and the ‘Roundabout’ to use the less good UK-centric metaphor.) They might as well be on different planets. Indeed bridging this divide is at the core of what we set out to do at Nauiokas Park and was the driver that led Paul Kedrosky and Tim O’Reilly to launch the Money:Tech conference in 2008 (which sadly didn’t survive the financial crisis and quite frankly was met by a deafening indifference by the vast majority of the Wall Street side of the equation.)

And yet, the opportunities available to those who can successful bridge this gap are enormous. Well, anyway that’s what we think. And the crisis in venture capital ostensibly caused by too much capital? I’m going to disagree with Paul and Fred and suggest it’s not too much money overall; rather it’s too much money concentrated with too few investors, focused on too few sectors, who end up all chasing the same deals. So to the LPs out there my message would be: don’t shrink the pool, enlarge the opportunity space. Oh, and try to make sure you’ve got exposure to the next Markit Group.

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Through the Looking Glass, Midterm Report

Five years ago I wrote a thought piece called ‘Through the Looking Glass’ to provoke non-linear thinking and foster debate on the possible future direction of the financial services industry and market structures. (I later turned it into a short video called AmazonBay.) It was a retrospective told from the point of view of an observer in 2015. It was never meant to be taken literally – in particular with respect to (most of) the specific corporate mergers – rather I used these as a concise and dramatic way of highlighting the possible or even probable consequence of the deep secular currents that I felt would inevitably work to reshape the landscape.

(December 2015:) …The global securities and investment banking groups that dominated the market in the last century are now extinct. In their place we have an intelligent galaxy of new specialist advisory, investment management, algorithmic software and consulting firms networked with a universe of powerful transaction facilitation exchanges. Banks now exist only as giant regulated pools of capital.

Following the sweeping banking reforms proposed last week by President Obama, and the fact that we are now halfway to this hypothetical future, I thought it might be worth doing a quick mark-to-market of how my ideas have lined up with reality.

Oracle

  • stock exchange consolidation and emergence of new exchange venues (A-) pretty close both in outcomes and timing – the major stock exchanges have been merging a-go-go while at the same time new trading venues have proliferated, and exchange (or quasi-exchange) trading of new asset classes continues to develop strongly.
  • sports/outcome trading in US legitimized (B-) my narrative had this happening in February 2010, not there yet but Congressman Frank’s bill might open the doors later this year and the trend seems to be on the right track and will probably be signed into law by Obama (!); as an aside was way early on a Betfair IPO…
  • giant bank mergers followed by break-up of vertically integrated universal banks, with Goldman Sachs leading the way (A) we have seen the big get mostly even bigger (RBS/ABN, BoA/ML, Barclays/Lehman…and while JPMorgan didn’t buy MS, they did get Bear Stearns and WaMu); GS hasn’t yet broken itself into three as predicted but I’m still confident it will lead the way when/if industry structure changes, and more generally the trend of regulatory thinking across the globe is definitely a trailing wind for the kind of change I envisioned. The 2010-2012 timeframe for the re-organization of global banks is probably a bit early but plausibility has certainly gone up (from near zero) significantly since I wrote this.
  • more (and more) algorithmic / automated intermediation of markets (A-) this was obliquely referenced in my article but was really at the heart of the idea that this fictional ‘AmazonBay’ platform would end up dominating this aspect of markets; clearly the market is heading this way – in fact it may seem obvious now but most people did not fully understand this even as little as five years ago.
  • Amazon anything (B+) The jury is probably still out on this one, but in my view it is looking increasingly likely that Amazon.com will become a giant of the next economic paradigm; whether or not they use their vast intellectual and technological resources to participate more directly in the financial services arena is not yet clear, but I can tell you the only ‘big company’ job I would not hesitate for two minutes to accept if it were offered would be CEO or CSO of Amazon Financial Services (AFS) Jeff are you listening? ;)

(Note: Remember I used real company names mainly to add vividness to the ideas underlying the narrative. The key concept I wanted to convey with this GS break-up vignette was that the vertically integrated model would decompose under the light of new technology and regulations into a (technology-centric) Sales & Trading component, a more focused, relationship driven Advisory component (cf. the emerging proliferation of pure advisory ’boutiques’) and independent, conflict-free Asset Management businesses (cf. the secular growth of hedge funds and Barclays sale of BGI, etc.))

(February 2009:) …Reacting to new competition, Goldman Sachs becomes the first major investment bank to break itself up. Securities and distribution are sold to Ebay Financial Markets, while the remaining activities are split into two new companies: GS Advisory Services and GS Capital management…

Charlatan

  • eBay anything (D) Despite the fact that the actual companies cited are more symbolic than literal, the choice of eBay to represent the cutting edge of online, data-driven, algorithmic marketplaces was simply awful. To the extent that it risks distracting the viewer from the key, underlying messages. It is now entirely implausible and so instead of bridging the cognitive gap, the inclusion of eBay simply extends it. Thank goodness this is somewhat mitigated by my inclusion of Amazon.com (see above) as the other new markets avatar but they come late to the narrative…
  • sports trading developing as an asset class (C+) this clearly hasn’t happened, although there are one or two small funds and firms offering managed accounts; and a vibrant ecosystem of professional traders and the associated software has emerged around the Betfair and other exchange platforms. In my defense, I picked sports as just a provocative and emotionally attractive example of the idea that – enabled by technology – a vast array of new tradable markets in goods but also outcomes, would emerge. Work in progress.
  • credit crunch and asset bubbles (D) although the overall purpose of the piece was to provoke thinking on the sustainability of existing business models in financial services in the face of radically shifting underlying technological, economic and demographic trends, I failed to include a thread touching on the possibility of catastrophic systemic discontinuities arising as a result of the prevailing market structure and business models. It’s a significant ommission, especially as at the time of writing this I was in the process of exiting my former responsibilities as a senior executive in the credit business due in part to my increasing discomfort with the sustainability and prudence of the risk pricing in that market.

All in all, I would give myself a mid-term grade of B+/A- with room both to improve and to slip back. Mostly on the right track, especially with respect to big themes but perhaps a bit optimistic in terms of some of the timelines. What do you think? Better? Worse? To be fair, the correct measuring stick is not so much whether or not I was right or wrong, even in terms of ‘macro’ predictions but whether or not this article and video helped catalyze serious discussion, debate and thought about the potential for disruptive and non-linear change in the financial services industry. Alas I have no idea how one could even attempt to measure that, but any thoughts or anecdotes you might have with respect to this would of course be appreciated.

Through the Looking Glass (2005)

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AWS Chronicles

So my question is when does Amazon.com split its retail operations from its AWS platform business. I’d love to see these priced separately. Actually, truth be told, I suggest Amazon.com is actually three businesses:

  • the AWS computing platform
  • the Amazon retail and logistics platform
  • the Amazon.xxx online store(s)

At the risk of being accused of adding only ‘thin’ value, I would suggest that these three businesses run and capitalized individually would be worth more than Amazon’s current $60bn market cap. Indeed, Amazon.com is a perfect example of a firm that is natively adapted to the new optimal ‘industrial stack’:
The new industrial stack.

Earlier this year I suggested that AWS in particular could well be the totemic representative technology that inaugurates the sixth techno-economic paradigm:

Just as Intel’s 4004 microprocessor was the catalyst for a wave of creative destruction in the 70s and 80s, will AWS prove the same for the 00s and 10s? Probably. We’re seeing it already. And it’s going to disrupt the hell out of the mastodons of industry across most sectors of the economy. Why? Because their cultures and leaders are entirely ill-equipped to face such a fundamental paradigm shift. They know how to play by the old rules. The strategic competitive advantages they built up over decades risk suddenly – poof! – to become obsolete.

And then a couple of weeks ago, Amazon announces spot instances on EC2. Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogel explains:

The central concept in this new option is that of the Spot Price, which we determine based on current supply and demand and will fluctuate periodically. If the maximum price a customer has bid exceeds the current Spot Price then their instances will be run, priced at the current Spot Price. If the Spot Price rises above the customer’s bid, their instances will be terminated and restarted (if the customer wants it restarted at all) when the Spot Price falls below the customer’s bid. This gives customers exact control over the maximum cost they are incurring for their workloads, and often will provide them with substantial savings. It is important to note that customers will pay only the existing Spot Price; the maximum price just specifies how much a customer is willing to pay for capacity as the Spot Price changes.

Spot Instances are ideal for Amazon EC2 customers who have workloads that are flexible as to when its tasks are run. These can be incidental tasks, such as the analysis of a particular dataset, or tasks where the amount of work to be done is almost never finished, such as media conversion from a Hollywood’s studio’s movie vault, or web crawling for a search indexing company. For most of these tasks their completion is not time critical and as such they are ideal targets for additional cost savings.

Before I go any further, let’s just say it’s pretty exciting to see vision become reality even if in this case I’m only a distant spectator. Markets in anything. Digital markets. Themes that go back to the founding mission statement of the Park Paradigm:

(December 2005) The technology of the digital age is driving an unprecedented explosion in the ability to create markets in anything. Trade anything. Not just physical goods. Not just financial instruments. But ideas. Events. Outcomes.
The emergence of these kinds of markets will – over time – impact how we view and interact with the world in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. They will fundamentally alter the current world economic and social paradigm.

Chris Swan calls them virtual resource markets and correctly points out that, at least for now, the market is “closed” – ie users cannot trade their capacity amongst themselves, however I suspect that it is just a matter of time before such a market is organized. But what would be even more useful (and exciting) than a closed market on Amazon EC2 resources, would be an open marketplace for on-demand spot computing resources. ie A marketplace which is agnostic as to where the compute resource comes from, so long as it is a robust and more or less uniform resource.* However for this to be useful for the end consumers of this computing commodity, the ability to switch automatically and seamlessly from one cloud computing source to another based on price and/or availability would be crucial. Indeed this would be the key value driver for anyone hoping to operate a compute resource exchange. Sure the price discovery and transaction mechanisms would be necessary but these are relatively trivial to build and hard (in isolation) to monetize. The real value creator for any exchange (just ask the CME) lies in clearing and settlements. (For the non-financial amongst my readers this is the back-end of the trade, fulfillment essentially.)**

James Urquhart makes this point strongly in his review of spot instances:

Note, however, that this feature is not market-based pricing. Amazon determines the spot price and can raise that price enough to gain back capacity at will, at no real cost to itself. There is no competition. There is no commoditization. There is just consumption of what is not being used.

The truth is, real commoditization of infrastructure services–or any other cloud service, for that matter–isn’t in the best interest of Amazon or any other service provider.

Regardless, commoditization can’t happen without open standards that allow easy portability and interoperability of data and code, as well as security, control, service-level assurance and compliance systems. Those standards are coming, but it is impossible to predict when they will arrive. I only hope Amazon embraces them when they do.

I’m not sure I agree with his view however that commoditization isn’t in the best interest of Amazon. The underlying asset is ultimately relatively undifferentiated (a compute cycle is a compute cycle is a compute cycle) which is in fact the definition of a commodity. If you are a provider of a commodity – unless you can maintain a monopoly or a cartel – it is in your interest to create as big and vibrant a marketplace as possible. Supply creating demand. And particularly if you fancy yourself the most efficient, large scale producer of said commodity (as I’m sure Amazon does), all the more reason to want a big, liquid market of consumers. It is the exchange and clearer that want to create lock-in, not the producers. To be fair, for the moment AWS is both and indeed this is the point James is making I think, but I would be surprised if they had the intention (hubris?) to think this is anything but a transitionary arrangement.

Of course, as a traded market in this critical 21st century resource develops over the next decade and beyond, the business opportunities abound. Better yet, many of them are well known and can quickly be adapted (from other asset markets) to apply to the compute resource market. It’s not a business yet, but it only took a few hours before the first ticker tapes (here also) began to appear for EC2 pricing:

An entire ecosystem will surely emerge – exchanges, prime brokers, risk management derivatives, algorithmic trading… I’m sure there will also be some interesting second-order opportunities. Linking spot computing prices with spot electricity prices. Selling green compute cycles (ie powered by renewable energy sources only.) Allowing anyone to sell compute cycles into the grid (think SETI@home meets micro-generation). The mind races.

Welcome to the sixth paradigm.


* like a bond futures contract, one could imagine allowing any compute resource fitting a certain minimum specification into the “basket” of deliverable resources; typically in this scenario there would be a “cheapest-to-deliver” resource in the basket which presumably would get allocated first.

** I can’t help but wondering if the amazing technology developed by our portfolio company CohesiveFT couldn’t be adapted or re-purposed to form the core fulfillment engine of a compute resource exchange. The fact that they are Chicago based and their CEO/Founder is ex-O’Connor makes me wonder even more!

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Platforms, Markets and Bytes

This morning I gave my presentation – “platforms, markets and bytes” at eComm 09 in Amsterdam. I’m not sure if it makes sense as a standalone but if Lee posts the video, I’ll link to it here later.

Using the tried and tested TED 20min format, it was a great opportunity for me to collect my thoughts into (what I hope was) a coherent overview of how I think technological and economic forces will shape the optimally adapted ‘industrial stack’ for the sixth paradigm. It’s a great summary of the prism through which we look at potential investment opportunities and I hope will help us articulate this more powerfully to entrepreneurs and prospective investors.

I’d love to hear any feedback (good, bad and ugly) from any of the eComm delegates who saw my presentation and hope to continue the conversation with you and others here. You can also follow me on twitter @nauiokaspark.

Thanks to Paul and Lee for inviting me and especially to those of you who took the time to respond to my call for input – it was tremendously valuable in helping me to shape and refine my thinking and in building the presentation; just a few years ago, assembling this kind of distributed brainpower would have been impossible, and I hope I never lose my ‘childlike sense of wonder’ at the boundless possibilities that technology enables.)

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Wisdom of (this) crowd?

Renault 14
Image via Wikipedia

I was very kindly invited by Paul and Lee to attend my first ever eComm conference, which will be in Amsterdam from October 28th to 30th.

The Emerging Communications (eComm) Conference & Awards was created to promote and accelerate communications innovation. Telecom, mobile and to a lesser extent, Internet based communications, had been innovation stagnant for far too long. Yet the opportunities for innovation had never been greater. Those opportunities are only going to grow as drastic changes further impact the multi-trillion dollar a year telecom industry.

The speaker line up looks fantastic and I’m the spare tire on an otherwise star-studded panel Thursday afternoon, that is if they still want me after my plenary talk that morning at 9:30:

Platforms, markets & bytes: the economic landscape of the 6th paradigm(?)
In a world where everything can be expressed as 0s and 1s, are the traditional ways of defining sectors and industries (as verticals) still relevant? If not what new business models and industry structures are likely to emerge? Oh and what’s the difference between a bank and a telecom company really?

Now at the risk that tumbleweeds blow through the comment section, proving once and for all that all my dear readers are in fact spambots (but in which case no one will see this and no embarrassment suffered), I thought I’d take a page out of the legendary Fred Wilson‘s book and ask you all for thoughts and comments on this theme that I might incorporate them into my presentation. (Or not!) So fire away!

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Update on 2009 Predictions.

Had planned to do this mid-year but totally forgot. If you recall on December 31st, 2009 I made a few macro trading predictions for 2009, so far so good although I haven’t done as well as I should have despite getting things mostly right.

  • Corporate bonds to recover: didn’t get involved here as I didn’t have easy access to a leveraged play on this and was too busy/lazy to buy some iShares in my pension fund. Dumb miss, as market up 15-25% depending on the index from start of year.
  • Equity markets to go up and vol to drop: S&P is now c. 1020 (up from 890 at year end, c. 15%) but traded down to 666 first. I’ve kept my individual portfolio holdings throughout (AAPL, AIRV, RMG, EWZ) but was stopped out of a leveraged long on S&P at c. 800 and did not get the trade back on. Didn’t play on VIX which has come down to c. 25 from 40 at the end of last year.
  • Selective Emerging Markets will outperform (in particular Brazil, India and Sub-Saharan Africa): Brazil iShares (EWZ) has outperformed S&P by about 50%, I held my long position but didn’t add to it as my limit orders were a bit too greedy. As for India and Africa, my preference was for private plays but if public markets are a proxy, directionally these seem to have done well also, with India outperforming S&P by c. 30%, whereas Africa it’s less clear.
  • Buy long dated calls on Oil: really angry on this one, my size was too small so my broker didn’t want the hassle of doing the trade for me. Was looking at $65 to $75 Dec 2010 calls. Even with big brokerage costs these are up 5-6x… Note to self, get new broker.
  • GBP will stop going down: I am structurally very long GBP so my trade here was not to hedge. So far so good as GBP is up c. 10% against the major crosses so far this year, having been even a bit higher a few weeks ago.

So, where do we go from here? I know it’s not very exciting, but I suspect we go mainly sideways in most asset markets between now and year end. If you are holding the positions above, I would continue to run them but tighten stops and look to take profits if S&P approaches 1100, Oil gets above $85 and GBP re-tests it’s August highs vs USD or EUR. Would be more patient or less nervous with positions in corporate bonds and Brazil; although both would probably suffer in a generalized market sell-off, I’d be more inclined to add on dips. Generally, I think it’s not a bad time to be raising cash again and sitting on the sidelines waiting for a better opportunity to come in: choppy sideways – which is more or less what I expect – is a very dangerous market to trade unless you are doing it full time (in which case it can be profitable and fun.) My biggest regret? Not buying AMZN when it traded below $50 like I swore I would. Have raised to $60 but not too hopeful. Otherwise I’m pretty happy with how my portfolio weathered the financial hurricane of ’08/09. Learning? Don’t overtrade: fastest way not only to lose money, but also your sanity.

(Self-)Report card: Predictions A, Trading C+, Overall B- Trading is always harder than predicting.

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Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Right?

In the spring of 2005 I wrote the “screenplay” for AmazonBay and we launched DrKW Revolution on July 1 2005 – I still have the t-shirt to prove it. So I must admit I had to laugh when my old colleague Stu pointed me to the Morgan Stanley Matrix I nearly fell off my chair laughing: it was deja vu all over again…

Don’t get me wrong, it looks pretty useful and I completely endorse the vision. In fact I sort of have to given that it is exactly in line with the vision we had for Digital Markets at DrKW over 5 years ago! (Although not quite as comprehensive as far as I can tell…) But what I love most is that in terms of look and feel – the hexagons, the music, the video (but I can re-assure you I didn’t wear a tie or speak from a teleprompter!) – it is Son of Revolution. Amazing. Actually feel quite proud that we at least left an impact, even if it didn’t happen to be at Dresdner Kleinwort.

I just spent a few minutes digging around on the wayback machine but unfortunately couldn’t find any good links. Really too bad because the Flash intro page was very cool and would have loved to be able to look at it side-by-side with MS Matrix. (Any current Dresdner folks would be great if you could dig this code out of the archives if it still exists!) Fortunately, I did have an old marketing card brochure hanging around:

DrKWRevolution Brochure (Cover) DrKWRevolution Brochure (Cover) parkparadigm 2006 vintage marketing brochure

(The rest of that brochure is here.)

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I can’t help but feel a little proud seeing some of my vision start to come to life, especially at such a blue chip conservative firm like Morgan Stanley, but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t feel like screaming ‘I told you so’ to all the senior executives at DrKW who refused to stick their necks out and support what I was trying to do. Let’s just say I’m not surprised at how it all ultimately turned out there. Karma. The good thing is that this bad feeling is way more than offset by remembering all the truly exceptional people I got to work with while I was at DrKW and the support I received from so many of them especially since it wasn’t necessarily politically correct to do so. It meant and still means a lot to me. Anyhow, it would be cool if Hishaam Mufti-Bey, the guy behind MS Matrix would add us as a little historical footnote on his About Us page, as I imagine it won’t be long until all the old DrKW links have disappeared; it’s important to remember!

Just one final point though. What the hell is it with traders and black Bloomberg-looking web design??? Every bloody website I see focused on institutional capital markets customers seems to use this look. Get over it! It was fantastic for Mike (and rooted in a real engineering problem by the way) but when other people copy them, well… it just makes you all look dumb. Hire a designer. Do something original. Your content and you customers deserve it. ;)

“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”

- William Gibson, Author


Update: Thanks to Martina for finding a slide version of the website stills / product look and feel…as you can see MS Matrix looks even more like DrKW Revolution than I remembered!

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The coming “intergrid”.

The always interesting Bill St. Arnaud pointed me in the direction of this interesting speech by Jeremy Rifkin who talks about the convergence of a quantum advance in communication and energy technologies leading to a “third industrial revolution”. Clearly talk of the “smart grid” is not new and we may actually be well on our way to the “peak of inflated expectations” but this does not take away from the much much bigger picture that this convergence will be fundamentally transformational:

The same design principles and smart technologies that made possible the internet, and vast distributed global communication networks, will be used to reconfigure the world’s power grids so that people can produce renewable energy and share it peer-to-peer, just like they now produce and share information, creating a new, decentralized form of energy use. We need to envision a future in which millions of individual players can collect, produce and store locally generated renewable energy in their homes, offices, factories, and vehicles, and share their power generation with each other across a Europe-wide intelligent intergri

And although it is probably too early for us, I am extremely optimistic about the very exciting investment opportunities I see coming down the pipe because of this revolution. No we aren’t planning to add to or change the investment focus of Nauiokas Park to green tech or clean energy. What I am alluding to is the opportunities that will emerge to create new markets, market structures and participants when the world’s energy becomes a truly networked, digital commodity. Imagine a world (not so many years away) where tools like Google PowerMeter are as widely adopted as Google Search or Skype. And distributed micro-generation (solar, wind, micro-generators, etc.) and micro-storage. All connected, all digitized. Generating vast amounts of data and transactions. And you’ve got yourself a market. Sure, I here you say, energy markets already exist and by the way are pretty big. No big deal here, move along. Well, it’s not perfect but I would suggest comparing the financial markets of the 1970s to the financial markets of today, to get a sense of the quanta of change we should expect in energy markets – with the concomitant risks and opportunities this will present. And I suspect it will all happen a bit more quickly: one decade instead of three(?)

I hope we’ll have the opportunity to invest in the Weatherbill of power markets. Or the Aleri of power trading. Oh wait – we’d better hurry(!): “Home Energy Programs Getting Smarter With Software”

I know it’s not the done thing, but despite all the doom and gloom I can’t help but to get more optimistic every day about all the truly exciting opportunities that are bubbling up in harmony with the new industrial and economic paradigm that is dawning. (Which is not to disagree with the doom and gloom – for those people, companies and industries stuck in the old paradigm there isn’t much to cheer about, and it must be especially galling for those who were leaders in this old world order.)

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