Ryan Beck
  • Degeneracy and Jefferson and a Moose

    March 17, 2021

    “The Europeans who pass into America degenerate, as do the animals; a proof that the climate is unfavourable to the improvement of either man or animal… This degradation of humanity must be imputed to the vitiated qualities of the air stagnating in their immense forests, and corrupted by the noxious vapours from standing waters and uncultivated grounds.”

    Apparently around the Revolutionary period in America, one of the most popular theories in Europe about human and animal origins was degeneration theory. Basically the idea that humans originated in the same place, but that the reason they were different in different places now is that some ended up living in different places with unfavorable climates, leading them to “devolve” and decline from their original complexity in many places. Of course, being a European theory the idea was that Europeans had not degenerated much or at all.

    Obviously this was a theory motivated by racism, used to explain the “inferiority” of other races and peoples. But a funny aspect of it is the controversy it caused with American colonists. The dopes pushing the theory implied that the American colonists had become inferior too by being exposed to the climate of North America. The idea was that the North American climate was bad for living creatures, resulting in toxic plants, which infected people and animals and made them smaller and feebler of mind and body. Some of the founding fathers got offended by Europeans calling them inferior and spent time criticizing the theory. Thomas Jefferson even had a stuffed moose sent to one of the originators of the theory to say “hey idiot, look at how massive this thing is, call my moose small and feeble, I dare you.”

    The quote at the start of this post and all of the hilariously incorrect quotes below come from a Dutch philosopher named Cornelius de Pauw who was one of the proponents of degeneration theory. The source is from a translation of his book at the link, you can look at it for free. Just prepare yourself for some horrifying racism and stupidity: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Selections_from_Les_Recherches_philosoph/4WRZAAAAcAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1

    “It was observed, at the discovery of the new world, that there was no such thing as a large quadruped to be found between the Tropics; there were neither horses, asses, oxen, camels, dromedaries, nor elephants; all which, except the last, have from time immemorial been so effectually tamed to the services of man in our hemisphere.”

    “The Puma, or lion of America, has no mane; nor is it to be compared for size, force, or courage, with the lion of Africa. The same may be affirmed of their Jaguar, which has been honoured with the name of tiger; as to the Couguar, or poltroon tiger, as it is called, it seems to be peculiar to this country.”

    Offended Cougar
    What did you call me?

    “It is certain that many animals have been found in the new world, which have not their familiars in the old; from which we may infer, that the two continents were never united under the equator; for if the sea between Guinea and the Brazil had ever been terra firma, the animals of the Torrid Zone of the two hemispheres would be found on each continent: whence it follows, that each climate hath received from Nature its appropriated species.”

    “To the malignity of the air of America must be imputed the prodigious propagation of insects, venomous serpents, and infected vegetations, which so unhappily distinguish the hemisphere. The same ill qualities of the air which are favourable to these noxious productions, are probably the true origin of the degeneracy in men and animals; as the same corrupt juices which infect the vegetable nature, must taint the blood, and subdue the powers of the animal.”

    A wikipedia article on degeneration theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degeneration_theory

    More info on the story of how Thomas Jefferson sent a dead moose to Paris: https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/american-moose

  • New Vaccine Page

    March 16, 2021

    I forgot to post here about it, but a few weeks ago I turned my vaccine spreadsheet into a webpage on my site. You can check it out at the link below, it should be easier to navigate than the spreadsheet, especially on mobile.

    https://www.ryanbeckauthor.com/vaccines/

    I’m pretty proud of how it works, it looks simple enough but behind the scenes it’s populating the webpage tables with the values grabbed from the google spreadsheet. It took some effort and muddling through a bunch of Javascript (thanks StackOverflow!) to get it working, but now that it’s done it works pretty slick. It was one of those projects where it would have been a lot easier to just manually update the HTML every time I wanted to update the table, but I’m a fan of automation for the sake of automation so now I only have to update the values in one place.

    Anyway, for anyone who happens to see this post I hope you find my vaccine information useful and I hope you’re able to get vaccinated soon. Should be available for everyone within a couple months!

  • Why Robinhood Halted Gamestop (Reject the Simple Narrative)

    January 31, 2021

    On January 28th Robinhood disabled all transactions except for position-closing (selling) for a small set of stocks including Gamestop (GME). This was a new and exciting development in the ongoing saga of how a subreddit called Wallstreetbets (WSB) memed their way into contributing to a short squeeze and profiting from it (or at least the early adopters are likely to profit from it). Freezing stock purchases also generated significant outrage, quickly turning into a narrative of how Big Wallstreet will cheat to avoid losing money to the average Joe. This narrative is simple, appealing, and probably wrong, and the following is an attempt to explain why.

    I’m not going to go over the full history here. Others have already done that with plenty of background information. If you want to read the full saga (not necessary to understand the rest of this post, but it is interesting) then check out these links:

    The obligatory Vox explainer.
    A background piece with an interesting explanation of how WSB could profit from this without many of them losing a bunch of money if they can coordinate effectively.
    A Wallstreetbets thread on GME if you’ve never visited the subreddit and want to immerse yourself in the full experience of crass GME memes and takes by people who have fully embraced the early 2000’s non-PC habit of using intellectual disabilities and sexual orientation as insults.

    Anyway, check out those links if you want, or don’t, how we got to where we are isn’t all that important for explaining why Robinhood shut down certain trades on January 28th.

    Disclaimer: I am not an expert on any of this. There’s a good chance I’ve made mistakes in the following explanation. I’m just a guy who wasn’t satisfied by the simple narrative and stayed up 4 hours past his bedtime on Thursday night and spent most of his free time since trying to better understand this stuff and writing it up to share what I’ve learned. If you see anything that you know to be wrong please comment with correct information!

    What differentiates this post: There have already been a few other good posts (see links below) on why Robinhood shutting down transactions was not some corrupt conspiracy. But this post is a post for masochists who want to know what’s going on in more detail and who want to dig into the technical background and data. If that’s you, read on!

    Links to other good posts: https://www.reddit.com/r/neoliberal/comments/l7bo3r/the_game_stop_situation_is_not_a_conspiracy_an/ https://www.reddit.com/r/neoliberal/comments/l7bdcv/what_actually_happened_today_hint_there_probably/ https://www.reddit.com/r/neoliberal/comments/l81tif/why_did_robinhood_stop_allowing_their_customers/ https://www.reddit.com/r/badeconomics/comments/l7gi70/financial_econ_101_or_link_this_in_bad_reddit/

    How a Stock Market Transaction Works

    To really understand why the popular narrative about Robinhood is likely to be wrong, we need to better understand how a stock market transaction works. When you buy a stock, you fork over your money and receive in return shares of a stock. The company that provides the user interface or the human that you call up to arrange this transaction is called a broker. That’s what Robinhood is. You tell your broker you want to buy X shares of stock Y, you give them the money and they arrange for those shares to be purchased and documented as being owned by you.

    But if you’re going through Robinhood, and the person that is selling you the shares goes through TD Ameritrade (another broker), Robinhood and TD Ameritrade don’t actually talk to each other to complete the transaction. A number of intermediaries may be involved and this can be crazy complicated. Here is a brief explanation of some of the key players:

    Broker: The broker interacts with traders. Brokers show traders what the current prices are, takes orders, and handles the traders’ money.

    Clearing Broker/Entity/House: These entities handle the logistics of the trade. When a broker interacts with a trader they are basically a conduit for alerting the broader market that someone wants to make a trade of X stock at Y price. The clearing entity is in charge of organizing and documenting things, basically making sure that each side of the transaction transmits the appropriate funds and documenting everything as to who now owns what. Often brokers and clearing entities are combined. Robinhood was originally just a broker (they refer to that as being an “introducing broker”) but has since expanded to also do clearing.

    Market Maker: A market maker is an entity that has an inventory of certain shares and sells and buys those shares. The purpose of a market maker is to add liquidity. Instead of trying to connect one trader who wants to buy a stock with another trader who wants to sell that stock, brokers can just go to a market maker who they know is holding a stock. The market maker might sell a stock, depleting some of its supply, and then the next instant buy more of that stock to replenish its supply. It’s basically a vehicle for faster transactions, and it makes its money by skimming a bit off the bid-ask spread. In other words, it might list a stock for sale at $100, and also list that it’s willing to purchase a stock for $99.95. The 5 cent spread on each stock traded goes to the market maker. The reason spreads remain small is people would rather go through the market maker that skims the least off the top. Yay competition!

    Exchange: This is like the NASDAQ. The NASDAQ acts as a kind of system enabling the exchange of information and making trades more efficient. This one is confusing to me, but it sounds like an exchange like the NASDAQ brings together market makers and I assume offers them some kind of service and features that makes trading easier. However, it also sounds like market makers don’t necessarily have to go through an exchange and can operate without an exchange.

    Before we get to the last piece I’ll talk about here, keep in mind that all of the above becomes horribly mangled and complicated in reality, because from what I can tell just about any of these entities above can all be under one roof, or subsidiaries of other companies, or any number of different arrangements. The stock market is complicated! This should be your first warning when people try to push simple narratives. Extremely complicated stuff often doesn’t fit within a simple story where there are heroes and villains and everyone is out to get the little guy.

    The NSCC: NSCC stands for National Securities Clearing Corporation. It is a subsidiary of the DTCC, which stands for the Depository Trust and Clearing Organization. The DTCC is a private company. Each day billions and billions of trades happen. Instead of swapping equities back and forth and all over the place for every single transaction, the NSCC tracks all of these trades, sums them up and at the end of the day says “Company X, you owe company Y $1 billion, company Y, you owe Company X this many shares of each of these securities.” The NSCC also handles these transactions, so the money being exchanged by these companies flows through the NSCC. And it does that for every company trading on the stock market. They all go through the NSCC, and the NSCC minimizes the amount of times money and equities have to change hands. There is one private company in the US that tracks and manages all of the trading information to make sure everyone gets paid, everyone gets their shares, and everything happens at the right price. I’m sure the details are complex but I assume brokers that are also clearing entities would be told by the NSCC how much they owe the market makers they exchanged with each day, and vice-versa.

    It kind of blew my mind that there’s essentially just one main company out there that serves as the central hub of all stock transactions and makes sure the markets work. As you can imagine, resting the entire stock market on one company means that company is going to be heavily regulated to be sure that it can never fail and bring the whole market down with it. We’ll get into what regulations are at play soon, but the NSCC is likely the key component in the Robinhood trading freeze.

    Claims of Corruption

    Okay so we’re going to take a brief detour into the reason people are outraged that Robinhood shut down trading. As broken out in this Twitter thread there once was a trader named Gabe Plotkin, he worked at a company called SAC Capital but they got fined for insider trading (not sure how this is relevant to the story other than to get your mind to make the association Plotkin = shady) and he left to start his own company. His new company was called Melvin Capital.

    Plotkin’s new company did a bunch of shorting, including on Gamestop. His shorts blew up this week with all the Wallstreetbets stuff, putting his firm in bankruptcy danger. But then Melvin got a $3 billion investment from SAC founder Steve Cohen and a Citadel hedge fund manager named Ken Griffin (the tweet thread says bailed out, apparently insinuating that these guys bought a stake in Plotkin’s struggling company just to personally help him out, but make of that what you will). Citadel is a market maker. Robinhood uses Citadel as one of its market makers, and Citadel pays Robinhood fees for the trades Robinhood brings them. So Citadel pays Robinhood, Citadel recently bought Melvin capital, which had (and might still have?) a large short position on GME. Therefore the theory is that Citadel stands to lose a lot of money if the short squeeze continues, and since Robinhood gets fees from Citadel there’s a big conflict of interest there, the implication being that Robinhood might have restricted purchases of GME in order to drive the price down and prevent Citadel from losing a lot of money via its recent purchase of Melvin.

    I didn’t fact check any of the above, I’m just presenting the information as I understand it for your knowledge. Make of it what you will, but that’s the reason for the outrage. I assume many of the people outraged about it don’t even know those details and just think that Robinhood is a big investing company so is probably just trying to save Wallstreet a bunch of money by shutting down trading and stamping out WSB’s big short squeeze.

    Also, I want to make it clear that this post isn’t saying we should completely dismiss the possibility of corruption. It should be fully investigated to make sure nothing shady is happening behind the scenes. The point of this post is that this theory seems a little half-baked, and that there’s a much better theory available.

    NSCC Collateral

    Back to the NSCC and why it’s the key component of all of this. The fate of the US financial market basically rests on its shoulders. So how do we make sure it never goes under? Lots of regulation. The NSCC is required by law to collect a bunch of collateral from the companies it facilitates trades for. That way if the market were to collapse and take down a few of the big market makers or brokers, any outstanding transactions don’t completely bring down the NSCC with it, they have some collateral to offset those losses. (Side note: I believe the NSCC also has a means of getting a direct government money infusion in the event of a market collapse so that it can stay afloat and keep processing trades. I don’t know the details of this, just wanted to mention it so people rest easier knowing that the sole private company keeping the market afloat isn’t only relying on collateral).

    You might wonder how much risk there really is for the NSCC. Don’t these transactions happen instantaneously through the magic of computers and the internet? Sort of, but not really. While trades execute immediately, they don’t actually settle for another two days. This is known as T+2 (In the days of physical stock certificates and paper money it used to take 5 days, or T+5, but computers and internet have sped up the process.). If you buy a stock, you don’t officially become the owner until two days later once the NSCC settles the transaction.

    Many brokers show the money in your account immediately after a sale, but you may have noticed or heard about delays in making multiple trades, such as not being able to sell a stock, use the proceeds to buy another, and then sell that one. Brokers often allow you to make a trade using unsettled funds for stocks, but they don’t let you stack up a bunch of transactions, they require you to wait for settlement to actually occur so that everything is official and so you do a bunch of stuff with money that isn’t really yours yet.

    Because these large payments between entities flow through the NSCC it creates a lot of risk for the NSCC. If there were to be a market crash or a sudden bankruptcy of a large trading firm, the NSCC would be exposed to the risk of a collapsed firm missing its payments for trades that have been executed but just not settled yet due to that two day period. I don’t know the exact details of how this works, but essentially it sounds like the NSCC would be on the hook for those payments and still have to complete the transaction and pay the firm that the money was supposed to go to. That’s why the government requires that companies post collateral each day with the NSCC based on factors like amount of money owed, volatility, and shifts in market price.

    After the financial crisis a lot of scrutiny came upon the financial system and Dodd-Frank was passed, which created more oversight and regulation for the financial industry. As part of that, the NSCC was designated as one of eight Systemically Important Financial Market Utilities (SIMFUs) and was required to work under the oversight of the Federal Reserve and the SEC to establish requirements to ensure that it couldn’t collapse, such as requiring collateral. The SIMFU designation was something I had no idea existed, so I just wanted to mention that and link to the wikipedia page on it in case anyone else was interested.

    Calculating Collateral

    The latest rules that the NSCC has created and SEC has approved (under procedure XV here) set forth certain measures to use in calculating how much collateral has to be posted by each firm settling trades with the NSCC. As far as I can tell and based on the original Twitter thread I found this information in (see the end of the post for the credit and link) the collateral is a portion of the outstanding money owed by a firm at the end of the day. For example, if after summing everything up the NSCC determines that Robinhood owes $1 billion to other firms and will receive $0.5 billion from other firms, the collateral will be a portion of the net $0.5 billion they owe. Here’s a brief summary of the estimates and steps that go into finding the required collateral, more details on each of these will follow:

    1.) Take the highest of two different measures of value-at-risk. Value-at-risk is a measure of how much money you could lose in a certain time period. According to the NSCC proposed rules to the SEC this usually comprises the largest part of the collateral. PDF download of proposed rules is here.
    2.) If a single position or stock makes up more than 30 percent of the entire balance owed, the collateral must be a percentage of that balance based on certain historical data, with a minimum of 10% of the size of that position.
    3.) A percentage of the difference between the long and short positions in the balance plus the lower balance of the long and short positions multiplied by an even smaller percentage.
    4.) The mark-to-market value, which is basically the difference between the initial value of the shares when the trades were executed and any change in market value since then. So if on the first day Robinhood owed $500 billion to the NSCC to be paid out to other companies, but the next day (T+1) the market value of those shares increased by $10 billion my understanding is that Robinhood would have to add $10 billion to their collateral.
    5.) Any additional collateral the NSCC demands based on volatility of certain positions. I’m just speculating on this but this seems to be an increase the NSCC can apply if it assesses that there’s widespread exposure to volatility. In other words, the previous four collateral calculations are based on risk exposure from a single firm, but NSCC also would want to look at risk from all of the firms that owe money to the NSCC. Don’t take that as gospel though, the source documents are hard to follow.

    The total required value of the collateral is the max of item #1 through #3, plus #4 and #5. So #1 through #3 aren’t additive, you just take the worst of them. And there are more than this too, but these are the main five we’ll go over now because that’s enough complexity and these seem to be the big factors. The others have to do with things like previously unpaid balances, and the ones I have listed here seem to be the biggest factors in calculating required collateral.

    To make this less vague I want to give an idea of how these numbers might change as share volatility increases. We’ll start with value-at-risk. The value-at-risk essentially looks at the historical volatility and estimates how much you’re at risk of losing in a single period. For the purposes of what we’re looking at the period is one day. The idea is you normalize the data from a certain time period of daily changes in portfolio price, and then using a normal distribution you see what the 99th percent confidence interval of maximum loss would be. Say Robinhood has a balance owed with the NSCC of $500 billion, they might come up with a number like $50 million, which would mean in a single day they could be around 99% confident that their balance owed wouldn’t end up increasing or decreasing by more than $50 million.

    But those are fake numbers, so let’s estimate some real ones. There are two measures in their rules they use for estimating this. One measure is an evenly weighted volatility function over a period of at least 253 days. That means they look back over the last 253 days or longer and the change in price each day is equally weighted when estimating the mean and standard deviation. The other measure is called an exponentially weighted moving average (EMWA), where they look back a certain number of days but each subsequent day into the past is weighted a little bit less, so that more recent days receive the most weight in your volatility estimate.

    Now I want to be clear before I start describing the process that my statistics knowledge is weak, so be aware that I’m following explanations I found online for how to do these things. If anyone notices an error in what I’m doing or in my terminology please correct me. If your stats knowledge is also weak just be aware that this is a case of the blind leading the blind, so don’t assume I know what I’m doing!

    My strategy for the value-at-risk was to estimate the value-at-risk of a single share of GME and use that as the basis for estimating the value-at-risk to Robinhood and across the stock market. To estimate these values I downloaded the last 5 years of GME data and ran numbers on the share price at daily close. First I calculated the daily return and applied the natural log to each return. From what I’ve read this is common in the finance world and has some benefits, and it’s generally assumed that the resulting returns are normally distributed. From there for the equivalently weighed method I took the standard deviation on a rolling basis over the past 253 days. According to the NSCC submittal to the SEC, they use a 99% confidence interval to estimate the largest amount that the share price could drop or rise in a single day, based on the data in the historical sample. Or in other words they’re trying to estimate a single-day drop or increase in value that only has a 1% chance of being exceeded.

    Once you have the standard deviation you use the assumed normal distribution to find the value-at-risk. The Z score represents the number of standard deviations to the left and right of the mean that results in your confidence interval. As shown in the image below, for a 95% confidence interval the Z score is 1.96. For 99% the Z score is 2.576.

    Computing the value-at-risk for the EMWA is a little more complicated. Instead of describing it here follow this link if you want an explanation. But at the end of the day you’re still computing the standard deviation and multiplying it by the Z score, you just compute your standard deviation so that each previous day is weighted as X% of the day after it. I assumed 95% as the decay factor based on the linked article. So today is weighted at 5%, the previous day is 5%*0.95 = 4.75%, the day before that would be 4.51%, and so on.

    Below is a plot of results showing the value-at-risk as a percent of the GME share price each day and the GME share price. As you can see, the EMWA generally sticks close to the equivalently weighted method, but fluctuates around it. That fluctuation is because the EMWA is going to be weighing recent price movements a lot higher. So we can see that it makes sense to use the worst case of the EMWA and equivalently weighted value-at-risk, since the EMWA captures recent highs and lows in volatility while the equivalently weighted measures your longer term volatility.

    You can also see from the chart that what’s happened recently with GME is pretty crazy. The EMWA value-at-risk is close to 80% of the share price! That means if the share price were $100, the 99% confidence interval means it could drop or increase as much as $80 in one day. Previously the EMWA measure had peaked closer to 30% in the last few years, so we’re in pretty uncharted territory for this stock. Below is the same chart but focused on after October 2020 so we can see the recent movement better. As you can see, the equivalently weighted value-at-risk is at about 30%.

    That just tells us the value-at-risk for one share. To estimate value at risk for the whole stock market I took the percent value-at-risk times the share price times the volume traded. You can see the result in the image below. I had to show the vertical axes in log-scale because the recent change is just massive. Assuming my method isn’t completely wrong, the stock market as a whole had a value-at-risk peaking at $23 billion on January 27th in just GME stock. That’s some pretty huge volatility.

    Here’s the same chart but focused on October 2020 onward.

    Robinhood’s value-at-risk is going to be less than that. Their value-at-risk from GME is going to be based on how many shares their users bought and the net Robinhood owed money on each day. So the dollar total for them is going to be quite a bit less than $23 billion. This is difficult to estimate, since from what I can tell brokers don’t really publish their daily volume in each stock. As a back-of-the-envelope, very very rough guess, I’ll start with just roughly assuming 1% of the trades of GME were through Robinhood, and 75% of that was purchases of GME and 25% was selling GME. Doing the math on that would mean that on January 27th Robinhood would be estimated to have $115 million in value-at-risk from just GME alone.

    As a second method of estimating I’ll look at what data we do have from Robinhood. In June Robinhood said they had 4.3 million daily average revenue trades (DARTs). That doesn’t really tell us a lot though, because it looks to me like that’s just trades and doesn’t indicate how many shares were traded. That means it’s time to make more arbitrary assumptions! First I’ll assume that average remained the same during the recent craze. I’ll just guess that since Robinhood is billed as for the little guy that the average is 5 shares per trade. And I’ll also assume that in recent days at the height of the craziness that GME accounted for 10% of the trades on Robinhood, and 75% of those were buys. Reasonable? I have no idea, but hopefully. On January 27th the single-share value-at-risk for GME was $250. And total GME shares traded was 93 million. Based on the assumptions, I’m coming up with 2.15 million trades of GME from Robinhood, and a total of $268 million at risk for Robinhood.

    So with those two guess-timates it looks like on the worst day, January 27th, the value-at-risk for Robinhood for GME alone could have ranged from somewhere around $100 million to maybe as high as $300 million. And that’s just for GME. The NSCC requires Robinhood to account for value-at-risk of its entire portfolio, all stock purchases net of sales. So the value-at-risk is likely to be even higher than what I’m showing here.

    As a final sanity check on this, the NSCC had about $10 billion in its clearing funds as of September 30th, 2020 and about $15 billion as of June 30, 2020. According to our chart, in September and June of 2020 the total value of GME at risk across the entire stock market was about $10 million dollars, or about 0.1 percent of the clearing funds. According to this article, on January 28th the NSCC clearing fund value jumped from $26 billion to $33.5 billion. I’m estimating that GME itself might have accounted for $10 or $20 billion of that. Based on that I’m guessing my estimate of GME’s contribution is probably on the high side. There are other volatile stocks out there besides GME, so for it to be making up over half of the clearing funds seems a bit extreme. That said, we’re at least somewhat in the ballpark, since the clearing fund went from $10-$15 billion in summer and fall to about $25-$30 billion now, so it does seem that GME and other volatile stocks are pushing up the clearing fund by quite a bit.

    Bringing that back to our list, what I’ve estimated is that the NSCC might be requiring in the ballpark of $100 to $300 million from Robinhood as collateral for item #1. The rest of the list items I’m not going as in-depth on. For item #2, we have to estimate what the collateral would be if GME was more than 30% of Robinhood’s outstanding portfolio at the end of the day. Let’s say they hit exactly 30%, what would that look like? Let’s use our previous ballpark estimate of 4.35 million trades per day at 5 shares per trade. We’ll also assume GME is around the average price for a stock so we don’t have to weight for stock price. And finally we’ll say GME is at about $300 in share price. Doing that I come up with 6.5 million shares of GME purchased by Robinhood on net, with 10% of that value being $196 million.

    I’m going to skip over item #3, I don’t have a good way to estimate that and they don’t define the percentages. We’ll just hope items #1 and #2 are larger, which seems like a reasonable assumption.

    Where we’re at so far is that we need to take the max of items #1-3. Item #1 was $100 to $300 million, item #2 was $196 million. So we’re still in that $100 to $300 million range.

    Item #4 is the mark-to-market adjustment. If we were to stick with our item #2 estimate of 6.5 million shares traded in a day, and pick $100 as how much the stock price jumped in a day (not too far off what it’s been doing recently), then we’d be looking at adding on an additional $650 million in collateral. That’s pretty massive, but also we’re basing that number on the item #2 estimate which assumed that 30% of Robinhood’s trading was GME, which may not be accurate. So the mark-to-market estimate could be a lot lower than that.

    Finally, item #5 encompasses several add-ons that NSCC seems to be allowed to demand, which I’m assuming are based on overall risk from all of the entities that owe them money. The rules document I linked previously allows them to require a “special charge” in the event of volatility or liquidity issues, and they can also add something called a market liquidity adjustment which again seems based on volatility and risk.

    So where we’re at after all of this is potentially somewhere between $100 million and $950 million in collateral, plus whatever extra the NSCC can demand based on item #5. Likely somewhere toward the middle or higher end of that range, or more. Again, I want to make it clear that I have no idea what I’m talking about and am just trying to get a ballpark estimate. I may be making mistakes. Overall I’m just trying to give an idea of what factors are in play and hopefully give an idea of how much the recent volatility can affect the required collateral.

    But honestly this rough estimate doesn’t seem too far off. According to Robinhood their collateral requirement increased 10-fold due to the recent weeks’ events, which they describe in this short (and much too late to stem the outrage) article summarizing why they halted trading on some stocks. And according to this article Robinhood had to draw on up to $1.5 billion in credit to be able to get trading going again. So we’re definitely talking about a huge amount of collateral, and that makes it sound like what I’ve estimated here isn’t that far off all things considered. One important thing to note is that NSCC only handles regular trades from my understanding. There’s another clearing firm called Options Clearing Corporation (OCC) that’s used for options. Robinhood likely had additional collateral commitments at OCC for options purchases in addition to what NSCC was requiring on regular GME share purchases. The OCC collateral might be large as well, and it’s possible I could be overestimating the NSCC collateral requirement and that the OCC collateral was more significant.

    I did all of my value-at-risk calculations and plotting in this google sheet, feel free to check it out. If you see any errors please let me know.

    Where That Leaves Us

    Robinhood had to put up a ton of cash as collateral. Just a huge amount. And they weren’t the only ones that had to pause trading due to collateral issues. E-trade, Webull, and several others also restricted trading. And the estimates I’ve provided here, if accurate, serve to quantify to some extent just how large the collateral required is. The alternate theories implying corruption or foul play seem unsupported and implausible when you actually dig in and see what happened with volatility and collateral requirements last week. Again, this should probably all be investigated to make sure there wasn’t any favoritism or alternative motives in the trading halt and increased collateral requirements, but based on all this information it seems that what happened was an unusual but completely legal and ethical situation.

    I started looking into this knowing nothing at all about what actually happens when you purchase a stock and now I feel like I have an okay grasp on it. If you read this far I hope it helped you as well.

    As a final thought, it worries me how quickly people will jump to assuming malice and corruption in every new turn of events. If the news can be interpreted in a way that makes their perceived enemies look bad people will fully adopt that interpretation without question. This is dangerous and creates outrage and conflict for no reason, so I ask everyone reading this to be an influence in the other direction. Try to avoid taking a strong opinion until you’ve made an effort to better understand all the factors at play and be skeptical when everyone else is jumping to conclusions.

    TL;DR

    Ha, just kidding! You don’t get one of these, this is a complicated issue and trying to reduce it to a simple narrative has caused the country to turn against each other looking for a culprit. Simple narratives based on a shallow understanding of complex issues are bad and are reducing social trust, strive to understand how the world works, it’s a fascinating place!

    Additional Sources

    A lot of credit goes to this Twitter thread, it was the first source I found that explained that there was more going on and provided enough detail to explain why. I basically built on this and expanded it with more background and information. If you’re on Twitter go give this person a like and a follow for being a voice of reason and digging into the details.

    Just about every concept or entity I discussed in this post has a useful page on Investopedia that you can look at for more information or to verify what I said here. I’ve probably scanned through about 100 Investopedia pages to try to get a better understanding of these things so I’m not going to flood this post with links, but if you want more information just search for a term on there.

  • Coronavirus Vaccine Information

    November 23, 2020

    Trying to get information on the potential coronavirus vaccines has been frustrating. The information I want is never in one place, it’s often vague and usually scattered across multiple links. So I thought I’d take a shot 💉 at providing a more useful resource. The table below has the latest information I could find on the vaccines the US has agreed to purchase. Sources and notes are below the table with more information. The embedded table is a bit hard to navigate so for better full-screen viewing go to this link. I’ll be updating this table occasionally, check the date below the table for when it was last updated.

  • Predicting the Biden Presidency

    November 20, 2020

    I thought it would be interesting to predict what will happen under the Biden presidency. I think making falsifiable predictions is important for improving our perceptions and predictions and holding ourselves accountable. There seems to be an epidemic of unfalsifiable predictions and assertions lately, and I think that may be either a symptom or a cause of what I perceive as a decrease in social trust and an increase in conspiracy theories.

    Here are my predictions of what will happen in Biden’s first term. What do you think will happen? Feel free to copy some or all of these and make your own forecast and we can compare in four years. There’s a google spreadsheet at the end too that you can copy and use if that’s easier.

    Methodology

    First a bit about how I’m doing the predictions. The Senate is still contested and Democrats could win control of it by winning both Georgia runoff seats. So the main percentage is my prediction with Republican control of the Senate. The number in parenthesis is my prediction if Democrats control the Senate. If there are no parenthesis I think it’s something that doesn’t depend on the Senate.

    The closer to 0% or 100% the more confident I am, closer to 50% means less confidence. Sometimes percentage probabilities can be difficult to think about, so it can help to think about other ways, such as a 25% chance is in 1 in 4 and 10% chance is 1 in 10. There’s a way to score how you do on predictions that I’ll discuss at the end of the post.

    :icecream: = Biden has specifically proposed or advocated for this or an even larger version
    :x: = Biden has specifically said he won’t do this

    No emoji means I’m not certain enough of his stance to say one way or the other.

    Predictions

    CLIMATE CHANGE
    95% - Rejoins the Paris agreement (counts even if not ratified by Senate) :icecream:
    0% (1%) - Bans fracking (defined as a direct blanket ban on all fracking) :x:
    20% (60%) - Implements a carbon tax
    10% (65%) - Passes significant climate legislation (I’m defining as a climate bill including at least $500 billion invested in climate change mitigation and related areas) :icecream:

    CORONAVIRUS
    5% - Implements a mask mandate (defined as one that’s legally enforceable or has a defined punishment. Still counts if later ruled unconstitutional)
    95% - Implements a mask policy (one not federally enforceable, such as guidelines or incentives for states to implement mask mandates. Counts even if it’s referred to as a mandate but not actually required or enforceable) :icecream:
    85% (99%) - Passes a coronavirus relief bill providing $500 billion or more in relief and funding :icecream:
    35% (65%) - Pass a coronavirus relief bill providing over $1 trillion in relief and funding and including stimulus checks (one bill of this size would also satisfy previous question) :icecream:

    IMMIGRATION
    95% - Increases refugee admissions to about where they were before Trump (I’m defining as a cap of 80k or higher maintained over most of the term) :icecream:
    25% - Sets the refugee admissions cap to 200k or higher (about double Obama’s 2017 cap, maintained over at least one year)
    5% (20%) - Creates a legal pathway to citizenship (defining as a law passed by congress that would allow undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens after meeting certain criteria) :icecream:
    85% - Removes the travel ban (or Muslim ban) on more than half the countries currently barred from certain types of travel or immigration (archived link listing countries with prohibitions as of 11/19/2020: https://web.archive.org/web/20201119223419/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_13780) :icecream:

    ECONOMY AND TRADE
    80% - Decreases average tariffs on China
    90% - Decreases average tariffs on Canada and other allies
    10% (60%) - Raises the corporate income tax :icecream:
    90% - Raises the minimum wage for federal employees and contractors to $15 an hour or more :icecream:
    5% (40%) - Raises the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour or more :icecream:
    40% (35%) - Increases direct taxes on those making under $400,000 (I’m defining direct taxes as income, payroll, social security, etc. taxes paid directly by individuals, indirect taxes like an increase in the corporate tax resulting in lower wages or a carbon tax resulting in higher prices would not count) :x:

    HEALTHCARE
    20% (55%) - Passes a public option :icecream:
    0% (3%) - Passes Medicare for All (defined as a single payer healthcare plan that covers all or nearly all healthcare costs) :x:

    FOREIGN POLICY
    3% - Enters the US into a new authorized war (counts regardless of how it was initiated, a war authorized by Congress either directly or with funding) :x:
    15% - Enters the US into a new unauthorized war or conflict (US drone strikes or US soldiers performing combat operations would count, monetary support would not count, current example would be ongoing US activity in Yemen) :x:
    99% - Rejoins the WHO :icecream:
    75% - Rejoins the Iran nuclear deal :icecream:
    65% - Fewer US troops in Iraq at end of Biden’s term than at end of Trump’s term* :icecream:
    65% - Fewer US troops in Afghanistan at end of Biden’s first term than at end of Trump’s term* :icecream:

    *I’ll base troops at end of Trump’s term on his last order. If he orders a withdrawal that continues into Biden’s term it’ll be based on Trump’s last order.

    CRIMINAL JUSTICE
    30% (60%) - Decriminalizes marijuana at the Federal level (removes jail time as punishment for first time possession of small amounts of marijuana, no longer goes on record) :icecream:
    5% (15%) - Legalizes marijuana :x:
    5% (25%) - Eliminate the death penalty at the federal level (does not mandate elimination at state level) :icecream:
    5% (35%) - End mandatory minimum sentences at the Federal level :icecream:

    POVERTY
    55% (80%) - Increase the child tax credit :icecream:
    20% (65%) - Increases or expands EITC benefits or EITC-like benefits (LIFT act or similar) :icecream:
    25% (70%) - Expands housing voucher funding or access to housing vouchers :icecream:

    EDUCATION
    30% (65%) - Cancels $100 billion or more in Federal student loans :icecream:
    15% (55%) - Makes public colleges tuition free for families with incomes less than $100,000 :icecream:

    FIREARMS
    0% (5%) - Bans “assault weapons” :icecream:
    5% (30%) - Bans online sale of firearms or ammunition (counted as yes if either are banned) :icecream:

    MISCELLANEOUS
    10% (40%) - Pass legislation to require community development grant recipients to implement zoning reforms for less restrictive zoning to be eligible for the grant (HOME Act or similar) :icecream:
    30% (60%) - Pass a significant multi-year infrastructure bill (defined as at least $250 billion in surface transportation infrastructure funding over several years) :icecream:
    0% (25%) - The Senate filibuster is eliminated

    OTHER UNRELATED TO BIDEN POLICIES
    25% - Roe v. Wade overturned
    10% - Harris replaces Biden before his term is up
    1% - A state that went to Biden ends up going to Trump as a result of a recount or court decision
    35% - Democrats win a majority in the Senate in 2020 (50 seats plus Harris as tiebreaker)

    Notes

    Why am I so uncertain on getting some of these things done even if Democrats win the Senate?
    Because the filibuster exists and I think it’s unlikely Democrats get rid of it even with control of the Senate, which makes it very difficult for them to pass legislation they want to pass.

    Why are some of these proposals less than what Biden has proposed, for example free college for families earning less than $100k instead of his $125k proposal or $500 billion for climate change instead of his $2 trillion proposal?
    Because no president gets what they want and I wanted to set the bar for the question at something more plausible to make it interesting. If I set his free college income limit at $125k but the final bill ends up at $110k I think most people would consider that being a goal fulfilled for Biden, even though he didn’t get quite what he wanted.

    Why did I pick these questions and issues?
    Mostly I just focused on the bigger issues and things that will have a clear yes or no resolution. Biden has tons of pretty specific proposals on his website, so I just picked some of the biggest or most controversial to keep things simple and the ones I think will have the most attention on them during his term. I also picked a few that I’m interested in and want to follow. Predicting things is a good way to keep track of what happens with them, it gives you a bigger incentive to follow up on their outcome.

    Scoring

    The most common way of scoring predictions is with the Brier score. The Brier score is a measure of the difference between your forecast and the outcome. Like golf, a lower score is better. It’s the difference between your forecast and reality squared. For example, if I predict a 70% chance that the sun rises tomorrow, and the sun does rise tomorrow, my Brier score would be (1 - 0.7)^2 + (0 - 0.3)^2 = 0.18. That equation represents my forecast of 70% that the sun rises minus the outcome of it rising (100%) plus my implied forecast of 30% that the sun doesn’t rise minus the outcome of it not rising (0%). A perfect Brier score is zero. The worst Brier score is 2. The Brier score of guessing at random (50%) is 0.5, so to be better than random guessing your Brier score should be below 0.5.

    Note that there’s another way to calculate the above Brier score which would be (1 - 0.7)^2 = 0.09. This method leaves out the implied 30% chance the other thing happens. Under this method random guessing equates to a Brier score of 0.25. I’m using the first method instead of this one just to be consistent with the way I’m used to seeing it.

    If you want to participate I made a google sheet you can copy and fill out your own percentages that will do the scoring for you. You could even modify it to forecast on other questions if you wanted to too. But you definitely don’t need to use this, it’s easy enough to score by hand. And using Brier scores isn’t really necessary either, it’s just a useful way to compare scores, you could always make predictions and just see how far off they were without using an actual score. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1_p_WArcp0RFRhVYbaKZgr38BlHOCc96ma4cgMqx_owg/edit?usp=sharing

    So that’s that, if there are any big questions about his presidency you think I should add let me know! I encourage you to forecast some of these questions yourself either publicly or privately and see how you do four years from now.