If Anyone Could Beat the Market …
Pursuing an evidence-based approach to investing (as we do) includes hearing from those whose thoughts align with ours as well as those who challenge our assumptions. In that spirit, one of my recent reads was “A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market,” by Edward Thorp.
That’s a big book title, from a larger-than-life author. Even if he spiced up his story with a few potential exaggerations, Thorp obviously is one of the most brilliant people you may never have heard of.
A childhood genius and young math professor turned Vegas gambler turned hedge fund manager, Thorp knew his way around the data analysis block, warning a client about Bernie Madoff’s fake trades before the news went public.
He also suggests he scooped Nobel laureate Myron Scholes and collaborator Fischer Black on their insights into how to price options and other financial risks. The implication is that Nobel prize would have been his, had he played his cards right. He doesn’t say how much he earned over his career, but in the the book, he states that Citadel Investment Group was built using his market-neutral strategy, and the managing partner was worth $5.6 billion at last count.
Then there were his casino-beating tactics – employing statistical analysis to tilt the odds in his favor, plus a few tricks up his sleeves to stay in the game (such as wearing disguises once the casinos were onto him). I found this portion of the book the most entertaining.
But what about his investment advice? If anyone could crack the code on how to consistently beat the market, you’d think it would be Edward Thorp. Instead, when he tried his hand at active stock-picking, he soon discovered the same thing we did: Stock-picking advice is worthless, after-the-fact news.
The conclusions Thorp drew from there differ from our own. One of his chapter titles says it all: “Wall Street: The Greatest Casino on Earth.” While Thorp tries to apply some of his casino-beating tactics to pursue statistically significant edges over the market, we feel there’s more compelling evidence suggesting long-term investors are better served with a less dicey approach.
“A Man for All Markets” is a fun summer read for peeking inside the mind of a mathematical whiz with a flair for living and investing on the edge. When it comes to managing your money for all markets, we continue to recommend evidence-based investing.