The history of the bull speculation in cotton of 1903 will never be fully written because, though the men who influenced it are very interesting, their operations are interwoven with bloodless statistics and tiresome technicalities.-Edwin Lefevre Saturday Evening Post, August 29, 1903
from The Cotton Kings: Capitalism and Corruption in Turn-of-the-century New York and New Orleans
Speculation is not supposed to be glamorous. It never has been. You can go back 100 years, and you get the same answer. It is hard work. The investment edge relative to others comes from building better models, finding new information, sifting through data in new ways, searching for market imperfections or inefficiencies, and analyzing price relationships for anomalies. Most of the alpha generated by managers is fleeting. The smart money that flows into the market closes the opportunities and then looks for another trade. There are structural advantages that become known and are eliminated.
Even the systematic traders who don’t tinker with models must work hard. They have to show the discipline of being able to accept drawdowns while always looking to cut trading costs and engage in research to find whether there is something better out there. The hard work is setting a high bar for change and not revising models to show you put in effort. For the discretionary manager, the hard work is constantly staying abreast of new market developments even though much of what is studied will be useless. For the quant, it is the work of building models that may have marginal significance but, when employed over time, can give a slight edge.
The risks are real, and the horrible feelings of doubt when money is lost cannot be denied. The loneliness of following your investment process when others follow fads is a fact. This glamour cannot be written about or shown in a movie.