Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Herd Behavior In Financial Markets

 "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly and one by one." Charles Mackay (1841)
This is the opening quote in the paper Herd Behavior in Financial Markets by Sushil Bikhchandani and Sunil Sharma published as an International Monetary Fund staff paper in 2001. Marco Cipriani and Antonio Guarino decided to take another look at this paper, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to see if its conclusions can help us to better understand the market today.

Herd Behavior Defined

First, let's define herding. Herding is when a trader disregards their own knowledge or trading plan to follow the behavior of the crowd. The reasons for the Fed's interest in the subject is clear -- to understand how to get ahead of, or put tools in place to counteract, contagion, specifically information contagion as discussed in the article Federal Reserve Bank Of New York: A Study On Contagion Theory.

The authors split the identification of "herding" from the use of data into two categories: spurious and real. Some herding, characterized by clustering in statistical data, may be the result of a public announcement rather than true herd behavior. In response to this the authors present another way to measure herd behavior through a theoretical model.

The Theoretical Herding Model

The model used to test the theory is based on an asset that is traded over a period of time. An event occurs at the beginning of each day the asset is traded. Some traders receive or find public or private information about the asset -- these are considered "informed" investors. All other traders are therefore considered to be uninformed and are therefore considered to be trading due to liquidity or re-balancing. If no event occurs, all traders are uninformed.

So how does this scenario generally play out. In a nutshell, the herd convinces the trader to put its theory over the traders own knowledge about the stock. Here's the thought process:
  1. The informed investor knows something happened to change the fundamental price of the asset.
  2. The investor realizes that the their position is the opposite of what's occurring in the market.
  3. The informed investor weighs the importance of their own private information or trading plan against the asset's movement in the market.
  4. If the market movement is deep enough the trader will go against her own plan in favor of the market. The rationale being that the information traders are trading on in the market must be better than what she knows.
In this way, herd trading is a made into a rational decision, at least in our minds.

Example: Ashland's Herd Traders

The authors use Ashland Inc. (NYSE: ASH) in 1995 to further illustrate the theory.
We find that herding on Ashland Inc. occurred quite often: on average, the proportion of herd buyers was 2 percent and that of herd sellers was 4 percent. Additionally, we find that not only did herding occur but also it was at times misdirected (that is, herd buying in a day when the asset's fundamental value declined and herd selling in a day when the asset's fundamental value increased).
The authors go on to find that "the price was 4 percent further away from its fundamental value than it would otherwise have been." This seems like a rather small percentage, but the data supports these findings and according to the VIX, contrary to perception, the market is no more volatile today than it was in 1995.
^VIX Chart
^VIX data by YCharts

So What

What are the implications of this for the Fed and for the individual investor? It's hard to make definitive conclusions about the application of this data until we have a way to measure a stock's "herd" appeal.
  • Perhaps companies with a higher degree of volume or volatility also have a higher percentage of herd traders. 
  • Perhaps this is the reason stock runs are often followed by corrections. 
  • Perhaps stocks with a high P/E have a higher degree of herd buyers? 
A "Herd Index", theoretically, would be able to provide buy and sell signals that were even more reliable than P/E multiples in finding over- or under-priced stocks. As of this writing we are unaware of any such measure.

If you like what you're reading, please join my mailing list to receive blog posts and updates as they occur. If you're an investor with all of your assets tied up in the stock market and cash, you might want to consider a few diversification strategies. Gold is the oldest asset in the world and it's inflation proof. Bitcoin is the gold standard for the cryptocurrency world, which is the fastest growing asset class in the world. Diversifying your portfolio into one or both of these assets can help to insure your portfolio against a stock market crash or inflation. Most importantly, it can help to safeguard the gains you've made over the last 10 years.

Please note that there are other companies that sell gold and Bitcoin on the market, and you should always do your research when making decisions about your portfolio. Just like your personal health, if you're planning on having major surgery, you need to get a second, and sometimes a third, opinion. You want to make sure your surgeon is good and has performed the procedure many, many times.  In the same way, you need to trust your broker and you need to make sure they are reputable. This is the process I used when looking for a broker to recommend.

Full disclosure: RegalAssets compensates me for everyone I send their way, but I would receive compensation from any company I chose to recommend. The only broker I'm recommending is Regal, primarily due to its innovative product offering in my favorite commodities - gold, precious metals and cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. They also have a distinguished track record for success (see below).

Next Steps: Use Regal as one of your options and compare against them. Your other brokers should be able to offer the same level of service and the same low rates. The kit is free and it will provide you with a basis for comparison. Don't wait, get started today. Fill out the form below to get your free investment kit.

If you're interested in learning more about gold investments, click here to receive a free gold investment kit from Regal Assets.

If you're interested in learning more about Bitcoin investments, click here to receive a free Bitcoin investment kit from Regal Wallet.

Featured Post

Can Digital Currency (Bitcoin / M-Pesa) Wipe Out World-Wide Corruption & Poverty?

I often hear about all the alleged "criminal behavior" Bitcoin supports. I think it's important to discuss Bitcoin's p...

Popular Posts

Popular Older Posts