Investment, national security, and psychiatry

I need to clear my mind a bit. For the last few weeks, I have been working a lot on revising an article of mine, and I feel I need a little bit of a shake-off. I know by experience that I need a structure to break free from another structure. Yes, I am one of those guys. I like structures. When I feel I lack one, I make one.

The structure which I want to dive into, in order to shake off the thinking about my article, is the thinking about my investment in the stock market. My general strategy in that department is to take the rent, which I collect from an apartment in town, every month, and to invest it in the stock market. Economically, it is a complex process of converting the residential utility of a real asset (apartment) into a flow of cash, thus into a financial asset with quite steady a market value (inflation is still quite low), and then I convert that low-risk financial asset into a differentiated portfolio of other financial assets endowed with higher a risk (stock). I progressively move capital from markets with low risk (residential real estate, money) into a high-risk-high-reward market.

I am playing a game. I make a move (monthly cash investment), and I wait for a change in the stock market. I am wrapping my mind around the observable change, and I make my next move the next month. With each move I make, I gather information. What is that information? Let’s have a look at my portfolio such as it is now. You can see it in the table below:

StockValue in EURReal return in €Rate of return I have as of April 6ht, 2021, in the morning
CASH & CASH FUND & FTX CASH (EUR) € 25,82 €                                    –   €                                     25,82
ALLEGRO.EU SA € 48,86 €                               (2,82)-5,78%
ALTIMMUNE INC. – COMM € 1 147,22 €                            179,6515,66%
APPLE INC. – COMMON ST € 1 065,87 €                                8,210,77%
BIONTECH SE € 1 712,88 €                           (149,36)-8,72%
CUREVAC N.V. € 711,00 €                             (98,05)-13,79%
DEEPMATTER GROUP PLC € 8,57 €                               (1,99)-23,26%
FEDEX CORPORATION COMM € 238,38 €                              33,4914,05%
FIRST SOLAR INC. – CO € 140,74 €                             (11,41)-8,11%
GRITSTONE ONCOLOGY INC € 513,55 €                           (158,43)-30,85%
INPOST € 90,74 €                             (17,56)-19,35%
MODERNA INC. – COMMON € 879,85 €                             (45,75)-5,20%
NOVAVAX INC. – COMMON STOCK € 1 200,75 €                            398,5333,19%
NVIDIA CORPORATION – C € 947,35 €                              42,254,46%
ONCOLYTICS BIOTCH CM € 243,50 €                             (14,63)-6,01%
SOLAREDGE TECHNOLOGIES € 683,13 €                             (83,96)-12,29%
SOLIGENIX INC. COMMON € 518,37 €                           (169,40)-32,68%
TESLA MOTORS INC. – C € 4 680,34 €                            902,3719,28%
VITALHUB CORP.. € 136,80 €                               (3,50)-2,56%
WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION € 197,69 €                              33,1116,75%
  €       15 191,41 €                            840,745,53%

A few words of explanation are due. Whilst I have been actively investing for 13 months, I made this portfolio in November 2020, when I did some major reshuffling. My overall return on the cash invested, over the entire period of 13 months, is 30,64% as for now (April 6th, 2021), which makes 30,64% * (12/13) = 28,3% on the annual basis.

The 5,53% of return which I have on this specific portfolio makes roughly 1/6th of the total return in have on all the portfolios I had over the past 13 months. It is the outcome of my latest experimental round, and this round is very illustrative of the mistake which I know I can make as an investor: panic.

In August and September 2020, I collected some information, I did some thinking, and I made a portfolio of biotech companies involved in the COVID-vaccine story: Pfizer, Biontech, Curevac, Moderna, Novavax, Soligenix. By mid-October 2020, I was literally swimming in extasy, as I had returns on these ones like +50%. Pure madness. Then, big financial sharks, commonly called ‘investment funds’, went hunting for those stocks, and they did what sharks do: they made their target bleed before eating it. They boxed and shorted those stocks in order to make their prices affordably low for long investment positions. At the time, I lost control of my emotions, and when I saw those prices plummet, I sold out everything I had. Almost as soon as I did it, I realized what an idiot I had been. Two weeks later, the same stocks started to rise again. Sharks had had their meal. In response, I did what I still wonder whether it was wise or stupid: I bought back into those positions, only at a price higher than what I sold them for.

Selling out was stupid, for sure. Was buying back in a wise move? I don’t know, like really. My intuition tells me that biotech companies in general have a bright future ahead, and not only in connection with vaccines. I am deeply convinced that the pandemic has already built up, and will keep building up an interest for biotechnology and medical technologies, especially in highly innovative forms. This is even more probable as we realized that modern biotechnology is very largely digital technology. This is what is called ‘platforms’ in the biotech lingo. These are digital clouds which combine empirical experimental data with artificial intelligence, and the latter is supposed to experiment virtually with that data. Modern biotechnology consists in creating as many alternative combinations of molecules and lifeforms as we possibly can make and study, and then pick those which offer the best combination of biological outcomes with the probability of achieving said outcomes.

My currently achieved rates of return, in the portfolio I have now, are very illustrative of an old principle in capital investment: I will fail most of the times. Most of my investment decisions will be failures, at least in the short and medium term, because I cannot possibly outsmart the incredibly intelligent collective structure of the stock market. My overall gain, those 5,53% in the case of this specific portfolio, is the outcome of 19 experiments, where I fail in 12 of them, for now, and I am more or less successful in the remaining 7.

The very concept of ‘beating the market’, which some wannabe investment gurus present, is ridiculous. The stock market is made of dozens of thousands of human brains, operating in correlated coupling, and leveraged with increasingly powerful artificial neural networks. When I expect to beat that networked collective intelligence with that individual mind of mine, I am pumping smoke up my ass. On the other hand, what I can do is to do as many different experiments as I can possibly spread my capital between.

It is important to understand that any investment strategy, where I assume that from now on, I will not make any mistakes, is delusional. I made mistakes in the past, and I am likely to make mistakes in the future. What I can do is to make myself more predictable to myself. I can narrow down the type of mistakes I tend to make, and to create the corresponding compensatory moves in my own strategy.

Differentiation of risk is a big principle in my investment philosophy, and yet it is not the only one. Generally, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3 days in a year, I don’t really like quick, daily trade in the stock market. I am more of a financial farmer: I sow, and I wait to see plants growing out of those seeds. I invest in industries rather than individual companies. I look for some kind of strong economic undertow for my investments, and the kind of undertow I specifically look for is high potential for deep technological change. Accessorily, I look for industries which sort of logically follow human needs, e.g. the industry of express deliveries in the times of pandemic. I focus on three main fields of technology: biotech, digital, and energy.

Good. I needed to shake off, and I am. Thinking and writing about real business decisions helped me to take some perspective. Now, I am gently returning into the realm of science, without completely leaving the realm of business: I am navigating the somehow troubled and feebly charted waters of money for science. I am currently involved in launching and fundraising for two scientific projects, in two very different fields of science: national security and psychiatry. Yes, I know, they can conjunct in more points than we commonly think they can. Still, in canonical scientific terms, these two diverge.

How come I am involved, as researcher, in both national security and psychiatry? Here is the thing: my method of using a simple artificial neural network to simulate social interactions seems to be catching on. Honestly, I think it is catching on because other researchers, when they hear me talking about ‘you know, simulating alternative realities and assessing which one is the closest to the actual reality’ sense in me that peculiar mental state, close to the edge of insanity, but not quite over that edge, just enough to give some nerve and some fun to science.

In the field of national security, I teamed up with a scientist strongly involved in it, and we take on studying the way our Polish forces of Territorial Defence have been acting in and coping with the pandemic of COVID-19. First, the context. So far, the pandemic has worked as a magnifying glass for all the f**kery in public governance. We could all see a minister saying ‘A,B and C will happen because we said so’, and right after there was just A happening, with a lot of delay, and then a completely unexpected phenomenal D appeared, with B and C bitching and moaning they haven’t the right conditions for happening decently, and therefore they will not happen at all.  This is the first piece of the context. The second is the official mission and the reputation of our Territorial Defence Forces AKA TDF. This is a branch of our Polish military, created in 2017 by our right-wing government. From the beginning, these guys had the reputation to be a right-wing militia dressed in uniforms and paid with taxpayers’ money. I honestly admit I used to share that view. TDF is something like the National Guard in US. These are units made of soldiers who serve in the military, and have basic military training, but they have normal civilian lives besides. They have civilian jobs, whilst training regularly and being at the ready should the nation call.

The initial idea of TDF emerged after the Russian invasion of the Crimea, when we became acutely aware that military troops in nondescript uniforms, apparently lost, and yet strangely connected to the Russian government, could massively start looking lost by our Eastern border. The initial idea behind TDF was to significantly increase the capacity of the Polish population for mobilising military resources. Switzerland and Finland largely served as models.

When the pandemic hit, our government could barely pretend they control the situation. Hospitals designated as COVID-specific had frequently no resources to carry out that mission. Our government had the idea of mobilising TDF to help with basic stuff: logistics, triage and support in hospitals etc. Once again, the initial reaction of the general public was to put the label of ‘militarisation’ on that decision, and, once again, I was initially thinking this way. Still, some friends of mine, strongly involved as social workers supporting healthcare professionals, started telling me that working with TDF, in local communities, was nothing short of amazing. TDF had the speed, the diligence, and the capacity to keep their s**t together which many public officials lacked. They were just doing their job and helping tremendously.

I started scratching the surface. I did some research, and I found out that TDF was of invaluable help for many local communities, especially outside of big cities. Recently, I accidentally had a conversation about it with M., the scientist whom I am working with on that project. He just confirmed my initial observations.

M. has strong connections with TDF, including their top command. Our common idea is to collect abundant, interview-based data from TDF soldiers mobilised during the pandemic, as regards the way they carried out their respective missions. The purely empirical edge we want to have here is oriented on defining successes and failures, as well as their context and contributing factors. The first layer of our study is supposed to provide the command of TDF with some sort of case-studies-based manual for future interventions. At the theoretical, more scientific level, we intend to check the following hypotheses:      

>> Hypothesis #1: during the pandemic, TDF has changed its role, under the pressure of external events, from the initially assumed, properly spoken territorial defence, to civil defence and assistance to the civilian sector.

>> Hypothesis #2: the actual role played by the TDF during the pandemic was determined by the TDF’s actual capacity of reaction, i.e. speed and diligence in the mobilisation of human and material resources.

>> Hypothesis #3: collectively intelligent human social structures form mechanisms of reaction to external stressors, and the chief orientation of those mechanisms is to assure proper behavioural coupling between the action of external stressors, and the coordinated social reaction. Note: I define behavioural coupling in terms of the games’ theory, i.e. as the objectively existing need for proper pacing in action and reaction.   

The basic method of verifying those hypotheses consists, in the first place, in translating the primary empirical material into a matrix of probabilities. There is a finite catalogue of operational procedures that TDF can perform. Some of those procedures are associated with territorial military defence as such, whilst other procedures belong to the realm of civil defence. It is supposed to go like: ‘At the moment T, in the location A, procedure of type Si had a P(T,A, Si) probability of happening’. In that general spirit, Hypothesis #1 can be translated straight into a matrix of probabilities, and phrased out as ‘during the pandemic, the probability of TDF units acting as civil defence was higher than seeing them operate as strict territorial defence’.

That general probability can be split into local ones, e.g. region-specific. On the other hand, I intuitively associate Hypotheses #2 and #3 with the method which I call ‘study of orientation’. I take the matrix of probabilities defined for the purposes of Hypothesis #1, and I put it back to back with a matrix of quantitative data relative to the speed and diligence in action, as regards TDF on the one hand, and other public services on the other hand. It is about the availability of vehicles, capacity of mobilisation in people etc. In general, it is about the so-called ‘operational readiness’, which you can read more in, for example, the publications of RAND Corporation (https://www.rand.org/topics/operational-readiness.html).  

Thus, I take the matrix of variables relative to operational readiness observable in the TDF, and I use that matrix as input for a simple neural network, where the aggregate neural activation based on those metrics, e.g. through a hyperbolic tangent, is supposed to approximate a specific probability relative to TDF people endorsing, in their operational procedures, the role of civil defence, against that of military territorial defence. I hypothesise that operational readiness in TDF manifests a collective intelligence at work and doing its best to endorse specific roles and applying specific operational procedures. I make as many such neural networks as there are operational procedures observed for the purposes of Hypothesis #1. Each of these networks is supposed to represent the collective intelligence of TDF attempting to optimize, through its operational readiness, the endorsement and fulfilment of a specific role. In other words, each network represents an orientation.

Each such network transforms the input data it works with. This is what neural networks do: they experiment with many alternative versions of themselves. Each experimental round, in this case, consists in a vector of metrics informative about the operational readiness TDF, and that vector locally tries to generate an aggregate outcome – its neural activation – as close as possible to the probability of effectively playing a specific role. This is always a failure: the neural activation of operational readiness always falls short of nailing down exactly the probability it attempts to optimize. There is always a local residual error to account for, and the way a neural network (well, my neural network) accounts for errors consists in measuring them and feeding them into the next experimental round. The point is that each such distinct neural network, oriented on optimizing the probability of Territorial Defence Forces endorsing and fulfilling a specific social role, is a transformation of the original, empirical dataset informative about the TDF’s operational readiness.

Thus, in this method, I create as many transformations (AKA alternative versions) of the actual operational readiness in TDF, as there are social roles to endorse and fulfil by TDF. In the next step, I estimate two mathematical attributes of each such transformation: its Euclidean distance from the original empirical dataset, and the distribution of its residual error. The former is informative about similarity between the actual reality of TDF’s operational readiness, on the one hand, and alternative realities, where TDF orient themselves on endorsing and fulfilling just one specific role. The latter shows the process of learning which happens in each such alternative reality.

I make a few methodological hypotheses at this point. Firstly, I expect a few, like 1 ÷ 3 transformations (alternative realities) to fall particularly close from the actual empirical reality, as compared to others. Particularly close means their Euclidean distances from the original dataset will be at least one order of magnitude smaller than those observable in the remaining transformations. Secondly, I expect those transformations to display a specific pattern of learning, where the residual error swings in a predictable cycle, over a relatively wide amplitude, yet inside that amplitude. This is a cycle where the collective intelligence of Territorial Defence Forces goes like: ‘We optimize, we optimize, it goes well, we narrow down the error, f**k!, we failed, our error increased, and yet we keep trying, we optimize, we optimize, we narrow down the error once again…’ etc. Thirdly, I expect the remaining transformations, namely those much less similar to the actual reality in Euclidean terms, to display different patterns of learning, either completely dishevelled, with the residual error bouncing haphazardly all over the place, or exaggeratedly tight, with error being narrowed down very quickly and small ever since.

That’s the outline of research which I am engaging into in the field of national security. My role in this project is that of a methodologist. I am supposed to design the system of interviews with TDF people, the way of formalizing the resulting data, binding it with other sources of information, and finally carrying out the quantitative analysis. I think I can use the experience I already have with using artificial neural networks as simulators of social reality, mostly in defining said reality as a vector of probabilities attached to specific events and behavioural patterns.     

As regards psychiatry, I have just started to work with a group of psychiatrists who have abundant professional experience in two specific applications of natural language in the diagnosing and treating psychoses. The first one consists in interpreting patients’ elocutions as informative about their likelihood of being psychotic, relapsing into psychosis after therapy, or getting durably better after such therapy. In psychiatry, the durability of therapeutic outcomes is a big thing, as I have already learnt when preparing for this project. The second application is the analysis of patients’ emails. Those psychiatrists I am starting to work with use a therapeutic method which engages the patient to maintain contact with the therapist by writing emails. Patients describe, quite freely and casually, their mental state together with their general existential context (job, family, relationships, hobbies etc.). They don’t necessarily discuss those emails in subsequent therapeutic sessions; sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The most important therapeutic outcome seems to be derived from the very fact of writing and emailing.

In terms of empirical research, the semantic material we are supposed to work with in that project are two big sets of written elocutions: patients’ emails, on the one hand, and transcripts of standardized 5-minute therapeutic interviews, on the other hand. Each elocution is a complex grammatical structure in itself. The semantic material is supposed to be cross-checked with neurological biomarkers in the same patients. The way I intend to use neural networks in this case is slightly different from that national security thing. I am thinking about defining categories, i.e. about networks which guess similarities and classification out of crude empirical data. For now, I make two working hypotheses:

>> Hypothesis #1: the probability of occurrence in specific grammatical structures A, B, C, in the general grammatical structure of a patient’s elocutions, both written and spoken, is informative about the patient’s mental state, including the likelihood of psychosis and its specific form.

>> Hypothesis #2: the action of written self-reporting, e.g. via email, from the part of a psychotic patient, allows post-clinical treatment of psychosis, with results observable as transition from mental state A to mental state B.

An overhead of individuals

I think I have found out, when writing my last update (‘Cultural classes’) another piece of the puzzle which I need to assemble in order to finish writing my book on collective intelligence. I think I have nailed down the general scientific interest of the book, i.e. the reason why my fellow scientists should even bother to have a look at it. That reason is the possibility to have deep insight into various quantitative models used in social sciences, with a particular emphasis on the predictive power of those models in the presence of exogenous stressors, and, digging further, the representativeness of those models as simulators of social reality.

Let’s have a look at one quantitative model, just one picked at random (well, almost at random): autoregressive conditional heteroscedasticity AKA ARCH (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoregressive_conditional_heteroskedasticity ). It goes as follows. I have a process, i.e. a time-series of a quantitative variable. I compute the mean expected value in that time series, which, in plain human, means arithmetical average of all the observations in that series. In even plainer human, the one we speak after having watched a lot of You Tube, it means that we sum up the values of all the consecutive observations in that time series and we divide the so-obtained total by the number of observations.

Mean expected values have that timid charm of not existing, i.e. when I compute the mean expected value in my time series, none of the observations will be exactly equal to it. Each observation t will return a residual error εt. The ARCH approach assumes that εtis the product of two factors, namely of the time-dependentstandard deviation σt, and a factor of white noise zt. Long story short, we have εttzt.

The time-dependent standard deviation shares the common characteristics of all the standard deviations, namely it is the square root of time-dependent variance: σt = [(σt)2]1/2. That time-dependent variance is computed as:

Against that general methodological background, many variations arise, especially as regards the mean expected value which everything else is wrapped around. It can be a constant value, i.e. computed for the entire time-series once and for all. We can allow the time series to extend, and then each extension leads to the recalculation of the mean expected value, including the new observation(s). We can make the mean expected value a moving average over a specific window in time.

Before I dig further into the underlying assumptions of ARCH, one reminder begs for being reminded: I am talking about social sciences, and about the application of ARCH to all kinds of crazy stuff that we, humans, do collectively. All the equations and conditions phrased out above apply to collective human behaviour. The next step in understanding of ARCH, in the specific context of social sciences, is that ARCH has any point when the measurable attributes of our collective human behaviour really oscillate and change. When I have, for example, a trend in the price of something, and that trend is essentially smooth, without much of a dentition jumping to the eye, ARCH is pretty much pointless. On the other hand, that analytical approach – where each observation in the real measurable process which I observe is par excellence a deviation from the expected state – gains in cognitive value as the process in question becomes increasingly dented and bumpy.

A brief commentary on the very name of the method might be interesting. The term ‘heteroskedasticity’ means that real observations tend to be grouped on one side of the mean expected value rather than on the other. There is a slant, which, over time, translates into a drift. Let’s simulate the way it happens. Before I even start going down this rabbit hole, another assumption is worth deconstructing. If I deem a phenomenon to be describable as white noise, AKA zt, I assume there is no pattern in the occurrence thereof. Any state of that phenomenon can happen with equal probability. It is the ‘Who knows?’ state of reality in its purest form.

White noise is at the very basis of the way we experience reality. This is pure chaos. We make distinctions in this chaos; we group phenomena, and we assess the probability of each newly observed phenomenon falling into one of the groups. Our essential cognition of reality assumes that in any given pound of chaos, there are a few ounces of order, and a few residual ounces of chaos. Then we have the ‘Wait a minute!’ moment and we further decompose the residual ounces of chaos into some order and even more residual a chaos. From there, we can go ad infinitum, sequestrating streams of regularity and order out of the essentially chaotic flow of reality. I would argue that the book of Genesis in the Old Testament is a poetic, metaphorical account of the way that human mind cuts layers of intelligible order out of the primordial chaos.

Seen from a slightly different angle, it means that white noise zt can be interpreted as an error in itself, because it is essentially a departure from the nicely predictable process εt = σt, i.e. where residual departure from the mean expected value is equal to the mean expected departure from the mean expected value. Being a residual error, zt can be factorized into zt = σ’t*z’t , and, once again, that factorization can go all the way down to the limits of observability as regards the phenomena studied.     

At this point, I am going to put the whole reasoning on its head, as regards white noise. It is because I know and use a lot the same concept, just under a different name, namely that of mean-reverted value. I use mean-reversion a lot in my investment decisions in the stock market, with a very simple logic: when I am deciding to buy or sell a given stock, my purely technical concern is to know how far away the current price from its moving average is. When I do this calculation for many different stocks, priced differently, I need a common denominator, and I use standard deviation in price for that purpose. In other words, I compute as follows: mean-reverted price = (current price – mean expected price)/ standard deviation in price.

If you have a closer look at this coefficient of mean-reverted price, its nominator is error, because it is the deviation from mean expected value. I divide that error by standard deviation, and, logically, what I get is error divided by standard deviation, therefore the white noise component zt of the equation εt = σtzt. This is perfectly fine mathematically, only my experience with that coefficient tells me it is anything but white noise. When I want to grasp very sharply and accurately the way which the price of a given stock reacts to its economic environment, I use precisely the mean-reverted coefficient of price. As soon as I recalculate the time series of a price into its mean-reverted form, patterns emerge, sharp and distinct. In other words, the allegedly white-noise-based factor in the stock price is much more patterned than the original price used for its calculation.

The same procedure which I call ‘mean-reversion’ is, by the way, a valid procedure to standardize empirical data. You take each empirical observation, you subtract from it the mean expected value of the corresponding variable, you divide the residual difference by its standard deviation, and Bob’s your uncle. You have your data standardized.

Summing up that little rant of mine, I understand the spirit of the ARCH method. If I want to extract some kind of autoregression in time-series, I can test the hypothesis that standard deviation is time-dependent. Do I need, for that purpose, to assume the existence of strong white noise in the time series? I would say cautiously: maybe, although I do not see the immediate necessity for it. Is the equation εt = σtzt the right way to grasp the distinction into the stochastic component and the random one, in the time series? Honestly: I don’t think so. Where is the catch? I think it is in the definition and utilization of error, which, further, leads to the definition and utilization of the expected state.

In order to make my point clearer, I am going to quote two short passages from pages xxviii-xxix in Nicolas Nassim Taleb’s book ‘The Black Swan’. Here it goes. ‘There are two possible ways to approach phenomena. The first is to rule out the extraordinary and focus on the “normal.” The examiner leaves aside “outliers” and studies ordinary cases. The second approach is to consider that in order to understand a phenomenon, one needs first to consider the extremes—particularly if, like the Black Swan, they carry an extraordinary cumulative effect. […] Almost everything in social life is produced by rare but consequential shocks and jumps; all the while almost everything studied about social life focuses on the “normal,” particularly with “bell curve” methods of inference that tell you close to nothing’.

When I use mean-reversion to study stock prices, for my investment decisions, I go very much in the spirit of Nicolas Taleb. I am most of all interested in the outlying values of the metric (current price – mean expected price)/ standard deviation in price, which, once again, the proponents of the ARCH method interpret as white noise. When that metric spikes up, it is a good moment to sell, whilst when it is in a deep trough, it might be the right moment to buy. I have one more interesting observation about those mean-reverted prices of stock: when they change their direction from ascending to descending and vice versa, it is always a sharp change, like a spike, never a gentle recurving. Outliers always produce sharp change. Exactly, as Nicolas Taleb claims. In order to understand better what I am talking about, you can have a look at one of the analytical graphs I used for my investment decisions, precisely with mean-reverted prices and transactional volumes, as regards Ethereum: https://discoversocialsciences.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Slide5-Ethereum-MR.png .

In a manuscript that I wrote and which I am still struggling to polish enough for making it publishable (https://discoversocialsciences.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Black-Swans-article.pdf ), I have identified three different modes of collective learning. In most of the cases I studied empirically, societies learn cyclically, i.e. first they produce big errors in adjustment, then they narrow their error down, which means they figure s**t out, and in a next phase the error increases again, just to decrease once again in the next cycle of learning. This is cyclical adjustment. In some cases, societies (national economies, to be exact) adjust in a pretty continuous process of diminishing error. They make big errors initially, and they reduce their error of adjustment in a visible trend of nailing down workable patterns. Finally, in some cases, national economies can go haywire and increase their error continuously instead of decreasing it or cycling on it.

I am reconnecting to my method of quantitative analysis, based on simulating with a simple neural network. As I did that little excursion into the realm of autoregressive conditional heteroscedasticity, I realized that most of the quantitative methods used today start from studying one single variable, and then increase the scope of analysis by including many variables in the dataset, whilst each variable keeps being the essential monad of observation. For me, the complex local state of the society studied is that monad of observation and empirical study. By default, I group all the variables together, as distinct, and yet fundamentally correlated manifestations of the same existential stuff happening here and now. What I study is a chain of here-and-now states of reality rather than a bundle of different variables.    

I realize that whilst it is almost axiomatic, in typical quantitative analysis, to phrase out the null hypothesis as the absence of correlation between variables, I don’t even think about it. For me, all the empirical variables which we, humans, measure and report in our statistical data, are mutually correlated one way or another, because they all talk about us doing things together. In phenomenological terms, is it reasonable to assume that we do in order to produce real output, i.e. our Gross Domestic Product, is uncorrelated with what we do with the prices of productive assets? Probably not.

There is a fundamental difference between discovering and studying individual properties of a social system, such as heteroskedastic autoregression in a variable, on the one hand, and studying the way this social system changes and learns as a collective. It means two different definitions of expected state. In most quantitative methods, the expected state is the mean value of one single variable. In my approach, it is always a vector of expected values.

I think I start nailing down, at last, the core scientific idea I want to convey in my book about collective intelligence. Studying human societies as instances of collective intelligence, or, if you want, as collectively intelligent structure, means studying chains of complex states. The Markov chain of states, and the concept of state space, are the key mathematical notions here.

I have used that method, so far, to study four distinct fields of empirical research: a) the way we collectively approach energy management in our societies b) the orientation of national economies on the optimization of specific macroeconomic variables c) the way we collectively manage the balance between urban land, urban density of population, and agricultural production, and d) the way we collectively learn in the presence of random disturbances. The main findings I can phrase out start with the general observation that in a chain of complex social states, we collectively tend to lean towards some specific aspects of our social reality. Fault of a better word, I equate those aspects to the quantitative variables I find them represented by, although it is something to dig in. We tend to optimize the way we work, in the first place, and the way we sell our work. Concerns such as return on investment or real output come as secondary. That makes sense. At the large scale, the way we work is important for the way we use energy, and collectively learn. Surprisingly, variables commonly associated with energy management, such as energy efficiency, or the exact composition of energy sources, are secondary.

The second big finding is related to a manuscript t which I am still struggling to polish enough for making it publishable (https://discoversocialsciences.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Black-Swans-article.pdf ), I have identified three different modes of collective learning. In most of the cases I studied empirically, societies learn cyclically, i.e. first they produce big errors in adjustment, then they narrow their error down, which means they figure s**t out, and in a next phase the error increases again, just to decrease once again in the next cycle of learning. This is cyclical adjustment. In some cases, societies (national economies, to be exact) adjust in a pretty continuous process of diminishing error. They make big errors initially, and they reduce their error of adjustment in a visible trend of nailing down workable patterns. Finally, in some cases, national economies can go haywire and increase their error continuously instead of decreasing it or cycling on it.

The third big finding is about the fundamental logic of social change, or so I perceive it. We seem to be balancing, over decades, the proportions between urban land and agricultural land so as to balance the production of food with the production of new social roles for new humans. The countryside is the factory of food, and cities are factories of new social roles. I think I can make a strong, counterintuitive claim that social unrest, such as what is currently going on in United States, for example, erupts when the capacity to produce food in the countryside grows much faster than the capacity to produce new social roles in the cities. When our food systems can sustain more people than our collective learning can provide social roles for, we have an overhead of individuals whose most essential physical subsistence is provided for, and yet they have nothing sensible to do, in the collective intelligent structure of the society.

Cultural classes

Some of my readers asked me to explain how to get in control of one’s own emotions when starting their adventure as small investors in the stock market. The purely psychological side of self-control is something I leave to people smarter than me in that respect. What I do to have more control is the Wim Hof method (https://www.wimhofmethod.com/ ) and it works. You are welcome to try. I described my experience in that matter in the update titled ‘Something even more basic’. Still, there is another thing, namely, to start with a strategy of investment clever enough to allow emotional self-control. The strongest emotion I have been experiencing on my otherwise quite successful path of investment is the fear of loss. Yes, there are occasional bubbles of greed, but they are more like childish expectations to get the biggest toy in the neighbourhood. They are bubbles, which burst quickly and inconsequentially. The fear of loss is there to stay, on the other hand.    

This is what I advise to do. I mean this is what I didn’t do at the very beginning, and fault of doing it I made some big mistakes in my decisions. Only after some time (around 2 months), I figured out the mental framework I am going to present. Start by picking up a market. I started with a dual portfolio, like 50% in the Polish stock market, and 50% in the big foreign ones, such as US, Germany, France etc. Define the industries you want to invest in, like biotech, IT, renewable energies. Whatever: pick something. Study the stock prices in those industries. Pay particular attention to the observed losses, i.e., the observed magnitude of depreciation in those stocks. Figure out the average possible loss, and the maximum one. Now, you have an idea of how much you can lose in percentage. Quantitative techniques such as mean-reversion or extrapolation of the past changes can help. You can consult my update titled ‘What is my take on these four: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Steem, and Golem?’ to see the general drift.

The next step is to accept the occurrence of losses. You need to acknowledge very openly the following: you will lose money on some of your investment positions, inevitably. This is why you build a portfolio of many investment positions. All investors lose money on parts of their portfolio. The trick is to balance losses with even greater gains. You will be experimenting, and some of those experiments will be successful, whilst others will be failures. When you learn investment, you fail a lot. The losses you incur when learning, are the cost of your learning.

My price of learning was around €600, and then I bounced back and compensated it with a large surplus. If I take those €600 and compare it to the cost of taking an investment course online, e.g. with Coursera, I think I made a good deal.

Never invest all your money in the stock market. My method is to take some 30% of my monthly income and invest it, month after month, patiently and rhythmically, by instalments. For you, it can be 10% or 50%, which depends on what exactly your personal budget looks like. Invest just the amount you feel you can afford exposing to losses. Nail down this amount honestly. My experience is that big gains in the stock market are always the outcome of many consecutive steps, with experimentation and the cumulative learning derived therefrom.

General remark: you are much calmer when you know what you’re doing. Look at the fundamental trends and factors. Look beyond stock prices. Try to understand what is happening in the real business you are buying and selling the stock of. That gives perspective and allows more rational decisions.  

That would be it, as regards investment. You are welcome to ask questions. Now, I shift my topic radically. I return to the painful and laborious process of writing my book about collective intelligence. I feel like shaking things off a bit. I feel I need a kick in the ass. The pandemic being around and little social contacts being around, I need to be the one who kicks my own ass.

I am running myself through a series of typical questions asked by a publisher. Those questions fall in two broad categories: interest for me, as compared to interest for readers. I start with the external point of view: why should anyone bother to read what I am going to write? I guess that I will have two groups of readers: social scientists on the one hand, and plain folks on the other hand. The latter might very well have a deeper insight than the former, only the former like being addressed with reverence. I know something about it: I am a scientist.

Now comes the harsh truth: I don’t know why other people should bother about my writing. Honestly. I don’t know. I have been sort of carried away and in the stream of my own blogging and research, and that question comes as alien to the line of logic I have been developing for months. I need to look at my own writing and thinking from outside, so as to adopt something like a fake observer’s perspective. I have to ask myself what is really interesting in my writing.

I think it is going to be a case of assembling a coherent whole out of sparse pieces. I guess I can enumerate, once again, the main points of interest I find in my research on collective intelligence and investigate whether at all and under what conditions the same points are likely to be interesting for other people.

Here I go. There are two, sort of primary and foundational points. For one, I started my whole research on collective intelligence when I experienced the neophyte’s fascination with Artificial Intelligence, i.e. when I discovered that some specific sequences of equations can really figure stuff out just by experimenting with themselves. I did both some review of literature, and some empirical testing of my own, and I discovered that artificial neural networks can be and are used as more advanced counterparts to classical quantitative models. In social sciences, quantitative models are about the things that human societies do. If an artificial form of intelligence can be representative for what happens in societies, I can hypothesise that said societies are forms of intelligence, too, just collective forms.

I am trying to remember what triggered in me that ‘Aha!’ moment, when I started seriously hypothesising about collective intelligence. I think it was when I was casually listening to an online lecture on AI, streamed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was about programming AI in robots, in order to make them able to learn. I remember one ‘Aha!’ sentence: ‘With a given set of empirical data supplied for training, robots become more proficient at completing some specific tasks rather than others’. At the time, I was working on an article for the journal ‘Energy’. I was struggling. I had an empirical dataset on energy efficiency in selected countries (i.e. on the average amount of real output per unit of energy consumption), combined with some other variables. After weeks and weeks of data mining, I had a gut feeling that some important meaning is hidden in that data, only I wasn’t able to put my finger precisely on it.

That MIT-coined sentence on robots triggered that crazy question in me. What if I return to the old and apparently obsolete claim of the utilitarian school in social sciences, and assume that all those societies I have empirical data about are something like one big organism, with different variables being just different measurable manifestations of its activity?

Why was that question crazy? Utilitarianism is always contentious, as it is frequently used to claim that small local injustice can be justified by bringing a greater common good for the whole society. Many scholars have advocated for that claim, and probably even more of them have advocated against. I am essentially against. Injustice is injustice, whatever greater good you bring about to justify it. Besides, being born and raised in a communist country, I am viscerally vigilant to people who wield the argument of ‘greater good’.

Yet, the fundamental assumptions of utilitarianism can be used under a different angle. Social systems are essentially collective, and energy systems in a society are just as collective. There is any point at all in talking about the energy efficiency of a society when we are talking about the entire intricate system of using energy. About 30% of the energy that we use is used in transport, and transport is from one person to another. Stands to reason, doesn’t it?

Studying my dataset as a complex manifestation of activity in a big complex organism begs for the basic question: what do organisms do, like in their daily life? They adapt, I thought. They constantly adjust to their environment. I mean, they do if they want to survive. If I settle for studying my dataset as informative about a complex social organism, what does this organism adapt to? It could be adapting to a gazillion of factors, including some invisible cosmic radiation (the visible one is called ‘sunlight’). Still, keeping in mind that sentence about robots, adaptation can be considered as actual optimization of some specific traits. In my dataset, I have a range of variables. Each variable can be hypothetically considered as informative about a task, which the collective social robot strives to excel at.

From there, it was relatively simple. At the time (some 16 months ago), I was already familiar with the logical structure of a perceptron, i.e. a very basic form of artificial neural network. I didn’t know – and I still don’t – how to program effectively the algorithm of a perceptron, but I knew how to make a perceptron in Excel. In a perceptron, I take one variable from my dataset as output, the remaining ones are instrumental as input, and I make my perceptron minimize the error on estimating the output. With that simple strategy in mind, I can make as many alternative perceptrons out of my dataset as I have variables in the latter, and it was exactly what I did with my data on energy efficiency. Out of sheer curiosity, I wanted to check how similar were the datasets transformed by the perceptron to the source empirical data. I computed Euclidean distances between the vectors of expected mean values, in all the datasets I had. I expected something foggy and pretty random, and once again, life went against my expectations. What I found was a clear pattern. The perceptron pegged on optimizing the coefficient of fixed capital assets per one domestic patent application was much more similar to the source dataset than any other transformation.

In other words, I created an intelligent computation, and I made it optimize different variables in my dataset, and it turned out that, when optimizing that specific variable, i.e. the coefficient of fixed capital assets per one domestic patent application, that computation was the most fidel representation of the real empirical data.   

This is when I started wrapping my mind around the idea that artificial neural networks can be more than just tools for optimizing quantitative models; they can be simulators of social reality. If that intuition of mine is true, societies can be studied as forms of intelligence, and, as they are, precisely, societies, we are talking about collective intelligence.

Much to my surprise, I am discovering similar a perspective in Steven Pinker’s book ‘How The Mind Works’ (W. W. Norton & Company, New York London, Copyright 1997 by Steven Pinker, ISBN 0-393-04535-8). Professor Steven Pinker uses a perceptron as a representation of human mind, and it seems to be a bloody accurate representation.

That makes me come back to the interest that readers could have in my book about collective intelligence, and I cannot help referring to still another book of another author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ‘The black swan. The impact of the highly improbable’ (2010, Penguin Books, ISBN 9780812973815). Speaking from an abundant experience of quantitative assessment of risk, Nassim Taleb criticizes most quantitative models used in finance and economics as pretty much useless in making reliable predictions. Those quantitative models are good solvers, and they are good at capturing correlations, but they suck are predicting things, based on those correlations, he says.

My experience of investment in the stock market tells me that those mid-term waves of stock prices, which I so much like riding, are the product of dissonance rather than correlation. When a specific industry or a specific company suddenly starts behaving in an unexpected way, e.g. in the context of the pandemic, investors really pay attention. Correlations are boring. In the stock market, you make good money when you spot a Black Swan, not another white one. Here comes a nuance. I think that black swans happen unexpectedly from the point of view of quantitative predictions, yet they don’t come out of nowhere. There is always a process that leads to the emergence of a Black Swan. The trick is to spot it in time.

F**k, I need to focus. The interest of my book for the readers. Right. I think I can use the concept of collective intelligence as a pretext to discuss the logic of using quantitative models in social sciences in general. More specifically, I want to study the relation between correlations and orientations. I am going to use an example in order to make my point a bit more explicit, hopefully. In my preceding update, titled ‘Cool discovery’, I did my best, using my neophytic and modest skills in programming, the method of negotiation proposed in Chris Voss’s book ‘Never Split the Difference’ into a Python algorithm. Surprisingly for myself, I found two alternative ways of doing it: as a loop, on the one hand, and as a class, on the other hand. They differ greatly.

Now, I simulate a situation when all social life is a collection of negotiations between people who try to settle, over and over again, contentious issues arising from us being human and together. I assume that we are a collective intelligence of people who learn by negotiated interactions, i.e. by civilized management of conflictual issues. We form social games, and each game involves negotiations. It can be represented as a lot of these >>

… and a lot of those >>

In other words, we collectively negotiate by creating cultural classes – logical structures connecting names to facts – and inside those classes we ritualise looping behaviours.

Money being just money for the sake of it

I have been doing that research on the role of cities in our human civilization, and I remember the moment of first inspiration to go down this particular rabbit hole. It was the beginning of March, 2020, when the first epidemic lockdown has been imposed in my home country, Poland. I was cycling through streets of Krakow, my city, from home to the campus of my university. I remember being floored at how dead – yes, literally dead – the city looked. That was the moment when I started perceiving cities as something almost alive. I started wondering how will pandemic affect the mechanics of those quasi-living, urban organisms.

Here is one aspect I want to discuss: restaurants. Most restaurants in Krakow turn into takeouts. In the past, each restaurant had the catering part of the business, but it was mostly for special events, like conferences, weddings and whatnot. Catering was sort of a wholesale segment in the restaurant business, and the retail was, well, the table, the napkin, the waiter, that type of story. That retail part was supposed to be the main one. Catering was an addition to that basic business model, which entailed a few characteristic traits. When your essential business process takes place in a restaurant room with tables and guests sitting at them, the place is just as essential. The location, the size, the look, the relative accessibility: it all played a fundamental role. The rent for the place was among the most important fixed costs of a restaurant. When setting up business, one of the most important questions – and risk factors – was: “Will I be able to attract sufficiently profuse customers to this place, and to ramp up prices sufficiently high to as to pay the rent for the place and still have satisfactory profit?”. It was like a functional loop: a better place (location, look) meant more select a clientele and higher prices, which required to pay a high rent etc.

As I was travelling to other countries, and across my own country, I noticed many times that the attributes of the restaurant as physical place were partly substitute to the quality of food. I know a lot of places where the customers used to pretend that the food is excellent just because said food was so strange that it just didn’t do to say it is crappy in taste. Those people pretended they enjoy the food because the place was awesome. Awesomeness of the place, in turn, was largely based on the fact that many people enjoyed coming there, it was trendy, stylish, it was a good thing to show up there from time to time, just to show I have something to show to others. That was another loop in the business model of restaurants: the peculiar, idiosyncratic, gravitational field between places and customers.

In that business model, quite substantial expenses, i.e.  the rent, and the money spent on decorating and equipping the space for customers were essentially sunk costs. The most important financial outlays you made to make the place competitive did not translate into any capital value in your assets. The only way to do such translation was to buy the place instead of renting it. Advantageous, long-term lease was another option. In some cities, e.g. the big French ones, such as Paris, Lyon or Marseille, the market of places suitable for running restaurants, both legally and physically, used to be a special segment in the market of real estate, with its own special contracts, barriers to entry etc.   

As restaurants turn into takeouts, amidst epidemic restrictions, their business model changes. Food counts in the first place, and the place counts only to the extent of accessibility for takeout. Even if I order food from a very fancy restaurant, I pay for food, not for fanciness. When consumed at home, with the glittering reputation of the restaurant taken away from it, food suddenly tastes differently. I consume it much more with my palate and much less with my ideas of what is trendy. Preparation and delivery of food becomes the essential business process. I think it facilitates new entries into the market of gastronomy. Yes, I know, restaurants are going bankrupt, and my take on it is that places are going bankrupt, but people stay. Chefs and cooks are still there. Human capital, until recently being 50/50 important – together with the real estate aspect of the business – becomes definitely the greatest asset of the restaurants’ sector as they focus on takeout. The broadly spoken cooking skills, including the ability to purchase ingredients of good quality, become primordial. Equipping a business-scale kitchen is not really rocket science, and, what is just as important, there is a market for second-hand equipment of that kind. The equipment of a kitchen, in a takeout-oriented restaurant, is much more of an asset than the decoration of a dining room. The rent you pay, or the market price of the whole place in the real-estate market are much lower, too, as compared to classical restaurants.

What restaurant owners face amidst the pandemic is the necessity to switch quickly, and on a very short notice of 1 – 2 weeks, between their classical business model based on a classy place to receive customers, and the takeout business model, focused on the quality of food and the promptness of delivery. It is a zone of uncertainty more than a durable change, and this zone is

associated with different cash flows and different assets. That, in turn, means measurable risk. Risk in big amounts is an amount, essentially, much more than a likelihood. We talk about risk, in economics and in finance, when we are actually sure that some adverse events will happen, and we even know what is going to be the total amount of adversity to deal with; we just don’t know where exactly that adversity will hit and who exactly will have to deal with it.

There are two basic ways of responding to measurable risk: hedging and insurance. I can face risk by having some aces up my sleeve, i.e. by having some alternative assets, sort of fall-back ones, which assure me slightly softer a landing, should the s**t which I hedge against really happen. When I am at risk in my in-situ restaurant business, I can hedge towards my takeout business. With time, I can discover that I am so good at the logistics of delivery that it pays off to hedge towards a marketing platform for takeouts rather than one takeout business. There is an old saying that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in the same basket, and hedging is the perfect illustration thereof. I hedge in business by putting my resources in many different baskets.

On the other hand, I can face risk by sharing it with other people. I can make a business partnership with a few other folks. When I don’t really care who exactly those folks are, I can make a joint-stock company with tradable shares of participation in equity. I can issue derivative financial instruments pegged on the value of the assets which I perceive as risky. When I lend money to a business perceived as risky, I can demand it to be secured with tradable notes AKA bills of exchange. All that is insurance, i.e. a scheme where I give away part of my cash flow in exchange of the guarantee that other people will share with me the burden of damage, if I come to consume my risks. The type of contract designated expressis verbis as ‘insurance’ is one among many forms of insurance: I pay an insurance premium in exchange o the insurer’s guarantee to cover my damages. Restaurant owners can insure their epidemic-based risk by sharing it with someone else. With whom and against what kind of premium on risk? Good question. I can see like a shade of that. During the pandemic, marketing platforms for gastronomy, such as Uber Eats, swell like balloons. These might be the insurers of the restaurant business. They capitalize on the customer base for takeout. As a matter of fact, they can almost own that customer base.

A group of my students, all from France, as if by accident, had an interesting business concept: a platform for ordering food from specific chefs. A list of well-credentialed chefs is available on the website. Each of them recommends a few flagship recipes of theirs. The customer picks the specific chef and their specific culinary chef d’oeuvre. One more click, and the customer has that chef d’oeuvre delivered on their doorstep. Interesting development. Pas si con que ça, as the French say.     

Businesspeople have been using both hedging and insurance for centuries, to face various risks. When used systematically, those two schemes create two characteristic types of capitalistic institutions: financial markets and pooled funds. Spreading my capitalistic eggs across many baskets means that, over time, we need a way to switch quickly among baskets. Tradable financial instruments serve to that purpose, and money is probably the most liquid and versatile among them. Yet, it is the least profitable one: flexibility and adaptability is the only gain that one can derive from holding large monetary balances. No interest rate, no participation in profits of any kind, no speculative gain on the market value. Just adaptability. Sometimes, just being adaptable is enough to forego other gains. In the presence of significant need for hedging risks, businesses hold abnormally large amounts of cash money.

When people insure a lot – and we keep in mind the general meaning of insurance as described above – they tend to create large pooled funds of liquid financial assets, which stand at the ready to repair any breach in the hull of the market. Once again, we return to money and financial markets. Whilst abundant use of hedging as strategy for facing risk leads to hoarding money at the individual level, systematic application of insurance-type contracts favours pooling funds in joint ventures. Hedging and insurance sort of balance each other.

Those pieces of the puzzle sort of fall together into a pattern. As I have been doing my investment in the stock market, all over 2020, financial markets seems to be puffy with liquid capital, and that capital seems to be avid of some productive application. It is as if money itself was saying: ‘C’mon, guys. I know I’m liquid, and I can compensate risk, but I am more than that. Me being liquid and versatile makes me easily convertible into productive assets, so please, start converting. I’m bored with being just me, I mean with money being just money for the sake of it’.

Cautiously bon-vivant

I keep developing on a few topics in parallel, with a special focus on two of them. Lessons in economics and management which I can derive for my students, out of my personal experience as a small investor in the stock market, for one, and a broader, scientific work on the civilizational role of cities and our human collective intelligence, for two.

I like starting with the observation of real life, and I like ending with it as well. What I see around gives me the initial incentive to do research and makes the last pitch for testing my findings and intuitions. In my personal experience as investor, I have simply confirmed an initial intuition that giving a written, consistent and public account thereof helps me nailing down efficient strategies as an investor. As regards cities and collective intelligence, the first part of that topic comes from observing changes in urban life since COVID-19 broke out, and the second part is just a generalized, though mild an intellectual obsession, which I started developing once I observed the way artificial neural networks work.

In this update, I want to develop on two specific points, connected to those two paths of research and writing. As far as my investment is concerned, I am seriously entertaining the idea of broadening my investment portfolio in the sector of renewable energies, more specifically in the photovoltaic. I can notice a rush on the solar business in the U.S. I am thinking about investing in some of those shares. I already have, and have made a nice profit on the stock of First Solar (https://investor.firstsolar.com/home/default.aspx ) as well as on that of SMA Solar (https://www.sma.de/en/investor-relations/overview.html ). Currently, I am observing three other companies: Vivint Solar (https://investors.vivintsolar.com/company/investors/investors-overview/default.aspx ),  Canadian Solar (http://investors.canadiansolar.com/investor-relations ), and SolarEdge Technologies (https://investors.solaredge.com/investor-overview ). Below, I am placing the graphs of stock price over the last year, as regards those solar businesses. There is something like a common trend in those stock prices. March and April 2020 were a moment of brief jump upwards, which subsequently turned into a shy lie-down, and since the beginning of August 2020 another journey into the realm of investors’ keen interest seems to be on the way.

Before you have a look at the graphs, here is a summary table with selected financials, approached as relative gradients of change, or d(x).

 Change from 01/01/2020 to 31/08/2020
Companyd(market cap)d(assets)d(operational cash-flow)
First Solar+23,9%-6%Deeper negative: – $80 million
SMA Solar+27,5%-10%Deeper negative: -€40 million
Vivint Solar+362%+11%Deeper negative: – $9 million
SolarEdge+98%0+ $50 million
Canadian Solar+41%+4%+ $90 million

There are two fundamental traits of business models which I am having a close look at. Firstly, it is the correlation between changes in market capitalization, and changes in assets. I am checking if the solar businesses I want to invest in have their capital base functionally connected to the financial market. Looks a bit wobbly, as for now. Secondly, I look at current operational efficiency, measured with operational cash flow. Here, I can see there is still a lot to do. Here is the link to You Tube video with all that topic developed: Business models in renewable energies #3 Solar business and investment opportunities [Renew BM 3 2020-09-06 09-20-30 ; https://youtu.be/wYkW5KHQlDg ].

Those business models seem to be in a phase of slow stabilization. The industry as a whole seems to be slowly figuring out the right way of running that PV show, however the truly efficient scheme is still to be nailed down. Investment in those companies is based on reasonable trust in the growth of their market, and in the positive impact of technological innovation. Question: is it a good move to invest now? Answer: it is risky, but acceptably rational; once those business models become really efficient, the industry will be in or close to the phase of maturity, which, in turn, does not really allow expecting abnormally high return on investment.  

This is a very ‘financial’, hands-off approach to business models. In this case, business models of those photovoltaic businesses matter to me just to the extent of being fundamentally predictable. I don’t want to run a solar business, I just want to have elementary understanding of what’s going on, business-wise, to make my investment better grounded. Looking from inside a business, such an approach is informative about the way that a business model should ‘speak’ to investors.

At the end of the day, I think I am most likely to invest in SolarEdge. It seems to have all the LEGO blocks in place for a good opening. Good cash flow, although a bit sluggish when it comes to real investment.

As regards COVID-19 and cities, I am formulating the following hypothesis: COVID-19 has awakened some deeply rooted cultural patterns, which date back to the times of high epidemic risk, long before vaccines, sanitation and widespread basic healthcare. Those patterns involve less spatial mobility in the population, and social interactions within relatively steady social circles of knowingly healthy people. As a result, the overall frequency of social interactions in cities is likely to decrease, and, as a contingent result, the formation of new social roles is likely to slow down. Then, either digital technologies take over the function of direct social interactions and new social roles will be shaping themselves via your average smartphone, with all the apps it is blessed (haunted?) with, or the formation of new social roles will slow down in general. In that last case, we could have hard times with keeping up our pace of technological change. Here is the link to You Tube video which summarizes what is written below: Urban Economics and City Management #4 COVID and social mobility in cities [ Cities 4 2020-09-06 09-43-06 ; https://youtu.be/m3FZvsscw7A  ].

I want to gain some insight into the epidemiological angle of that claim, and I am passing in review some recent literature. I start with: Gatto, M., Bertuzzo, E., Mari, L., Miccoli, S., Carraro, L., Casagrandi, R., & Rinaldo, A. (2020). Spread and dynamics of the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy: Effects of emergency containment measures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(19), 10484-10491 (https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/117/19/10484.full.pdf ). As it is usually the case, my internal curious ape starts paying attention to details which could come as secondary for other people, and my internal happy bulldog follows along and bites deep into those details. The little detail in this specific paper is a parameter: the number of people quarantined as a percentage of those positively diagnosed with Sars-Cov-2. In the model developed by Gatto et al., that parameter is kept constant at 40%, which is, apparently, the average level empirically observed in Italy during the Spring 2020 outbreak. Quarantine is strict isolation between carriers and (supposedly) non-carriers of the virus. Quarantine can be placed on the same scale as basic social distancing. It is just stricter, and, in quantitative terms, it drives much lower the likelihood of infectious social interaction. Gatto el al. insist that testing effort and quarantining are essential components of collective defence against the epidemic. I generalize: testing and quarantine are patterns of collective behaviour. I check whether people around me are carriers or not, and then I split them into two categories: those whom I strongly suspect to host and transmit Sars-Cov-2, and all the rest. I define two patterns of social interaction with those two groups: very restrictive with the former, and cautiously bon vivant with the others (still, no hugging). As the technologies of testing will be inevitably diffusing across the social landscape, that structured pattern is likely to spread as well.    

Now, I pay a short intellectual visit to Jiang, P., Fu, X., Van Fan, Y., Klemeš, J. J., Chen, P., Ma, S., & Zhang, W. (2020). Spatial-temporal potential exposure risk analytics and urban sustainability impacts related to COVID-19 mitigation: A perspective from car mobility behaviour. Journal of Cleaner Production, 123673 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.123673 . Their methodology is based on correlating spatial mobility of cars in residential areas of Singapore with the risk of infection with COVID-19. A 44,3% ÷ 55,4% decrease in the spatial mobility of cars is correlated with a 72% decrease in the risk of social transmission of the virus. I intuitively translate it into geometrical patterns. Lower mobility in cars means a shorter average radius of travel by the means of available urban transportation. In the presence of epidemic risk, people move across a smaller average territory.

In another paper (or rather in a commented dataset), namely in Pepe, E., Bajardi, P., Gauvin, L., Privitera, F., Lake, B., Cattuto, C., & Tizzoni, M. (2020). COVID-19 outbreak response, a dataset to assess mobility changes in Italy following national lockdown. Scientific data, 7(1), 1-7. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41597-020-00575-2.pdf?origin=ppub , I find an enlarged catalogue of metrics pertinent to spatial mobility. That paper, in turn, lead me to the functionality run by Google: https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/ . I went through all of it a bit cursorily, and I noticed two things. First of all, countries are strongly idiosyncratic in their social response to the pandemic. Still, and second of all, there are common denominators across idiosyncrasies and the most visible one is cyclicality. Each society seems to have been experimenting with the spatial mobility they can afford and sustain in the presence of epidemic risk. There is a cycle experimentation, around 3 – 4 weeks. Experimentation means learning and learning usually leads to durable behavioural change. In other words, we (I mean, homo sapiens) are currently learning, with the pandemic, new ways of being together, and those ways are likely to incrust themselves into our social structures.    

The article by Kraemer, M. U., Yang, C. H., Gutierrez, B., Wu, C. H., Klein, B., Pigott, D. M., … & Brownstein, J. S. (2020). The effect of human mobility and control measures on the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Science, 368(6490), 493-497 (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6490/493 ) shows that without any restrictions in place, the spatial distribution of COVID-19 cases is strongly correlated with spatial mobility of people. With restrictions in place, that correlation can be curbed, however it is impossible to drive down to zero. In plain human, it means that even as stringent lockdowns as we could see in China cannot reduce spatial mobility to a level which would completely prevent the spread of the virus. 

By the way, in Gao, S., Rao, J., Kang, Y., Liang, Y., & Kruse, J. (2020). Mapping county-level mobility pattern changes in the United States in response to COVID-19. SIGSPATIAL Special, 12(1), 16-26 (https://arxiv.org/pdf/2004.04544.pdf ), I read that the whole idea of tracking spatial mobility with people’s personal smartphones largely backfired because the GDS transponders, installed in the average phone, have around 20 metres of horizontal error, on average, and are easily blurred when people gather in one place. Still, whilst the idea went down the drain as regards individual tracking of mobility, smartphone data seems to provide reliable data for observing entire clusters of people, and the way those clusters flow across space. You can consult Jia, J. S., Lu, X., Yuan, Y., Xu, G., Jia, J., & Christakis, N. A. (2020). Population flow drives spatio-temporal distribution of COVID-19 in China. Nature, 1-5.  (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2284-y?sf233344559=1) .

Bonaccorsi, G., Pierri, F., Cinelli, M., Flori, A., Galeazzi, A., Porcelli, F., … & Pammolli, F. (2020). Economic and social consequences of human mobility restrictions under COVID-19. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(27), 15530-15535 (https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/117/27/15530.full.pdf ) show an interesting economic aspect of the pandemic. Restrictions in mobility give the strongest economic blow to the poorest people and to local communities marked by relatively the greatest economic inequalities. Restrictions imposed by governments are one thing, and self-imposed limitations in spatial mobility are another. If my intuition is correct, namely that we will be spontaneously modifying and generally limiting our social interactions, in order to protect ourselves from COVID-19, those changes are likely to be the fastest and the deepest in high-income, low-inequality communities. As income decreases and inequality rises, those adaptive behavioural modifications are likely to weaken.

As I am drawing a provisional bottom line under that handful of scientific papers, my initial hypothesis seems to hold. We do modify, as a species, our social patterns, towards more encapsulated social circles. There is a process of learning taking place, and there is no mistake about it. That process of learning involves a downwards recalibration in the average territory of activity, and smart selection of people whom we hang out with, based on what we know about the epidemic risk they convey. This is a process of learning by trial and error, and it is locally idiosyncratic. Idiosyncrasies seem to be somehow correlated with differences in wealth. Income and accumulated capital visibly give local communities an additional edge in the adaptive learning. On the long run, economic resilience seems to be a key factor in successful adaptation to epidemic risk.

Just to end up with, here you have an educational piece as regards Business models in the Media Industry #4 The gaming business[ Media BM 4 2020-09-02 10-42-44; https://youtu.be/KCzCicDE8pc]. I study the case of CD Projekt (https://www.cdprojekt.com/en/investors/ ), a Polish gaming company, known mostly for ‘The Witcher’ game and currently working on the next one, Cyberpunk, with Keanu Reeves giving his face to the hero. I discover a strange business model, which obviously has hard times to connect with the creative process at the operational level. As strange as it might seem, the main investment activity, for the moment, consists in terminating and initiating cash bank deposits (!), and one of the most important operational activities is to push further in time the moment of officially charging customers with some economically due receivables. On the top of all that, those revenues deferred into the future are officially written in the balance sheet as short-term liabilities, which CD Projekt owes to…whom exactly?   

Healthily dosed meanness

I am connecting the dots, progressively. People tend to, by the way. Essentially, all that stuff called ‘civilisation’ consists in people figuring s**t out, progressively.

I am connecting two paths of my educational content, i.e. the account of my investment experience in the stock market, and urban economics, on the one hand, with a third one, namely the philosophy of science and especially the concept of truth, on the other hand.

My so-far adventure with the philosophy of science allows me to approach truth under different angles. One of the most down-to-earth tests for truth is the capacity to recognize when someone is lying to me. From the perspective of Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace[1], I can recognize a lie when the things which someone tells me are endowed with very low probability of happening, given the knowledge I already have about the phenomena concerned. Gotcha’, f**ker! You went too far into and under the tail of the curve which sets my distribution of probability. Here, a bit accidentally, Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace, sort of agrees with Sir George Maynard Keynes, when he wasn’t even a Sir yet, as for the theory of probability[2]. Agreement is reached as regards the claim that in practical life choices, the kind of probability that matters to us is the probability of claims we make about reality, whilst the strictly speaking probability of single phenomena happening in a given place and time is nice to know, yet of little utility in daily life.

If, alternatively, I follow the hermeneutic take by Hans Georg Gadamer[3], and you, my friend tell me things which are ugly, in the first place, and do not match at all the patterns of my historically grounded culture, you are probably telling me lies. If I take still another turn, and follow the recently formulated Interface Theory of Perception (Hoffman et al. 2015[4]; Fields et al. 2018[5]), lies are claims which contradict my empirically grounded knowledge about the way I can have the best possible payoffs from interactions with my environment.

The truth is that truth is complex and requires experience, judgment and healthily dosed meanness. That being said, let’s tackle the two problems at hand: my investment in the stock market, and the civilizational role of cities as demographic anomalies. As regards the former, here is the deal. My next instalment of investment comes. Every month, I invest in the stock market the rent which I collect from an apartment in town (i.e. in Krakow, Poland), roughly $670. Every month, I reconsider my investment portfolio and I decide what to buy, and what to sell. I am going to use the theories of truth which I tentatively outlined in the preceding paragraphs, in order to approach my next investment decision in strict scientific terms. Theories of truth will serve me to assess the well-founded of my decisions. Roughly speaking, when I choose between a limited number of alternative options, I can claim, about each of them, that this specific way to do things is the best one. If that claim is true, I can assume that it is truly the best option. Theories of truth are used here to assess the veracity of situation-specific claims. As I think about it, things are going to turn really funny if I come to the conclusion that I can label more than one option as truthfully the best. We’ll live, we’ll see. Anyway, here comes the video content: Invest 5 2020-09-02 07-55-26 ; https://youtu.be/SXqKhdLuFDM .

As I have been doing my research on the civilizational role of cities, I have kept repeating and I still maintain that cities are demographic anomalies with a purpose. I am going to use those theories of truth as an intellectual toolbox for nailing down precisely the phenomenon of demographic anomaly. In other words, I want to determine which specific spatial distribution of human population can be truthfully labelled as anomalous, and, on the top of that, I want to assess, just as truthfully, what is the most likely scenario of change in urban life, urban economics and city management under the impact of COVID-19. In this case, theories of truth serve me to assess the veracity of general, theoretical claims. Here is the video on You Tube: Cities 3 2020-09-02 08-38-47 ; https://youtu.be/MswEKL7BNl8  .

I am using theories of truth in two different contexts, namely one situationally specific, and another one theoretically general, and, in my next step, I take on describing those contexts more abundantly. The context of investment decision comes with an important trait, as the philosophy of science comes, i.e. with an apparently clear, yet a bit blurry a distinction between assumptions and hypotheses.


[1] Laplace, Pierre Simon, marquis de, 1795 – 1902, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, Project Gutenberg EBook, #58881

[2] Keynes, John Maynard, 1921, A Treatise On Probability, McMillan and Co., Project Gutenberg Ebook #32625

[3] Gadamer, Hans Georg, 2004, Truth And Method, 2nd, revised edition, Continuum Books, ISBN 08264 7697X

[4] Hoffman, D. D., Singh, M., & Prakash, C. (2015). The interface theory of perception. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 22(6), 1480-1506.

[5] Fields, C., Hoffman, D. D., Prakash, C., & Singh, M. (2018). Conscious agent networks: Formal analysis and application to cognition. Cognitive Systems Research, 47, 186-213. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsys.2017.10.003

Fire and ice. A real-life business case.

I keep going along the frontier between my scientific research, my small investment business, and my teaching. In this update, I bring you two typically educational pieces of content, one sort of astride educational and practical investment decisions of my own, and finally I give slightly educational an account of a current business decision I am taking.  

In the video entitled ‘My investment experience, my teaching and my science #3  BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen’ [ Invest 3 2020-08-26 14-02-22 ; https://youtu.be/Vot6QMXp7UA  ], I discuss those three investment positions in my portfolio. Three German automotive companies. Same industry, same country, same macroeconomic environment, and yet three different performances in terms of return on investment. In this video, you can see me developing on the distinction between long term-trends and short-term variations, as well as trying to connect technical analysis of price trends with fundamental analysis of their half-annual reports.

I have place on You Tube two pieces of content in the stream of teaching designated as ‘Urban Economics and City Management’. ‘Urban Economics and City Management #1 Lockdowns in pandemic and the role of cities’ [ Cities 1 2020-08-27 08-57-15; https://youtu.be/fYIz_6JVVZk  ] recounts and restates my starting point in this path of research. I browse through the main threads of connection between the pandemic of COVID-19 and the civilisational role of cities. The virus, which just loves densely populated places, makes us question the patterns of urban life, and makes us ask question as for the future of cities.

In ‘Urban Economics and City Management #2 Case study of REIT: Urban Edge and Atrium [Cities 2 2020-08-27 11-00-52 ; https://youtu.be/BURimdfpxcY ], I study the cases of two REITs, i.e. Real Estate Investment Trusts, namely Urban Edge (U.S.) and Atrium (Central Europe), with two assumptions. Firstly, cities can grow and evolve, when the local humans master the craft of agglomerating in one, relatively tiny place, the technologies of construction, sanitation, transportation, energy supply etc., and to parcel those technologies into marketable goods. Secondly, rental and lease of real estate are parcelled, marketable urban technologies.

In the video ‘My investment experience, my teaching and my science #4 The Copernic project’, [ Invest 4 Copernic 2020-08-30 08-57-54 ; https://youtu.be/_6klh0AwJAM  ], I am developing on a topic exactly at the intersection of those three: the Copernic project. Honestly, this is complex stuff. I hesitated to choose this topic as educational material, yet I have that little intuition that good teachers teach useful skills. I want to be a good teacher, and the s**t I teach, I want it to be useful for my students. Life is complex and brutal, business is complex and brutal, and, as a matter of fact, each of us, humans, is complex and brutal. Fake simplicity is for pussies.

Thus, whoever among my students reads this update and watches the accompanying video material, is going to deal with real stuff, far beyond textbooks. This is a business which I am thinking about engaging in, and I am just starting to comprehend its patterns. This update is a living proof and test how good I am, or how I suck, at grasping business models of the digital economy.

In educational terms, I am locating the content relative to Copernic project in the path of teaching which I labelled ‘My investment experience, my teaching and my science’, as I am entertaining the idea of investing in the Copernic project. The subject cuts comprehensively across and into many aspects of economics and management. It can be considered as useful material for any educational path in these major fields.

It started when I reacted to a piece of advertising on Facebook. Yes, many interesting stories start like that, nowadays. It was an ad for the Copernic project itself. Here you have a link to Copernic’s website – https://copernic.io/ – but keep in mind that it is only Polish version, at least for the moment. I will do my best to describe the project in English.

Copernic is both the name of the project, and the name of an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership), incorporated under Polish law, in Krakow, Poland. The commonly used Polish acronym for an LLP is ‘sp. Z o.o.’, however, as I write in English, I will keep using the name ‘Copernic LLP’. I checked this company in the Judicial Register (of incorporated entities) run by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Poland, under the link https://ekrs.ms.gov.pl/web/wyszukiwarka-krs/strona-glowna/index.html . A business story emerges. On December 6th, 2019, Copernic LLP is founded, under the register #817764, in Gdansk, Poland, technically by two partners: a physical person and another LLP, i.e. TTC Trade LLP (register #788023). Yet, after scratching the surface, the surface being the Judicial Register, I discovered that TTC Trade LLP is wholly owned by the same physical person who was its partner in Copernic LLP. Anyway, the physical person apported 1000 PLN and took 1 partner share, whilst her LLP paid in 4000 PLN in exchange of 4 partner shares. By the way, PLN stands for Polish zloty and it comes like PLN 1 = $0,27.

On May 6th, 2020, the physical person who founded Copernic LLP steps out of the partnership, and her own LLP, TTC Trade, sells two of its two partner shares in Copernic LLP, to Sapiency LLP (https://sapiency.io/en/, register #789717) incorporated in Krakow, Poland, at their face value of 2000 PLN. On the same day, the partnership contract is being reformulated entirely and signed anew, including a change of headquarters, which move from Gdansk to Krakow, Poland. By the same occasion, another corporate partner steps in, namely Reset Sun Energy LLP (Konin, Poland, register #802147) and takes 2 partner shares in Copernic LLP, for a price of 2000 PLN. By the same means, the total partners’ equity in Copernic LLP moves from 5000 PLN to 6000 PLN.

On July 20th, 2020, TTC Trade LLP and Reset Sun Energy LLP both sell their partner shares in Copernic LLP to Sapiency LLP, at face value, i.e. 6000 PLN. We have an interesting legal structure, when one Limited Liability Partnership (Copernic) is wholly owned by another Limited Liability Partnership (Sapiency), which, in turn, is 50/50 owned by two gentlemen, one of whom I had the honour to meet in person. Cool guy. Fire and ice in one. A bit like me.   

Sapiency is mostly active in cryptocurrencies. They make Blockchain-based tokens for whoever asks, and I think their main technological platform is Ethereum (https://ethereum.org/en/). The marketing model is membership-based, thus oriented on long-term relations with customers. The business model of Copernic LLP is logically connected to that of Sapiency LLP. Copernic builds solar farms in Poland, and markets Blockchain-based tokens labelled Copernic1, at a face value of 4 PLN apiece. Each such token corresponds to a share in the future leasing of solar farms, and those farms, by now, are under actual or planned construction. Later on, i.e. after the solar farms become operational, those lease-connected Copernic1 tokens are supposed to give their holders a claim on secondary tokens CopernicKWH, which, in turn, correspond to claims on electricity generated in those solar farms. The first attribution of CopernicKWH tokens to the holders of Copernic1 tokens is supposed to take place within 14 days after the first photovoltaic farm becomes operational with Copernic LLP, with a standing power of at least 1 MW. That day of operational capacity can be a movable feast, and thus the official statute of those tokens stipulates that the first attribution of CopernicKWH will take place not later than January 1st 2021. After the first attribution of  CopernicKWH, subsequent attributions to the holders of Copernic1 are supposed to take place at least once a week.

The CopernicKWH tokens can be used as means of payment at the Kanga Exchange (https://kanga.exchange ), which looks cool, on the whole, with one exception. According to Kanga’s own statement, ‘Kanga Exchange is operated by Good Investments Ltd, registered in accordance with the International Business Companies Act of the Republic of Seychelles, Company Number 192185’ (https://support.kanga.exchange/company-information/ ). Just for your information: I can incorporate a business in Seychelles without getting up from my desk, 100% online, for the modest sum of 399 British Pounds (https://www.offshoreformations247.com/offshore-jurisdictions/seychelles). I am fully aware how bloody hard it is to set up any business structure connected to cryptocurrencies in the European legal environment, however… Seychelles? Seriously?

The average price of electricity in Poland, when I am writing those words, is around 0,617 PLN per 1 kWh. One Copernic1 token, with its current price of 4 PLN, corresponds to 4/0,617 = 6,48 kWh of energy. Assuming that every week, starting from the day 0 of operations at the solar farm, Copernic LLP attributes me 1 CopernicKWH token for each Copernic1 token in my possession, I break even after 7 weeks, and each consecutive week brings me a net profit.

I do my maths according to the logic of the capital balance sheet. First of all, I want to compute the book value of assets that corresponds to the planned solar farm of 1 megawatt in standing power. In a report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA https://irena.org ), entitled ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019’ (https://irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019 ), I can read that the average investment needed for 1 watt of power in a photovoltaic installation can be cautiously estimated at $0,38, thus PLN 1,40.

Building a solar farm of 1 MW, thus of a million watts in terms of electric power, means an investment of at least PLN 1,40 * 106 = PLN 1 400 000. To that, you need to add the price of acquiring land. At the end of the day, I would tentatively put a PLN 2 million capital tag on the project. Supposing that capital for the project comes from the sales of Copernic1 tokens, Copernic LLP needs to sell at least 2 000 000 PLN/ 4 PLN = 500 000 of them Copernic1.

Looks like a lot, especially for a Limited Liability Partnership with partner equity at 6000 PLN. Assets worth PLN 2 000 000 minus PLN 6000 in partner equity means PLN 1 994 000 = $ 538 919  in capital which is not clear at all where it is supposed to come from. The sole partner in Copernic LLP, namely Sapiency LLP could pay in additional equity. Happens all the time. Still, Sapiency LLP as a partner equity of PLN 5000. See what I mean? Another option is a massive loan, and, finally, the whole balance sheet could rely mostly on those Copernic1 tokens. Only those tokens are supposed to embody claims on the lease of the solar farm. Now, legally, a lease is a contract which gives to the lessee (the one who physically exploits), the right to exploit things or rights owned by the lessor (the one who graciously allows others to exploit). In exchange, the lessee pays a rent to the lessor.

There are two things about that lease of solar farms. A lease is not really divisible, as it is the right to exploit something. If you divide that something into smaller somethings, you split the initial lease into as many separate leases. If I buy one Copernic1 token and that token embodies claims derived from a lease contract, what specifically is the object of leasing? There is another thing. If I buy Copernic1 tokens, it gives me claims on the future CopernicKWH tokens. In other words, Copernic will pay me in the future. If they pay me, on the basis of a lease contract, it is as if they were paying me a rent, i.e. as if they were leasing that solar farm from me. Only I don’t have that solar farm. They will have it. Yes, indeed, WTF? This is the moment to ask that rhetorical question.

A few paragraphs ago, I wrote that I am entertaining the idea of investing in those Copernic1 tokens. I think the idea has become much less attractive, business-wise, whilst becoming much more entertaining. There is an important question, though. Isn’t it ethically advisable to invest in renewable energies, even if the legal scheme is a bit sketchy, just to push forward those renewables? I can give an answer in two parts to that question. Firstly, renewables grow like hell, both in terms of power supplied, and in terms of attractiveness in financial markets. They really don’t need any exceptional push. They walk, and even run on their own legs. Secondly, I worked through my own ideas for implementing new technologies in the field of renewable energies, and, notably, I worked a lot with a tool called ‘Project Navigator’, run by the same International Renewable Energy Agency which I quoted earlier. The link is here: https://irena.org/navigator . There is one sure takeaway I have from working with that tool: a good project needs a solid, transparent, 100% by-the-book institutional base. Wobbly contracts translate into wobbly financing, and that, in turn, means grim prospects for the project in question.     

Another doubt arises in my mind, as I do flows instead of balances. A solar farm needs to earn money, i.e. to make profit, in order to assure a return on investment. The only asset which can earn value over time is land in itself. In practical terms, as long as we want that solar farm to work, it needs to generate a positive operational cash flow. Photovoltaic equipment ages inexorably, by physical wear and tear as well as by relative moral obsolescence. That aging can assure substantial amortization, yet you need some kind of revenue which you can write that amortization off from. If all or a substantial part of energy produced in the solar farm is tokenized and attributed to the holders of Copernic1, lease-based tokens, there could be hardly any energy left for sale, hence not much of a revenue. In other words, the system of initial financing with tokens can jeopardize economic payoff from the project, and that’s another thing I learnt with the Project Navigator: you need a solid economic base, and there is no way around it.

The hopefully crazy semester

Another handful of educational material, for the apparently (hopefully) crazy semester at the university. Crazy because of the virus, stands to reason. Things are never crazy because we make them so, stands to reason, once again.

I am making a big, fat bottom line at my investment portfolio in the stock market, and I am using this opportunity to make some educational material. The point of using my experience in education. It is personal experience, important to enrich theory. It is a story of personal limitations in business decisions, and understanding those limitations is important for understanding microeconomics as the substance of decisions, macroeconomics as their context, and management as their execution.

I have successful experience, together with hindsight on the mistakes I made. I can utilize it as valuable material to share and to build some teaching on. Since January 2020, I have invested  $7 924,76 in the stock market, and today (August 25th, 2020), my investment portfolio is worth  $11 719,91. I have 47,89% of return on the cash invested, over a period of 7 months. Not bad for a theoretician, isn’t it? I am deeply convinced that personal experience is impossible to bypass in any true teaching. Whatever kind of story I am telling on the moment, I always tell the story of my own existence. I can make it genuine and truthful just as well. Here is the link to the first, introductory video in this path: ‘My investment experience, my teaching and my science #1’  [Invest 1 2020-08-25 11-54-58 ; https://youtu.be/uYm0xB322u0 ]

In the second video of the same series [Invest 2 2020-08-26 07-37-08; https://youtu.be/XqYbe_LMdhY ], I focus on the presentation of my investment portfolio. I stress two points. Firstly, the portfolio which I hold now is the cumulative outcome of past trials and errors. Secondly, my portfolio shows many alternative scenarios of what could possibly have happened to my money, had I invested in just one among the 27 positions, thus if I had not diversified. I could have made +313% or -49%, instead of the 48% I had made as of August 25th 2020. I study more fundamentally the case of General Electric, which is one of my financial failures as for now. Turns out they have stakes in aviation, and that sucks in the times of pandemic.

In the third video of the series ‘Business Models in the Media Industry’ [Media BM 3 2020-08-26 08-24-42; https://youtu.be/bbmdsTaY7Lg ] I focus more in depth on studying the case of Netflix. You can have a glimpse of their transition from a streamer of externally made content to a business based on in-house made content. You can also see how strongly their business model is grounded in the assumption of constant growth in size.

In my second video devoted to Political Systems [PolitSys 2 2020-08-26 09-02-47; https://youtu.be/iRxwZDKlDxM ] I use two cases, i.e. the constitutions of France and Finland, to give my readers, followers and students a first glimpse on forms of political power. You can see that general concept in the context of distinction between a presidential system (France) vs a Parliamentary one (Finland).  

Germany happens too, like all the time

MY EDITORIAL ON YOU TUBE

I am experiencing an unusually long pause between consecutive updates on my blog. I published my latest update, entitled The balance between intelligence and the way we look in seasoned black leather, on June 23rd, 2020. This specific paragraph is technically in the introduction to a new update, yet I am writing it on June 30th, 2020, after having struggled with new writing for 6 entire days. There are two factors. Firstly, quite organically, we are having a persistent storm front over our part of Europe and with storms around, I have hard time to focus. I am in a bizarre state, as if I was sleepy and was having headaches in the same time. No, this is not hangover. There is nothing I could possibly have hangover after, like really, parole d’honneur. Sober as a pig, as we say in Poland.

Tough s**t makes tough people, and I when I experience struggle, I try to extract some learning therefrom. My learning from such episodes of intellectual struggle is that I can apply to my writing the same principles I apply to my training. Consistency and perseverance rule, intensity is an instrument. I can cheat myself into writing by short bouts. I can write better when I relax. I can write better when I consider pain and struggle as an interesting field of experience to explore and discover. By the way, this is something I discovered over the last 3,5 years, since I started practicing the Wim Hof method: that little fringe of struggle at the frontier of my comfort zone is extremely interesting. I discover a lot about myself when I place myself in that zone of proximal development, just beyond the limits of everyday habits. Nothing grand and impressive, just a tiny bit of s**t which I give to myself. When I keep it tiny, I can discover and study my experience thereof, and this is real stuff, as learning comes.   

The other reason I am struggling with my writing for is the amount of information I need to process. I am returning to studying my investment strategy, as I do every month, or so. There is a lot going on in the stock markets, and in my own decisions about them. I have hard times to keep up with my writing. Besides, I am really closing on the basic structure of my book on the civilizational role of cities, and I am preparing teaching content for online learning the next academic year. Yes, it looks like we go almost entirely distance learning, at least in the winter semester.

All in all, this update for my blog is a strange one. Usually, writing helps me put some order in my thinking and doing. This time, I have hard times to keep up with what’s going on. Once again, having hard times just means it is difficult. I keep trying and going. By trying and going, I have almost painfully come to the realisation what kind of message I want to convey in this update, when I finally end up by publishing it. Before I develop on that realisation, a short digression as regards the ‘end up by publishing’ part of the preceding sentence. I work in a rhythm of intuitively experienced intellectual exhaustion: I publish when I feel I have unloaded an intelligible, well rounded portion of my thinking into my writing.

What I am experiencing right now is precisely the feeling of having made a closure on a window of uncertainty and hesitation in many different fields. This update is specifically oriented on my strategy for investing in the stock market, and therefore this is the main thread I am sticking to. Still, that feeling of having just surfed a large wave of uncertainty sort of generally in life. I know it sounds suspiciously introspective in a blog post about investment, but here is another thing I have learnt about investment: being introspective pays. It pays financially. When I put effort into studying my own thoughts and my own decision making process, I learn how to make better, more informed decisions.  

My financial check from last month financial check is to find in ‘The moment of reassessment’. As I repeat that self-study of my own financial strategy, I find it both hard and rewarding. It is much harder to study my own decisions and my own behaviour (self-assessment) than to comment on sort of what people generally do (social science).

I feel as if I were one of those old-school inventors, who would experiment on themselves. Anyway, let’s study. Since ‘The moment of reassessment’ I made a few important financial decisions, and those decisions were marked by an unusual injection of cash. Basically, every month, I invest in the stock market an amount of PLN 2500, thus around $630, which corresponds to the rent I collect monthly from an apartment I own in town. I take the proceeds from one asset. i.e. real estate, and I use them to create a collection of financial assets.

As I have been practicing investment as a real thing, since the end of January, 2020 (see Bloody hard to make a strategy), I have learnt a lot in social sciences, too, mostly as regards microeconomics. I teach my students that fundamental concept of opportunity cost: when you invest anything, i.e. capital or your own work, in thing A, you forego the possibility of investing in thing B, and thus you choose the benefits from investment A to the expense of those from investment B. Those benefits B are the opportunity cost of investing in A. This is theory from textbooks. As I invest in the stock market, I suddenly understand all the depth of that simple rule. The stock market is like an ocean: there is always a lot that remains out of sight, or just out of my current attention span, and the way I orient my attention is crucial.

I have acquired a very acute feeling of what is called ‘bound rationale of economic decisions’ in textbooks. I have come to appreciate and respect the difference between well-informed decisions and the poorly informed ones. I have learnt the connection between information and time. Now, I know that not only do I have a limited bandwidth as regards business intel, but also that limited bandwidth spreads over time: the more time I have to decide, the more information I can process, and yet it would be too easy if it was that simple, since information loses value over time, and new information is better than old information.

That whole investment story has also taught me a lot about business strategies. I realized that I can outline a lot of alternative wannabe strategies, but only a few of them are workable as real sequences of decisions and actions of a strategy.

Good. Time to outline the situation: my current portfolio, comparison with that presented a month ago in ‘The moment of reassessment’, a short explanation how the hell have I come there, assessment of efficiency, and decisions for the future. Here is the thing: at the very moment when I started to write this specific update on my blog, thus on June 24th, 2020, things started to go south, investment-wise. I found myself in a strange situation, i.e. so fluid and changing one that describing it verbally is always one step behind actual events.

When I don’t have what I like, I have to do with what I have. In the absence of order and abundance of chaos, I have to do with chaos. Good chaos can be useful, mind you, as long as I can find my way through it. Step one, I am trying to describe chaos to the extent of possible. I am trying to phrase out the change in itself. There is some chaos in markets, and some in myself.

Good. Now I can start putting some order in chaos. I can describe change piece by piece, and I guess the best starting point is myself. After all, the existential chaos I am facing is – at least partly – the outcome of my own choices. After I published in ‘The moment of reassessment’, I began with taking non-routine decisions. That end-May-beginning-June period was a moment of something like a shake-off in my personal strategy. I was changing a lot. For reasons which I am going to explain in a moment, I sharply increased the amount of money in my two investment accounts. Now, as I look at things, I am coping with the delayed effects of those sudden decisions. The provisional lesson is that when I do something sudden in my business activity (I consider investment in the stock market as regular business: I put cash in assets which are supposed to bring me return), it is like a sudden shock, and ripples from that shock spread over time. Lesson number two is that any unusually big transfer of cash between into or from any of my investment accounts is such a shock, and there are ripples afterwards.

I think it is worth reconstructing a timeline of my so-far adventures in stock-market investment. End of January 2020, I start. I start investing shyly, without really knowing clearly what I want. I didn’t know what exact portfolio I wanted to build. I just had a general principle in mind, namely that I want to open investment positions in renewable energies, biotech, and IT.

From February through March 2020, I experiment with putting those principles into a practical frame. I do a lot of buying and selling. From the today’s perspective, I know that I was just experimenting with my own decision-making process. It had cost me money, I made some losses, and I intuitively figured out how I make my decisions.  

Over April and May 2020, I was progressively winding down those haphazard, experimental investments of mine. Step by step, I developed a reliable sub-portfolio in IT, and I rode an ascending market wave in Polish biotech companies.

At the end of May 2020, two things happened in my personal strategy of investment. First of all, I had the impression (and let’s face it, it was just an impression, devoid of truly solid foundation) that growth in stock prices across the almost entire Polish industry of biotech and medical supplies was just a short-term speculative bubble. I sold out part of my investment positions in the Polish stock market – mostly those in biotech and medical supplies, which proves to have been a poor move – and I transferred $1600 from my Polish investment account to the international one. Besides, my employer paid me the annual lump compensation for overtime during the academic year, and I decided to use like ¾ of that sum, thus some $3 125 as investment capital in the stock market, splitting it 50/50 (i.e. 2 times $1562) between my two accounts.

See? That was the first moment of chaos in me. First, I transferred $1600 from one account to another, and then I paid two times $1562 into both accounts, and all that like days apart. As a results, my Polish investment account noted a net cash outflow of – $1600 + $1562 = + $38 (very clever, indeed), and my international account swelled by $1600 + $1562 = $3 162.

Let’s go downstream. When I did all those cash transfers, I settled for a diversified portfolio. In Poland, I decided to keep my IT positions (11 Bit and Asseco Business Solutions), and to create three other branches: energy, retail, and restaurants. I know, I know: energy sounds cool, but retail and restaurants? Well, I decided to open positions in those two: the shoe retailer CCC, and a restauration giant Amrest, essentially because they were unusually cheap, and my own calculations, i.e. the moving average price, and mean-reverted price, indicated they were going to go up in price. As for two Polish energy companies – Tauron and PGE – my reasoning was the same. They were unusually cheap, and my own simulations allowed expecting some nice bounce-up. Out of those four shots on the discount shelf, two proved good business, the two others not really. Tauron and PGE brought me a nice return, when I closed them a few days ago, the former almost 79%, the other 28%. As for CCC and Amrest, they kept being cheap, and I closed those positions with slight losses, respectively – 4,3% and – 11,7%. Lesson for the future: don’t be daft. Fundamentals rule. This is my takeaway from the last 3 months of learning investment in practice. I need to look at the end of the market lane, where the final demand dwells for the given business.         

Question: why did I close on Tauron and PGE, if they were bringing me profit? Because it looked like they had a temporary rise in price, and then it seemed to be over.

I have already learnt that I make real money on accurate prediction of something, which, fault of a better expression, I call ‘market waves’, and by which I understand a period of many weeks when the price of some specific stock grows substantially for largely fundamental reasons. In other words, something important is happening in real business and these events (trends?) provoke a change in investors’ behaviour. As for now, and since January this year, I have successfully ridden three market waves, got washed under by one such wave, and I am sort of in two minds about a fifth one.

The wave that maimed me was the panic provoked in the stock market in the early weeks of pandemic. At the time, I had just invested some money in the U.S. stock market. I had been tempted by its nice growth in the first weeks of 2020, and, when the pandemic started to unfold, and market indexes started to tremble and then slump, I was like: ‘It is just temporary. I can wait it out’. Well, maybe I could have waited it out, only I didn’t. I waited, I waited, and my stock went really down, like to scrambling on the ground, and then I went into solid, tangible panic. I sold it all out, in the U.S. market (see Which table do I want to play my game on?). On the whole, it was a good decision. I transferred to the Polish stock market whatever cash I saved out of that financial plunge in U.S. and I successfully rode the wave of speculative interest in Polish biotech companies.

I noticed that I got out of the Polish biotech market wave too early. As I cast a casual glance at their performance in the stock market, I can see they have all grown like hell over the last month. I decide to get back into Polish biotech, plus one gaming company: CD Projekt. The biotechs and medical I take on are: Mercator Medical, Biomed Lublin, Neuca, Synektik, Cormay, Bioton. I am taking some risk here: those biotechs are so high on price that I am facing a risk of sudden slump. Still, their moving cumulative average prices are climbing irresistibly. There is a trend.

What do I do with my U.S. assets? I think I will hold. I don’t want to yield to panic once again. Besides, they diversify nicely with my assets in Poland. In Poland, I took a risk: I jumped once again on the rising wave of investment in biotech and medical business, only this time I jumped on it at a much more elevated point, as compared to the beginning of April 2020. The risk of sudden downturn is substantially bigger now than in April. In the U.S. market, I am holding assets which are clearly undervalued now, with all that panic about social unrest and about a second spike in COVID-19. Possibly overvalued assets in one market and undervalued assets in another market: sounds familiar? Yes, this is a form of hedging, which, in plain language, means that I spread my assets between several baskets, and I hand each basket to a different little girl in a little red riding hood, in the hope that at least some of those girls will outsmart those big bad wolves. Girls usually do, by the way.

On the whole, so far, I have invested $6 674,76 in cash into my two investment accounts. With the current value of my assets at $7 853,30, I have a total return on cash invested around 17,65%. It has decreased slightly over the last month: by the end of May 2020, it was 23,2%. 

I think I need to explain the distinction between two rates of return which I quote as regards my investment: return on the currently open positions vs return on the total cash invested in my investment accounts. Any given moment, I hold cash and open positions in securities. The cash I hold is the sum total of two components: past cash transfers into my investment accounts from my other financial accounts, on the one hand, and cash proceeds from the closure of particular investment positions. When I compare the total value of financial assets (i.e. cash + securities) which I currently hold, to the amount of cash I had paid into my investment accounts, I get my total return on cash invested. When I split my financial assets into cash and securities, and I calculate the incremental change in the value of the latter, I get the rate of return on currently open investment positions, and this one is swinging wildly, those last days. This might be the reason why it took me so long to hatch this update for my blog. Last Thursday it was 12,9%, and today it is 5,5%. What happened? United States happened to be in social unrest, for one, and they keep doing so, by the way (c’mon, guys, pull your pants up, I have money in your stock market). Germany happens too, like all the time, and I have some open positions in their automotive sector.

One thing that happens more or less as I expected is the incremental change in stock price as regards the logistics sector. My positions in Deutsche Post, UPS, and FedEx are doing well.       

I have already learnt that I make real money on accurate prediction of something, which, fault of a better expression, I call ‘market waves’, and by which I understand a period of many weeks when the price of some specific stock grows substantially for largely fundamental reasons. In other words, something important is happening in real business and these events (trends?) provoke a change in investors’ behaviour. As for now, and since January this year, I have successfully ridden three market waves, got washed under by one such wave, and I am sort of in two minds about a fifth one.

The wave that maimed me was the panic provoked in the stock market in the early weeks of pandemic. At the time, I had just invested some money in the U.S. stock market. I had been tempted by its nice growth in the first weeks of 2020, and, when the pandemic started to unfold, and market indexes started to tremble and then slump, I was like: ‘It is just temporary. I can wait it out’. Well, maybe I could have waited it out, only I didn’t. I waited, I waited, and my stock went really down, like to scrambling on the ground, and then I went into solid, tangible panic. I sold it all out, in the U.S. market (see Which table do I want to play my game on?). On the whole, it was a good decision. I transferred to the Polish stock market whatever cash I saved out of that financial plunge in U.S. and I successfully rode the wave of speculative interest in Polish biotech companies.

I noticed that I got out of the Polish biotech market wave too early. As I cast a casual glance at their performance in the stock market, I can see they have all grown like hell over the last month. I decide to get back into Polish biotech, plus one gaming company: CD Projekt. The biotechs and medical I take on are: Mercator Medical, Biomed Lublin, Neuca, Synektik, Cormay, Bioton. I am taking some risk here: those biotechs are so high on price that I am facing a risk of sudden slump. Still, their moving cumulative average prices are climbing irresistibly. There is a trend.

OK. I need to end it somewhere. I record my video editorial on You Tube, I attach it to this piece of writing, and, que sera sera (or What The Hell!), let’s publish those uncombed thoughts.  

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The moment of reassessment

MY EDITORIAL ON YOU TUBE

For a few days, I am turning into a different thread of my writing: my investment in the stock market. In winter, I decided to come back into the game of active investment in the stock market, and to use my blog as a tool of self-teaching, in the view of sharpening my game (see, for example: Fathom the outcomes and a few subsequent updates). Those of my readers who have been following this thread know that my basic strategy consists in investing in the stock market, every month, the rent I am collecting from an apartment in town. This is a monthly decision, and, whilst I appreciate a day of quick trade on short positions, every now and then, I generally like that slow, monthly paced cycle of investment.

My updates in this specific thread of thinking and writing have a triple function. Firstly, they make me think what I am doing, and by that virtue they help me sharpen myself as an investor. Secondly, this is educational material for my students, especially in Finance and in Economics. Thirdly, for all the other readers of this blog, it is shared experience, seasoned with some science and mathematical rigour.

The time of collecting another instalment of rent approaches, and I am bracing for a new set of decisions. This time, i.e. in this update, I strongly focus on summarizing my so-far experience, since the end of January. I follow the same principle that sport coaches do: if we want to be more efficient, we need to own our past experience, both our mistakes and our successes. I can tell you: it is hard. Like really. I have already past the point of devising my own analytical tools for financial investment (see for example Partial outcomes from individual tables), and, whilst I am aware of the immense wealth of human invention in this field, it is relatively easy. It is modelled. On the other hand, telling my own story, even a short and selective one, is hard in a different way. It requires taking a step back from my own actions, figuring out a rational way of comprehending them, collecting information and putting it all together. When I was doing it, I discovered that my own behaviour is much more difficult to study than the behaviour of other people in the stock market.

Long story short, I did it. I summarized my own story, in a form interpretable for coining up a strategy for the future. First of all, I summarize the journey, which you can see in Graph 1, below. Over the last 4 months, I invested a total of $3 519,42 in my two investment accounts: the domestic one, which I hold with the PeKaO Bank, for buying and selling stock in the Polish stock market, and the international one, which I hold with the Degiro platform. The details of that strictly financial cash flow are to find in Graph 2, further below. Interestingly, the biggest single cash transfer in this thread of my investment story is the transfer from international account to domestic account, in the first days of April. I described my dilemma of the moment in the update from April 5th, 2020, entitled ‘Which table do I want to play my game on?’. I was panicking about the huge slump in the U.S. stock market, and, in the same time, I was having an eye on the speculative bubble swelling on biotechs in the Polish stock market. The first important observation as for my strategy is therefore the following: my cash flows tend to be regular and systematic, unless I go emotional about the market and then I am able to make sudden twists and turns.

Graph 1

Graph 2

The whole chain of deals I made with the cash I paid in has led me, as for May 27th, 2020, to a capital account worth $4 335,79. Over 4 months, I have added $816.37, or 23.2%, to the cash invested, in a total of 36 deals, 10 of which remain open at the moment of writing those words (see Graph 6, much further below) and 26 are closed. My biggest gains are somehow paired with my biggest losses so far. I lost the most money in the U.S. stock market, when it was all just surfing down over the top of the collapsing wave of COVID-19-related panic. I made the most money on the mounting wave of short-term fascination with biotech businesses in the Polish market, right after. Three companies – Biomed Lublin, Airway Medix, and Mercator Medical – were my vessels to ride that wave. Graph 5, further below, shows the profits and losses I made on each of the 20 stocks, which I have been playing with in those 36 deals I opened. Graph 4 illustrates, in the form of a Pareto curve, the relative importance of the deals I opened by the end of March and the beginning of April. Right after the extraordinary, and, let’s face it, abnormal profits I made by riding crest of that speculative bubble, come the much more normal profits I made on Polish IT companies. The one named 11Bit, a gaming business, brought me the most profit as for now. On the whole, and at the condition of having a good look at the fundamentals, IT businesses seem to be a must in a sensible investment portfolio. Graph 6 shows the profit I am currently making on the open financial positions, with those IT guys, i.e. 11 Bit, Asseco Business Solutions, and Talex, clearly sticking out and up above the lot.   

Graph 3

Graph 4

Graph 5

Graph 6

As I observe the timeline of my cumulative profit (Graph 3), a pattern emerges. Up until the end of March, I had been losing money. I suppose it was the price to pay for learning: the price of my early mistakes. Starting from the beginning of April, my cumulative profit on all deals up to date began to poke its head above the zero line. I began making money: what I had paid for my mistakes started bringing fruit. Question: is it a once-and-for-ever pattern, i.e. have I simply paid my entrance ticket to the game and now I will just ride that wave? It is tempting to believe, and yet it is foolish to rely on. I would rather expect a recurring cycle, likely to take place in moments of turbulence. I need a few weeks (like 8?) to make some reconnaissance in the market around me, and then I can target a wave to ride.  

Interestingly, when I started making money, I also started to make sense of the whole process, in the form of analytical tools (see e.g. Acceptably dumb proof. The method of mean-reversion ). Did I start to make money because I developed more formal an understanding of market trends? It might have been exactly the other way around: I might have gone explicitly analytical as, intuitively, I felt I make money. I am serious. I know myself. I know that when I start thinking recurrently about something, to the point of writing consistently about it, those thoughts manifest something going on at a deeper, subconscious level. It is possible that my writing about mean-reversion in financial analysis was expressing the fact that I was getting acquainted with the really observable variance in stock prices.

I can formulate a tentative description of my own strategy as regards investment. This time, by strategy I mean recurrent behavioural patterns in me rather than a set of goals with a plan. First of all, I am strongly intuitive. It seems that what I consciously think I do is usually one step behind what I really do. Probably a lot of people are like that, and what is interesting is to see that pattern manifest in myself. I intuitively look for relatively short-term opportunities for quick gain, and I jump into the game as soon as I see them. I tend to jump a bit too quickly, though. As I study those 26 closed deals I made since January, sometimes I am like: ‘What? Really? I did THAT? Aston Martin? Virgin Galactic? Seriously? What the hell was I thinking?’.

Even with that propensity to uncontrolled fascination with the prospects of quick gain, I am clearly attached to some specific sectors in my investment. So far, it is IT industry, biotechnology and medicine, as well as renewable energy. I declared such a span of interest in the very beginning (see Back in the game) but, in all honesty, when I was making that declaration, by the end of January, I had no idea how consistent I was going to remain. Looks like I am pretty consistent in my sectoral scope of investment.  

Another pattern I noticed in myself is that I like dividing my portfolio in two categories: the no-brainers, on the one hand, and the waves to ride, on the other hand. I like holding some ETF trackers – this is what I mean by ‘no-brainers’ – sort of having someone else doing some of the thinking for me. Yet, I abhor the idea of investing all my money in one investment fund, and allow other people do to all the thinking for me. I want to stay somehow in the middle, i.e. to hold some balanced investments embodied in structured instruments, such as ETFs, and to do active thinking as for other deals.

Summing (provisionally) up, I make money when I acquire a good understanding of the market environment as for the possible occurrence of sudden slumps and sudden rises. I think it is time for me to develop such understanding now. I made some money on one financial wave (biotechs in Poland), and I want to repeat the experience. I want to spot interesting opportunities in a broader context. Intuitively, I feel that I am entering another phase of searching and learning, similar to the one observable in the left half of Graph 3. An intuition is burgeoning in my brain: the capital market is going into another phase. Why do I think so? Well, the last 4 months were mostly marked by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the resulting lockdowns in most economies. Now, lockdowns are being progressively loosened up and I think they are going to stay loosened up, whatever local, epidemic surges appear. Lockdowns are simply unsustainable on the long run: they are a softened, and overly extended transformation of military protocols applicable in the case of a biological attack. I remember those protocols from high school. I was born and raised in the communist Poland, and at the time, we were being indoctrinated that we are supposed to fight an ever-lasting war for peace. We would even crack jokes, like ‘we will keep fighting for peace even after there is nothing left to be at peace with’. Anyway, at school, we had classes called Preparation for National Defence. In the theoretical part, among other things, we would study the rules to follow in the case of attack with mass-destruction weapons, including bio-attacks. The rules I was being taught were to be played out over days, weeks at the worst, not over months. From a long-range perspective, lockdowns are like an attempt to regulate air traffic with fighter jet planes indicating the available flight corridors: theoretically feasible, maybe even spectacular, yet a tiny little bit unpractical.       

Anyway, lockdowns are becoming the past and the new present requires new business models, new markets, and new public policies. My gut feeling is that a lot is going to change in the coming months and years, technology-wise and business-wise. This is why I think I need to reassess the economic context of my investment in the stock market. I start with reassessing the prospects conveyed by my current portfolio of 10 open positions: 11 Bit Studios, Asseco Business Solutions, Talex, Airway Medix, PBKM, Bioton, SMA Solar, First Solar, Medtronic, and Amundi Asset Management. I want to understand the economic and financial alternative scenarios for this specific portfolio.

By my recent experience, I know that it is important to phrase out my intuitions, in order to utilise them fully. As Frank Knight would probably say, if he was still alive, ‘it is important to know how you think about what you think’. I need to understand what is it exactly that I cover with my intuition when I think about the economic context. In my previous analytical updates, I was very technical, in the sense that I was very much focused on short-term interpretation of stock prices (see for example: Partial outcomes from individual tables ). This time, I want to be more oriented on the long term, and therefore I focus on a different set of metrics. For 9 out of the ten investment positions I hold, I am following the same method (the Amundi ETF tracker is in the category ‘no brainer’).

I want to understand, most of all, what do those companies do with the trust expressed by investors. Are they investing in their future, or are they just riding the waves of capitalism? All those 9 companies have benefited from some amount of trust expressed actively by investors who have acquired and hold their shares. I want to understand how this trust has been used in the view of building a future, and therefore I am focusing on assets in those companies’ balance sheets. I am interested in their assets, because this is where I look for future-oriented decisions. If the given company has more assets than it had at the end of the last reporting period, it means, most of all, that the business is accumulating capital. They are investing into being able to make stuff in the future. Next, I want to know what kind of assets is the most variable in their balance sheets.

An insight into each company’s balance sheet allows me to compare changes observable at this level with their market capitalization, and with stock market indexes which I can take as the closest general context. I consider market indexes as a background, informative about general attitudes in investors. Then, I calculate a simple coefficient, that of elasticity, in those companies’ assets, when denominated over market capitalization, and over the market index I chose. Elasticity is calculated as, respectively: ‘∆(assets) / ∆ (market capitalization)’, and ‘∆(assets) / ∆(market index)’. I want to discover to what extent those companies respond, in their capital base, to the signals they receive from the stock market.

On the top of that I add a long-term analytical tool of the stock price strictly spoken. From the general formula of mean-reverted price (see We really don’t see small change), I extract the component of moving average price, calculated cumulatively over the last 12 months of trade, since May 27th, 2019. For every day of trade between May 27th, 2019 and May 26th, 2020, an average closing price is being calculated, for all the daily closing prices between May 27th 2019 and the given date. This form of moving average is probably one of the simplest forms of artificial intelligence. It is a function which learns a long-term trend as it advances in time, and it answers the question about the probable shape of long-term changes in this specific price, based on past experience.

The remaining part of this update is structured in two parts. At first, I bring up a written account of my observations, as I applied the above-described method to the 9 businesses in my portfolio. Then, a series of tables and graphs is provided, with the source numbers, to use at your pleasure and leisure as analytics. I used market indexes specific to the corresponding markets and sectors. As regards 11 Bit Studios, an IT and gaming company listed in the Warsaw Stock Market, I used three indexes: the WIG-GAMES Index, the WIG-INFO Index, and one more general, the WIG Tech index. The two other Polish IT firms, namely Asseco Business Solutions and Talex are being benchmarked against two of those three indexes, i.e. WIG Info, and WIG Tech. The three companies from the broadly spoken medical and biotech sector –  Airway Medix, PBKM, and Bioton – all three listed in the Warsaw Stock Exchange as well, have been benchmarked against the WIG Pharmaceuticals index. First Solar and Medtronic are both listed in the NASDAQ, and the closest index I can find is NASDAQ Industrial. Finally, the German company SMA Solar is compared with the DAX Performance metric.

As I run those analyses, a first observation pops out: Airway Medix has not published yet any financials for 2019. It is impossible to assess the current balance sheet of that company. I have just read they have postponed until mid-June 2020 the publication of ALL their financials for 2019. This is odd and makes me think of something like a ticking bomb. They must have the hell of a mess in their financials. For the moment, they show an interesting short-term trend in their price, and so I hold this position. Yet, I know I need to stay alert. Maybe I sell shortly.

Generally, like across all those 9 firms, I can notice an interesting pattern: when their assets change, it is almost exclusively about current assets, not the fixed ones. As for their state of possession in terms of productive assets, they all have been staying virtually at the same level over the last year. What changes is most of all cash and financial instruments, and in some cases inventories and receivables (Talex). They build up strategic flexibility without going, yet, into any specific avenue of technology. It looks as if all those businesses were poised, up to something. My own gut feeling, and the theory of business cycles by Joseph Alois Schumpeter, allow expecting a big and imminent technological change.      

Now, I am going to exemplify the details of my approach with the 11 Bit Studios. It’s an IT, gaming business, and thus I connect it to three market indexes in the Warsaw Stock Exchange, namely the WIG-GAMES Index, the WIG-INFO Index, and one more general, the WIG Tech index. In Table 1, below, you can see a quick, half-fundamental and half-technical study of 11BIT Studios. Its market capitalisation had shrunk, between the end of 2Q2019 and 1Q2020, yet, currently, its stock price has been growing nicely those last weeks.

Why is that? Let’s look.  The coefficient of market-to-book, i.e. market capitalization divided by the book value of assets, had been decreasing consistently, from the really unsustainable level of 7,17 down to the touch-and-go level of 4,81. It had happened both by a downwards correction in market capitalization (investors collectively said: ‘it is too expensive’), and by ramping up the company’s assets. As I can read in the company’s quarterly reports, the financial strategy they seem to be pursuing, and which manifests in the value of their assets, consists in keeping a baseline reserve of cash around PLN 3 ÷ 3,5 mln, which they periodically pump up to somewhere between PLN 5 million and PLN 6 million, and right after ‘Boom!’, their fixed assets get a pump. It is a sequence I know from observing many tech companies. Over the last few years, tech companies started to behave like banks: they accumulate substantial piles of cash, probably to have flexibility in their investment decisions, and then, suddenly, they acquire some significant, productive assets.

All that development takes place in the context of a capricious market indexes. Yes, they are growing, but the price of growth is increased volatility. The more they grow, the more variance they display. To the extent that anyone can talk about behaviour of a company vis a vis its investors, 11BIT Studios seems to be actively demonstrating that no, they are not an artificially inflated financial balloon, and yes, they intend to invest in future.

Now, you can go to the graphs and tables below.

Table 1 – 11 BIT Studios, selected financial data

30/06/201930/09/201931/12/201930/03/2020
Market cap (PLN mln)908,02902,30914,88823,39
Assets (PLN mln)126,62138,76155,67171,25
Equity (pln mln)100,42106,07119,74136,27
Market cap to assets7,176,505,884,81
WIG Games index18,3418,4518,5515,67
WIG Info Index2 396,242 387,552 834,292 619,12
WIG Tech Index9 965,259 615,8110 898,6610 358,61
Elasticity of assets to market cap(2,12)1,34(0,17)
Elasticity of assets to WIG Games Index110,36169,10(5,41)
Elasticity of assets to WIG Info Index(1,40)0,04(0,07)
Elasticity of assets to WIG Tech index(0,03)0,01(0,03)

Table 2 – Asseco Business Solutions, selected financial data

30/06/201930/09/201931/12/201930/03/2020
Market cap (PLN mln)935,71915,66949,081 035,96
Assets (PLN mln)384,11391,12422,64433,87
Equity (pln mln)272,74288,43316,11331,62
Market cap to assets2,442,342,252,39
WIG Info Index2 396,242 387,552 834,292 619,12
WIG Tech Index9 965,259 615,8110 898,6610 358,61
Elasticity of assets to market cap(0,35)0,940,13
Elasticity of assets to WIG Info Index(0,81)0,07(0,05)
Elasticity of assets to WIG Tech index(0,02)0,02(0,02)

Table 3 – Talex, selected financial data

2020/3M2019/YE2019/9M2019/6M
Market cap (PLN mln)              31,80               38,85               40,80               41,10 
Assets (PLN mln)              81,06               83,34               78,79               81,69 
Equity (pln mln)              54,89               54,59               50,82               51,37 
Market cap to assets                 0,39                  0,47                  0,52                  0,50 
WIG Info Index       2 396,24        2 387,55        2 834,29        2 619,12 
WIG Tech Index       9 965,25        9 615,81     10 898,66     10 358,61 
Elasticity of assets to market cap                 0,32                (2,33)                 9,66 
Elasticity of assets to WIG Info Index               (0,26)               (0,01)               (0,01)
Elasticity of assets to WIG Tech index               (0,01)               (0,00)               (0,01)

Table 4 – Bioton

2020/3M2019/YE2019/9M2019/6M
Market cap (PLN mln)281,63326,28364,06355,48
Assets (PLN mln)890,60881,42914,18907,17
Equity (pln mln)587,84582,00621,10626,59
Market cap to assets0,320,370,400,39
WIG Pharma index3 432,335 197,435 345,735 410,86
Elasticity of assets to market cap(0,21)0,870,82
Elasticity of assets to WIG Pharma index(0,01)0,22(0,11)

Table 5 – PBKM, selected financial data

2020/3M2019/YE2019/9M2019/6M
Market cap (PLN mln)543,06355,68352,27375,00
Assets (PLN mln)n.a.455,59427,00425,20
Equity (pln mln)n.a.188,39181,36179,54
Market cap to assetsn.a.0,780,820,88
WIG Pharma indexn.a.5 197,435 345,735 410,86
Elasticity of assets to market capn.a.8,39(0,08)
Elasticity of assets to WG Pharma indexn.a.(0,19)(0,03)

Table 6 – First Solar

2020/3M2019/YE2019/9M2019/6M
Market cap ($ mln)3 819,015 926,566 143,676 955,98
Assets ($ mln)6 949,147 515,697 054,697 137,81
Equity ($ mln)5 168,625 096,775 182,485 135,12
Market cap to assets0,550,790,870,97
NASDAQ Industrial Index5 785,706 807,706 371,606 559,20
Elasticity of assets to market cap0,27(2,12)0,10
Elasticity of assets to NASDAQ Industrial0,551,060,44

Table 7 – Medtronic

2020/3M2019/YE2019/9M2019/6M
Market cap ($ mln)120 856,18152 041,85145 568,85130 518,78
Assets ($ mln)91 053,0091 268,0089 694,0088 730,00
Equity ($ mln)50 719,0050 497,0050 212,0049 941,00
Market cap to assets1,331,671,621,47
NASDAQ Industrial Index5 785,706 807,706 371,606 559,20
Elasticity of assets to market cap0,010,240,06
Elasticity of assets to NASDAQ Industrial0,213,61(5,14)

Table 8 – SMA Solar

2020/3M2019/YE2019/9M2019/6M
Market cap (€ mln)954,251 199,23902,89887,63
Assets (€ mln)1 031,471 107,321 014,86970,56
Equity (€ mln)415,35416,89411,39406,72
Market cap to assets0,931,080,890,91
DAX Performance Index9 935,8413 249,0112 428,0812 398,80
Elasticity of assets to market cap0,310,312,90
Elasticity of assets to DAX Performance0,020,111,51

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