Academic Moneyball

Inside Higher Ed reports that a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology academics have created a Moneyball style data analytics model to predict and evaluate tenure track applications and performance.

Here are some of my thoughts on Academic Moneyball from December 2014:

The Moneyball Thesis

 

Oakland A’s coach Billy Beane faced a dilemma: competing teams poached his high-performance players and the baseball team faced budget restraints. Beane used Bill James’ sabermetrics – the statistical analysis of baseball player skill – to build a team of contrarian baseball players using performance-based optionality; that experienced positive asymmetric payoffs (a winning streak of successful games); and that achieved a dramatic change in competitive tournament rankings.

 

Definition of Academic Moneyball: develop a Moneyball valuation framework for academic research programs.

 

Definitions

 

Academic: a higher education staff member who does teaching, research, and academic service.

 

Researcher: a higher education staff member whose main work activity Is to conduct research.

 

Research Program: a programmatic suite of research activities including collaboration, dissemination, publishing, and contract research.

 

Structure

 

  1. The University’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement defines the Minimum Standards for Academic Levels (MSALs): the expected scope and observable impact of an Academic’s teaching, research, and academic service activities (i.e. MSALs establish the baseline for expected performance).

 

  1. An Academic’s work can be modelled as a Present Value cashflow stream of value creation activities from: (i) undergraduate and postgraduate student fees for the Academic’s units of study; (ii) Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) funding, and Research Support and Research Training program funding, received from the Australian Government for the Academic’s eligible research publications, competitive grants, Higher Degree by Research student completions, and other eligible research income (Category 1 to 4); (iii) consulting and contract research income that is non-HERDC eligible; (iv) intellectual property rights income such as patents, joint ventures, and spin-outs; and (v) Academic contribution to Field of Research scores in national and international performance rankings, such as the Excellence for Research in Australia and Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking exercises.

 

  1. The gap between the MSALs and the Academic’s Present Value cashflow stream creates a potential spread in terms of work expectations versus value creation activities that create arbitrage conditions. The University can extract Alpha (excess return above a benchmark) through active management of an Academic’s research program, such as gaining new contract research income, exercising options on intellectual property rights, or creating new, scalable research enterprises. Alternatively, the University can extract Beta (passive returns from a market index) through cultivating an Academic cohort / group’s expertise, and matching it to relevant grant and consulting income sources.

 

  1. Developing an Academic’s research program is one way to change the Future Value cashflow stream from research activities, in a structured process.

 

  1. Moneyball strategies for research programs include: (i) scalability and international scope; (ii) target journals for publication; (iii) book publisher selection for publication; (iv) research methodology training (as a Doctoral candidate and as a Post-Doc); (v) co-authors or collaborative research team; (vi) international conference attendance for collaborative network and referral building; (vii) matching to grant and consulting income opportunities; and (viii) research enterprise development.

Investment Strategies Reading List

Event Arbitrage

 

Convertible Arbitrage: Insights and Techniques for Successful Hedging by Nick P. Calamos (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003). Convertible bonds as an event arbitrage strategy.

 

The Mental Strategies of Top Traders: The Psychological Determinants of Trading Success by Ari Kiev (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009). The hedge fund SAC’s fusion of a catalyst approach to event arbitrage with performance / trading psychology.

 

Merger Arbitrage: A Fundamental Approach to Event-Driven Investing by Lionel Melka and Amit Shabi (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). A contemporary primer on merger arbitrage techniques.

 

Merger Arbitrage: How to Profit from Event-Driven Arbitrage (2nd edition) by Thomas Kirchner (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015). A synthesis of global macro and event arbitrage strategies.

 

Trading Catalysts: How Events Move Markets and Create Trading Opportunities by Robert I. Webb (Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2006). Event arbitrage strategies used amidst the early part of the 2003-08 speculative bubble.

 

World Event Trading: How to Analyze and Profit from Today’s Headlines by Andy Busch (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007). Presents a series of frameworks that Busch uses for event arbitrage in currencies and equities markets.

 

Momentum

 

Asset Rotation: The Demise of Modern Portfolio Management and the Birth of an Investment Renaissance by Matthew P. Erickson (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). How exchange traded funds can be used for a momentum strategy that uses a two-asset portfolio.

 

Dual Momentum Investing: An Innovative Strategy for Higher Returns with Lower Risk by Gary Antonacci (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014). A momentum strategy that combines relative strength and trend-following approaches.

 

Unholy Grails: A New Road to Wealth by Nick Radge (Sydney: Radge Publishing, 2012). Radge’s experience using momentum strategies in Australian financial markets.

 

Trend-Following

 

The Complete TurtleTrader: How 23 Novice Investors Became Overnight Millionaires by Michael W. Covel (New York: HarperBusiness, 2009). The definitive account of the TurtleTraders experiment in rules-based trend-following.

 

Following the Trend: Diversified Managed Futures Trading by Andreas Clenow (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). How trend-following strategies have been profitable in managed futures.

 

Investing With the Trend: A Rules-Based Approach to Money Management by Gregory L. Morris (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). A rules-based methodology for trend-following.

 

Trend Following: Learn to Make Millions in Up or Down Markets (rev. edition) by Michael W. Covel (Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2009). A popular primer on trend-following strategies.

 

The Trend Following Bible: How Professional Traders Compound Wealth and Manage Risk by Andrew Abraham (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). How commodities trading advisers use trend-following strategies.

 

Trend Following with Managed Futures: The Search for Crisis Alpha by Alex Greyserman and Kathryn Kaminski (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). How trend-following traders adapted to the financial market volatility of the 2007-09 global financial crisis.

 

Value

 

Accounting for Value by Stephen Penman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). The link between value investment, accounting, and equity valuation.

 

Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range-bound Markets by Vitaliy N. Katsenelson (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007). An adaptation of value investing strategies to the 2003-08 speculative bubble.

 

Applied Value Investing: The Practical Applications of Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett’s Valuation Principles to Acquisitions, Catastrophe Pricing, and Business Execution by Joseph Calandro, Jr (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009). Value investing applied during the peak of the 2003-08 speculative bubble and the start of the 2007-09 global financial crisis.

 

The Art of Company Valuation and Financial Statement Analysis: A Value Investor’s Guide with Real-Life Case Studies by Nicolas Schmidlin (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). Contemporary fundamental analysis for value investors.

 

The Art of Value Investing: How the World’s Best Investors Beat the Market by John Heins and Whitney Tilson (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). A collection of interviews with successful fund managers who are value investors.

 

Brandes on Value: The Independent Investor by Charles Brandes (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014). Brandes’ value investment experiences at Brandes Investment Partners LP.

 

Deep Value: Why Activist Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations by Tobias E. Carlisle (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). A quantitative analysis of how activist investors use value investment strategies in the market for corporate control.

 

The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Value investment as a framework for cultivating character and personal growth.

 

Extreme Value Hedging: How Activist Hedge Fund Managers Are Taking on the World by Ronald D. Orol (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008). The experiences of value-oriented hedge fund managers during the 2003-08 speculative bubble.

 

Global Value: How to Spot Bubbles, Avoid Market Crashes, and Earn Big Returns in the Stock Market by Meb Faber (The Idea Farm, 2014). A synthesis of value investing and global macro approaches.

 

The Investment Checklist: The Art of In-Depth Research by Michael Shearn (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011). How value investors undertake fundamental research.

 

The Manual of Ideas: The Proven Framework for Finding the Best Value Investments by John Mihaljevic (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). Presents the value investing framework of the Value Investors Club.

 

Modern Security Analysis: Understanding Wall Street Fundamentals by Martin J. Whitman and Fernando Diz (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). The link between fundamental security analysis and value investing.

 

The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013). The value investment philosophy that Marks implements at Oaktree Capital Management.

 

The Nature of Value: How to Invest in an Adaptive Economy by Nick Gogerty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). Presents a value creation model used by the hedge fund Bridgewater.

 

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2012). Effective capital allocation as a key value investment strategy.

 

Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors by Wesley R. Gray and Tobias E. Carlisle (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). A synthesis of value investing, behavioural finance, and quantitative finance.

 

Security Analysis (6th edition) by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008). The influential primer on value investing.

 

Security Analysis and Business Valuation on Wall Street: A Comprehensive Guide to Today’s Valuation Methods (2nd edition) by Jeffrey C. Hooke (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010). How Wall Street uses fundamental security analysis to value companies.

 

Security Valuation and Risk Analysis: Assessing Value in Investment Decision Making by Kenneth S. Hackel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011). The link between the investment process, risk management, and fundamental security valuation.

 

The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder (New York: Bantam Books, 2008). The authorised biography of value investor Warren Buffett.

 

Sources of Value: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Valuation by Simon Woolley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). BP’s valuation framework for analysing the economic value of companies.

 

Strategic Value Investing: Practical Techniques of Leading Value Investors by Stephen M. Horan, Robert R. Johnson, and Thomas R. Robinson (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014). A contemporary primer on value investing and its link to corporate strategy.

 

Valuation: The Market Approach by Seth Bernstrom (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). Valuing firms through comparison with stock exchange and comparator company transactions.

 

Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies (5th edition) by Tim Killer, Marc Goedhart, and David Wessels (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010). The McKinsey valuation model for companies.

 

Value: The Four Cornerstones of Corporate Finance by Tim Koller, Richard Dobbs, and Bill Huyett (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011). Growth, return on invested capital, and cashflow analysis in corporate finance as the foundations for valuation of companies.

 

Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond by Bruce C.N. Greenwald, Judd Kahn, Paul D. Sonkin, and Michael van Biema (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2004). Greenwald’s value investing framework taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business.

 

The Value Investors: Lessons from the World’s Top Fund Managers by Ronald W. Chan (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). Profiles of leading fund managers who use value investing.

 

Value Maps: Valuation Tools That Unlock Business Wealth by Warren D. Miller (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010). How tools from strategic management, industrial organisation, organisation theory, evolutionary economics, and Austrian economics can inform contemporary valuation of companies.

 

Valueable: How To Value The Best Stocks and Buy Them for Less Than They’re Worth (2nd edition) by Roger Montgomery (My 2 Cents Worth Publishing, 2010). The investment framework and experiences of Australian value investor Roger Montgomery.

 

Why Moats Matter: The Morningstar Approach to Stock Investing by Heather Brilliant and Elizabeth Collins (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014). Morningstar’s ‘economic moats’ framework for value creation.

4th October 2012: In A Lonely Place

In A Lonely Place (1950)

 

We had broken up for about a year when I saw Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (1950). I had restarted a ‘lapsed’ undergraduate degree at La Trobe University, majoring in cinema studies and politics. I thought of you during Dr. Geoff Mayer’s class on Pre-Code cinema when he examined the origins of Hollywood’s ‘fallen angel’ image, and its influence on contemporary femme fatales. It was in Mayer’s film noir class that I saw In A Lonely Place. Afterwards, I saw our relationship in a new light.

 

In A Lonely Place explores the rise-and-fall arc of a brief, romantic relationship between screenwriter Dixon “Dix” Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). Steele is suspected of murdering nightclub girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) and his relationship with Gray unravels. Ray deals with popular themes in film noir: early Cold War paranoia; Hollywood cynicism; the dark heart of some personal relationships; and the suspicion of major characters as unreliable narrators. Today, In A Lonely Place is regarded as a film noir classic.

 

Ray’s film evokes a larger truth about the Romantic ideal of living with a writer versus its day-to-day realities. Significant others might initially approach this as the opportunity to live with a cultural creative or to be their muse. Gray and Steele’s initial whirlwind courtship reinvigorates their creative work and they become a dyadic couple. But the Atkinson murder investigation makes Gray suspicious about Steele. Writer’s block also shatters their domestic harmony: both Gray and Steele suffer from decision regret. Steele never develops a habitual routine to write. A writer stuck in their material can become irritable, moody, and withdrawn to live with: absent. D.T. Max’s recent biography Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story (New York: Viking, 2012) evokes these feelings about the late author and critic David Foster Wallace, who struggled with depression, and self-loathing about his giftedness and family.

 

Our relationship spanned an early, formative period of my academic and journalism career (publications). We met and started dating as I wrote a New Journalism account for Perth’s REVelation Magazine (now a film festival) of Noam Chomsky’s 1995 lecture tour in Australia. In the next three years, I wrote eight published articles on topics ranging from profiles of maverick quantum physicist Jack Sarfatti and computer scientist James Martin, to a roundtable on artificial intelligence and an influential profile of memetics in advertising. I had other, then-unpublished material, including profiles of the progressive rock band King Crimson and author Philip K. Dick (in archive boxes and not available online yet); a rejected profile of roboticist Hans Moravec; and private, initiatory self-work (in the Gurdjieff Work and the Temple of Set). We broke up soon after REVelation and 21C both fell apart. I had an interview with Terence McKenna accepted for REVelation; and an interview with space migration exponent Marshall Savage edited for 21C. During our break-up and its aftermath I finished a profile of designer Jeffrey Veen. Collectively, the published work was around 40,000-50,000 words with a similar amount of unpublished material.

 

All writers can suffer from the cognitive bias known as ‘positive illusions’. It’s us versus our emotions, thoughts, and a blank page: being in a (potentially) lonely place. As Gray discovered about Steele, we can carry our in-progress writing around as a projective identification onto others. We enter a liminal, subjective state that can be superimposed on others and the objective world. If not inspirational muses then we may look for initiatory allies and significant others to share in the unfolding creative process, to read our work, and to keep us tethered to the everyday world. At its extremes, a writer can venture deep into their material and may not come out of it. David Foster Wallace spent a decade writing drafts and redrafts of his novel The Pale King before he committed suicide in 2008.

 

You were disinterested to read what I wrote. Fine, I thought, you don’t know or care who guerrilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson was, when I interviewed him for REVelation. You were not going to read or do the exercises in Prometheus Rising. But we had common, shared experiences and polarities. At that period of my life, I wanted to share the exploratory promise of self-change with you and others. When the self-change occurred it wasn’t what I wanted or had hoped for: I learned that you can help to create the conditions for change but that personal growth is different for each individual. Eventually, you found a new fiancé: an ‘indie’ musician who was more emotionally direct and expressive with you than my writing was.

 

In A Lonely Place taught me that creative work and its choices will usually have personal costs. Gray and Steele’s relationship did not survive the rumours and suspicions about Atkinson’s murder. Director Nicholas Ray and actress Gloria Grahame’s marriage fell apart during filming. I have mixed feelings about the creative work from this period: you felt I became absent and did not pay you enough attention. 21C’s print edition had cultural cachet: to be published in my early twenties alongside cultural critics like Greil Marcus and Mark Dery was an honour. It’s one reason why Richard Metzger (now running the popular blog Dangerous Minds) asked me to write for the alternative news site Disinformation in 1998 and how I became its site editor in November 1999 (1998-2003 site archive). But you didn’t stay for this journey. You decided beforehand that pursuing these dreams was not feasible when the publisher cheque never comes, your credit card defaults, the telemarketing stop-gap job becomes too unstable, and the realtor sells out your rental house from underneath you. After some difficult experiences I agreed with Richard Metzger to “Find the Others” (quoting Timothy Leary) in new, emerging internet subcultures.

 

REVelation, 21C, and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to do deep background research on the countercultural topics of interest in my early-to-mid twenties. I got to work with leading writers, editors, designers, marketers, and publishers. Disinformation made me part of the dotcom era’s internet history and I had to create a public persona to deal with fans’ expectations. The reality was that I sat in rooms for eight years with computers as the site changed and the company evolved. I made new friends and gave lectures at This Is Not Art (TINA) between 1999 and 2004: the youth arts festival we had heard about one afternoon on Triple J radio (as TINA’s precursor, the LOUD Festival). I took our break-up and turned it into my first peer reviewed academic article on the Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile (1999).

 

Most importantly, I served an ‘apprenticeship’ period — 10,000 hours of deep/deliberate play/practice — to develop expertise. Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson articulated this approach to talent development whilst Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin‘s Talent Is Overrated, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code popularised it. REVelation, 21C and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to discover who I was as an emerging writer. TINA enabled me to share these insights with others. I learned about meso-cosmoi; how cultural transmission works; the creative synergies of high performance teams; and the significance that writing can have on your audience. I helped attract an audience for Disinformation’s other book and DVD projects, and promoted the Disinfo.Con 2000 ‘happening’.

 

Recently, I calculated the content and value I created during this ‘apprenticeship’ period versus the actual income earned. It was a sobering valuation exercise. (Read Valuation, Sources of Value, or Value Maps for more details.) My freelance journalism period occurred mainly from late 1994 to early 1998: 1500 hours on magazine articles ($A750 to $A1750 per article), interviews, and two book proposals. I did two editorial stints for Disinformation (November 1999-August 2002 and April 2003-February 2008) at $US100 per week salary, or $US42,000 in total. Over 8 years, I spent between 6,000 and 8,000 hours on editing the site; writing articles, news items, and a daily newsletter; responding to emails; handling site redesigns; representing the company in interviews; and from 2005, participating in weekly teleconferences. Add several thousand hours for two Masters degrees, and you get Ericcson, Gladwell, and Coyle’s 10,000 hour target to develop expertise. The per-hour salary of $A6.67 for freelance journalism or $US5.25-$US7 for Disinformation was on par with an entry-level administrative or sales job. However, the body of work produced continues to be of interest and value to others.

 

The downside was a lesson in offshore economics and cost reduction strategies that many white collar jobs will face in the hyper-competitive future. I left money on the table: I could have negotiated better deals; not signed away rights and potential royalty streams; used process redesign to manage time and task; and not have overestimated the length of my publishing career. Some other mistakes: The ‘standard’ magazine contracts controlled reprints, ancillary markets, and new technologies. For Disinformation, my editorial salary was fixed no matter how much content I produced whereas freelance contributors received $US50 per article or dossier. The salary also remained constant over 8 years. As an offshore contractor, I lost money on currency exchange rate fluctuations and inflation; and did not get end-of-year bonuses, salary benefits or superannuation. Disinformation’s successful expansion into book publishing and DVD distribution meant I had a continued salary but I never had an equity share in the company (so I didn’t share in its growth). I failed to translate my internet work into regular contributions to book anthologies, successful book proposals or projects with other publishers. When I became a university researcher on internet futures my bosses became anxious about Disinformation instead of leveraging this relevant industry experience.

 

For some of Disinformation’s core audience there was always a tension between its countercultural ideals, its marketing image, and its existence as a profit-oriented entertainment company. I got and responded to email flak about this. Today, I have taken the lessons from this period into providing research management advice; a PhD project (2011 proposal); and using event arbitrage, behavioural finance and market microstructure analysis to trade a small Australian equities portfolio. Some disgruntled Disinfonauts view this as a sell-out but it’s more an evolution from this earlier period. I changed who I collaborated with; I set writing limits; I found exemplars in academia (Alastair Iain Johnston, Jack Snyder, Marc Trachtenberg, and Robert Jervis); and investigative journalism (William D. Cohan, Steve Coll, and Lawrence Wright) to carefully study and model. You might have seen the baseball film Moneyball which is really about competitive advantage, negotiation, and valuation. Oakland A’s coach Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) turned a career arc from being a hopeful ‘star’ and then a ‘failed’ baseball player into a second act: mistakes became an invaluable learning resource.

 

Every day, I try to do the same.