The Alpha Exchange is a podcast series launched by Dean Curnutt to explore topics in financial markets, risk management and capital allocation in the alternatives industry. Our in depth discussions with highly established industry professionals seek to uncover the nuanced and complex interactions between economic, monetary, financial, regulatory and geopolitical sources of risk. We aim to learn from the perspective our guests can bring with respect to the history of financial and business cycles, promoting a better understanding among listeners as to how prior periods provide important context to present day dynamics. The “price of risk” is an important topic. Here we engage experts in their assessment of risk premium levels in the context of uncertainty. Is the level of compensation attractive? Because Central Banks have played so important a role in markets post crisis, our discussions sometimes aim to better understand the evolution of monetary policy and the degree to which the real and financial economy will be impacted. An especially important area of focus is on derivative products and how they interact with risk taking and carry dynamics. Our conversations seek to enlighten listeners, for example, as to the factors that promoted the February melt-down of the VIX complex. We do NOT ask our guests for their political opinions. We seek a better understanding of the market impact of regulatory change, election outcomes and events of geopolitical consequence. Our discussions cover markets from a macro perspective with an assessment of risk and opportunity across asset classes. Within equity markets, we may explore the relative attractiveness of sectors but will NOT discuss single stocks.
Seema Shah, Chief Global Strategist, Principal Asset Management
Originally trained as an economist and now the Chief Global Strategist at Principal Asset Management, Seema Shah spends her time looking at the intersection of fundamentals, technicals and valuation. Our conversation first considers the low growth, low inflation era that persisted post GFC but pre-Pandemic and here Seema distinguishes between strong economic expansion and favorable market conditions. Of course, the opposite has been the case in 2022, as the Fed has been forced to tighten at an exceptional pace and asset prices have suffered amidst strong growth.Noting the importance of watching Central Banks, Seema asserts that you have to recognize when they are in the process of making a mistake, something that became increasingly apparent as 2021 progressed. We turn to inflation. Seema stresses the importance of labor market tightness, how it leads to wage growth and how that imposes challenges on the Fed’s mission to reduce inflation.With a view that price pressures will persist and that policy rates will remain higher for longer, Seema and her team are steering clients toward defensive positioning with respect to inflation, focusing on commodities and exposure to infrastructure plays like toll roads and airports. We close our conversation by considering China, where Seema asserts that the transmission of policy stimulus has been impaired by Covid Zero. While the path to reopening is surely uncertain, global growth could see a strong positive impulse at some point in 2023 if lockdown restrictions are eased.I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Seema Shah.
Robert Dannenberg, Former Chief of Central Eurasia Division, CIA
Market risks come in all shapes and sizes. A good starting point might be to categorize them as economic, financial, or monetary. But increasingly, and unfortunately, geopolitical risk is a threat that must be closely monitored and understood. And in this context, it was a pleasure to welcome Robert Dannenberg to the Alpha Exchange. Spending his entire career as an operations officer in the CIA, Rob served in various leadership positions, including as both chief of operations for the Counterterrorism Center and chief of the Central Eurasia Division.
With two tours of duty in Moscow, he faced off against Russian counterparts and in Rob’s words, his role was to ”steal their secrets and break their stuff”. Our conversation is primarily focused on the Russia/Ukraine conflict and in gaining a better appreciation for what drives Vladimir Putin. Here, Rob asserts that while perhaps deeply flawed, Putin has a highly convicted interpretation of history, citing a speech back in 2007 in Munich where he laid out a list of grievances about the West.
To gain a more complete picture of the conflict in Ukraine one must also understand the developing partnership between Russia and China. Rob tells us that Putin and Xi don’t just share a strong common worldview but are close friends committed to pushing back on Western hegemony. And with respect to China specifically, Rob absolutely sees the Taiwan situation coming to a head as Xi is determined to achieve what he views as a legacy issue of reincorporation with the mainland. If geopolitical risk is most often more bark than bite, Rob's perspective makes a strong case that global developments are increasingly complex and must be paid close attention to. I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Robert Dannenberg.
Dan Corcoran, Founder and President, Volos Software
For Dan Corcoran, a fascination with option pricing began in high school. By college, he was coding up pricing models and trading strategies in MatLab. Compelled by the multi-dimensional set of inputs driving prices, in 2014 Dan set out to found Volos, the financial backtesting and consultancy firm he is now President of. Dan shares with us his love for ski jumping and the manner in which dynamic calculations – of wind speed, snow quality and lighting pitch among them – must be made, sometimes instantaneously. Likening this to option trading, he notes how quickly investors must react to changing risk parameters in derivative securities. Our conversation explores both the power and pitfalls of harnessing data to generate insights on trading strategies. Dan asserts that no strategy can be static but rather investors must respond to the reality that the market’s risk profile evolves over time.
We turn to some of the results generated through the Volos engine as Dan shares the counterintuitive result that even through the GFC, investors would have been better off not engaging in certain hedging strategies like put spreads. The Warren Buffet saying, “price is what you pay, value is what you get” may be applicable as the sky-high price of options through that period reduced the value of the insurance payout. Lastly, we discuss benchmarking, a feature well entrenched in traditional markets like stocks and bonds, but nascent to option strategies. Dan is both optimistic and excited that efforts to create benchmarks can lead to asset growth in derivative-based investment strategies.
I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Dan Corcoran.
Maziar Minovi, CEO, Eurasia Group
A teenager in Iran during the 1979 revolution, Maziar Minovi experienced first-hand how disruptive the impact of politics can be on economic security. Motivated by this personal experience he would pursue a Ph.D. in international finance and economic development and ultimately find his way to the investment industry in the early 1990s, just as the Tequila Crisis was underway. Maziar shares early lessons learned from navigating the complicated world of sovereign debt, recalling Russia’s decision to simultaneously default and devalue in 1998.Our conversation shifts to present-day issues and the work Maziar is doing as CEO of Eurasia Group, where he spearheads a team delivering deep-dive analysis on geopolitical risks. Advising some of the largest investors and corporations globally, Maziar has sought to overlay experience gained over 25 years in markets, asking always, "what's priced in?". First, we talk inflation and the resulting election turnover of political parties that occurs more frequently when inflation is high.We also discuss geopolitical hotspots around the world. Among them, Russia, China, and even the US. On China, Maziar worries that the commitment to Covid Zero will prove costly from a growth perspective and that debt sustainability considerations should not be overlooked. On the US, as midterms approach and the 2024 election cycle comes into view, he and team are concerned about vulnerabilities in the present-day framework of elections.I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Maziar Minovi.
35 Years Later…Retrospective on the 1987 Stock Market Crash
Welcome to a special episode of the Alpha Exchange, one where we look back on the historic event that was the 1987 stock market crash. We review the seismic crash in prices that occurred 35 years ago, on October 19th, 1987, when the DOW and S&P 500 fell by 22.6% and 20.4%, respectively. It was a day that the VIX, had it been a calculated index at that time, would have closed at 150, almost double the level reached during the GFC and Pandemic. It was the realization that selling could beget selling, not just because of the psychology of fear, but because of mechanical trading strategies that exist in markets. We review this truly important day in financial market history through the lens of podcast guests. Along the way, we’ll contemplate the lessons learned and the lasting impact of the crash.
Dennis Davitt, CIO, Millbank Dartmoor Portsmouth
Dennis Davitt has spent more than 3 decades in option markets. Getting his start in the crude pit on the NYMEX, he soon thereafter moved to equity derivatives, a product he’s run risk in across both the sell-side and buy-side through many cycles. Through our conversation, we learn of the strong appreciation for liquidity – especially as it relates to dynamic products like options – that Dennis has gained through the many vol events he has traded through, especially during his long tenure running equity derivatives at Credit Suisse.In his rendering, it is from these episodes that we see two consistent outcomes emerge. First that investors become overleveraged and second that books wind up mismarked in some way. Here he cites the concept of “liquidity delta”, a metric that incorporates the impact of one’s own presence and that of similar participants in markets. Impressed by the efficiency of prices in US-listed option markets, Dennis sees little obvious opportunity to extract arbitrage profits. Instead, he sees option markets as a vehicle to produce an intended risk outcome.And here, we shift to the work that Dennis is doing as CIO of Millbank Dartmoor Portsmouth, a firm he founded in 2020 to provide a risk-managed equity alternative through an options overlay. We explore the factors driving the flat skew in S&P 500 options as Dennis contrasts today’s setup versus that which drove the famous XIV blowup in early 2018. I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Dennis Davitt.
It’s definitely worth your time if you are trying to stay informed.
Colin Lancaster interview was great
Alpha Exchange is one of my favorite podcasts. Really smart discussions around global macro, volatility, convexity. Great guests and Dean is a fantastic interviewer
Great content, great host
I learn a lot whenever I listen to Alpha Exchange. Dean is able to secure terrific practitioners and knows how to draw out valuable insights from his guests. I always look forward to Alpha Exchange podcasts.