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Thursday 25 November 2021

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

1. Retrofitting Older Cars with Electric Motors Could Transform Transport

The higher purchase price of electric vehicles is one reason that they are still a small fraction of all cars sold, but retrofitting older cars and trucks with electric motors could be the fix needed to turbo-charge electric vehicle uptake.


Ford and General Motors are among the big names offering electric conversion kits for drivers looking to keep their current car on the road while drastically lowering its emissions. General Motors announced its motor, battery, and converter kit in 2020. Ford is readying a drop-in 281 horsepower electric crate motor for sale.


Transitioning from fossil fuel cars to electric will take time and retrofitting needs regulation oversight for it to be safe and effective. Electrification of car stock brings its own complications. Carmakers are in the midst of a chip shortage, better rapid charging infrastructure needs to be put in place, and the national electric grid will need an upgrade likely costing more than $100 billion.


On top of that, there are likely to be shortages of essential metallic elements like nickel and lithium used in EV batteries. Analysts say that forces EV makers to look at alternative battery technologies, including solid-state batteries with faster charging times and longer life, and the auto industry has invested heavily to find solutions.



2. Carbon Pricing: Social cost of CO2 emission

Carbon pricing is an instrument that captures the external costs of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—the costs of emissions that the public pays for, such as damage to crops, health care costs from heat waves and droughts, and loss of property from flooding and sea level rise—and ties them to their sources through a price, usually in the form of a price on the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted.


A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage from GHG emissions back to those who are responsible for it and who can avoid it. Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price provides an economic signal to emitters, and allows them to decide to either transform their activities and lower their emissions, or continue emitting and paying for their emissions. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved in the most flexible and least-cost way to society


When damages from sea level rise, extreme weather and other effects are taken into account, the global social cost of carbon is $180 to $800 per tonne, rather than the $12 to $62 range used by the US Environmental Protection Agency.


India’s country-level social cost of carbon emission was estimated to be the highest at $86 per tonne of CO2. It means the Indian economy will lose $86 by emitting each additional tonne of CO2. India is followed by the US, where the economic damages would be $48 per tonne of CO2 emission. Saudi Arabia is close behind at $47 per tonne of CO2 emission.




3. The End of Trust

Trust is to capitalism what alcohol is to wedding receptions: a social lubricant. In low-trust societies (Russia, southern Italy), economic growth is constrained. People who don’t trust other people think twice before investing in, collaborating with, or hiring someone who isn’t a family member (or a member of their criminal gang). The concept may sound squishy, but the effect isn’t.


The economists Paul Zak and Stephen Knack found, in a study published in 1998, that a 15 percent bump in a nation’s belief that “most people can be trusted” adds a full percentage point to economic growth each year. That means that if, for the past 20 years, Americans had trusted one another like Ukrainians did, our annual GDP per capita would be $11,000 lower; if we had trusted like New Zealanders did, it’d be $16,000 higher. “If trust is sufficiently low,” they wrote, “economic growth is unachievable.”



4. Why Investors’ Memories May Be Bad for Their Wealth

Overconfidence can be bad for markets and bad for investors. You just need to look at the recent crash in cryptocurrencies to see what can happen when investors believe they simply can’t lose. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon in the world of investing. From Tulip Mania in 17th-century Holland, to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, history is littered with examples of investor bravado leading them blindly into big losses when their sure-fire bet goes south.


Yet the reality is that overconfident investors don’t really make for good investors. They tend to trade more frequently despite losing money doing so, over-react to market signals and suffer from the “winner’s curse” in which they purchase overpriced investments. They are also more likely to commit investment errors such as under-diversification and overconcentration on familiar stocks. 


The good news is our research was also able to identify a relatively straightforward way of tackling the issue. In the final part of our study, we split our investors into two groups. Half were asked to look up the results of their past investments at the start of the experiment. This showed them exactly how they had previously fared. The other half had to rely on their memory as before.


Those who had seen their past results behaved much more cautiously. They made fewer trades and spent less of the US$500 stake they had received than those just relying on their memory. While not removing memory bias and overconfidence completely, this simple step did go a long way towards minimising their impact.




5. The Perils of Social Media

Social media has addictive qualities that I think surface primarily in two ways. First, as a passive consumer of information, social media platforms are skilled at “curating” your feed in a way that learns your interests and presents a never-ending stream of content tuned to what you have proven you will click on in the past. This can result in a consumer of information falling into an echo chamber resembling an intellectual monoculture — a recipe for confirmation bias. Second, once a user starts posting on social media, the feedback loop comes into play. Human beings like attention, and the likes and retweets become addictive.


From the standpoint of a consumer of information, I am convinced that the worst aspect of technology in general is that interrupts the state of flow by leading to endless context switching.4 All meaningful productivity occurs in a flow state. If you are picking up your phone a dozen times an hour to check how many likes you got on your latest tweet, there is zero chance of entering a state of flow.


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