Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Longevity in Switzerland

It is hardly a coincidence that the Federal Office of Statistics publishes a new study about the Future of Longevity in Switzerland (German, French) today. There is an upcoming referendum to decide about the proposed reduction of the transformation rate with which accumulated pensions capital will be transformed into annuities. Longevity expectations are an important factor in that hotly contended issue. The study expects an additional 5 to 9 years of life expectancy gains over the next 20 years with a continuation of morbidity compression. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Behavioural finance

Behavioural finance is a fashionable topic, of course, and an interesting one at the same time. It is useful to be aware, if that's possible at all, of the cognitive limitations of our decision making processes. Yet, I still have to see a useful active behavioural tool for investing - much of those uses seem to be limited to technical analysis.

This video reminded me of a similar presentation by Richard Thaler at this year's CFA Institute annual conference in Orlando. The biggest surprise in that presentation was that XBRL featured prominently in it as an important tool for improving financial decision making.

P.S. This podcast interview with Ariely gave me some food for thought. There is probably a fruitful tension between the rational expectations axiom and what Ariely calls predictably irrational. It can be a rational to expect collective irrationality. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On 2nd derivatives, green shoots and inflection points

We don't do investment advice on this blog. But all the hopeful talk about green shoots has also provoked this nice Buiter comment. To turn bullish on the news of an inflection point after what may easily have been the world's sharpest inventory rundown in human history requires a foolhardy degree of optimism, given that the economic growth trajectory is no sinus curve - another inflection point may easily occur before we're actually coming across a turning point. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Accounting standards - pass or fail?

Swiss economic semi-weekly Finanz und Wirtschaft had a lead article (in German) by Prof. Straubhaar the other day with which I almost entirely disagreed. In short, he gave international accounting standards a fail because they amplified the financial crisis. He preferred continental accounting standards and does not even mention investor requirements. Unfortunately, this reflects much of the continental European consensus, which is why  I wrote a somewhat extensive rebuttal. This was published today.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Moving GIPS to the 21st century

Here is an idea that I am currently working to promote to the Global Investment Performance Standard community:

CFA Institute's GIPS are similar to Accounting Standards in that they prescribe in some detail the concepts, requirements and procedures for reporting performance of asset managers' investment vehicles. The purpose of GIPS is to make asset managers' reported performance numbers consistent and comparable across several providers and facilitate manager selection by investors on the basis of the manager's track record. According to the CBRM, financial reporting is made for investors. The same applies to GIPS reporting. Therefore, the same compelling logic that has driven the SEC to mandate the XBRL format for business reporting of all listed entities and mutual funds in the US should apply in the case of (voluntary) GIPS reporting, at least in so far as the premises for XBRL reporting of GIPS numbers should be prepared.

In the course of the GIPS 2010 project, it is essential to lay the groundworks for bringing GIPS online, i.e. making GIPS reports even more quickly available and comparable with XBRL.

What is necessary?
As with financial reporting, the key requirement to enable GIPS reporting using XBRL is a taxonomy. The GIPS taxonomy, like FASB's US GAAP taxonomy or the IASB's IFRS taxonomy, contains all the concepts and relationships of GIPS without impeding the reporting entity's flexibility in disclosing additional items by using its built-in extensibility. Taxonomies are usually created and maintained by cross-sectional working groups of stakeholders under the umbrella of an XBRL jurisdiction. The extent of the effort to build a taxonomy depends on the standard it is intended to represent. In the case of GIPS, it seems natural that CFA Institute takes on the responsibility for creating and maintaining the standard GIPS taxonomy.

What can be achieved?
The availability of a GIPS taxonomy is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for establishing XBRL GIPS reporting. Preparers and users have to follow suit and establish practice. However, if the example of accounting standards is any indication, it is crucial that the Standard Setter (CFA Institute) endorses XBRL by creating a taxonomy for its standard and thus providing the infrastructure on which usage can be built. 

As multiple case studies show, deploying XBRL in the reporting value chain of GIPS will result in smarter, cheaper and faster GIPS reports: They are smarter because the validation procedures built into XBRL taxonomies from the start massively reduces errors in reports, thus also reducing the cost of preparing and verifying them. They are faster because they can be made available online immediately and can be compared automatically without re-keying any information.

Given XBRL's widespread and quickly expanding application in financial reporting, competing IT tools at all stages of the reporting process are already available and are improved continuously. These tools are usually agnostic of the taxonomy they are applied to, thus they are usable on GIPS reporting. It is easily imaginable that the SEC's Mutual Fund Viewer could be applied to GIPS reports, provided that they collected in a single location online. Perhaps there is another role for the CFA Institute in this? The ongoing parallel development of IT tools handling XBRL formated financial reporting constitutes a very important synergy that GIPS can take advantage of effortlessly.

"Resistance is futile ..."
And yet, the Borg are effect-fully resisted in Star Trek. Clearly, GIPS is a well established global standard that works. It is therefore not immediately obvious to practitioners in the field why the plumbing of the process should be changed. Incidentally, there is no recognisable need to move to XBRL at the present. 

Yet, the transformation of the financial reporting process to XBRL has met and is in the process of overcoming the same resistance globally. The potential gains in transparency and process efficiency are too large to dismiss. 

Finally, there is another factor that makes the case for adopting XBRL in GIPS even more compelling: GIPS is not mandated anywhere (to my knowledge) and thus fully dependent on voluntary adoption as well as market demand. The availability of a GIPS taxonomy and CFA Institute's encouragement of the usage of XBRL in GIPS reporting would send a clear signal about how GIPS is being future proofed and made increasingly transparent and user-friendly.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

XBRL - A Guide for Investors

CFA Institute has just published XBRL - A Guide for Investors. The title is pretty much self-explanatory. I'm glad to have contributed to it. Enjoy! 

Also on the XBRL channel: Yesterday, L'Agefi published an article I've written. But when you follow the link, you'll see that it is written in excellent French, which cannot be me. Thanks for the contact and the translation goes to Marc Barbezat, member of XBRL CH!