The Abstracted World: Where Bytes Meet Bricks

If The Investing Meta-Game discussed the competitive interactions between investors in stock markets and an underlying business reality, this essay is about a more fundamental change, the large potential shifts in industry profit pools driven by changes in the technology of distribution.

It seems two worlds exist today: the “physical” world we know and the “abstract” world of the internet, software, and information. This transformation of tangible assets of distribution into digital assets of abstraction is driving the commodification of formerly profitable activities in the value chain towards new areas of emerging opportunity. In an earlier essay I used the concept of emerging scarcity as a leading indicator of where profit pools might move next.

If investment strategies reflect assumptions about the incremental sources of business profitability, then the interaction of technology on competitive dynamics might explain some conundrums of the current investment landscape.

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The Investing Meta-Game

This essay explores, through the metaphor of the water we swim in, why changes in the market environment are changing the investment strategies that may work going forward.

There are five important takeaways:

  • All investors are engaged in a common myth – or narrative;

  • Most investors describe the “quality” of their investment process, but this is only one part of what generates alpha; it is investment process relative to your competition which matters more;

  • A strategy’s ability to generate alpha (or excess return) depends on the eco-system in which it operates. And investment alpha can only be generated relative to another dominant strategy;

  • All investment strategies, even value investing, are information front-running. Widely available information reduces these opportunities;

  • Idiosyncratic risk is likely the last preserve of human investment managers.

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