Paddy Hirsch is a Senior Editor at Marketplace. He is the author of the book Man vs Markets, Economics Explained, Pure and Simple, and he is the creator and host of Marketplace Whiteboard, a video explainer of financial and economic terms.

Hirsch joined Marketplace in 2007, just as the credit crunch that preceded the 2008 financial crisis began to take hold.  As editor of the New York Bureau and the entrepreneurship desk, he spearheaded Marketplace’s financial markets coverage throughout the crisis and as the economy fell into recession. He was awarded a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 2010, and he returned to Marketplace in July of 2011, when he was appointed Senior Producer of Marketplace Money. He published his first book, Man vs Markets, in August 2012.

Hirsch got his start in journalism with an internship at the BBC in Glasgow, Scotland. He became a field producer for CNBC in Hong Kong and later was a consultant to the Open Broadcast Network in Bosnia. He has been an editor for Direct Capital Markets, Institutional Investor Newsletters, Standard & Poor’s, and the Vietnam Economic Times. Prior to becoming a journalist, he served as an officer in the Royal Marines.

Hirsch attended Campbell College in Belfast and received a bachelor’s degree in French and International Studies from the University of Warwick. He is a Knight Fellow and was a Webby honoree in 2009.

 

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Features by Paddy Hirsch

Stop being such a front runner! An explainer

It's a phrase that's come up again and again this week: in "Flash Boys," Michael Lewis' new book about high-frequency trading; in today's spirited debate on CNBC between BATS Global Markets President William O'Brien and IEX's Brad Katsuyama; and in almost every high-speed trading article in between.

Front running. But what the heck does it mean?

On Tuesday, I described it as a dog running off with your sausages, but that's not entirely accurate. It's more like the dog finding out how much you are prepared to pay for your sausages, buying up all the sausages itself and then selling them to you for a higher price.

Front running is when a high-frequency trading firm sees you bid a certain price for a stock in one exchange, and then uses its superspeed to get in front of you (hence, front running) in all the other exchanges, buying the stock that you want and then selling it to you for more than you originally bid.

Traders hate being front-run. Not just because it means they are paying more than they thought they would have to pay (heck, the client can eat the loss), but because they like to think of themselves as Masters of the Universe, people who dominate, who control everything around them. But if you're being front run, then you're in control of precisely nothing. You are, in fact, being led by the nose. Like a Master of the Universe's pack mule.

Yes, if you get front run, you're a donkey.

No wonder there's so much hate for HFT firms. Michael Lewis points out that the losers in the hedge fund game are often hedge funds, who trade on behalf of pension funds. Hedge funds don't like to be victims. And they sure as heck hate being seen as donkeys.

High Frequency Trading, explained

From all the furor about high-frequency trading, sparked by Michael Lewis' new book Flash Lads, you'd think that HFT was only just invented. In fact, it's been around for years, and it's always been controversial.

Here's a video from five years ago, explaining how HFT works:

 

What is an index fund?: An explainer

An index is quite simply a basket of shares.
Posted In: index funds

What happens when you shout "buy!"

Michael Lewis' book, "Flash Boys," reveals a great deal, including people's confusion about the stock market

The IRS labels bitcoin an asset

The IRS says bitcoins should be counted as assets for tax purposes. And that means what, exactly? Marketplace's Paddy Hirsch explains.
Posted In: bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, assets, IRS

There's no simpler way to make money

JP Morgan Asset Management has released a thumping great 42-page "Guide to Retirement", which is both interesting and valuable, but reads somewhat like every other document you ever got from a bank.

That said, it does have some very colorful and useful illustrations.

Including this one, which everyone, regardless of age, should stare at until it becomes part of thier very essence. It's a chart showing the value of saving, saving early, saving for a long tme and, most importantly, not touching your savings at any point. It shows, in other words, the value of compounding. To understand how compounding works, you could read and digest the entire JPM document, or you could save yourself some time and check out this 90-second explainer.

How feeling rich helps the economy: An explainer

When we feel wealthy, we spend more. It’s called the wealth effect.
Posted In: wealth effect

When going short goes badly wrong

News that the Federal Trade Commission is poking its nose into the company Herbalife probably had investor Bill Ackman jumping around on his desk, with his fists clenched and his eyes squeezed shut, going "Yesssssss!"

Ackman is a big-time investor who has made a billion-dollar bet (actually $1.2 billion) against Herbalife. He's like a gambler at a race track putting a huge chunk of money on a horse to not finish the race. Ackman's argument is that the horse (Herbalife) is such a busted up old nag that it will drop dead before it reaches the finish line. Herbalife, he says, is a pyramid scheme and a parasitic business model that simply can't sustain itself. The company, he argues, will eventually drop dead, and anyone who has invested in it will lose all their money.

Ackman's opponents say that he's more like a gambler who has made a huge bet, and is determined to make it pay by bad-mouthing the horse. Ackman, they say, has been publicly smearing the company for the last two years in order to drive the stock down.

Patrick Curtis, of WallSteet Oasis, puts it like this: "Ackman's money-making strategy is called short-selling.  He has effectively borrowed $1.2 billion worth of Herbalife shares and sold them. If the price of Herbalife shares fall, he can close the transaction by buying and returning the shares at a lower price and pocketing the difference.  For example, if the value of the Herbalife stock that Ackman sold dropped by $500 million (or about 40%), then he would be able to close out the position for $700 million and profit roughly $500 million (excluding fees and borrowing costs). "
 
Curtis says it's important to note that Ackman does not own the shares after the transaction is closed.  He never owned them and when he buys and returns, it's all done through an intermediary, such as a brokerage house or bank in one step.
 

Unfortunately, things haven't gone quite so smoothly. Instead of going down, the stock's price has risen. By more than 50 percent. Ackman is now, in trader parlance, "out of the money," which means if Ackman had to return the shares he owes today, he'd end up paying a lot more for them than he got when he sold them way back when.

And that's why the FTC decision is such a big deal for Ackman. He's hoping the regulators will drill into Herbalife and vindicate his claims that it is, in fact, a pyramid scheme. If that happens, investors will likely run for the hills, the stock will almost certainly crash, and Ackman will make out like a bandit. But if the FTC says Herbalife is fine, then Ackman could find himself very badly needing a drink.

Full disclosure: my Dad used to sell Herbalife products. He had a big sign on his car saying "Lose Weight Now - Ask Me How!" (It was super embarrassing.)

What is wealth? A tutorial

A lot of people think that wealth is money. But that's only half the story.
Posted In: wealth, explainer

Nice assets, Bill! Gates is the richest man in the world. Again.

Bill Gates is "The Richest Man in the World." Again.

In its latest list, Forbes pegs his net worth at $76 billion. Net worth is just another way of saying wealth, where wealth = assets - debt.

Debt is pretty simple – it’s what you owe. Assets, meanwhile, are what you own.

Assets can be a bit confusing, though, because sometimes debt can be an asset.

Confused? Here's a short video explaining what assets are.

So what are Bill Gates' assets?

The vast majority of Gates' money is invested. Through his Cascade Investment Fund, he's put money into both private and public companies  – about 17 percent is sunk into Microsoft.

It's hard to value those private companies, because they're not publicly traded, so you can't say what Gates' holdings are worth until he actually sells them, or they go public. The public companies, like Microsoft, can be valued, and that's where Gates has seen the biggest gains. And there's some cash, of course. Gates gets $250,000 each year for serving as a director on Microsoft's board. And there are the dividends that he earns on many of the public company shares that he owns. Maybe he uses that money for household expenses, or maybe he plows it back into his investment fund. Or maybe he just leaves it in the bank, and takes advantage of one of the easiest money makers in the world: compounding.

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