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Notes from "Risk Management"

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

These are my notes from the short audiobook "Risk Management" by Greg Shields.

Risk might mean the very slow erosion of a cash value by inflation, or it might mean buying a stock that could triple in price if the company doesn’t go bust, but you might lose all your money.

Human beings naturally are not perfect risk managers. They tend to exhibit irrational behavior. For instance, they tend to prefer loss avoidance to profit maximization, even though in the long run this delivers them very poor returns. They double up on losing bets and cut their winning positions instead of the other way around.

We also need to think about risk and reward. Generally the two correlate pretty well. The higher the risk you take, the higher the reward you’ll get for taking it. When that’s not the case, there’s something wrong. If the market is willing to give you a high reward despite the fact that you’re not running much risk, that’s a bet you should take after looking very hard to see whether there’s a catch. On the other hand if a high risk doesn’t seem to have a good upside, you turn it down immediately.

The bond market at the beginning of 2018 seems to be one of those “run a mile from” opportunities. Bonds offer almost zero interest yield, reward, yet the risk of prices failing if interest rates go up is very high. But some financial advisors are still pushing bond funds, including those who hold mainly long dated bonds, which are most prone to capital loss if yields rise. Because bonds are “safer” than equities. Many investors think that property is safe, bonds are safe, and stocks are risky. Yet when you quantify risk, you can see that bonds and bond proxies like utilities currently have relatively high risk and low reward. While growth stocks seem to offer a higher upside and slightly lower risk. Lazy thinking about “safe” and “risky” has often led professional as well as individual investors into horrible situations.

In the real world we are never going to be right 100% of the time. There are always uncertainties and unknowables out there. So risk management aims to let you manage those risks rather than just worry about them. Remember that you can be correct and still lose.

“Stock markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” - John Maynard Keynes

Risk management isn’t about avoiding risk, it’s about controlling it. Risk management doesn’t set your strategy, it simply looks at the risks of pursuing that strategy, quantifies that risk, and then looks at how that risk can be transferred or controlled.

Risk exposure is your total monetary exposure to a certain risk.

In the case of some investments, your risk exposure could be more than the market value than the investment. If your exposure “crystallizes”, you have a risk event. Any risk has two aspects, variability (probability) and size.

Expected value is a useful technique to use in evaluating risks. You estimate the probability of a risk event happening, and multiply the expected loss by the probability to get an expected value.

In risk management we look at probabilities, and often are going to be most concerned with extreme events because these are the ones that put business under extreme stress.

Another mathematical tool we’ll need to use is confidence level. For a 95% confidence level, you discard the top and bottom 2.5% on a distribution curve.

Volatility is a measure of the dispersion of returns. Technically it is the standard deviation of returns from the asset's average return over time. As with the term risk, volatility is a neutral term. Volatility isn’t bad in itself. Indeed low volatility can be very bad news if it means the share price just isn’t moving at all.

Risk control is about deciding what to do with risk. You can keep it, avoid it, transfer it, or mitigate it.

Above all you need to remember the key concept in risk management, which is that every decision involves risk. There is no “risk off” option. Your job is to look at the risks and rewards of various courses of action and find the one that you consider the optimum balance of the two.

Part of risk management is about identifying the important risks. You need to prioritize.

Anyone who is managing risk needs to have a bit of a background in mathematics and economics to understand the basic models that underline thinking about modern risk. Understanding the models is far more important than doing the calculations.

Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM): This looks at the risks involved in an investment portfolio and analyzes them into two kinds. Specific risk, the risk of an individual investment, and systematic risk, the risk of the entire market as a whole. You can diversify away specific risk. You can’t do anything about systematic risk.

If economic growth is expected, the yield curve might steepen. If a recession is on the way, the yield curve may become inverted, that is short term bonds paying higher yield than longer term debt.

Elon Musk reckons it's better to make relatively cheap rockets and lose a few and learn from the mistakes, rather than to keep making plans and prototypes without real world testing.


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