Stop reading the news thoughtlessly and develop a macro framework.

When I joined the industry, fresh analysts like myself would flit through the morning newspaper like a drowning man who clutches one spar after another for support. Our attempts to stay abreast were as haphazard as that man's attempts to stay afloat. On page 1, we would read an article concerning Greece's tussle with Germany but forget it by the time we reached page 8.

It took me some time (two years) to develop a coherent macro framework on which every news article now fits to compound my existing knowledge. It took me an immense amount of conscious effort (reading) to become familiar with historical context of individual economies but the rewards have been so fruitful that I would encourage every young analyst/associate (or potential analyst/associate) to do the same. This is because unless you know the historical context, the time you spend reading news/raw information will be much less productive and when the need for that information arises, you will most likely find your memory wanting.

A very useful way to start is by examining global balance of payments. The beauty of analysing balance of payments is that the world is a closed system so actions in one part of the world (for instance QE in the US) will necessarily create an equal and opposite impact on other parts (Japan or Eurozone or China). Balance of Payments data is available on the IMF website for free and you will easily find free articles on the Internet analysing historical trends in major economies. A very good example at the moment is the Eurozone's surplus (driven by Germany's surplus and deficit reduction through unemployment in peripheral economies, especially Greece), which combines with China's surplus and efforts by the US to reduce its deficit to create a potent threat of rising global unemployment and recession - i.e. the world is experiencing a savings glut.

Another useful approach is examining business cycles. Ray Dalio's 'How the economic machine works' is a very good video on understanding business/credit cycles and I'd recommend his other essays as well. Latin American economies are going through a bad patch right now, Eastern Europe was battered last year by the Ukraine/Russia conflict; the Eurozone had its last crisis in 2011/12, the US in 2008 and Asia in 1998. As a result, most regions are experiencing very different phases of the standard business cycle but it is helpful to remember that the world is much more coordinated than we think and regional influences (which may seem very important) often give way to an overwhelming global bull or bear market.

A third approach is examining domestic fiscal and monetary policies through the lens of a simple IS/LM model (or Mundell-Fleming model). Paul Krugman does this brilliantly in his blog. For those of you who need to refresh their IS/LM concepts, Khan academy videos are a good source. For those without any background in macroeconomics, Gregory Mankiw's 'Introduction to Macroeconomics' is the gold standard for Macroeconomics 101.

For most developed market economies, there is enough good content online to understand the historical context by individual economies. For emerging market economies, I find rating agency reports to be a fairly good source. If you do not have access to rating agency reports, I'd recommend IMF articles (which are free), in particular the Article IV reports, as another good source.

Once you have developed a historical context, you'd find that the time you spend reading macro news can be cut down to no more than 30 minutes a day and you'd still be well informed on the important global macro trends.

I would love to hear about approaches that have worked for others (such as the balance of payments approach, business cycle approach for global macro) and would also love to hear any thoughts on how to understand a larger breadth of industries. I definitely think that industries are under-analysed and stocks over-analysed. I have met very few people who understand industry dynamics across a wide breadth and can suggest relative value opportunities across industries the way a competent analyst can highlight such opportunities across stocks in his/her coverage universe. So appreciate thoughts from equity strategists/investors etc.

Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 4/19/14. To see all of our top content from the past, click here.

Comments (53)

Apr 11, 2015

my bad you already read it. good post btw.

Apr 11, 2015

Fantastic post. It has taken me quite some time to develop a process and/or framework and honestly even after 3 or so years, it's still developing every single day. Content and data flow is getting more and more noisy as well so deciphering is becoming a big component.

    • 1
Apr 12, 2015

thanks for sharing, very interesting post.

Observe. Learn. Share.

Apr 12, 2015

Great post, well written too.

It says great things about people (like yourself) who are willing to devote their time helping younger guys get a better understanding of the industry they want to go into. Thanks.

Cause who wants to be in the 99%?

Apr 12, 2015
LeadBalloon:

Great post, well written too.

It says great things about people (like yourself) who are willing to devote their time helping younger guys get a better understanding of the industry they want to go into. Thanks.

+1

Totally agree. Thanks!

Best Response
Apr 13, 2015
iBanked:
LeadBalloon wrote:

Great post, well written too.

It says great things about people (like yourself) who are willing to devote their time helping younger guys get a better understanding of the industry they want to go into. Thanks.

+1

Totally agree. Thanks!

Thanks guys. I was a bit disappointed when I noticed that my post had annoyed someone so much that they decided to throw monkey shit at it. But you guys just made my day - so thanks to you as well.

    • 9
Apr 12, 2015

Great topic. It shows me the clear way. I'm now in this situation and hope to be better

Apr 12, 2015

+1 great post.

The Economist's Economist Intelligence Unit website is a great site with updates on all countries. Some is free. Some requires subscription. But you can follow the headlines of the updates and continue your research. Plus they breakdown paid subscription write ups into individual articles for purchase.

Apr 12, 2015

appreciate the post. helpful for an incoming analyst. bumping for any other professionals to add input.

Apr 12, 2015

great insight, thanks guys
keep it coming :)

Apr 12, 2015

Great post. Nassim Taleb has written some interesting stuff on this.

"My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known."

Apr 12, 2015

Great post, I absolutely find myself swimming through information daily from the WSJ, Squawk Box, Moneywatch, etc. I have been working to create a more efficient daily news update process. Thanks for the advice!

Apr 12, 2015

Thanks, I will try this hope it helps!

Apr 13, 2015

Great insight! Do you happen to have any books that you would recommend?

Apr 13, 2015
karmaloop3r:

Great insight! Do you happen to have any books that you would recommend?

For the balance of payments framework - Michael Pettis' 'The Great Rebalancing' is an excellent book
For the business cycle approach - Plenty of stuff on the internet but read the essays/notes by Ray Dalio
For the IS/LM, Mundell Fleming model aproach - Krugman's blog is pretty good

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Apr 14, 2015

Thanks Stalagmite!

Apr 17, 2015

Thanks for the book recommendations! Commenting to buy it later

Apr 13, 2015

Very good post.

I'd also recommend tracing some of this philosophy back to the source. I wouldn't mention the guys name publicly(he's extremely unpopular with bulge bracket execs due to how he called out some shady practices) but the guy who pioneered the integration of business cycles into economic forecasting is Martin Armstrong. The perspective of putting everything you read in the context of global business cycles and capital flows can yield some results which are very different from the norm.

The biggest mistake a lot of people make is assuming linearity rather than accounting for the cyclical nature of industries and markets. How often have you seen a financial model which assumes straightline growth over the next five years? And how often does that actually happen in real life?

    • 1
Apr 13, 2015

awesome post; read my mind - I'll read 20 BB articles, 10 MW articles, and BLS/ECB releases and sometimes my recall is lacking when I need the info. Definitely agree with having a set framework so info. doesn't 'get scrolled off like movie credits'...

Apr 14, 2015

Great points, and ones that should be noted for undergrads/business students about to go through recruiting. Remembering three macro frameworks through which you can interpret the news, after reading the news for a few weeks through them, talking about current events in interviews would be a breeze.

Apr 14, 2015

That is one good piece of advice there.
Time for some reading!

Apr 14, 2015

This is fantastic. Great write-up.

Apr 14, 2015

adding this to my very short list of bookmarked posts here

Apr 15, 2015

Thanks a lot everyone

Apr 16, 2015

Interesting post. Thanks for sharing with us.

Jordan Liang

Apr 16, 2015

Awesome stuff, do you (intend to) invest according to those macro trends?

Apr 17, 2015
Trader-123:

Awesome stuff, do you (intend to) invest according to those macro trends?

Yes, in fact that's my job right now

Apr 18, 2015

I have always been so jealous of my peers that study Accounting and Finance due to how much of their curriculum is "directly applicable" in the workplace, but posts like this remind me about all that Economics has given me, which I now take for granted. Great post, I would definitely agree that you need to develop a rigid framework to push all the noisy information through. At the end of the day, if you cannot drive insights from information, it is of no use.

Apr 19, 2015

Great info. Thanks!

kqrckfls

Apr 19, 2015

ifl

Apr 23, 2015

great post

Apr 28, 2015

@ Stalagmite, great post! I find myself reading the macro news but not really grasping the big picture. Do you have any specific recommendations (i.e. articles, books) that have helped you get up to speed? I know you mentioned checking out Ray Dalio, Mankiw and IMF websites but any others that you would recommend?

Jul 31, 2015

How would you propose thinking about and analyzing a country's economic situation in a historical context? By simply learning about that nation's economic history?

Aug 2, 2015
irl5000:

How would you propose thinking about and analyzing a country's economic situation in a historical context? By simply learning about that nation's economic history?

Hi, yes unfortunately that is the only way I know. To do this, you have to spend your evenings/weekends reading books, watching documentaries, reading IMF/rating agency reports etc. Its is a painful effort but the rewards are worth the effort in my opinion.

Jan 8, 2016

Just came across this from the top discussions of 2015. Has anyone used the website finimize? I found a reference to the website on here a few weeks back. Not as great for evaluating countries from a historic context, but does an awesome job of putting current news into a a broader macroeconomic context. A link to the website is here http://www.finimize.com/?ref=265 . Let me know what you all think!

    • 1
Apr 13, 2016

Thanks for your insights Stalagmite. As an Econ undergrad, I can vouch for many saying that it is extremely rewarding learning how to my field of study to the markets. Any tools to help leverage my fundamental knowledge into real world experience is valuable.

Apr 16, 2016

the links below might help
http://www.debate.org/forums/economics/ http://www.explore-ideas.com/index.php?category=Ec...
zerohedge.com ... a little bit too much doom and gloom all the time but the news that is not covered too much in the mainstream is available here-- also register to their newsletter so that you can get links to news on bloomberg, wsj, business insider, etc,
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2016/updat... http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/global-eco...
http://www.lazardnet.com/us/literature-and-researc... http://www.lazardnet.com/us/literature-and-research/#
http://www.lazardnet.com/insights/ http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/macroecon...
https://www.credit-suisse.com/media/production/art... http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/developing-a...
there are others as well for example OECD, Moody's, etc

if your interest is in ER:-
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/doing-a-stoc... - check the links within this link
http://equity-research.com/ buy BIWS

Apr 14, 2016

Fantastic post, thank you very much

Apr 15, 2016

One of those posts I wish I have read five years ago.

Thank you for sharing the insight.

Apr 16, 2016

just make an excel sheet with the following categories (i prefer excel over Microsoft OneNote):-
1.topics (can include deals, policies, political process, etc)
2.sources (people/orgs),
3.dates,
4.headlines,
5.important figures/facts
according to the sector you are assigned and the economy in general, keep hard copies of newspapers, articles, whitepapers, industry reports, etc if reading on the screen gets too much

MUST keep the source documents organized before you even apply for the job, also use Mozilla Session Manager to manage links, it is better than using bookmarks since you can open up multiple links with one click, always search for contradictory articles that would challenge the consensus, choose your sources of information overtime so that you can filter out the unnecessary ones, and

REVISE EVERYDAY the excel sheet you have made and/or some of the articles, etc after your day ends .. revision is must to see how particular situations have been developing so that your narrative shows some reflection

then after you have revised your excel sheet then read/watch some more news, follow relevant sectors, read your coworkers' research notes (ask them first)

economies do not necessarily follow economic models but are directed by economists working with politicians/public servants (the extent of this depends upon how you country's administration works), so understanding the background of the decision makers is more important in order to make sense of the policies they make and/or what they might do next, looking at it this way makes news easier to understand since you deal with the mindsets of individuals rather than just looking at flows of money, demand/supply, knowing the decision makers in person is even better, however, if some basic economic concepts are weak then sure go ahead read them up

    • 1
Apr 18, 2016

Might have been mentioned before, but - use OneNote/Evernote as a diary to keep track of your observations. Revise from time to time.

EDIT: Just realised that Qureshi beat me to it. Sorry for hijacking, bro!

Apr 18, 2016

no problem... One Note has been mentioned over here as well

http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/organizing-w...
I will make a list of links for ER on WSO and else where so that it can be easy for others to find stuff on WSO, for those who are new

repetition is good and just shows that people who take their work seriously keep track of what they have done and what they intend to do ..it adds weight to the idea by acting as a cross-checking of sorts, for some people one person's opinion is NOT enough (I myself am one of them, I constantly cross check what people tell me and most of the time, most people have a different opinion about the one issue but they are so sure of themselves that they think it is THE way to go or that one Silver Bullet they have, that is where people are mislead into making wrong career decisions for themselves or for others)

sometimes people can miss one lengthy message or part of a message but a few lines, like in your message can be read easily for example:-

'some people use sites like toggl.com to keep track others use excel sheets, some use pen and paper'

Apr 21, 2016
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Jun 3, 2016

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