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Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio

2 years ago

The latest “bubble indicator” readings.

As you know, I like to turn my intuition into decision rules (principles) that can be back-tested and automated to create a portfolio of alpha bets. I use one for bubbles. Having seen many bubbles in my 50+ years of investing, I described what makes a bubble and how to identify them in markets—not just stocks.

A bubble market has a high degree of the following:

  1. High prices compared to traditional values (e.g., by taking the present value of their cash flows for the duration of the asset and comparing it with their interest rates).
  2. Conditons incompatible with long-term growth (e.g., extrapolating past revenue and earnings growth rates late in the cycle).
  3. Many new and inexperienced buyers were drawn in by the perceived hot market.
  4. Broad bullish sentiment.
  5. Debt financing a large portion of purchases.
  6. Lots of forward and speculative purchases to profit from price rises (e.g., inventories that are more than needed, contracted forward purchases, etc.).

I use these criteria to assess all markets for bubbles. I have periodically shown you these for stocks and the stock market.

What Was Shown in January Versus Now

I will first describe the picture in words, then show it in charts, and compare it to the last update in January.

As of January, the bubble indicator showed that a) the US equity market was in a moderate bubble, but not an extreme one (ie., 70 percent of way toward the highest bubble, which occurred in the late 1990s and late 1920s), and b) the emerging tech companies (ie. As well, the unprecedented flood of liquidity post-COVID financed other bubbly behavior (e.g. SPACs, IPO boom, big pickup in options activity), making things bubbly. I showed which stocks were in bubbles and created an index of those stocks, which I call “bubble stocks.”

Those bubble stocks have popped. They fell by a third last year, while the S&P 500 remained flat. In light of these and other market developments, it is not necessarily true that now is a good time to buy emerging tech stocks.

The fact that they aren't at a bubble extreme doesn't mean they are safe or that it's a good time to get long. Our metrics still show that US stocks are overvalued. Once popped, bubbles tend to overcorrect to the downside rather than settle at “normal” prices.

The following charts paint the picture. The first shows the US equity market bubble gauge/indicator going back to 1900, currently at the 40% percentile. The charts also zoom in on the gauge in recent years, as well as the late 1920s and late 1990s bubbles (during both of these cases the gauge reached 100 percent ).

The chart below depicts the average bubble gauge for the most bubbly companies in 2020. Those readings are down significantly.

The charts below compare the performance of a basket of emerging tech bubble stocks to the S&P 500. Prices have fallen noticeably, giving up most of their post-COVID gains.

The following charts show the price action of the bubble slice today and in the 1920s and 1990s. These charts show the same market dynamics and two key indicators. These are just two examples of how a lot of debt financing stock ownership coupled with a tightening typically leads to a bubble popping.

Everything driving the bubbles in this market segment is classic—the same drivers that drove the 1920s bubble and the 1990s bubble. For instance, in the last couple months, it was how tightening can act to prick the bubble. Review this case study of the 1920s stock bubble (starting on page 49) from my book Principles for Navigating Big Debt Crises to grasp these dynamics.

The following charts show the components of the US stock market bubble gauge. Since this is a proprietary indicator, I will only show you some of the sub-aggregate readings and some indicators.

Each of these six influences is measured using a number of stats. This is how I approach the stock market. These gauges are combined into aggregate indices by security and then for the market as a whole. The table below shows the current readings of these US equity market indicators. It compares current conditions for US equities to historical conditions. These readings suggest that we’re out of a bubble.

1. How High Are Prices Relatively?

This price gauge for US equities is currently around the 50th percentile.

2. Is price reduction unsustainable?

This measure calculates the earnings growth rate required to outperform bonds. This is calculated by adding up the readings of individual securities. This indicator is currently near the 60th percentile for the overall market, higher than some of our other readings. Profit growth discounted in stocks remains high.

Even more so in the US software sector. Analysts' earnings growth expectations for this sector have slowed, but remain high historically. P/Es have reversed COVID gains but remain high historical.

3. How many new buyers (i.e., non-existing buyers) entered the market?

Expansion of new entrants is often indicative of a bubble. According to historical accounts, this was true in the 1990s equity bubble and the 1929 bubble (though our data for this and other gauges doesn't go back that far). A flood of new retail investors into popular stocks, which by other measures appeared to be in a bubble, pushed this gauge above the 90% mark in 2020. The pace of retail activity in the markets has recently slowed to pre-COVID levels.

4. How Broadly Bullish Is Sentiment?

The more people who have invested, the less resources they have to keep investing, and the more likely they are to sell. Market sentiment is now significantly negative.

5. Are Purchases Being Financed by High Leverage?

Leveraged purchases weaken the buying foundation and expose it to forced selling in a downturn. The leverage gauge, which considers option positions as a form of leverage, is now around the 50% mark.

6. To What Extent Have Buyers Made Exceptionally Extended Forward Purchases?

Looking at future purchases can help assess whether expectations have become overly optimistic. This indicator is particularly useful in commodity and real estate markets, where forward purchases are most obvious. In the equity markets, I look at indicators like capital expenditure, or how much businesses (and governments) invest in infrastructure, factories, etc. It reflects whether businesses are projecting future demand growth. Like other gauges, this one is at the 40th percentile.

What one does with it is a tactical choice. While the reversal has been significant, future earnings discounting remains high historically. In either case, bubbles tend to overcorrect (sell off more than the fundamentals suggest) rather than simply deflate. But I wanted to share these updated readings with you in light of recent market activity.

More on Economics & Investing

Thomas Huault

Thomas Huault

1 year ago

A Mean Reversion Trading Indicator Inspired by Classical Mechanics Is The Kinetic Detrender

DATA MINING WITH SUPERALGORES

Old pots produce the best soup.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Science has always inspired indicator design. From physics to signal processing, many indicators use concepts from mechanical engineering, electronics, and probability. In Superalgos' Data Mining section, we've explored using thermodynamics and information theory to construct indicators and using statistical and probabilistic techniques like reduced normal law to take advantage of low probability events.

An asset's price is like a mechanical object revolving around its moving average. Using this approach, we could design an indicator using the oscillator's Total Energy. An oscillator's energy is finite and constant. Since we don't expect the price to follow the harmonic oscillator, this energy should deviate from the perfect situation, and the maximum of divergence may provide us valuable information on the price's moving average.

Definition of the Harmonic Oscillator in Few Words

Sinusoidal function describes a harmonic oscillator. The time-constant energy equation for a harmonic oscillator is:

With

Time saves energy.

In a mechanical harmonic oscillator, total energy equals kinetic energy plus potential energy. The formula for energy is the same for every kind of harmonic oscillator; only the terms of total energy must be adapted to fit the relevant units. Each oscillator has a velocity component (kinetic energy) and a position to equilibrium component (potential energy).

The Price Oscillator and the Energy Formula

Considering the harmonic oscillator definition, we must specify kinetic and potential components for our price oscillator. We define oscillator velocity as the rate of change and equilibrium position as the price's distance from its moving average.

Price kinetic energy:

It's like:

With

and

L is the number of periods for the rate of change calculation and P for the close price EMA calculation.

Total price oscillator energy =

Given that an asset's price can theoretically vary at a limitless speed and be endlessly far from its moving average, we don't expect this formula's outcome to be constrained. We'll normalize it using Z-Score for convenience of usage and readability, which also allows probabilistic interpretation.

Over 20 periods, we'll calculate E's moving average and standard deviation.

We calculated Z on BTC/USDT with L = 10 and P = 21 using Knime Analytics.

The graph is detrended. We added two horizontal lines at +/- 1.6 to construct a 94.5% probability zone based on reduced normal law tables. Price cycles to its moving average oscillate clearly. Red and green arrows illustrate where the oscillator crosses the top and lower limits, corresponding to the maximum/minimum price oscillation. Since the results seem noisy, we may apply a non-lagging low-pass or multipole filter like Butterworth or Laguerre filters and employ dynamic bands at a multiple of Z's standard deviation instead of fixed levels.

Kinetic Detrender Implementation in Superalgos

The Superalgos Kinetic detrender features fixed upper and lower levels and dynamic volatility bands.

The code is pretty basic and does not require a huge amount of code lines.

It starts with the standard definitions of the candle pointer and the constant declaration :

let candle = record.current
let len = 10
let P = 21
let T = 20
let up = 1.6
let low = 1.6

Upper and lower dynamic volatility band constants are up and low.

We proceed to the initialization of the previous value for EMA :

if (variable.prevEMA === undefined) {
    variable.prevEMA = candle.close
}

And the calculation of EMA with a function (it is worth noticing the function is declared at the end of the code snippet in Superalgos) :

variable.ema = calculateEMA(P, candle.close, variable.prevEMA)
//EMA calculation
function calculateEMA(periods, price, previousEMA) {
    let k = 2 / (periods + 1)
    return price * k + previousEMA * (1 - k)
}

The rate of change is calculated by first storing the right amount of close price values and proceeding to the calculation by dividing the current close price by the first member of the close price array:

variable.allClose.push(candle.close)
if (variable.allClose.length > len) {
    variable.allClose.splice(0, 1)
}
if (variable.allClose.length === len) {
    variable.roc = candle.close / variable.allClose[0]
} else {
    variable.roc = 1
}

Finally, we get energy with a single line:

variable.E = 1 / 2 * len * variable.roc + 1 / 2 * P * candle.close / variable.ema

The Z calculation reuses code from Z-Normalization-based indicators:

variable.allE.push(variable.E)
if (variable.allE.length > T) {
    variable.allE.splice(0, 1)
}
variable.sum = 0
variable.SQ = 0
if (variable.allE.length === T) {
    for (var i = 0; i < T; i++) {
        variable.sum += variable.allE[i]
    }
    variable.MA = variable.sum / T
for (var i = 0; i < T; i++) {
        variable.SQ += Math.pow(variable.allE[i] - variable.MA, 2)
    }
    variable.sigma = Math.sqrt(variable.SQ / T)
variable.Z = (variable.E - variable.MA) / variable.sigma
} else {
    variable.Z = 0
}
variable.allZ.push(variable.Z)
if (variable.allZ.length > T) {
    variable.allZ.splice(0, 1)
}
variable.sum = 0
variable.SQ = 0
if (variable.allZ.length === T) {
    for (var i = 0; i < T; i++) {
        variable.sum += variable.allZ[i]
    }
    variable.MAZ = variable.sum / T
for (var i = 0; i < T; i++) {
        variable.SQ += Math.pow(variable.allZ[i] - variable.MAZ, 2)
    }
    variable.sigZ = Math.sqrt(variable.SQ / T)
} else {
    variable.MAZ = variable.Z
    variable.sigZ = variable.MAZ * 0.02
}
variable.upper = variable.MAZ + up * variable.sigZ
variable.lower = variable.MAZ - low * variable.sigZ

We also update the EMA value.

variable.prevEMA = variable.EMA
BTD/USDT candle chart at 01-hs timeframe with the Kinetic detrender and its 2 red fixed level and black dynamic levels

Conclusion

We showed how to build a detrended oscillator using simple harmonic oscillator theory. Kinetic detrender's main line oscillates between 2 fixed levels framing 95% of the values and 2 dynamic levels, leading to auto-adaptive mean reversion zones.

Superalgos' Normalized Momentum data mine has the Kinetic detrender indication.

All the material here can be reused and integrated freely by linking to this article and Superalgos.

This post is informative and not financial advice. Seek expert counsel before trading. Risk using this material.

Sam Hickmann

Sam Hickmann

2 years ago

Donor-Advised Fund Tax Benefits (DAF)

Giving through a donor-advised fund can be tax-efficient. Using a donor-advised fund can reduce your tax liability while increasing your charitable impact.

Grow Your Donations Tax-Free.

Your DAF's charitable dollars can be invested before being distributed. Your DAF balance can grow with the market. This increases grantmaking funds. The assets of the DAF belong to the charitable sponsor, so you will not be taxed on any growth.

Avoid a Windfall Tax Year.

DAFs can help reduce tax burdens after a windfall like an inheritance, business sale, or strong market returns. Contributions to your DAF are immediately tax deductible, lowering your taxable income. With DAFs, you can effectively pre-fund years of giving with assets from a single high-income event.

Make a contribution to reduce or eliminate capital gains.

One of the most common ways to fund a DAF is by gifting publicly traded securities. Securities held for more than a year can be donated at fair market value and are not subject to capital gains tax. If a donor liquidates assets and then donates the proceeds to their DAF, capital gains tax reduces the amount available for philanthropy. Gifts of appreciated securities, mutual funds, real estate, and other assets are immediately tax deductible up to 30% of Adjusted gross income (AGI), with a five-year carry-forward for gifts that exceed AGI limits.

Using Appreciated Stock as a Gift

Donating appreciated stock directly to a DAF rather than liquidating it and donating the proceeds reduces philanthropists' tax liability by eliminating capital gains tax and lowering marginal income tax.

In the example below, a donor has $100,000 in long-term appreciated stock with a cost basis of $10,000:

Using a DAF would allow this donor to give more to charity while paying less taxes. This strategy often allows donors to give more than 20% more to their favorite causes.

For illustration purposes, this hypothetical example assumes a 35% income tax rate. All realized gains are subject to the federal long-term capital gains tax of 20% and the 3.8% Medicare surtax. No other state taxes are considered.

The information provided here is general and educational in nature. It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal or tax advice. NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. Furthermore, the content provided here is related to taxation at the federal level only. NPT strongly encourages you to consult with your tax advisor or attorney before making charitable contributions.

Theresa W. Carey

Theresa W. Carey

1 year ago

How Payment for Order Flow (PFOF) Works

What is PFOF?

PFOF is a brokerage firm's compensation for directing orders to different parties for trade execution. The brokerage firm receives fractions of a penny per share for directing the order to a market maker.

Each optionable stock could have thousands of contracts, so market makers dominate options trades. Order flow payments average less than $0.50 per option contract.

Order Flow Payments (PFOF) Explained

The proliferation of exchanges and electronic communication networks has complicated equity and options trading (ECNs) Ironically, Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi schemer, pioneered pay-for-order-flow.

In a December 2000 study on PFOF, the SEC said, "Payment for order flow is a method of transferring trading profits from market making to brokers who route customer orders to specialists for execution."

Given the complexity of trading thousands of stocks on multiple exchanges, market making has grown. Market makers are large firms that specialize in a set of stocks and options, maintaining an inventory of shares and contracts for buyers and sellers. Market makers are paid the bid-ask spread. Spreads have narrowed since 2001, when exchanges switched to decimals. A market maker's ability to play both sides of trades is key to profitability.

Benefits, requirements

A broker receives fees from a third party for order flow, sometimes without a client's knowledge. This invites conflicts of interest and criticism. Regulation NMS from 2005 requires brokers to disclose their policies and financial relationships with market makers.

Your broker must tell you if it's paid to send your orders to specific parties. This must be done at account opening and annually. The firm must disclose whether it participates in payment-for-order-flow and, upon request, every paid order. Brokerage clients can request payment data on specific transactions, but the response takes weeks.

Order flow payments save money. Smaller brokerage firms can benefit from routing orders through market makers and getting paid. This allows brokerage firms to send their orders to another firm to be executed with other orders, reducing costs. The market maker or exchange benefits from additional share volume, so it pays brokerage firms to direct traffic.

Retail investors, who lack bargaining power, may benefit from order-filling competition. Arrangements to steer the business in one direction invite wrongdoing, which can erode investor confidence in financial markets and their players.

Pay-for-order-flow criticism

It has always been controversial. Several firms offering zero-commission trades in the late 1990s routed orders to untrustworthy market makers. During the end of fractional pricing, the smallest stock spread was $0.125. Options spreads widened. Traders found that some of their "free" trades cost them a lot because they weren't getting the best price.

The SEC then studied the issue, focusing on options trades, and nearly decided to ban PFOF. The proliferation of options exchanges narrowed spreads because there was more competition for executing orders. Options market makers said their services provided liquidity. In its conclusion, the report said, "While increased multiple-listing produced immediate economic benefits to investors in the form of narrower quotes and effective spreads, these improvements have been muted with the spread of payment for order flow and internalization." 

The SEC allowed payment for order flow to continue to prevent exchanges from gaining monopoly power. What would happen to trades if the practice was outlawed was also unclear. SEC requires brokers to disclose financial arrangements with market makers. Since then, the SEC has watched closely.

2020 Order Flow Payment

Rule 605 and Rule 606 show execution quality and order flow payment statistics on a broker's website. Despite being required by the SEC, these reports can be hard to find. The SEC mandated these reports in 2005, but the format and reporting requirements have changed over the years, most recently in 2018.

Brokers and market makers formed a working group with the Financial Information Forum (FIF) to standardize order execution quality reporting. Only one retail brokerage (Fidelity) and one market maker remain (Two Sigma Securities). FIF notes that the 605/606 reports "do not provide the level of information that allows a retail investor to gauge how well a broker-dealer fills a retail order compared to the NBBO (national best bid or offer’) at the time the order was received by the executing broker-dealer."

In the first quarter of 2020, Rule 606 reporting changed to require brokers to report net payments from market makers for S&P 500 and non-S&P 500 equity trades and options trades. Brokers must disclose payment rates per 100 shares by order type (market orders, marketable limit orders, non-marketable limit orders, and other orders).

Richard Repetto, Managing Director of New York-based Piper Sandler & Co., publishes a report on Rule 606 broker reports. Repetto focused on Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, E-TRADE, and Robinhood in Q2 2020. Repetto reported that payment for order flow was higher in the second quarter than the first due to increased trading activity, and that options paid more than equities.

Repetto says PFOF contributions rose overall. Schwab has the lowest options rates, while TD Ameritrade and Robinhood have the highest. Robinhood had the highest equity rating. Repetto assumes Robinhood's ability to charge higher PFOF reflects their order flow profitability and that they receive a fixed rate per spread (vs. a fixed rate per share by the other brokers).

Robinhood's PFOF in equities and options grew the most quarter-over-quarter of the four brokers Piper Sandler analyzed, as did their implied volumes. All four brokers saw higher PFOF rates.

TD Ameritrade took the biggest income hit when cutting trading commissions in fall 2019, and this report shows they're trying to make up the shortfall by routing orders for additional PFOF. Robinhood refuses to disclose trading statistics using the same metrics as the rest of the industry, offering only a vague explanation on their website.

Summary

Payment for order flow has become a major source of revenue as brokers offer no-commission equity (stock and ETF) orders. For retail investors, payment for order flow poses a problem because the brokerage may route orders to a market maker for its own benefit, not the investor's.

Infrequent or small-volume traders may not notice their broker's PFOF practices. Frequent traders and those who trade larger quantities should learn about their broker's order routing system to ensure they're not losing out on price improvement due to a broker prioritizing payment for order flow.


This post is a summary. Read full article here

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Jari Roomer

Jari Roomer

1 year ago

5 ways to never run out of article ideas

Perfectionism is the enemy of the idea muscle. " — James Altucher

Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

Writer's block is a typical explanation for low output. Success requires productivity.

In four years of writing, I've never had writer's block. And you shouldn't care.

You'll never run out of content ideas if you follow a few tactics. No, I'm not overpromising.


Take Note of Ideas

Brains are strange machines. Blank when it's time to write. Idiot. Nothing. We get the best article ideas when we're away from our workstation.

  • In the shower

  • Driving

  • In our dreams

  • Walking

  • During dull chats

  • Meditating

  • In the gym

No accident. The best ideas come in the shower, in nature, or while exercising.

(Your workstation is the worst place for creativity.)

The brain has time and space to link 'dots' of information during rest. It's eureka! New idea.

If you're serious about writing, capture thoughts as they come.

Immediately write down a new thought. Capture it. Don't miss it. Your future self will thank you.

As a writer, entrepreneur, or creative, letting ideas slide is bad.

I recommend using Evernote, Notion, or your device's basic note-taking tool to capture article ideas.

It doesn't matter whatever app you use as long as you collect article ideas.

When you practice 'idea-capturing' enough, you'll have an unending list of article ideas when writer's block hits.


High-Quality Content

More books, films, Medium pieces, and Youtube videos I consume, the more I'm inspired to write.

What you eat shapes who you are.

Celebrity gossip and fear-mongering news won't help your writing. It won't help you write regularly.

Instead, read expert-written books. Watch documentaries to improve your worldview. Follow amazing people online.

Develop your 'idea muscle' Daily creativity takes practice. The more you exercise your 'idea muscles,' the easier it is to generate article ideas.

I've trained my 'concept muscle' using James Altucher's exercise.


Write 10 ideas daily.

Write ten book ideas every day if you're an author. Write down 10 business ideas per day if you're an entrepreneur. Write down 10 investing ideas per day.

Write 10 article ideas per day. You become a content machine.

It doesn't state you need ten amazing ideas. You don't need 10 ideas. Ten ideas, regardless of quality.

Like at the gym, reps are what matter. With each article idea, you gain creativity. Writer's block is no match for this workout.


Quit Perfectionism

Perfectionism is bad for writers. You'll have bad articles. You'll have bad ideas. OK. It's creative.

Writing success requires prolificacy. You can't have 'perfect' articles.

Perfectionism is the enemy of the idea muscle. Perfectionism is your brain trying to protect you from harm.” — James Altucher

Vincent van Gogh painted 900 pieces. The Starry Night is the most famous.

Thomas Edison invented 1093 things, but not all were as important as the lightbulb or the first movie camera.

Mozart composed nearly 600 compositions, but only Serenade No13 became popular.

Always do your best. Perfectionism shouldn't stop you from working. Write! Publicize. Make. Even if imperfect.


Write Your Story

Living an interesting life gives you plenty to write about. If you travel a lot, share your stories or lessons learned.

Describe your business's successes and shortcomings.

Share your experiences with difficulties or addictions.

More experiences equal more writing material.

If you stay indoors, perusing social media, you won't be inspired to write.

Have fun. Travel. Strive. Build a business. Be bold. Live a life worth writing about, and you won't run out of material.

Edward Williams

Edward Williams

1 year ago

I currently manage 4 profitable online companies. I find all the generic advice and garbage courses very frustrating. The only advice you need is this.

A man playing chess.

This is for young entrepreneurs, especially in tech.

People give useless success advice on TikTok and Reddit. Early risers, bookworms, etc. Entrepreneurship courses. Work hard and hustle.

False. These aren't successful traits.

I mean, organization is good. As someone who founded several businesses and now works at a VC firm, I find these tips to be clichés.

Based on founding four successful businesses and working with other successful firms, here's my best actionable advice:

1. Choose a sector or a niche and become an expert in it.

This is more generic than my next tip, but it's a must-do that's often overlooked. Become an expert in the industry or niche you want to enter. Discover everything.

Buy (future) competitors' products. Understand consumers' pain points. Market-test. Target keyword combos. Learn technical details.

The most successful businesses I've worked with were all formed by 9-5 employees. They knew the industry's pain points. They started a business targeting these pain points.

2. Choose a niche or industry crossroads to target.

How do you choose an industry or niche? What if your industry is too competitive?

List your skills and hobbies. Randomness is fine. Find an intersection between two interests or skills.

Say you build websites well. You like cars.

Web design is a *very* competitive industry. Cars and web design?

Instead of web design, target car dealers and mechanics. Build a few fake demo auto mechanic websites, then cold call shops with poor websites. Verticalize.

I've noticed a pattern:

  • Person works in a particular industry for a corporation.

  • Person gains expertise in the relevant industry.

  • Person quits their job and launches a small business to address a problem that their former employer was unwilling to address.

I originally posted this on Reddit and it seemed to have taken off so I decided to share it with you all.

Focus on the product. When someone buys from you, you convince them the product's value exceeds the price. It's not fair and favors the buyer.

Creating a superior product or service will win. Narrowing this helps you outcompete others.

You may be their only (lucky) option.

Greg Satell

Greg Satell

1 year ago

Focus: The Deadly Strategic Idea You've Never Heard Of (But Definitely Need To Know!

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

Steve Jobs' initial mission at Apple in 1997 was to destroy. He killed the Newton PDA and Macintosh clones. Apple stopped trying to please everyone under Jobs.

Afterward, there were few highly targeted moves. First, the pink iMac. Modest success. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad made Apple the world's most valuable firm. Each maneuver changed the company's center of gravity and won.

That's the idea behind Schwerpunkt, a German military term meaning "focus." Jobs didn't need to win everywhere, just where it mattered, so he focused Apple's resources on a few key goods. Finding your Schwerpunkt is more important than charts and analysis for excellent strategy.

Comparison of Relative Strength and Relative Weakness

The iPod, Apple's first major hit after Jobs' return, didn't damage Microsoft and the PC, but instead focused Apple's emphasis on a fledgling, fragmented market that generated "sucky" products. Apple couldn't have taken on the computer titans at this stage, yet it beat them.

The move into music players used Apple's particular capabilities, especially its ability to build simple, easy-to-use interfaces. Jobs' charisma and stature, along his understanding of intellectual property rights from Pixar, helped him build up iTunes store, which was a quagmire at the time.

In Good Strategy | Bad Strategy, management researcher Richard Rumelt argues that good strategy uses relative strength to counter relative weakness. To discover your main point, determine your abilities and where to effectively use them.

Steve Jobs did that at Apple. Microsoft and Dell, who controlled the computer sector at the time, couldn't enter the music player business. Both sought to produce iPod competitors but failed. Apple's iPod was nobody else's focus.

Finding The Center of Attention

In a military engagement, leaders decide where to focus their efforts by assessing commanders intent, the situation on the ground, the topography, and the enemy's posture on that terrain. Officers spend their careers learning about schwerpunkt.

Business executives must assess internal strengths including personnel, technology, and information, market context, competitive environment, and external partner ecosystems. Steve Jobs was a master at analyzing forces when he returned to Apple.

He believed Apple could integrate technology and design for the iPod and that the digital music player industry sucked. By analyzing competitors' products, he was convinced he could produce a smash by putting 1000 tunes in my pocket.

The only difficulty was there wasn't the necessary technology. External ecosystems were needed. On a trip to Japan to meet with suppliers, a Toshiba engineer claimed the company had produced a tiny memory drive approximately the size of a silver dollar.

Jobs knew the memory drive was his focus. He wrote a $10 million cheque and acquired exclusive technical rights. For a time, none of his competitors would be able to recreate his iPod with the 1000 songs in my pocket.

How to Enter the OODA Loop

John Boyd invented the OODA loop as a pilot to better his own decision-making. First OBSERVE your surroundings, then ORIENT that information using previous knowledge and experiences. Then you DECIDE and ACT, which changes the circumstance you must observe, orient, decide, and act on.

Steve Jobs used the OODA loop to decide to give Toshiba $10 million for a technology it had no use for. He compared the new information with earlier observations about the digital music market.

Then something much more interesting happened. The iPod was an instant hit, changing competition. Other computer businesses that competed in laptops, desktops, and servers created digital music players. Microsoft's Zune came out in 2006, Dell's Digital Jukebox in 2004. Both flopped.

By then, Apple was poised to unveil the iPhone, which would cause its competitors to Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Boyd named this OODA Loop infiltration. They couldn't gain the initiative by constantly reacting to Apple.

Microsoft and Dell were titans back then, but it's hard to recall. Apple went from near bankruptcy to crushing its competition via Schwerpunkt.

Rather than a destination, it is a journey

Trying to win everywhere is a strategic blunder. Win significant fights, not trivial skirmishes. Identifying a focal point to direct resources and efforts is the essence of Schwerpunkt.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, PC firms were competing, but he focused on digital music players, and the iPod made Apple a player. He launched the iPhone when his competitors were still reacting. When Steve Jobs said, "One more thing," at the end of a product presentation, he had a new focus.

Schwerpunkt isn't static; it's dynamic. Jobs' ability to observe, refocus, and modify the competitive backdrop allowed Apple to innovate consistently. His strategy was tailored to Apple's capabilities, customers, and ecosystem. Microsoft or Dell, better suited for the enterprise sector, couldn't succeed with a comparable approach.

There is no optimal strategy, only ones suited to a given environment, when relative strength might be used against relative weakness. Discovering the center of gravity where you can break through is more of a journey than a destination; it will become evident after you reach.