Wow! Last week was the very first time I've asked for your responses to a question, and the feedback was overwhelming. If you missed last week's article, a philosophical question was posed; is it ok to place trades that are designed to profit from a natural disaster such as a hurricane? For the sake of clarity, I want to be clear that I am talking about trades that are specifically engineered to benefit from a disaster, not trades that just happened to be affected by one. I mentioned that I once traded for an outfit that had an "unwritten rule" against designing trades in this manner, and I continue to adhere to this attitude, but that doesn't mean that I don't respect those who disagree I do, especially after reading your thoughtful responses.
I'd also like to point out that this is very different from the argument that blames speculators for all that is wrong with the markets. There are those who blamed speculators for driving the price of oil to $147 per barrel; now that the price has fallen more than $50 per barrel and is below $100, do we hear any praise for the speculators? I haven't heard a word of it, and I don't expect to. Speculators are always present in every market, whether that market is going up or down, and they are a necessary ingredient as they provide the liquidity that allows non-speculative market participants to have a counter party to their trades. Without the liquidity provided by speculators, markets would be thinner and consequently more volatile.
No matter whether you agreed or disagreed with me on this one, I'm very pleased not only with the quantity, but with the quality of your responses. It's clear to me now that not only am I reaching a fairly broad audience, but a thoughtful and intelligent audience as well, so I thank you one and all. My apologies, as only a small percentage of the responses could be accommodated - there were many good letters that you won't see here, due to limitations of time and space. Let's get to some of the highlights of your comments on this topic - plenty of you believe that it is wrong to place a trade specifically designed to benefit from a disaster:
"I completely disagree on trying to make profits on disasters. The market is full of opportunities, so if we cannot help those people, we might at least don't be a part of a bigger damage."
"I agree...I do not personally like the idea of trading off of other's misery. On a related subject, it seems that the "hot" new thing to do is buy "life settlements" also known as viaticals...that is, betting on when someone will die, and grabbing part of the life insurance. I think that is despicable, disgusting, and a reprehensible way to make a buck...but that's just me."
But even more of you felt that it was ok but usually with a few caveats. Here is a compelling argument in favor of disaster trading:
"Ed, There's nothing wrong with taking trades in anticipation of disasters. I cannot distinguish doing that from anyone who sells survival or emergency preparedness gear in their business. They profit from selling such gear because there's a good chance it's going to be used...and we've had plenty of disasters that show it's a good idea to have that stuff around. Should people not buy emergency gear? Of course, they should. And there's nothing wrong with selling it. By your logic, nobody should sell that gear, because they'd be likely to be making money off the misfortunes of others."
"I believe it is acceptable for a trader to take a position on this. Traders are in the business of making a profit with the least risk and if it means taking a position due to a disaster I do not see it being unethical. In my view any fundamental factor should be recognized and if a trader wants to trade the effect it could have it is acceptable. Now my closing thought is this - many people were adversely affected by these fundamental factors (losing jobs, losing homes, huge capital losses, etc.), but many traders profited. Was this unethical enrichment?"
"Do undertakers and funeral homes profit off disaster? Is that wrong'? Profiting off disasters might be distasteful but it isn't immoral unless you are doing something that causes or worsens the disaster. If a store owner can raise prices on lanterns and candles in anticipation of, or because of, a hurricane, that will encourage more store owners to carry these items in the future. What's immoral about that?"
Several of you suggested that the profits from a disaster trade should be donated to the victims:
"The middle ground, and generous thing to do, would be to pay the profits from disasters into disaster funds to assist those badly affected."
"What's wrong is price gouging when disasters occur -- when people try to sell a $1 bottle of water for $5. I'll agree that's objectionable (and indeed, criminal). But if I see that a disaster will occur, and I make a trade based on a sound fundamental reason, I see nothing wrong with it. Perhaps, with my profit, I can donate more money to aid disaster victims."
"Take a percentage of whatever profits you make (what % is also your choice) and donate it to help the people you feel you made money off of. That way you are not only doing your job to the best of your ability, you are also helping those in need.... and if you choose to cheer out loud, do it because you were able to help someone else in need just by doing what you do best, TRADE!"
Some felt that we could extend this idea into other areas of trading:
"I found your discussion of trading during disasters very interesting. The picture you painted of traders cheering while others were suffering painted a very vivid picture. I have struggled with a similar idea. That is, trading against the economy of one's country. I cannot feel good about cheering a long EUR/USD position when that means that the NFP has plunged. If the NFP goes down it means friends, relatives and countrymen are losing their jobs, and the USA economy is tanking. Not much different than a disaster, really. Or am I not seeing things correctly?"
That brings up an interesting point. I did quite well shorting the U.S. Dollar earlier this year, as I'm sure many of you have over the past few years. I always told myself that it was ok because although various U.S. government officials claimed to support a "strong Dollar policy", I've felt very strongly that in reality they wanted the USD to weaken, in order to benefit big U.S. exporters. Because of this I never felt bad about shorting the buck even as I've been calling for a change in this policy, because of its deleterious effects on the average American. It's not the traders, but the policies of our government that made the buck such a great short this decade.
Here is a great letter from a person who is both an investor and a relief worker:
"As a Disaster Worker I volunteer with agencies at the local, State and Federal level, and as an investor, I'd like to say that I find trading to profit from natural disasters to be fully acceptable. There are whole industries that depend on disasters for their livelihood, and no-one objects to them. Indeed, they are suppliers to governments, and necessary partners in the mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery process.
If they are not only allowed to profit from disasters, but encouraged to do so, shouldn't the investor, using only a computer or telephone be allowed the same ability? As long as none of us becomes "Lex Luthor", able to cause or control these disasters, then I see no problem with the ethics of the situation."
Here's a great thought on this topic:
"Is it morally right? I guess that depends on the individual and how driven they are by FEAR and GREED. And they should also ask themselves if they are sticking to their trading plan, I have not yet ever talked or met a trader that had developed a trade plan to trade natural disasters only."
And finally, let's end this on a high note!
"Thanks for regularly challenging your readership with excellent material on the currency market."
You're welcome, and thank you one and all for your participation it's encouraging to have readers who are up to the task of dealing with these important issues, and who are able to express themselves their opinions while remaining civil. I'll see you again next week with a new topic.
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