Are recent historical charts now useless for short-term prediction market analysis because of the non-informational trades made by that institutional investor hedging its political risks on InTrades election prediction markets?

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How can you assess the impact of Colin Powell&#8217-s endorsement of Barack Obama? You can&#8217-t.

What is a prediction market? What is the utility of enterprise prediction markets?

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Consensus Point:

First, every market price is a prediction. Think of a familiar securities market such as a stock market. The price of a company’s stock is a forecast of the value of future dividend payments. A bond price is a forecast of the value of a defined set of interest payments, based on factors such as likelihood of default and future inflation. Second, markets generate forecasts in a very specific way – by aggregating and consolidating information from many individuals, often widely dispersed, each with access to small, idiosyncratic bits of relevant information.

This informational structure is very common in organizational life. Information within firms is often widely dispersed and undocumented, residing in the minds of employees. Junior level workers, for example, while perhaps knowing little about the overall set of strategic issues affecting their company, often have detailed understandings of isolated aspects of the business.

The fundamental challenges of corporate forecasting are to access and coordinate all relevant bits of information dispersed throughout a company and to consolidate them into a set of quantitative metrics that can be employed as forecasts.

But organizations impose significant constraints on the flow and processing of information. The hierarchy that defines organizational life often restricts the movement of information, from the bottom-up as well as across business units, and sometimes, because of various forms of “politics,” motivates the concealing of information or even the spreading of disinformation. When combined with well-documented effects such as human limitations in expressing complex thoughts and systematic biases in group decision-making, the result is that employees often do not reveal their honest assessments, sometimes because they’re not provided the opportunity and sometimes because they fear reprisal for offering an unpopular opinion. Forecast quality suffers.

Prediction markets offer firms the opportunity to incorporate the information aggregating and predictive power of markets within corporate structures relying primarily on top-down direction. A prediction market is established within a company to generate predictions on issues of interest to managers in a manner that directly addresses the foundational communication constraints within firms.

A “stock” is defined to reflect an issue of interest to managers, perhaps unit sales of a product over a specified future time period. A group of employees – perhaps salespeople and marketing personnel -are selected to participate as traders on the basis of their perceived understanding of future sales prospects. Using software that is commercially available and run as an internet (or intranet) application, the participating employees are provided trading accounts, the stock is assigned an initial value (perhaps reflecting management’s current expectation of sales in the defined period) and a currency is established to provide a medium for exchange.

With the protection of anonymity (eliminating the fear of reprisals for offering unpopular opinions) and a well-defined incentive structure, employees are motivated to acquire relevant information and contribute their best assessments. They buy and sell shares of the security based on their beliefs about future sales prospects and their desire to increase the value of their portfolio. When an employee, for example, observes that the price of the stock is less (or more) than his/her expectation of future sales, he/she will buy (or sell) the stock, thereby driving its price up (or down).

As a result of this dynamic, the stock price serves as an ongoing real-time forecast of future sales. It continuously reflects traders’ aggregated assessment of future sales of the product, in the same way that the trading of a company’s stock on a stock exchange continuously reflects the trading community’s collective assessment of the value of the company.

Several internet-based prediction markets have been functioning for many years, and many companies have implemented prediction markets internally. Performance comparisons reveal that such markets produce forecasts that are more accurate than those from traditional systems.

Prediction markets not only produce forecasts and assessments that are, on average, more accurate than those produced from traditional forecasting approaches at any point in time (because they incorporate more information and less disinformation), but also, because the markets function continuously, will reveal the impacts of new information far faster than any alternative approach. Because the usual disincentives for employees to reveal bad news to managers have been eliminated, this system can in some instances serve as an effective “early warning system.”

The informational content of a prediction market is not limited to the stock price. The underlying bid data can be examined for insights into the knowledge and the beliefs of specific employees and groups within the organization. Analysis of market transactions in prediction markets will identify areas where there is substantial disagreement among employees about future values of key parameters driving the firm’s strategic decisions. Such disagreement, reflecting a collective uncertainty about underlying factual premises and/or interpretations, will highlight areas where the incremental value of additional managerial attention, in the form of information gathering (including perhaps discussion with select employees) and/or analysis, will be particularly high.

There are additional benefits of prediction markets – such as improved decision-making on personnel issues and improved employee morale – that can be realized with the most force when the markets are employed for long time horizons.

Thanks to David Perry of Consensus Point for allowing me to republish this explainer.

Is Intrade out on a limb?

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As I write this, Intrade gives the advantage to McCain over Obama and has the Republican party even with the Democratic party to win the election, whereas all the other prediction markets, meaning IEM, Betfair, and the NewsFutures play-money kind still favor a Democrat in the White House. That disconnect prompted Chris to wonder aloud whether Intrade is faster than the other markets to incorporate the latest polls, perhaps because of its &#8220-bigger liquidity&#8221-.

That&#8217-s an interesting reaction on several levels.

First, reactivity and accuracy are not to be confused for one another. Given that market prices are supposed to be more accurate and more stable that fickle U.S. raw polls (Berg et al, 2008), one should not necessarily be impressed by the market that is quickest to mirror the latest polls. I very much doubt that traders in the &#8220-other&#8221- markets have not heard about the latest polls giving McCain an edge. Rightly or wrongly – it is too soon to tell – they just gave those polls less weight that the Intrade traders apparently did.

Second, the argument from &#8220-bigger liquidity&#8221- is not receivable. Recently, Paul Tetlock analyzed Tradesports data in depth and found that more liquidity may in fact make the market dumber. He concludes: &#8220-In both sports and financial prediction markets, the calibration of prices to event probabilities does not improve with increases in liquidity- and the forecasting resolution of market prices actually worsens with increases in liquidity.&#8221-

My personal theory is that Intrade has a hair-trigger Republican bias which is not found in the other markets, because Intrade appeals to, and is marketed to, the more Republican-leaning segments of the U.S. population. In my opinion, the Intrade/Tradesports Republican bias was already evident in the 2004 election, as this analysis shows.

Of course, I may be completely wrong. In any case, I find today&#8217-s dual disconnect between the polls and most of the markets, on the one hand, and between Intrade and the other markets, on the other hand, to be two very interesting data points that should be duly recorded so we can come back to them later, with hindsight.

Intrade 2008.PRES.McCAIN > PRESIDENT.REP2008

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How frequent are arbitrage opportunities such as the following?

In addition to title, the reverse is true of OBAMA/DEM.

Do traders really think there&#8217-s some probability of McCain being elected as an idependent and Obama being replaced as the Democrat nominee?

State Polls versus Electoral College Prediction Markets

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Prediction market analyst Lance Fortnow in an e-mail to me:

Right now the electoral college markets are tracking the polls pretty closely. I think we&#8217-ll see some divergence when we get close to the election since the polls can&#8217-t keep up. In past elections the markets were much better than the polls within a few days before the election (though not on election day itself which has too many rumors).

Other thoughts:
– There is a long-shot bias &#8212-states which are above 85% (for one candidate or the other) reflect a probability closer to 100%.
– The state markets are strongly correlated. There is a small but non-trivial chance that many states will be way off this year. And then people will be reluctant to trust the electoral college markets in the future.

So, I have (at least) one answer to my series of provocative questions: Electoral college prediction markets are more useful than the state polls towards the very end of the presidential campaign (but not on Election Day). Interesting. Thanks.

PS: The discussion about this post goes on in the comment area of another post.

Now that Joe Biden is the Democratic vice president nominee, what to think of Justin Wolfers August 1st column for the WSJ?

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The good point is that he dealt well with the fact that the VP prediction markets fed on primary indicators that are less reliable than the ones used for the political elections.

The bad point is that, at the time he wrote up his column, Virginia governor Tim Kaine was the favorite of the InTrade VP prediction markets. The others were, in decreasing order, Evan Bayth, Kathleen Sebelius, and then&#8230- Joe Biden. So, the critic reading his column today could say that the prediction markets are oversold to a gullible public and that a prediction market bubble ready to pop up is forming under our very nose.

– Now, we know that Barack Obama made his decision while vacationing in Hawaii (less than 2 weeks ago). That&#8217-s only from that date that the VP prediction markets started generating probabilistic predictions worth quoting. The trick is that Justin Wolfers (and the other prediction market analysts) didn&#8217-t know that, on August 1st. (PDF file)

– I don&#8217-t regret my decision not to publish about the VP prediction markets. I&#8217-d look like an idiot today.

The vetting of the many potential Democratic vice president nominees was not as secretive as I thought. – Bo Cowgill was right, in hindsight.

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The New York Times has a recount on how Barack Obama reached his decision on Joe Biden. The final decision was probably made 10 days ago, while Barack Obama was vacationing in Hawaii.

[…] Mr. Obama’s decision had as much to do with Mr. Biden’s appeal among white working-class voters and compelling personal story, and his conclusion that the Delaware senator was &#8220-a worker.&#8221-

The important information in the NYT piece is that Barack Obama personally called governor Bill Richardson &#8220-late last week&#8221- to announce him that he was not considered anymore. That&#8217-s around the time the Joe Biden rumor began to have more weight in the media circles &#8212-see the InTrade chart below.

Bo Cowgill, back in May 2008 (when I started to act as a prophet of doom):

This is dumb. Cover them if something interesting happens. Maybe your theory will turn out to be wrong. Anyhow: Although the decision is made in secrecy, the Presidential nominees have a number incentives which we have plenty of information about. Specifically:
* They want someone who will balance their tickets in terms of geography, race and class.
* They want someone who will help with weak areas of their campaigns.
* They want someone who will be a good campaign surrogate — giving good speeches and attacking the opponents effectively.
* They want to avoid a VP who will de-motivate or offend the base.
* They want to avoid someone with a bunch of skeletons in the closet such as angry ex-wives, out-of-wedlock kids, etc.
* Etc etc.
Anyhow, I don’t see any reason to ignore these markets in case something interesting happens. I read Midas Oracle so that I don’t *have* to read a whole bunch of other websites!

Bo Cowgill was on the right track, now that I think of it &#8212-in a society where everything leaks out.

On the opposite of the spectrum, Tom Snee was too much extreme in his view:

According to Tom Snee of the Iowa Electronic Market, at Iowa University, futures markets need more hard information than they get in the veepstakes, to reliably predict a result.

Markets are very good at predicting elections, he says – but not choices being made inside Barack Obama&#8217-s or John McCain&#8217-s head.

Justin Wolfers was more measured.

So, Bo Cowgill and Justin Wolfers are the winners, on that one.

I was partially wrong. I am a bit too extreme, sometimes. (Did someone else notice that? :-D ) I need to learn more about&#8230- granularity.

PS: On the Republican side, now&#8230-

Price for 2008 Republican VP Nominee (others upon request)(expired at convention) at

Who will be the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee?

Barack Obama + Joe Biden – THE PREDICTION MARKETS NAILED IT… triple alas (for my reputation as a world-wide prediction market pundit, and for the debate on the different quality of the various primary indicators out there).

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“Friend &#8212- I have some important news that I want to make official. I’ve chosen Joe Biden to be my running mate.”

Some blogger says his wife is fantastic.

New York Times portrait of Joe Biden.

UPDATE: Barack Obama&#8217-s speech + Joe Biden&#8217-s speech

I think it is the worst pick ever. What a blunder. Joe Biden (a D.C. insider) is unpopular and gaffe prone. Plus, that choice shows that Barack Obama is insecure when it comes to foreign policy. An emphasis on the economy and, thus, on a successful gubernatorial experience would have been better.

Kathleen Sebelius was the one to pick. She is my vice president. (And Ron Paul is my president. :-D )

I have over-estimated the secretiveness of Barack Obama&#8217-s decision process. The chart above obviously shows that the Joe Biden narrative leaked out to reporters was beamed out for a purpose: testing the Obama-needs-a-VP-who-is-strong-in-foreign-policy argument, and letting the Press do the final vetting on gaffe-prone Joe Biden.

InTrade CEO John Delaney (along with the HubDub and BetFair people) will now brag on his marketing material that his prediction exchange did forecast Joe Biden as the Democratic vice president nominee.

What&#8217-s bad in all that (other than I have an egg on my face [*] ) is that we won&#8217-t have a public debate on the different quality of the various primary indicators, and how that conditions the accuracy of the prediction markets.

[*] I have an egg on my face, but Caveat Bettor has a whole omelet on his. :-D

Never trust a politician.

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While InTrade CEO John Delaney is deceiving the journalists to sell his wares, Tom Snee of the Iowa Electronic Markets is telling them the truth: BEWARE THE VP-CANDIDATE PREDICTION MARKETS, THEY JUST AGGREGATE RUMORS.

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BBC News:

According to Tom Snee of the Iowa Electronic Market, at Iowa University, futures markets need more hard information than they get in the veepstakes, to reliably predict a result.

Markets are very good at predicting elections, he says – but not choices being made inside Barack Obama&#8217-s or John McCain&#8217-s head.

Thank God for the BBC.

Thank God for the Iowa Electronic Markets.

Shame on John Delaney &#8212-over 3 generations of Delaneys.

Other than Tom Snee (the IEM spin doctor), Chris Masse and Justin Wolfers are the only prediction market analysts to have sent out warnings about the VP-candidate prediction markets.