Business and finance 28 February 2018

Jerome Powell's game of Kerplunk

THERE is an old children's game called Kerplunk. It is similar in concept to Jenga. Marbles are poured into a plastic tube through which sticks have been threaded. The players take it in turns to remove the sticks with the aim of avoiding the fall of marbles. The normal pattern is for a few marbles to drop until the unlucky player removes the strut that keeps up the rest. A noisy crash ensues.Jerome Powell (pictured), the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, may be that unlucky player. Janet Yellen, his respected predecessor, managed to pull out five sticks (ie, raised rates five times) before she departed, leaving both the economy and the markets in fine shape. Doubtless, Ms Yellen was not happy when President Donald Trump denied her a second term. But it may have been a blessing in disguise. The task of the central banker gets a lot more difficult from here.Mr Powell's first Congressional testimony as Fed chair yesterday was seen as bullish on the economy...Continue reading

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Forecasting congressional votes could yield juicy returns

STOCK traders hang on central bankers’ every utterance. They scan news sites for market-moving events, such as terrorist attacks, and monitor President Donald Trump’s tweets for hostility towards publicly traded firms. Curiously, though, few analyse goings-on in Congress, which can shift the course of the world’s largest economy. Jonathan Strong, a former reporter (including at Roll Call, a sister publication of The Economist), hopes to change that.With the help of 0ptimus, a firm of Republican data wonks, he has spent three years building Legis, an algorithm powered by vast quantities of data and a neural network (a computer system modelled on the human brain), which predicts the outcome of congressional votes. Each of the 44 votes it has forecast so far has been correct. Last year a hedge fund (which does not want to be named) began trading derivatives using its predictions.According to legend, carrier pigeons brought news of the Duke of Wellington’s...Continue reading

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