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Wal-Mart bet post-mortem

A post-mortem on my Wal-Mart bet, discussed June 5 and June 9.

For me to make money, a few things had to happen:

1. I had to be right that Wal-Mart v. Dukes would result in reversal. Check.

2. I had to be right that the marketplace would react as if this was a surprise, as had been my consistent experience. Even if the expected result was fully priced in, I expected a temporary surge in the price from day-traders irrationally responding to the opinion before the sharps traded the price back down. (I've seen this happen with other stocks just from getting favorable press coverage on CNBC.) Given the enormous market value of WMT, I expected a bounce between 1% and 4% in the stock price, which would correspond to a much larger bounce in the option price. Check: there was a 1.5% bounce after the Supreme Court announcement yesterday; that translated into an increase in the option prices of 20% to 50%. (Of course, post hoc ergo propter hoc doesn't fly: this isn't proof that I was right, rather than lucky, but I do think there was cause and effect.)

If I was right about those two things, my expected return was 15% to 60% depending on the size of the bump, minus the 4-5% transactions cost, plus or minus variance from other market factors.

Unfortunately, this variance issue meant I had to be lucky in two other factors:

First, there were eight or so possible days when the decision would be released; I had to hope the decision wasn't released on June 20, when I would be at a hearing in a courtroom, unable to act upon any rise in the stock price. Oops. By the time I learned of the decision at 1:30 PM, the day-trading bump from the news had disappeared.

Second, I needed the world to produce less bad economic news than good economic news. I was unlucky here: I purchased options June 1 to June 3, and there was bad economic news almost immediately; still, my break-even price was around $54, and I was ahead mid-day June 9. Then the Greek crisis hit, the stock dropped to $52.70 by the opening of June 20, and it was going to be hard for me to make my money back. And, indeed, the 1.5% bounce in the stock only went up to $53.50.

In the stock market, you can be wrong and make money, and right and lose money. It's better to be lucky than good. I'll liquidate today, and take a loss of over half my bet. C'est la guerre. I've made bigger financial mistakes in my life; I've had single trips to Las Vegas where I made more money than I lost on this three-week bet. (Heck, I'm an economist who understands opportunity cost. I lose more money than this every year I devote to the Center for Class Action Fairness instead of being a for-profit lawyer.)

Coverage: WSJ, proving that no publicity is bad publicity so long as they spell your name right; Frankel @ Reuters; Severino @ NRO; Ribstein; Blackman.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.