What the World Cup Tells Us About Investing Models

 

“All models are wrong; some are useful.” — George E. P. Box

 

The quote above comes from George Box. He was a brilliant statistician and professor, who thought long and hard about the use and misuse of statistics.

I was reminded of Box this weekend while watching the thrilling World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. (If you didn’t find Germany’s 1-0 win thrilling, that simply means you don’t understand soccer). From Goldman Sachs to fivethirtyeight, just about every major modeler with the temerity to forecast the outcome of the Cup got it wrong. Not merely wrong, but wildly so. Give credit to Macquarie for choosing Germany to win (me too!), but getting almost everything else wrong. (I did even worse).

There are trillions of dollars invested based on models. Many of the world’s biggest hedge funds, pension funds and foundations are highly dependent upon some form of modeling to put their capital to work. What does it say about the world of investing that nearly all of these folks in the business of modeling markets and economies were so far afield when they tried to predict the outcome of the Word Cup? I believe it is more than just a matter of sports being different from investing.

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