More football structuring

I’ve commented earlier on innovative structuring of football player contracts, with call options and put options and all other exotic options being involved. Now I see another interesting transfer structure, this time in the contract of Juventus (and Spain) striker Alvaro Morata.

In 2014, Real Madrid sold Morata to Juventus for a transfer fee of €20 million, but the sale had a “buy back clause”. Embedded in the sale was an option for Real Madrid to buy back Morata at any time for €30 million, and now it seems like they’re exercising it!

While this might be based on Morata’s performances (both for Juventus and Spain) in the last couple of years, the interesting thing about the buyback is that Real Madrid are unlikely to keep hold of Morata. Instead, talk is that they plan to sell him on, with PSG and Manchester United being interested in the forward.

Effectively the deal is something like “as long as Morata’s perceived market value is  < €30M, Juventus can keep him, but once his perceived market value goes up, all the upside goes to Real Madrid”. The downside (in case Morata regressed as a player and his market value went below €20M), of course, remained with Juventus. To put it simply, Madrid is exercising its call option on the player.

While loan agreements have earlier had clauses such as “right but obligation to make deal permanent” or “obligation but not right to make deal permanent”, this is the first time I’m seeing an actual transfer deal with this kind of a clause, which is being exercised. So why did Juventus and Real Madrid hammer out such a complicated-looking structure?

For Juventus, the simple answer is that the option they wrote reduced the cost of buying the player. While they have given up on significant upside in writing this call option, this is what perhaps made the purchase possible for them, and in some ways, it’s worked out by giving them two more Scudetti.

The answer is less clear from Real Madrid’s perspective. Clearly, the fact that they got a call option meant that they believed there was a significant chance of Morata improving significantly. At the point of time of sale (2014), however, he was surplus to their requirements and they believed sending him elsewhere would help in this significant improvement.

It is possible that the market in 2014 wasn’t willing to bear the price implied by Real Madrid’s expectation of Morata’s improvement, but was only willing to pay based on his then abilities and form. In other words, while Morata’s current abilities were fairly valued, his future abilities were grossly undervalued.

And Madrid did the smart thing by unbundling the current and future values, by structuring a deal that included a call option!

Again, this is only my speculation of how it would have turned out, but it’s indeed fascinating. Given how global financial markets are performing nowadays, it seems like structuring of football deals is now far more interesting than structuring financial derivatives! But then the market is illiquid!

Drink structuring

At lunch yesterday it appeared like the men at the next table respectively asked for a cold coffee and an iced tea. What the waitress did was very interesting. She plonks a regular cup of “cafe con leche” (coffee with milk) in front of one guy, and a large cup of hot water with a tea bag in front of the other. They start mixing sugar into their respective drinks (it wasn’t added earlier). Then she brings two large glasses with lots of ice in them. The men presently pour their drinks into that glass and start drinking.

Two Tuesdays back I was at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Midway through my tour I saw this little cafe in the museum and decided to warm myself with some hot chocolate. After paying a princely EUR 2.75, I saw the barista take some canned cold chocolate from the fridge, use the steamer of the coffee machine to heat it up (in the process effectively adding copious amounts of water), and then hand it to me as “hot chocolate”. That was the last time on this trip I ever ordered hot chocolate.

It’s very interesting how “illiquid drinks” (an oxymoron if there is one – but as regular readers know, liquidity here refers to the economic concept and nothing physical) are structured here and offered without significant cost to the seller. Yesterday was the first time in two weeks in Barcelona, for example, that I saw someone drink cold coffee/tea. Given the low demand it doesn’t make sense for the restaurant to keep the infrastructure to make “real” cold coffee (a mixie and all that). Similarly with the chocolate at the cafe at the Rijksmuseum!

I haven’t seen this back in India – the only time I’ve seen drinks being structured thus was at that little overrated cafe in Alliance Francaise where I once had a lemon ice tea – the guy puts boiling water on a cup with a tea bag, waits for a couple of minutes for it to infuse, stirs sugar, throws out the bag, takes a large glass full of ice American-style, squeezes lemon into it, adds the tea and hands it over.

Maybe Indian restaurants could take a cue from how drinks are structured here – though it will be hard since the Indian customer is more demanding. Adigas, for example, can offer cold coffee (iced coffee to be precise). It will be an interesting experiment without too much cost (other than the ice).

While on the topic of drinks, one of the last great liquor advertising campaigns in India, before liquor advertising was banned in 2001 (and then had to go surrogate), was UB Export Strong Beer’s “yaake cool drink” series starring Upendra. It was incredibly low-priced beer, comparable to the price of a coke. So the tagline went “yella OK but cool drink yaake?” (everything is fine but why cool drink?). I had the beer for the first time two months back, when it was the only available beer at a party. Watch the ad here:

Last night at dinner I ordered a Coke. It was the first time since I landed in Barcelona that I had ordered a soft drink. I began wondering why. It was clear when the bill appeared. I had been charged EUR 2.78 for the (Georgia green glass 350ml) bottle of coke. I remember seeing the menu and seeing that wine was priced at EUR 2.15 there. Beer similar. A clear case of “yaake cool drink”.

Don’t use stud processes for fighter jobs and fighter processes for stud jobs

When people crib to other people that their job is not too exciting and that it’s too process-oriented and that there’s not muc scope for independend thinking, the usual response is that no job is inherently process-oriented or thinking-oriented, and that what matters is the way in which one perceives his job. People usually say that it doesn’t matter if a job is stud or fighter, and you can choose to do it the way you want to. This is wrong.

So there are two kinds of jobs – stud (i.e. insight-oriented) and fighter (i.e. process oriented). And you can do the job in either a stud manner (trying to “solve a problem” and looking for insights) or in a fighter manner (logically breaking down the problem, structuring it according to known formula and then applying known processes to each sub-problem). So this gives scope for a 2 by 2. I don’t want this to look like a BCG paper so I’m not actually drawing a 2 by 2.

Two of the four quadrants are “normal” and productive – doing stud jobs in a stud manner, and fighter jobs in a fighter manner. There is usually an expectancy match here in terms of the person doing the job and the “client” (client is defined loosely here as the person for whom this job is being done. in most cases it’s the boss). Both parties have a good idea about the time it will tak e  for the job to be done, the quality of the solution, and so on. If you are in either of these two quadrants you are good.

You can’t do a stud job (something that inherently requires insight) using a fighter process. A fighter process, by definition, looks out for known kind of solutions. When the nature of the solution is completely unknown, or if the problem is completely unstructured, the fighter behaves like a headless chicken. It is only in very rare and lucky conditions that the fighter will be able to do the stud job. As for “fighterization”, about which I’ve been talking so much on this blog, the problem definition is usually tweaked slightly in order to convert the stud problem to a fighter problem. So in effect, you should not try to solve a “stud problem” using a fighter process. Also, as an employer, it is unfair to expect a mostly fighter employee to come up with a good solution for a stud problem.

The fourth quadrant is what I started off this blog post with – studs doing fighter jobs. The point here is that there is no real harm in doing a fighter job in a stud manner, and the stud should be able to come up wiht a pretty good solution. The problem is wiht expectations, and with efficiency. Doing a fighter job in a stud manner creates inefficiency, since a large part of the “solution” involves reinventing the wheel. Yes, the stud might be able to come up with enhanced solutions – maybe solve the problem for a general case, or make the solution more scalable or sustainable, but unless the “client” understands that the problem was a stud problem, he is unlikely to care for these enhancements (unless he asked for them of course), and is likely to get pained because of lack of efficiency.

Before doing something it is important to figure out if the client expects a stud solution or a fighter solution. And tailor your working style according to that. Else there could be serious expectation mismatch which can lead to some level of dissatisfaction.

And when you are distributing work to subordinates, it might also help to classify them using stud nad fighter scales and give them jobs that take advantage of their stronger suits. I know you can’t do this completely – since transaction costs of having more than one person working on a small piece of work can be high – but if you do this to the extent possible it is likely that you will get superior results out of everyone.

Taleb’s Recipe

No, unlike the previous post, this has nothing to do about food. It is about Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s recent op-ed in the Financial Times where he gives his “recipe” for saving the global financial system. Two of my favourite bloggers Arnold Kling and Felix Salmon have responded to it, but I didn’t like either so I thought I should post my response as well.

I borrowed The Black Swan from Aadisht sometime in late 2007. I tried starting to read it several times but never got past Taleb’s childhood stories of his hometown Amioun. I took a couple of months to get past the first 50 pages, I think. And then it was easy reading. I loved the sub-plots. I broadly bought into the main plot. By the time I had finished reading the book, I wanted to ask Taleb to accept me as his sisya. I  bought and read Fooled By Randomness, and liked that too. And then decided to read The Black Swan yet again. It was only a couple of months back that I finally returned the latter book to Aadisht (in the meantime he had bought two other copies of it, and read it).

Till very recently, I would read up any article of Taleb’s that I could find. I wrote to him a couple of times with my CP, and he even responded. I infact wrote to him about “Positive Black Swans and the World of Romance” and he responded with a “Thanks Karthik, Ciao, Nassim”. I had become a worshipper.

However, now I think he’s kinda lost it. I don’t think he intends to write another book and so he has nicely settled down to peddling his last theory (black swan). In response to a recent post on studs and fighters, Kunal had said, “He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.”. The same disease affects Taleb I think, as he goes around the world trying to force-fit his black swan model to every conceivable problem.

And then I have a problem with people like Taleb and Satyajit Das, and actually with all those ibankers who are asking for bailouts. These guys made full use of capitalism, and made heaps of money, when things were good. And now that their money has been made, they call for government intervention, and socialism. Taleb and Das are different from the other wall streeters because they are calling for full-scale government intervention, unless the other bankers who are only calling for a bailout!

Now that the elaborate intro is done, let us get to the point. Taleb’s essay consists of ten points. The headings are italicized and there’s a detailed explanation. For purpose of brevity I’m putting only the headings here, and writing my comments after each of them. Go to the FT site to read the full points that Taleb has written.

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small.

I agree with this. And my take is that competitors need to keep each other in check. For example, if this round of bailouts were not to happen and the biggies were let to fall, no one would grow so big in the future, and even if they did, they would make sure that they were insulated enough from one another. This round of bailouts will make the next crisis (whenever it will happen) worse.

2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains.

Agree with this.

3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus.

Taleb has clearly not learnt his own lessons (fooled by randomness). I might have crashed the school bus once, but it may not be my mistake. the one data point of one bus crash should not be used to decide my career as a driver. One should look at how the driver drove before the crash to determine whether he gets a second chance. Blanket banning of people involved will not help.

4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks.

It’s all about structuring. Taleb was a trader and he forgets about structuring. As long as incentives of the employee and the employer are reasonably well aligned, there is no problem with an incentive bonus. The problem in ibanking was that too much emphasis was placed on short-term performance of employees. It’s tragic that the fall of the financial system has brought to an end what was an excellent compensation system (in principle, mind you; not the way it was practised) – where each person was paid fairly based on his/her contribution.

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity.

I think the simplest way would be to leave things to the market. Government intervention would lead to a new form of complexity, and in the overall scheme of things increase complexity rather than decrease it. None of the stuff that Taleb has mentioned is easily implementable.

6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning .

Again Taleb prescribes mai-baap sarkaar. Does he realize that if governments had always had tight control over the markets, the markets wouldn’t have crashed on October 19 1987, and he wouldn’t have made any money? (Taleb has reportedly made 97% of his life’s earnings out of this one event). What is “complex derivatives”? And how can you ban it? If you ban it, it’ll go to the black market. You are better off collecting hefty security transaction tax.

7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”.

I agree

8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains.

Agree once again. We need to structurally change things to get to saner leverage than what was practised 1-2 years back. Regulations should be simple and principles-based, minimizing chance for regulatory arbitrage. Remember that the purpose of creation of most “complex derivatives” in the last 25 years is regulatory arbitrage.

9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement.

Bullshit. The point on markets not containing information, that is.

10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs.

None of this makes any kind of practical sense. It’s just an old man ranting. Thanks, guru (pun intended).

IPL Structuring

I remember that this time, last year, I was eagerly looking forward to the IPL auctions. It also happened to be a time when I was actively looking out for a new job (i wasn’t going to find one till about six months later). And I was secretly hoping that one of the IPL franchises would employ me as a game theory and structuring consultant in order to help them out with the player auctions. While I tracked it online, I imagined myself sitting in the bidding room at the Trident, showing my excel sheet to the franchise owner and captain, and watch Preity Zinta enhance her Mata Amrita Index.

It was also a period of extreme NED, due to which i didn’t bother looking out actively to try consult for an IPL franchise. It was a period of low confidence, so I assumed I wasn’t good enough for this kind of work, and didnt’ bother doing anything in this direction. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue how to proceed, else i might have put SOME effort at least. A few months later, when the IPL was well underway, I figured out that one of my cousins is a big shot with Bangalore Royal Challengers, and he was among the people at the Trident who picked the Test XI to represent BRC. I wanted to kick myself, but for some reason I didn’t.

Currently, I’m comfortably employed, and so far have been happy with this job. Else I might have wanted to throw my hat into the ring. Once again, IPL team formation season is on. A few transfers have gone through already, and a few are currently in limbo. Bidding will happen next season for people who are joining the league this year. It promises to be an interesting time. And so far I’ve been deeply unhappy with the way the franchises are going about their business.

I’m especially upset with BRC, and have half a mind to call up my cousin who consults for them and give him a piece of my mind. How the hell could they let go of Zaheer Khan in exchage for Robin Uthappa? Yes, the latter is from Bangalore, and has that local pull factor. He has batted quite well this Ranji, though not anywhere close to what he played like 2 seasons back when he topped the batting charts. But he is supposed to be paid twice of what Zaheer was being paid! Is he really worth that much? I’m sure that BRC missed a trick here. I’m sure that had the BRC asked for a fee from Mumbai Indians in order to release Zaheer in exchange for Uthappa, the Indians would’ve definitely paid up. When Chelski can reportedly offer Anelka, Malouda, Alex and 15 million pounds in exchange for Robinho, Mumbai could definitely part with Uthappa and maybe a million dollars in exchange for Zaheer.

There were rumours of the Mumbai Indians negotiating a swap with Kings XI Punjab for a swap between Powar and Harbhajan, which reportedly got stalled because Harbhajan earns so much more than Powar. Once again, what if the Mumbai Indians paid a fee along with Harbhajan for Powar? I know it is ridiculous that Powar is worth Harbhajan plus a fee, but given their disparity in income, this is the only way that this deal is possible. And I’m sure that there is a particular fee, which if paid along with Harbhajan in exchange for Powar, will leave all the interested parties (Punjab, Mumbai, Harbhajan, Powar) better off. It seems like people are too lazy to find it.

The opportunities like this are endless. All that the franchises need is someone who has sufficient knowledge of game theory, coase theorem, a decent knowledge of cricket (interest in domestic cricket is a desirable quality) and who understands how to structure deals. I don’t know if franchises have already recruited such people but if they haven’t, they should try and recruit. The most obvious choice of person that I can think of who possesses all the above skills (including interest in domestic cricket) is me. Unlike last year, I’m not in the job market right now, but don’t mind doing some part-time stuff. I may not get paid, but I’m willing to work for a few IPL tickets and maybe invites to some parties with cricketers.

I’m also wondering if cricketers’ pay will go down starting the 2011 season onwards. The IPL auctions happened just before the downturn was to begin, and I’m sure that franchises have overpaid for most players. Since players have all signed three year contracts, their pay till the 2010 season is safe. Beyond that, I’m not sure if franchises will offer them fresh contracts at higher or equal salaries.

It would also be interesting to see if some version of the Bosman ruling is to operate in the IPL. We can only wait and see.