Michael Lewis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Liar’s Poker (1989), Moneyball (2003), The Blind Side (2006), The Big Short (2010), and Flash Boys (2014), has been confirmed as the keynote speaker for MarketWaves18, FreightWaves’ conference on the economics and financing of freight. MarketWaves18 will take place at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, on November 12 and 13.
Lewis is a much sought-after speaker whose journalism has appeared in Slate, The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg, The New Republic, and Vanity Fair. He writes on the financial industry, politics, sports, fatherhood, and psychology—a wide variety of topics, to be sure—but has settled on some core themes that animate his entire body of work.
There’s a moment in Liar’s Poker, Lewis’ first book recounting his tenure as a bond salesman at Salomon Brothers in the 1980s, where a young Michael Lewis hits upon an insight that would fascinate him for the rest of his career. The efficient-market hypothesis, a core tenet of business school dogma that claims it is impossible to ‘beat the market’ because a stock’s price reflects all known information about the company, was wrong. The rookie bond salesman realizes that while bond traders quickly digest information like a company’s earnings, other extremely pertinent data, like the value of a corporation’s real estate holdings or the size of its pension liabilities, are often poorly understood or overlooked entirely. Besides, if the efficient-market hypothesis was true, insider trading would be the only way to make money.
Lewis’ insight into the fundamental inefficiency of markets ties much of his work on sports and economics together. How do we value an asset in a given place at a given time, and how can we be sure we’re valuing it correctly? Sometimes only a catastrophe can reveal just how poorly priced our assets really are. Professional football coaches did not correctly value specialty offensive lineman positions until linebacker Lawrence Taylor broke quarterback Joe Theismann’s leg on Monday Night Football in 1985; sixteen years later, Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens left tackle charged with protecting QB Trent Dilfer, was the highest-paid player on the field in Super Bowl XXXV. Lewis’ book The Blind Side weaves together that story of the NFL’s evolution with the biography of Michael Oher, an impoverished African-American high schooler who eventually played left tackle at the University of Mississippi and in the NFL.
To shift to a different sport, is runs batted in or on-base percentage a better way of evaluating a baseball player’s offensive contribution? In the 1990s, Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A’s, bet that the traditional ways that MLB scouts scored prospects was subjective and flawed, and that a new set of metrics could identify undervalued assets in the market. By the time Beane’s new prospects were playing for him, the 2002 Oakland Athletics, operating with a paltry $44M payroll, were competitive with the New York Yankees, who were spending $125M on their roster.
In The Big Short, Lewis told the story of physician and hedge fund manager Michael Burry, one of the few investors who realized during the 2003-8 housing bubble that securitized mortgages were wildly overvalued. Burry shorted the market and profited accordingly, but one of the larger implications of the book was that so many intelligent, well-informed people were dead wrong about the risk associated with a huge asset class. While Moneyball argued that culture and antiquated beliefs might cause market inefficiency in baseball, The Big Short looked at how greed and short-termism caused an entire industry to fail to recognize a house of cards for what it truly was.
Michael Lewis’ versatility as an author and speaker, and his abiding interest in information, value, and markets, make him the perfect keynote speaker for MarketWaves18. One of FreightWaves’ core missions is to bring transparency to freight markets by democratizing access to data—to give carriers, brokers, and shippers visibility so they can make better-informed business decisions. For that reason and many more, we’re eagerly anticipating Michael Lewis’ appearance at our conference in November. Join us there!
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