1 someone who makes conjectures without knowing the facts
2 someone who risks losses for the possibility of considerable gains [syn: plunger]
one who speculates; as in investing
- German: Spekulant
Financial speculation, involves the buying, holding, selling, and short-selling of stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, collectibles, real estate, derivatives, or any valuable financial instrument to profit from fluctuations in its price as opposed to buying it for use or for income via methods such as dividends or interest. Speculation or agiotage represents one of four market roles in Western financial markets, distinct from hedging, long- or short-term investing, and arbitrage.
Speculation areasConvention, and especially satire, sometimes portray speculators comically as speculating in pork bellies (in which a real market and real speculators exist) and often "losing their shirts" or making a fortune on small market changes. Speculation exists in many such commodities, but, if measured by value, the most important markets deal in futures contracts and other derivatives involving leverage that can transform a small market movement into a huge gain or loss.
Type of speculatorsMost non-professional traders lose money on speculation, while those who do make money tend to become professionals. Occasionally some dramatic event will occur, such as the effort of the Hunt brothers to corner the silver market or the currency speculations of George Soros or the speculative trading of Nick Leeson, which caused the collapse of Barings Bank.
By some definitions, most long-term investors, even those who buy and hold for decades, may be classified as speculators, excepting only the rare few who are not primarily motivated by eventually selling at a good profit. Some dedicated speculators are distinguished by shorter holding times, the use of leverage, by being willing to take short positions as well as long positions (in markets where the distinction can be reasonably made). A degree of speculation exists in a wide range of financial decisions, from the purchase of a house to a bet on a horse; this is what modern market economists call "ubiquitous speculation."
In Security Analysis, Benjamin Graham gave a definition of speculation in relation to investment: "An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and a satisfactory return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative."
The economic benefits of speculationThe well known speculator Victor Niederhoffer, in "The Speculator as Hero" describes the benefits of speculation: Let's consider some of the principles that explain the causes of shortages and surpluses and the role of speculators. When a harvest is too small to satisfy consumption at its normal rate, speculators come in, hoping to profit from the scarcity by buying. Their purchases raise the price, thereby checking consumption so that the smaller supply will last longer. Producers encouraged by the high price further lessen the shortage by growing or importing to reduce the shortage. On the other side, when the price is higher than the speculators think the facts warrant, they sell. This reduces prices, encouraging consumption and exports and helping to reduce the surplus.
Another service provided by speculators to a market is that by risking their own capital in the hope of profit, they add liquidity to the market and make it easier for others to offset risk, including those who may be classified as hedgers and arbitrageurs.
If a certain market - for example, pork bellies - had no speculators, then only producers (hog farmers) and consumers (butchers, etc.) would participate in that market. With fewer players in the market, there would be a larger spread between the current bid and ask price of pork bellies. Any new entrant in the market who wants to either buy or sell pork bellies would be forced to accept an illiquid market and market prices that have a large bid-ask spread or might even find it difficult to find a co-party to buy or sell to. A speculator (e.g. a pork dealer) may exploit the difference in the spread and, in competition with other speculators, reduce the spread, thus creating a more efficient market.
Some side effectsAuctions are a method of squeezing out speculators from a transaction, but they may have their own perverse effects; see winner's curse. The winner's curse is however not very significant to markets with high liquidity for both buyers and sellers, as the auction for selling the product and the auction for buying the product occur simultaneously, and the two prices are separated only by a relatively small spread. This mechanism prevents the winner's curse phenomenon from causing mispricing to any degree greater than the spread.
Speculative purchasing can also create inflationary pressure, causing particular prices to increase above their true value (real value - adjusted for inflation) simply because the speculative purchasing artificially increases the demand. Speculative selling can also have the opposite effect, causing prices to artificially decrease below their true value in a similar fashion. In various situations, price rises due to speculative purchasing cause further speculative purchasing in the hope that the price will continue to rise. This creates a positive feedback loop in which prices rise dramatically above the underlying value or worth of the items. This is known as an economic bubble. Such a period of increasing speculative purchasing is typically followed by one of speculative selling in which the price falls significantly, in extreme cases this may lead to crashes. Overall, the participation of speculators in financial markets tends to be accompanied by significant increase in short-term market volatility. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as heightened level of volatility implies that the market will be able to correct perceived mispricings more rapidly and in a more drastic manner.
EtymologyThe Etymology of the word is as follows; from O.Fr. speculation, from L.L. speculationem (nom. speculatio) "contemplation, observation," from L. speculatus, pp. of speculari "observe," from specere "to look at, view". Speculator in the financial sense is first recorded 1778. Speculate is a 1599 back-formation.
What is significant to note is the change from a passive to an active form of use. Specifically from a strict observer to one who contemplates what they observe then further to one who contemplates and acts on what they observe.
With these changes, the word as now commonly used, describes one who observes an object, event, or situation and takes some form of action with regard to the observed, all the while aware they may not know all the facts or factors regarding or affecting that which they observe. E.g. the financial speculator, one who understands and accepts he may not know all the facts or risks involved with a venture, yet chooses to invest his capital in the venture for the possibility of receiving greater capital in return.
Problems caused by financial speculationFinancial speculation has been blamed as main cause of various economic crises around the world.
Regulating SpeculationThe Tobin tax is a tax design to reduce short-term currency speculation.
In May 2008, German leaders have planned to propose a worldwide ban on oil trading by speculators, blaming the 2008 oil price rises on manipulation by hedge funds.