Thursday, October 16, 2008

Transparency is an imperative, but so are speed, access and understanding

Historic volatility, unprecedented coordinated bailouts, nationalizations, and bankruptcies of some of the doyennes of the financial elite are just some of the new realities we are all faced with.

Many may well be impressed with the speed and scope of the response to this crisis. I am, but it seems to me that Intrade and all in the prediction market industry have an increased obligation and opportunity to contribute to solutions in avoiding future crises.

Since Enron, WorldCom, Tyco et al and again since this crisis ignited we are being told that maximum transparency, disclosure, and better risk management tools are the answer. These solutions are exactly what prediction markets look to and can deliver.

But is something really transparent if it is buried within a 200 page document or if you need a degree in accounting to decipher it? Likewise, if the costs of producing or gaining access to the information is such that only a few benefit, is that maximum transparency and disclosure?

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) introduced after the Enron / WorldCom debacles is considered a success by most. However, in light of recent events and comments from Henry Paulson, John Thain and even former AIG chief Hank Greenberg, who all believe SOX threatens the US competitive position in the global marketplace, it hardly seems a panacea.

This is where prediction markets can really help now and in the future. We offer real-time aggregated collective intelligence that is easy to access and interpret. E.g. recession, tax rates, unemployment, offshore drilling, OPEC actions, bank failures, etc. Prediction markets provide a single number -- the probability or risk of something happening. Right now there seems to be a 75% probability that the US will be in recession in 2009.

To get the best predictive information barriers to entry for participants and providers must fall so that adoption and diversity can grow. To contribute their maximum to society (which we expect will befit Intrade and other leaders in our industry) prediction markets need to be embraced, encouraged, and considered part of a solution to managing risks and change. Only when this happens will there be such diversity and adoption that the markets can reach their full potential in aggregating information on the most important issues.

In addition to new and revised regulations, the time is right for expanded coverage of those regulations to include prediction markets and the innovative solutions they offer. If ever there was a time to embrace innovative solutions for assessing and managing risk it seems that time came before I started to write this short note.

Prediction markets are far from perfect, but they typically deliver incentivized real-time, efficient, aggregated probability estimates on uncertain future risks and events. They have never had a more important role and potential than right now.

I welcome your comments.

John Delaney, CEO, Intrade.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008