Saturday, October 18, 2008

Will He or Won't He?

When Colin Powell appears on NBC's Meet the Press tomorrow, he's widely expected to endorse Barack Obama. Savvy traders, who currently peg the chance of Powell backing Barack  at 87.5 (nearly 5 points better than Barack Obama's own current stock price on Intrade), flocked to the stock yesterday afternoon.

Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews yesterday, Politico's Jonathan Martin said of a potential Powell endorsement: "It seems like it's a real distinct possibility." 

This morning's UK Telegraph isn't even hedging with its headline - "Colin Powell to Support Barack Obama" 

The paper quoted Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's confidante and former chief of staff, who explained the former Secretary of State's thought process: He is "extremely upset by the vitriol, bile, and prejudice" aimed at Obama on the campaign trail.

He also offered the following rationale: "He likes to make his decisions at the 60 percent point in terms of information and timing. Most people make a decision too quickly or too late, on the basis of too little information or having waited for all the information they are a day late and a dollar short."

Traders, of course, would argue that Powell missed the 60% point weeks ago, when McCain's stock tanked and Obama headed for the stratosphere on Intrade. But the same criticism of waiting for too much info, until they are "a day late and a dollar short" could be applied to traders themselves, who clearly missed a big buying opportunity on the Powell endorsement contract earlier in the week.

The question, then, is less whether Powell will back the first black president this weekend than it why traders waited so long to buy the contract. After all, Lawrence O'Donnell predicted an endorsement in his Huffington Post blog days ago. Much of the media has been speculating about this all week. Yet, Intrade never highlighted the contract on its homepage and most traders missed the stock when it was still a steal at 60 earlier this week.

Bottom Line - This episode illustrates the need for a solid equity research firm in the prediction market field to call out these buying opportunities before it's too late. There's clearly still an upside to buying the Powell endorsement contract, but if you're only now getting on board you clearly missed out on a lot of money.

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