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Introducing: Blokland’s daily sketch

Introducing: Blokland’s daily sketch

15-06-2018 | Insight

A new daily graph chosen by Robeco’s chart guru Jeroen Blokland will run every working day from Monday 18 June.

  • Jeroen Blokland
    Jeroen
    Blokland
    Portfolio Manager

The feature, to be called Blokland’s daily sketch, will replace the daily ‘Best of the Web’ feature that was produced by Lukas Daalder, who has left Robeco.

Blokland, a senior portfolio manager of multi-asset funds with Robeco Investment Solutions, has long been a chart enthusiast, with his own degree of online fame. He has more than 18,000 followers on his chart-centric Twitter account @jsblokland

His new daily sketch column is partly named after an historic British newspaper which pioneered photo journalism at the turn of the 20th century. In the question-and-answer session below, he outlines why he likes charts so much.

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Your Twitter account occupies a prominent position on the ‘must follow’ lists published by Business Insider and MarketWatch. This is largely thanks to your endless series of graphs. How did you develop this fascination?

“I use graphs a lot in my investment research, and I’m always searching for relationships and correlations. You can’t show everything using graphs, but they can help clarify an awful lot. You don’t need 16 lines; two is the perfect number. Many economists take a stance: ‘the relationship between employment and wages has broken down and this is the reason’ and then debate it. I don’t like doing that; I want to use a graph to make a succinct and clear statement.”

So, two lines are perfect? But what are the other ingredients for a really good graph?

“A good graph shows a relationship between elements from which you can draw a conclusion with a reasonable degree of certainty. If you plot a graph of the Ifo Business Climate Index against the German economy, you know it will work and you’ll end up with a nice graph. You know that when the Ifo line moves up, growth will generally move higher too. A good graph is a great tool when it comes to making investment decisions. The image shows the relationship; I can explain it and then predict how a market, currency or asset class will move. There is a fantastic graph of interest rates over the last 5,000 years – it’s brilliant. But it’s no use to an investor. You need a second line, a factor or an indicator that shows which way interest rates are going to move.”

Basing investment decisions on a graph sounds a bit like skating on thin ice. How do you approach this?

“For me, graphs play a fundamental role. Many investors make the mistake of thinking things will be different this time. They tend to think ‘but now we have QE and we’ve never had that before’. Or IT, or artificial intelligence. There is always something that makes us assume that things are not what they used to be. Graphs can help ensure that you make investment decisions while keeping both feet firmly on the ground. It’s a sort of emotional sanity check. Now that it’s become clear that the relationship between wages and employment has broken down, all sorts of reports have appeared saying that we need to look at some newfangled employment metric that has just been invented. Although the graph looks great – it’s just back-testing. But are things really different? Why should the original measure no longer be effective? If you look more carefully, it’s clear that the relationship hasn’t broken down, it’s just taking a bit longer. Because more people work part time and because there are different types of jobs.”

What is the first graph that you look at in the morning when you switch on your Bloomberg?

“For years now the most important graph in our industry has been interest rate movements. I’ve been surprised for a year now about the fact that these are not moving higher, except slightly in the US. Monetary easing is being scaled back and will eventually stop. The German economy is growing at a rate of 2.3% (at June 2018) – something that no economist would have dared predict a couple of years ago. I also used to spend a lot of time looking at the bitcoin graph when it was gaining or losing 20% a day, because it absolutely intrigued me; bitcoin is a lot calmer now. Closer to home, another graph that was fascinating was when the German 10-year yield fell below the 0% threshold for a while – that really was something special.”

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