If you are so confident that your candidate—be it Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul or John McCain—will become the next President of the United States, then why don’t you put your money where your mouth is? To show just how far the free market has come, there is now a website that allows you to make money by betting on the outcome of world events from the U.S. presidential race to whether or not Venezuela or Ecuador will declare war on Colombia. The company, which operates out of Ireland, is called Intrade. The website offers a trading platform similar to the U.S. stock exchange, but traders on Intrade buy and sell options on things most people might consider a bit out of the ordinary.
Investors who consider placing bets on Intrade should keep in mind that Intrade is still a small marketplace. This means that positions can be volatile and may be difficult to close out of. Therefore, Intrade should not make up a large portion of an investment portfolio, and should probably be viewed more in terms of entertainment than an actual investment.
Smart investors may be able to profit from some of the holes in the Intrade system and capitalize on the small marketplace. According to an article by The New York Times, a professional poker player named Serge Ravitch made a 35 percent return on his money in just 6 weeks by identifying these weaknesses. One trade he took advantage of was based on the Republican Presidential nomination, which more than 10 percent of traders on Intrade thought would go to Ron Paul. No one in the Republican Party—or any party for that matter—was giving Ron Paul a prayer to win the nomination. Because of the market’s small size, the diehard supporters of Ron Paul raised the percentages in his favor higher than they really should have been.
For other events, Intrade’s predictions have proven surprisingly accurate. The following is a quote from The New York Times article:
“In 2004, President Bush won every state in which Intrade’s contracts—as of the night before Election Day—gave him a better than 50 percent chance of winning. He lost every state where the traders thought Mr. Kerry was the favorite. Late on election night in 2006, while the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC were still saying that the Republicans would hold onto the Senate, Intrade knew better.”
Investors should take caution when making bets on Intrade, and not invest too much at this point. If nothing else, Intrade could prove to be a source of entertainment for investors who want to see if they can outsmart the public. For those investors who want the entertainment value without putting up real money, Intrade also offers play money accounts for free.