Monday, November 24, 2008

Order of Magnitude

An order of magnitude is an observation/measurement/approximation that one thing is about 10 times bigger than another thing. It's an exponential thing, so 2 orders of magnitude means that Thing A is about 100x better or bigger than Thing B. Not 2 times. Not 20 times. If Citigroup has $500 billion in crappy loans on its balance sheet, and Bank of America has $50 billion in crappy loans, Citi's crappy loan exposure is an order of magnitude greater than BofA's.

Order of magnitude is not a general observation about size. Consider the following financial media conversation:

Interviewer: How would you estimate Apple's exposure to the Circuit City bankruptcy?
Financial Professional: In terms of order of magnitude, Apple's Circuit Citty receivables are about $200 million.

That's just wrong. Saying "order of magnitude" rather than "size" or some other noun may sound more intelligent, but since it's totally incorrect, it's not.

Stop it.

No comments: