This document is the written testimony submitted to the House Oversight Committee for its hearing on hedge funds and the financial crisis, held November 13, 2008, and is not a formal academic research paper, but is intended for a broader audience of policymakers and regulators. Academic readers may be alarmed by the lack of comprehensive citations and literature review, the imprecise and qualitative nature of certain arguments, and the abundance of illustrative examples, analogies, and metaphors. Accordingly, such readers are hereby forewarned—this paper is not research but is instead a summary of the policy implications that I have drawn from my interpretation of that research I begin with a proposal to measure systemic risk and argue that this is the natural starting point for regulatory reform since it is impossible to manage something that cannot be measured. Then I review the relation between systemic risk and hedge funds, and show that early warning signs of the current crisis did exist in the hedge-fund industry as far back as 2004. However, I argue that financial crises may be an unavoidable aspect of human behavior, and the best we can do is acknowledge this tendency and be properly prepared. This behavioral pattern, as well as traditional economic motives for regulation—public goods, externalities, and incomplete markets—are relevant for systemic risk or its converse, 'systemic safety', and I suggest applying these concepts to the functions of the financial system to yield a rational process for regulatory reform. Also, I propose the formation of a new investigative office patterned after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to provide the kind of information aggregation and transparency that is called for in the previous sections. Another aspect of transparency involves fair-value accounting, and I review some of the recent arguments for its suspension and propose developing a new branch of accounting focusing exclusively on risk. I conclude with a discussion of the role of financial technology and education in the current crisis, and argue that more finance training is needed, not less.
with Nicholas Chan, Mila Getmansky, Shane M. Haas, The Risks of Financial Institutions and the Financial Sector, edited by M. Carey and R. Stulz, 2007. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
In this article, we attempt to quantify the potential impact of hedge funds on systemic risk by developing a number of new risk measures for hedge funds and applying them to individual and aggregate hedge-fund returns data. These measures include: illiquidity risk exposure, nonlinear factor models for hedge-fund and banking-sector indexes, logistic regression analysis of hedge-fund liquidation probabilities, and aggregate measures of volatility and distress based on regime-switching models. Our preliminary findings suggest that the hedge-fund industry may be heading into a challenging period of lower expected returns, and that systemic risk is currently on the rise.
Journal of Investment Management 5 (2007), 29-78.
During the week of August 6, 2007, a number of quantitative long/short equity hedge funds experienced unprecedented losses. Based on TASS hedge-fund data and simulations of a specific long/short equity strategy, we hypothesize that the losses were initiated by the rapid "unwind" of one or more sizable quantitative equity market-neutral portfolios. Given the speed and price impact with which this occurred, it was likely the result of a forced liquidation by a multi-strategy fund or proprietary-trading desk, possibly due to a margin call or a risk reduction. These initial losses then put pressure on a broader set of long/short and long-only equity portfolios, causing further losses by triggering stop/loss and de-leveraging policies. A significant rebound of these strategies occurred on August 10th, which is also consistent with the unwind hypothesis. This dislocation was apparently caused by forces outside the long/short equity sector—in a completely unrelated set of markets and instruments—suggesting that systemic risk in the hedge-fund industry may have increased in recent years.
with Nicholas Chan, Mila Getmansky, and Shane M. Haas, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Economic Review 2006:Q4, 49–80.
In this article, we attempt to quantify the potential impact of hedge funds on systemic risk by developing a number of new risk measures for hedge funds and applying them to individual and aggregate hedge-fund returns data. These measures include: illiquidity risk exposure, nonlinear factor models for hedge-fund and banking-sector indexes, logistic regression analysis of hedge-fund liquidation probabilities, and aggregate measures of volatility and distress based on regime-switching models. Our preliminary findings suggest that the hedge-fund industry may be heading into a challenging period of lower expected returns, and that systemic risk is currently on the rise. This is a redacted version of our paper "Systemic Risk and Hedge Funds".
with Mila Getmansky and Shauna X. Mei, Journal of Investment Management 2 (2004), 6–38.
We document the empirical properties of a sample of 1,765 funds in the TASS Hedge Fund database from 1994 to 2004 that are no longer active. The TASS sample shows that attrition rates differ significantly across investment styles, from a low of 5.2% per year on average for convertible arbitrage funds to a high of 14.4% per year on average for managed futures funds. We relate a number of factors to these attrition rates, including past performance, volatility, and investment style, and also document differences in illiquidity risk between active and liquidated funds. We conclude with a proposal for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to play a new role in promoting greater transparency and stability in the hedge-fund industry.
Commonfund Quarterly Fall 2002.
with Dmitry V. Repin, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 14 (2002), 323–339.
A longstanding controversy in economics and finance is whether financial markets are governed by rational forces or by emotional responses. We study the importance of emotion in the decisionmaking process of professional securities traders by measuring their physiological characteristics, e.g., skin conductance, blood volume pulse, etc., during live trading sessions while simultaneously capturing real-time prices from which market events can be detected. In a sample of 10 traders, we find significant correlation between electrodermal responses and transient market events, and between changes in cardiovascular variables and market volatility. We also observe differences in these correlations among the 10 traders which may be systematically related to the traders' levels of experience.
Financial Analysts Journal 57 (2001), 16-33
Although risk management has been a well-plowed field in financial modeling for over two decades, traditional risk management tools such as mean-variance analysis, beta, and Value-at-Risk do not capture many of the risk exposures of hedge-fund investments. In this article, I review several aspects of risk management that are unique to hedge funds - survivorship bias, dynamic risk analytics, liquidity, and nonlinearities - and provide examples that illustrate their potential importance to hedge-fund managers and investors. I propose a research agenda for developing a new set of risk analytics specifically designed for hedge-fund investments, with the ultimate goal of creating risk transparency while, at the same time, protecting the proprietary nature of hedge-fund investment strategies.
with Yacine Ait-Sahalia, Journal of Econometrics 94 (2000), 9–51.
Typical value-at-risk (VAR) calculations involve the probabilities of extreme dollar losses, based on the statistical distributions of market prices. Such quantities do not account for the fact that the same dollar loss can have two very different economic valuations, depending on business conditions. We propose a nonparametric VAR measure that incorporates economic valuation according to the state-price density associated with the underlying price processes. The state-price density yields VAR values that are adjusted for risk aversion, time preferences, and other variations in economic valuation. In the context of a representative agent equilibrium model, we construct an estimator of the risk-aversion coefficient that is implied by the joint observations on option prices and underlying asset value.
Financial Analysts Journal 55 (1999), 13–26.
Current risk-management practices are based on probabilities of extreme dollar losses (e.g., measures like Value at Risk), but these measures capture only part of the story. Any complete risk-management system must address two other important factors: prices and preferences. Together with probabilities, these comprise the three P's of Total Risk Management. This article describes how the three Ps interact to determine sensible risk profiles for corporations and for individuals, guidelines for how much risk to bear and how much to hedge. By synthesizing existing research in economics, psychology, and decision sciences, and through an ambitious research agenda to extend this synthesis into other disciplines, a complete and systematic approach to rational decision-making in an uncertain world is within reach.