Optimal Control of Execution Costs for Portfolios
with Dimitris Bertsimas and Paul Hummel, Computing in Science & Engineering 1 (2000), 40–53.
The dramatic growth in institutionally managed assets, coupled with the advent of internet trading and electronic brokerage for retail investors, has led to a surge in the size and volume of trading. At the same time, competition in the asset management industry has increased to the point where fractions of a percent in performance can separate the top funds from those in the next tier. In this environment, portfolio managers have begun to explore active management of trading costs as a means of boosting returns. Controlling execution cost can be viewed as a stochastic dynamic optimization problem because trading takes time, stock prices exhibit random fluctuations, and execution prices depend on trade size, order flow, and market conditions. In this paper, we apply stochastic dynamic programming to derive trading strategies that minimize the expected cost of executing a portfolio of securities over a fixed period of time, i.e., we derive the optimal sequence of trades as a function of prices, quantitites, and other market conditions. To illustrate the practical relevance of our methods, we apply them to a hypothetical portfolio of 25 stocks by estimating their price-impact functions using historical trade data from 1996 and deriving the optimal execution strategies. We also perform several Monte Carlo simulation experiments to compare the performance of the optimal strategy to several alternatives.
An Econometric Model of Serial Correlation and Illiquidity in Hedge-Fund Returns
with Mila Getmansky and Igor Makarov, Journal of Financial Economics 74 (2004), 529–609.
The returns to hedge funds and other alternative investments are often highly serially correlated in sharp contrast to the returns of more traditional investment vehicles such as long-only equity portfolios and mutual funds. In this paper, we explore several sources of such serial correlation and show that the most likely explanation is illiquidity exposure, i.e., investments in securities that are not actively traded and for which market prices are not always readily available. For portfolios of illiquid securities, reported returns will tend to be smoother than true economic returns, which will understate volatility and increase risk-adjusted performance measures such as the Sharpe ratio. We propose an econometric model of illiquidity exposure and develop estimators for the smoothing profile as well as a smoothing-adjusted Sharpe ratio. For a sample of 908 hedge funds drawn from the TASS database, we show that our estimated smoothing coefficients vary considerably across hedge-fund style categories and may be a useful proxy for quantifying illiquidity exposure.
Nonparametric Risk Management and Implied Risk Aversion
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.
Asset Prices and Trading Volume Under Fixed Transactions Costs
with Harry Mamaysky and Jiang Wang, Journal of Political Economy 112 (2004), 1054–1090.
We propose a dynamic equilibrium model of asset prices and trading volume with heterogeneous agents facing fixed transactions costs. We show that even small fixed costs can give rise to large "no-trade" regions for each agent's optimal trading policy and a significant illiquidity discount in asset prices. We perform a calibration exercise to illustrate the empirical relevance of our model for aggregate data. Our model also has implications for the dynamics of order flow, bid/ask spreads, market depth, the allocation of trading costs between buyers and sellers, and other aspects of market microstructure, including a square-root power law between trading volume and fixed costs which we confirm using historical US stock market data from 1993 to 1997.
Frontiers of Finance: Evolution and Efficient Markets
with J. Doyne Farmer, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96 (1999), 9991–9992.
In this review article, we explore several recent advances in the quantitative modeling of financial markets. We begin with the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and describe how this controversial idea has stimulated a number of new directions of research, some focusing on more elaborate mathematical models that are capable of rationalizing the empirical facts, others taking a completely different tack in rejecting rationality altogether. One of the most promising directions is to view financial markets from a biological perspective and, specifically, within an evolutionary framework in which markets, instruments, institutions, and investors interact and evolve dynamically according to the "law" of economic selection. Under this view, financial agents compete and adapt, but they do not necessarily do so in an optimal fashion. Evolutionary and ecological models of financial markets is truly a new frontier whose exploration has just begun.
The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis: Market Efficiency from an Evolutionary Perspective
Journal of Portfolio Management 30 (2004), 15–29.
One of the most influential ideas in the past 30 years of the Journal of Portfolio Management is the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, the idea that market prices incorporate all information rationally and instantaneously. However, the emerging discipline of behavioral economics and finance has challenged this hypothesis, arguing that markets are not rational, but are driven by fear and greed instead. Recent research in the cognitive neurosciences suggests that these two perspectives are opposite sides of the same coin. In this article I propose a new framework that reconciles market efficiency with behavioral alternatives by applying the principles of evolution—competition, adaptation, and natural selection—to financial interactions. By extending Herbert Simon's notion of "satisficing'' with evolutionary dynamics, I argue that much of what behavioralists cite as counterexamples to economic rationality—loss aversion, overconfidence, overreaction, mental accounting, and other behavioral biases—are, in fact, consistent with an evolutionary model of individuals adapting to a changing environment via simple heuristics. Despite the qualitative nature of this new paradigm, the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis offers a number of surprisingly concrete implications for the practice of portfolio management.
The Three P’s of Total Risk Management
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.
It’s 11pm—Do You Know Where Your Liquidity Is? The Mean-Variance-Liquidity Frontier
with Constantin Petrov and Martin Wierzbicki, Journal of Investment Management 1 (2003), 55–93.
We introduce liquidity into the standard mean-variance portfolio optimization framework by defining several measures of liquidity and then constructing three-dimensional mean-variance-liquidity frontiers in three ways—liquidity filtering, liquidity constraints, and a mean-variance-liquidity objective function. We show that portfolios close to each other on the traditional mean-variance efficient frontier can differ substantially in their liquidity characteristics. In a simple empirical example, the liquidity exposure of mean-variance efficient portfolios change dramatically from month to month, and even simple forms of liquidity optimization can yield significant benefits in reducing a portfolio's liquidity-risk exposure without sacrificing a great deal of expected return per unit risk.
Bubble, Rubble, Finance In Trouble?
Journal of Psychology and Financial Markets 3 (2002), 76–86.
In this talk, I review the implications of the recent rise and fall of the technology sector for traditional financial theories and their behavioral alternatives. Although critics of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis argue that markets are driven by fear and greed, not fundamentals, recent research in the cognitive neurosciences suggest that these two perspectives are opposite sides of the same coin. I propose a new paradigm for financial economics that focuses more on the evolutionary biology and ecology of markets rather than the more traditional physicists' view. By marrying the principles of evolution to Herbert Simon's notion of "satisficing,'' I argue that much of what behavioralists cite as counter-examples to economic rationality—loss aversion, overconfidence, overreaction, mental accounting, and other behavioral biases—are, in fact, consistent with an evolutionary model of rational agents learning to adapt to their environment via satisficing heuristics.
The Psychophysiology of Real-Time Financial Risk Processing
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.