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.
with Thomas J. Brennan, Management Science 56 (2010), 905-923.
A key result of the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) is that the market portfolio—the portfolio of all assets in which each asset's weight is proportional to its total market capitalization—lies on the mean-variance-efficient frontier, the set of portfolios having mean-variance characteristics that cannot be improved upon. Therefore, the CAPM cannot be consistent with efficient frontiers for which every frontier portfolio has at least one negative weight or short position. We call such efficient frontiers 'impossible', and show that impossible frontiers are difficult to avoid. In particular, as the number of assets, n, grows, we prove that the probability that a generically chosen frontier is impossible tends to one at a geometric rate. In fact, for one natural class of distributions, nearly one-eighth of all assets on a frontier is expected to have negative weights for every portfolio on the frontier. We also show that the expected minimum amount of shortselling across frontier portfolios grows linearly with n, and even when shortsales are constrained to some finite level, an impossible frontier remains impossible. Using daily and monthly U.S. stock returns, we document the impossibility of efficient frontiers in the data.
Jumping the Gates: Using Beta-Overlay Strategies to Hedge Liquidity Constraints
with A. Healy, Journal of Investment Management 7 (2009), 1–20.
In response to the current financial crisis, a number of hedge funds have implemented "gates" on their funds that restrict withdrawals when the sum of redemption requests exceeds a certain percentage of the fund's total assets. To reduce the investor's risk exposures during these periods, we propose a futures overlay strategy designed to hedge out or control the common factor exposures of gated assets. By taking countervailing positions in stock, bond, currency, and commodity exposures, an investor can greatly reduce the systematic risks of their gated assets while still enjoying the benefits of manager-specific alpha. Such overlay strategies can also be used to reposition the betas of an investor's entire portfolio, effectively rebalancing asset-class exposures without having to trade the less liquid underlying assets during periods of market dislocation. To illustrate the costs and benefits of such overlay, we simulate the impact of a simple beta-hedging strategy applied to long/short equity hedge funds in the TASS database.
Regulatory Reform in the Wake of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008
Journal of Financial Economic Policy 1 (2009), 4-43
Financial crises are unavoidable when hardwired human behavior—fear and greed, or 'animal spirits—is combined with free enterprise, and cannot be legislated or regulated away. Like hurricanes and other forces of nature, market bubbles and crashes cannot be entirely eliminated, but their most destructive consequences can be greatly mitigated with proper preparation. In fact, the most damaging effects of financial crisis come not from loss of wealth, but rather from those who are unprepared for such losses and panic in response. This perspective has several implications for the types of regulatory reform needed in the wake of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, all centered around the need for greater transparency, improved measures of systemic risk, more adaptive regulations including counter-cyclical leverage constraints, and more emphasis on financial literacy starting in high school, including certifications for expertise in financial engineering for the senior management and directors of all financial institutions.
Where Do Alphas Come From?: A New Measure of the Value of Active Investment Management
Journal of Investment Management 6 (2008), 1–29.
The value of active investment management is traditionally measured by alpha, beta, tracking error, and the Sharpe and information ratios. These are essentially static characteristics of the marginal distributions of returns at a single point in time, and do not incorporate dynamic aspects of a manager's investment process. In this paper, I propose a new measure of the value of active investment management that captures both static and dynamic contributions of a portfolio manager's decisions. The measure is based on a decomposition of a portfolio's expected return into two distinct components: a static weighted-average of the individual securities' expected returns, and the sum of covariances between returns and portfolio weights. The former component measures the portion of the manager's expected return due to static investments in the underlying securities, while the latter component captures the forecast power implicit in the manager's dynamic investment choices. This measure can be computed for long-only investments, long/short portfolios, and asset allocation rules, and is particularly relevant for hedge-fund strategies where both components are significant contributors to their expected returns, but only one should garner the high fees that hedge funds typically charge. Several analytical and empirical examples are provided to illustrate the practical relevance of these new measures.
130/30: The New Long-Only
with Pankaj Patel, Journal of Portfolio Management 34 (2008), 12-38.
Long-only portfolio managers and investors have acknowledged that the long-only constraint is a potentially costly drag on performance, and loosening this constraint can add value. However, the magnitude of the performance drag is difficult to measure without a proper benchmark for a 130/30 portfolio. In this paper, we provide a passive but dynamic benchmark consisting of a 'plain-vanilla' 130/30 strategy using simple factors to rank stocks and standard methods for constructing portfolios based on these rankings. Based on this strategy, we produce two types of indexes: investable and 'look ahead' indexes, in which the former uses only prior information and the latter uses realized returns to produce an upper bound on performance. We provide historical simulations of our 130/30 benchmarks that illustrate their advantages and disadvantages under various market conditions.