The Origin of Behavior
with Thomas Brennan, Quarterly Journal of Finance 1 (2011), 55-108.
We propose a single evolutionary explanation for the origin of several behaviors that have been observed in organisms ranging from ants to human subjects, including risk-sensitive foraging, risk aversion, loss aversion, probability matching, randomization, and diversification. Given an initial population of individuals, each assigned a purely arbitrary behavior with respect to a binary choice problem, and assuming that offspring behave identically to their parents, only those behaviors linked to reproductive success will survive, and less reproductively successful behaviors will disappear at exponential rates. This framework generates a surprisingly rich set of behaviors, and the simplicity and generality of our model suggest that these behaviors are primitive and universal.
Sifting Through the Wreckage: Lessons from Recent Hedge Fund Liquidations
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document the empirical properties of a sample of 1,765 funds in the TASS Hedge Fund database from 1994 to 2004 that are no longer active.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.
Security Trading of Concepts (STOC)
with Ely Dahan, Adlar J. Kim, Tomaso Poggio, and Nicholas T. Chan, Journal of Marketing Research, 48 (2011), 497-517.
Identifying winning new product concepts can be a challenging process that requires insight into private consumer preferences. To measure consumer preferences for new product concepts, the authors apply a 'securities of trading of concepts,' or STOC, approach, in which new product concepts are traded as financial securities. The authors apply this method because market prices are known to efficiently collect and aggregate private information regarding the economic value of goods, sevices, and firms, particularly when trading financial securities. This research compares the STOC approach against stated-choice, conjoint, constant-sum, and longitudinal revealed-preference data. The authors also place STOC in the context of previous research on prediction markets and experimental economics. The authors conduct a series of experiments in multiple product categories to test whether STOC (1) is more cost efficient than other methods, (2) passes validity tests, (3) measures expectations of others, and (4) reveals individual preferences, not just those of the crowd. The results also show that traders exhibit bias on the basis of self-preferences when trading. Ultimately, STOC offers two key advantages over traditional market research methods: cost efficiency and scalability. For new product development teams deciding how to invest resources, this scalability may be especially important in the Web 2.0 world, in which customers are constantly interacting with firms and one another in suggesting numerous product design possibilities that need to be screened.
The National Transportation Safety Board: A Model for Systemic Risk Management
with Eric Fielding and Jian Helen Yang, Journal of Investment Management 9 (2011), 17-49.
We propose the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as a model organization for addressing systemic risk in industries and contexts other than transportation. When adopted by regulatory agencies and the transportation industry, the safety recommendations of the NTSB have been remarkably effective in reductin the number of fatalities in various modes of transportation since the NTSB's inception in 1967 as an independent agency. Formerly part of the Civil Aeronautics Board (now the Federal Aviation Administration), the NTSB has no regulatory authority and is solely focused on conducting forensic investigations of transportation accidents and proposing safety recommendations. With only 400 full-time employees, the NTSB has a much larger network of experts drawn from other government agencies and the private sector who are on call to assist in accident investigations on an as-needed basis. By allowing and encouraging the participation of all interested parties in its investigations, the NTSB is able to produce definitive analyses of even the most complex accidents and provide genuinely actionable measures for reducing the chances of future accidents. We believe it is possible to create more efficient and effective systemic-risk management processes in many other industries, including the financial services industry, by studying the organizational structure and functions of the NTSB.
What Happened To The Quants In August 2007?: Evidence from Factors and Transactions Data
with Amir Khandani, Journal of Financial Markets 14 (2011), 1-46.
During the week of August 6, 2007, a number of quantitative long/short equity hedge funds experienced unprecedented losses. It has been hypothesized that a coordinated deleveraging of similarly constructed portfolios caused this temporary dislocation in the market. Using the simulated returns of long/short equity portfolios based on five specific valuation factors, we find evidence that the unwinding of these portfolios began in July 2007 and continued until the end of 2007. Using transactions data, we find that the simulated returns of a simple market-making strategy were significantly negative during the week of August 6, 2007, but positive before and after, suggesting that the Quant Meltdown of August 2007 was the combined effects of portfolio deleveraging throughout July and the first week of August, and a temporary withdrawal of market-making risk capital starting August 8th. Our simulations point to two unwinds—a mini-unwind on August 1st starting at 10:45am and ending at 11:30am, and a more sustained unwind starting at the open on August 6th and ending at 1:00pm—that began with stocks in the financial sector and long Book-to-Market and short Earnings Momentum. These conjectures have significant implications for the systemic risks posed by the hedge-fund industry.
Consumer Credit Risk Models via Machine-Learning Algorithms
with Amir E. Khandani and Adlar J. Kim, Journal of Banking & Finance 34 (2010), 2767-2787.
We apply machine-learning techniques to construct nonlinear nonparametric forecasting models of consumer credit risk. By combining customer transactions and credit bureau data from January 2005 to April 2009 for a sample of a major commercial bank's customers, we are able to construct out-of-sample forecasts that significantly improve the classification rates of credit-card-holder delinquencies and defaults, with linear regression R-squared's of forecasted/realized delinquencies of 85%. Using conservative assumptions for the costs and benefits of cutting credit lines based on machine-learning forecasts, we estimate the cost savings to range from 6% to 25% of total losses. Moreover, the time-series patterns of estimated delinquency rates from this model over the course of the recent financial crisis suggests that aggregated consumer-credit risk analytics may have important applications in forecasting systemic risk.
Complexity, Concentration and Contagion: A Comment
Journal of Monetary Economics 58 (2011), 471-479
Although the precise origins of the term "complex adaptive system" are unclear, nevertheless, the hackneyed phrase is now firmly ensconced in the lexicon of biologists, physicists, mathematicians, and, most recently, economics. However, as with many important ideas that become cliches, the original meaning is often obscured and diluted by popular usage. But thanks to the fascinating article by Gai, Haldane, and Kapadia, we have a concrete and practical instantiation of a complex adaptive system in economics, one that has real relevance to current policy debates regarding financial reform. Since there is very little to criticize in their compelling article, I will seek too amplify their results and place them in a broader context in my comments.