Reply to “(Im)Possible Frontiers: A Comment”
with Thomas J. Brennan, Critical Finance Review 4(2015), 157–171.
In Brennan and Lo (2010), a mean-variance efficient frontier is defined as “impossible” if every portfolio on that frontier has negative weights, which is incompatible with the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) requirement that the market portfolio is mean-variance efficient. We prove that as the number of assets n grows, the probability that a randomly chosen frontier is impossible tends to one at a geometric rate, implying that the set of parameters for which the CAPM holds is extremely rare. Levy and Roll (2014) argue that while such “possible”frontiers are rare, they are ubiquitous. In this reply, we show that this is not the case; possible frontiers are not only rare,but they occupy an isolated region of mean-variance parameter space that becomes increasingly remote as n increases. Ingersoll (2014) observes that parameter restrictions can rule out impossible frontiers, but in many cases these restrictions contradict empirical fact and must be questioned rather than blindly imposed.
Funding Translational Medicine via Public Markets: The Business Development Company
with Sandra M. Forman, Monica Shilling, Grace K. Sweeney, Journal of Investment Management 13(2015), 9–32.
A business development company (BDC) is a type of closed-end investment fund with certain relaxed requirements that allow it to raise money in the public equity and debt markets, and can be used to fund multiple early-stage biomedical ventures, using financial diversification to de-risk translational medicine. By electing to be a “Regulated Investment Company” for tax purposes, a BDC can avoid double taxation on income and net capital gains distributed to its shareholders. BDCs are ideally suited for long-term investors in biomedical innovation, including: (i) investors with biomedical expertise who understand the risks of the FDA approval process, (ii) “banking entities,” now prohibited from investing in hedge funds and private equity funds by the Volcker Rule, but who are permitted to invest in BDCs, subject to certain restrictions, and (iii) retail investors, who traditionally have had to invest in large pharmaceutical companies to gain exposure to similar assets. We describe the history of BDCs, summarize the requirements for creating and managing them, and conclude with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the BDC structure for funding biomedical innovation.
Hedge Funds: A Dynamic Industry In Transition
with Mila Getmansky, Peter A. Lee, Annual Review of Financial Economics 7(2015), 483–577.
The hedge-fund industry has grown rapidly over the past two decades, offering investors unique investment opportunities that often reflect more complex risk exposures than those of traditional investments. In this article, we present a selective review of the recent academic literature on hedge funds as well as updated empirical results for this industry. Our review is written from several distinct perspectives: the investor’s, the portfolio manager’s, the regulator’s, and the academic’s. Each of these perspectives offers a different set of insights into the financial system, and the combination provides surprisingly rich implications for the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, investment management, systemic risk, financial regulation, and other aspects of financial theory and practice.
A Survey of Systemic Risk Analytics
with Dimitrios Bisias, Mark Flood, and Stavros Valavanis, Annual Review of Financial Economics 4, 255-296
We provide a survey of 31 quantitative measures of systemic risk in the economics and finance literature, chosen to span key themes and issues in systemic risk measurement and management. We motivate these measures from the supervisory, research, and data perspectives in the main text, and present concise definitions of each risk measure--including required inputs, expected outputs, and data requirements--in an extensive appendix. To encourage experimentation and innovation among as broad an audience as possible, we have developed open-source Matlab code for most of the analytics surveyed, which can be accessed through the Office of Financial Research (OFR) here.
A Computational View of Market Efficiency
with Jasmina Hasanhodzic and Emanuele Viola, Quantitative Finance 7, 1043-1050
We propose to study market efficiency from a computational viewpoint. Borrowing from theoretical computer science, we define a market to be efficient with respect to resources S (e.g., time, memory) if no strategy using resources S can make a profit. As a first step, we consider memory-m strategies whose action at time t depends only on the m previous observations at times t - m,...,t - 1. We introduce and study a simple model of market evolution, where strategies impact the market by their decision to buy or sell. We show that the effect of optimal strategies using memory m can lead to "market conditions" that were not present initially, such as (1) market bubbles and (2) the possibility for a strategy using memory m' > m to make a bigger profit than was initially possible. We suggest ours as a framework to rationalize the technological arms race of quantitative trading firms.
The Gordon Gekko Effect: The Role of Culture in the Financial Industry
Economic Policy Review 22(2016), 17–42.
Culture is a potent force in shaping individual and group behavior, yet it has received scant attention in the context of financial risk management and the recent financial crisis. I present a brief overview of the role of culture according to psychologists, sociologists, and economists, and then present a specific framework for analyzing culture in the context of financial practices and institutions in which three questions are answered: (1) What is culture?; (2) Does it matter?; and (3) Can it be changed? I illustrate the utility of this framework by applying it to five concrete situations—Long Term Capital Management; AIG Financial Products; Lehman Brothers and Repo 105; Société Générale’s rogue trader; and the SEC and the Madoff Ponzi scheme—and conclude with a proposal to change culture via “behavioral risk management.”
Risk and Risk Management in the Credit Card Industry
with Florentin Butaru, Qingqing Chen, Brian Clark, Sanmay Das, Akhtar Siddique, Journal of Banking and Finance 72(2016), 218–239.
Using account level credit-card data from six major commercial banks from January 2009 to December 2013, we apply machine-learning techniques to combined consumer-tradeline, credit-bureau, and macroeconomic variables to predict delinquency. In addition to providing accurate measures of loss probabilities and credit risk, our models can also be used to analyze and compare risk management practices and the drivers of delinquency across the banks. We find substantial heterogeneity in risk factors, sensitivities, and predictability of delinquency across banks, implying that no single model applies to all six institutions. We measure the efficacy of a bank’s risk-management process by the percentage of delinquent accounts that a bank manages effectively, and find that efficacy also varies widely across institutions. These results suggest the need for a more customized approached to the supervision and regulation of financial institutions, in which capital ratios, loss reserves, and other parameters are specified individually for each institution according to its credit-risk model exposures and forecasts.
The Origin of Bounded Rationality and Intelligence
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 157 (2013), 269-280.
Rational economic behavior in which individuals maximize their own self-interest is only one of many possible types of behavior that arise from natural selection. 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 successful behaviors will disappear exponentially fast. This framework yields a single evolutionary explanation for the origin of several behaviors that have been observed in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans, including risk-sensitive foraging, risk aversion, loss aversion, probability matching, randomization, and diversification. The key to understanding which types of behavior are more likely to survive is how behavior affects reproductive success in a given population's environment. From this perspective, intelligence is naturally defined as behavior that increases the likelihood of reproductive success, and bounds on rationality are determined by physiological and environmental constraints.
Group Selection as Behavioral Adaptation to Systematic Risk
with Ruixun Zhang, Thomas J. Brennan, PLOS One 9 (2014)
Despite many compelling applications in economics, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology, group selection is still one of the most hotly contested ideas in evolutionary biology. Here we propose a simple evolutionary model of behavior and show that what appears to be group selection may, in fact, simply be the consequence of natural selection occurring in stochastic environments with reproductive risks that are correlated across individuals. Those individuals with highly correlated risks will appear to form “groups”, even if their actions are, in fact, totally autonomous, mindless, and, prior to selection, uniformly randomly distributed in the population. This framework implies that a separate theory of group selection is not strictly necessary to explain observed phenomena such as altruism and cooperation. At the same time, it shows that the notion of group selection does captures a unique aspect of evolution—selection with correlated reproductive risk–that may be sufficiently widespread to warrant a separate term for the phenomenon.
Dealing with Femtorisks in International Relations
with Aaron Benjamin Frank, Margaret Goud Collins, Simon A. Levin, Joshua Ramo, Ulf Dieckmann, Victor Kremenyuk, Arkady Kryazhimskiy, JoAnne Linnerooth-Bayer, Ben Ramalingam, J. Stapleton Roy, Donald G. Saari, Stefan Thurner, Detlof von Winterfeldt, PNAS (2014)
The contemporary global community is increasingly interdependent and confronted with systemic risks posed by the actions and interactions of actors existing beneath the level of formal institutions, often operating outside effective governance structures. Frequently, these actors are human agents, such as rogue traders or aggressive financial innovators, terrorists, groups of dissidents, or unauthorized sources of sensitive or secret information about government or private sector activities. In other instances, influential “actors” take the form of climate change, communications technologies, or socioeconomic globalization. Although these individual forces may be small relative to state governments or international institutions, or may operate on long time scales, the changes they catalyze can pose significant challenges to the analysis and practice of international relations through the operation of complex feedbacks and interactions of individual agents and interconnected systems. We call these challenges “femtorisks,” and emphasize their importance for two reasons. First, in isolation, they may be inconsequential and semiautonomous; but when embedded in complex adaptive systems, characterized by individual agents able to change, learn from experience, and pursue their own agendas, the strategic interaction between actors can propel systems down paths of increasing, even
global, instability. Second, because their influence stems from complex interactions at interfaces of multiple systems (e.g., social, financial, political, technological, ecological, etc.), femtorisks challenge standard approaches to risk assessment, as higher-order consequences cascade
across the boundaries of socially constructed complex systems. We argue that new approaches to assessing and managing systemic risk in international relations are required, inspired by principles of evolutionary theory and development of resilient ecological systems.