Group Selection as Behavioral Adaptation to Systematic Risk2014
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.
Parallel Discovery of Alzheimers Therapeutics2014
As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) grows, so do the costs it imposes on society. Scientific, clinical, and financial interests have focused current drug discovery efforts largely on the single biological pathway that leads to amyloid deposition. This effort has resulted in slow progress and disappointing outcomes. Here, we describe a “portfolio approach” in which multiple distinct drug development projects are undertaken simultaneously. Although a greater upfront investment is required, the probability of at least one success should be higher with “multiple shots on goal,” increasing the efficiency of this undertaking. However, our portfolio simulations show that the risk-adjusted return on investment of parallel discovery is insufficient to attract private-sector funding. Nevertheless, the future cost savings of an effective AD therapy to Medicare and Medicaid far exceed this investment, suggesting that government funding is both essential and financially beneficial.
When Do Stop-Loss Rules Stop Losses?2014
We propose a simple analytical framework to measure the value added or subtracted by stoploss rules—predetermined policies that reduce a portfolio’s exposure after reaching a certain threshold of cumulative losses—on the expected return and volatility of an arbitrary portfolio strategy. Using daily futures price data, we provide an empirical analysis of stop-loss policies applied to a buy-and-hold strategy using index futures contracts. At longer sampling frequencies, certain stop-loss policies can increase expected return while substantially reducing volatility, consistent with their objectives in practical applications.
Quantifying Systemic Risk2013
In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, the federal government has pursued significant regulatory reforms, including proposals to measure and monitor systemic risk. However, there is much debate about how this might be accomplished quantitatively and objectively—or whether this is even possible. A key issue is determining the appropriate trade-offs between risk and reward from a policy and social welfare perspective given the potential negative impact of crises.
One of the first books to address the challenges of measuring statistical risk from a system-wide perspective, Quantifying Systemic Risk looks at the means of measuring systemic risk and explores alternative approaches. Among the topics discussed are the challenges of tying regulations to specific quantitative measures, the effects of learning and adaptation on the evolution of the market, and the distinction between the shocks that start a crisis and the mechanisms that enable it to grow.
Fear, Greed, and Financial Crises: A Cognitive Neurosciences Perspective2013
Abstract Historical accounts of financial crises suggest that fear and greed are the common denominators of these disruptive events: periods of unchecked greed eventually lead to excessive leverage and unsustainable asset-price levels, and the inevitable collapse results in unbridled fear, which must subside before any recovery is possible. The cognitive neurosciences may provide some new insights into this boom/bust pattern through a deeper understanding of the dynamics of emotion and human behavior. In this chapter, I describe some recent research from the neurosciences literature on fear and reward learning, mirror neurons, theory of mind, and the link between emotion and rational behavior. By exploring the neuroscientific basis of cognition and behavior, we may be able to identify more fundamental drivers of financial crises, and improve our models and methods for dealing with them.
Can Hedge Funds Time Market Liquidity?2013
We explore a new dimension of fund managers' timing ability by examining whether they can time market liquidity through adjusting their portfolios' market exposure as aggregate liquidity conditions change. Using a large sample of hedge funds, we find strong evidence of liquidity timing. A bootstrap analysis suggests that top-ranked liquidity timers cannot be attributed to pure luck. In out-of-sample tests, top liquidity timers outperform bottom timers by 4.0–5.5% annually on a risk-adjusted basis. We also find that it is important to distinguish liquidity timing from liquidity reaction, which primarily relies on public information. Our results are robust to alternative explanations, hedge fund data biases, and the use of alternative timing models, risk factors, and liquidity measures. The findings highlight the importance of understanding and incorporating market liquidity conditions in investment decision making.
Learning Connections in Financial Time Series2013
To reduce risk, investors seek assets that have high expected return and are unlikely to move in tandem. Correlation measures are generally used to quantify the connections between equities. The 2008 financial crisis, and its aftermath, demonstrated the need for a better way to quantify these connections. We present a machine learning-based method to build a connectedness matrix to address the shortcomings of correlation in capturing events such as large losses. Our method uses an unconstrained optimization to learn this matrix, while ensuring that the resulting matrix is positive semi-de nite. We show that this matrix can be used to build portfolios that not only beat the market," but also outperform optimal (i.e., minimum variance) portfolios.
The Origin of Bounded Rationality and Intelligence2013
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.
On a New Approach for Analyzing and Managing Macrofinancial Risks2013
At the fifth annual CFA Institute European Investment Conference on 19 October 2012 in Prague, Robert C. Merton gave a presentation on analyzing and managing macrofinancial risk. This article is based on his talk and on research he carried out with his coauthors.
Can Financial Engineering Cure Cancer?2013
Traditional financing sources such as private and public equity may not be ideal for investment projects with low probabilities of success, long time horizons, and large capital requirements. Nevertheless, such projects, if not too highly correlated, may yield attractive risk-adjusted returns when combined into a single portfolio. Such "megafund" portfolios may be too large to finance through private or public equity alone. But with sufficient diversification and risk analytics, debt financing via securitization may be feasible. Credit enhancements (i.e., derivatives and government guarantees) can also improve megafund economics. We present an analytical framework and illustrative empirical examples involving cancer research. Open-source software available in the link above.