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 nancial 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. To download the open-source software, please click here.
Using Algorithmic Attribution Techniques To Determine Authorship In Unsigned Judicial Opinions2013
This Article proposes a novel and provocative analysis of judicial opinions that are published without indicating individual authorship. Our approach provides an unbiased, quantitative, and computer scientific answer to a problem that has long plagued legal commentators. Our work uses natural language processing to predict authorship of judicial opinions that are unsigned or whose attribution is disputed. Using a dataset of Supreme Court opinions with known authorship, we identify key words and phrases that can, to a high degree of accuracy, predict authorship. Thus, our method makes accessible an important class of cases heretofore inaccessible. For illustrative purposes, we explain our process as applied to the Obamacare decision, in which the authorship of a joint dissent was subject to significant popular speculation. We conclude with a chart predicting the author of every unsigned per curiam opinion during the Roberts Court.
Moore’s Law vs. Murphy’s Law: Algorithmic Trading and Its Discontents2013
Financial markets have undergone a remarkable transformation over the past two decades due to advances in technology. These advances include faster and cheaper computers, greater connectivity among market participants, and perhaps most important of all, more sophisticated trading algorithms. The benefits of such financial technology are evident: lower transactions costs, faster executions, and greater volume of trades. However, like any technology, trading technology has unintended consequences. In this paper, we review key innovations in trading technology starting with portfolio optimization in the 1950s and ending with high-frequency trading in the late 2000s, as well as opportunities, challenges, and economic incentives that accompanied these developments. We also discuss potential threats to financial stability created or facilitated by algorithmic trading and propose “Financial Regulation 2.0,” a set of design principles for bringing the current financial regulatory framework into the Digital Age.
Systemic Risk and the Refinancing Ratchet Effect2013
The combination of rising home prices, declining interest rates, and near-frictionless refinancing opportunities can create unintentional synchronization of home owner leverage, leading to a ‘‘ratchet’’ effect on leverage because homes are indivisible and owner-occupants cannot raise equity to reduce leverage when home prices fall. Our simulation of the U.S. housing market yields potential losses of $1.7 trillion from June2006 to December2008 with cash-out refinancing vs. only $330 billion in the absence of cash-out refinancing. The refinancing ratchet effect is a new type of systemic risk in the financial system and does not rely on any dysfunctional behaviors.
What Post-Crisis Changes Does the Economics Discipline Need?: Beware of Theory Envy!2012
This is a pre-conference essay prepared for 'What Post-Crisis Changes Does the Economics Discipline Need?', a conference organized by Diane Coyle and Enlightenment Economics, the Bank of England, and the U.K. Government Economic Service on 7 February 2012. In this essay, I trace the origins of 'theory envy' to Paul Samuelson and the mathematization of economics over the past half century, and consider its implications for how economics should be taught. Although this research program has produced many genuine breakthroughs in economics, any virtue can become a vice when taken to an extreme, and the recent financial crisis has given us an opportunity to reinvent our field. One innovation is to teach economics not from an axiomatic and technique-oriented perspective, but by posing challenges that can only be addressed through economic logic. Instead of starting microeconomics with the consumer’s problem of maximizing utility subject to a budget constraint, begin by challenging students to predict the impact of a gasoline tax on the price of gasoline, or asking them to explain why diamonds are so much more expensive than water, despite the fact that the latter is critical for survival unlike the former. Instead of starting macroeconomics with national income accounts, begin with the question of how to measure and manage the wealth of nations, or why inflation can be so disruptive to economic growth. Without the proper institutional, political, and historical context in which to interpret economic models, constrained optimization methods and fixed-point existence proofs have much less meaning and are more likely to give rise to theory envy. However, when students understand the “why” of their course of study, even the most complex mathematical tools can be mastered and are almost always applied more meaningfully.
Open-Source Software for “A Survey of Systemic Risk Analytics”2012
Open-source software for "A Survey of Systemic Risk Analytics" (with Dimitrios Bisias, Mark Flood, and Stavros Valavanis, Annual Review of Financial Economics 4, 255-296).