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A Computational View of Market Efficiency2011
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 Origin of Behavior2011
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.
Complexity, Concentration and Contagion: A Comment2011
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 to amplify their results and place them in a broader context in my comments.
The Financial Industry Needs its Own Crash Safety Board2010
MIT Sloan Prof. Andrew Lo authored this opinion piece supporting the creation of a “Capital Markets Safety Board’ (CMSB) patterned after the National Transportation Safety Board, dedicated to investigating, reporting, and archiving the ‘accidents’ of the financial industry.”
Lo: The Best Econ Book I’ve Read Recently2010
Andrew Lo, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering, posted his commentary on a recent economics book in this online Q&A.
This is Your Brain on Prosperity: Andrew Lo on Fear, Greed, and Crisis Management2009
In this guest post, MIT Sloan Prof. Andrew Lo provides an insightful look at how "extended periods of prosperity act as an anesthetic in the human brain," lulling everyone involved into "a drug-induced stupor that causes us to take risks that we know we should avoid."
Why Animal Spirits Can Cause Markets to Break Down2009
The push for financial regulatory reform has highlighted an important debate surrounding the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, the idea that market prices are rationally determined and fully reflect all available information. If true, the EMH implies that regulation is largely unnecessary because markets allocate resources and risks efficiently via the "invisible hand". However, critics of the EMH argue that human behaviour is hardly rational but is driven by "animal spirits" that generate market bubbles and busts, and regulation is essential for reining in misbehavior.
When the Wisdom of Crowds Becomes the Madness of Mobs2009
In this opinion piece, MIT Sloan Prof. Andrew Lo writes, “The world has become more complex over the past 20 years, and we need to update our investment paradigm to incorporate these new complexities... To achieve true diversification, investors must now have a broader set of asset classes and risk exposures, long and short, in their portfolios.”
Radical Reform of Executive Pay2009
The recent proposal by the Fed to regulate bankers’ compensation practices is understandable given the events of the past two years, but setting caps on salaries and bonuses misses the fundamental problem of compensation on Wall Street. Despite the public resentment surrounding finance-industry payouts, the fact is that no one objects to paying for performance. We just want to make sure we’re not getting fleeced or paying for pure dumb luck, and this is where the problem lies.
Regulatory Reform in the Wake of the Financial Crisis of 2007-20082009
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.
Efficient Markets Hypothesis2008
The Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH) refers to the notion that market prices fully reflects all available information. Developed independently by Paul A. Samuelson and Eugene F. Fama in the 1960's, this idea has been applied extensively to theoretical models and empirical studies of financial securities prices, generating considerable controversy as well as fundamental insights into the price-discovery process. The most enduring critique comes from psychologists and behavioral economists who argue that the EMH is based on counterfactual assumptions regarding human behavior, i.e., rationality. Recent advances in evolutionary psychology and the cognitive neurosciences may be able to reconcile the EMH with behavioral anomalies.
Survival of the Richest2006
In financial markets, as in many human endeavors, there’s a battle between reason and madness. On one side are the disciples of the efficient-markets hypothesis: the notion that markets fully, accurately, and instantaneously incorporate all relevant information into prices. These adherents assume that market participants are rational, always acting in their own interest and making mathematically optimal decisions. On the other side are the champions of behavioral economics: a younger discipline that points to bubbles, crashes, panics, manias, and other distinctly unreasonable phenomena as evidence of irrationality.
It’s hard to deny that investors act irrationally from time to time, yet behavioralists have so far failed to offer an alternative to supplant the efficient-markets hypothesis, which does brilliantly explain many economic occurrences and has had an enormous impact on modern financial theory and practice. Both approaches seem to have compelling explanatory power in their own right, yet they have opposing premises: rationality versus human psychology. How can the efficient-markets hypothesis and behavioral economics ever be reconciled? Perhaps by looking to Charles Darwin instead of Adam Smith.
Reconciling Efficient Markets with Behavioral Finance: The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis2005
The battle between proponents of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and champions of behavioral finance has never been more pitched, and there is little consensus as to which side is winning or what the implications are for investment management and consulting. In this article, I review the case for and against the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, and describe a new framework—the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis—in which the traditional models of modern financial economics can co-exist alongside behavioral models in an intellectually consistent manner. Based on evolutionary principles, the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis implies that the degree of market efficiency is related to environmental factors characterizing market ecology such as the number of competitors in the market, the magnitude of profit opportunities available, and the adaptability of the market participants. Many of the examples that behavioralists cite as violations of rationality that are inconsistent with market efficiency—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, I show that the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis yields a number of surprisingly concrete applications for both investment managers and consultants.
Fear and Greed in Financial Markets: A Clinical Study of Day-Traders2005
We investigate several possible links between psychological factors and trading performance in a sample of 80 anonymous day-traders. Using daily emotional-state surveys over a five-week period as well as personality inventory surveys, we construct measures of personality traits and emotional states for each subject and correlate these measures with daily normalized profits-and-losses records. We find that subjects whose emotional reaction to monetary gains and losses was more intense on both the positive and negative side exhibited significantly worse trading performance. Psychological traits derived from a standardized personality inventory survey do not reveal any specific "trader personality profile", raising the possibility that trading skills may not necessarily be innate, and that different personality types may be able to perform trading functions equally well after proper instruction and practice.
The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis: Market Efficiency from an Evolutionary Perspective2004
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.