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.
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.
The Financial Times
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.”
with Mark Mueller, Journal of Investment Management 8 (2010), 13-63.
The quantitative aspirations of economists and financial analysts have for many years been based on the belief that it should be possible to build models of economic systems—and financial markets in particular—that are as predictive as those in physics. While this perspective has led to a number of important breakthroughs in economics, "physics envy" has also created a false sense of mathematical precision in some cases. We speculate on the origins of physics envy, and then describe an alternate perspective of economic behavior based on a new taxonomy of uncertainty. We illustrated the relevance of this taxonomy with two concrete examples: the classical harmonic oscillator with some new twists that make physics look more like economics, and a quantitative equity market-neutral strategy. We conclude by offering a new interpretation of tail events, proposing an 'uncertainty checklist' with which our taxonomy can be implemented, and considering the role that quants played in the current financial crisis.
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.
This document is the written testimony submitted to the House Financial Services Committe for its hearing on systemic risk regulation, held October 29, 2009, and it is not a formal academic research paper, but is intended for a broader audience of policymakers and regulators. Academic readers may be alarmed by the lack of comprehensive citations and literature review, the imprecise and qualitative nature of certain arguments, and the abundance of illustrative examples, analogies, and metaphors. Accordingly, such readers are hereby forewarned—this paper is not research, but is instead a summary of the policy implications that I have drawn from my interpretation of that research. This testimony focuses on three themes: (1) Establishing the means to measure and monitor systemic risk on an ongoing basis is the single-highest priority for financial regulation reform; (2) Systemic risk measurement and regulation will likely require new legislation compelling systemically important entities to provide more transparency on a confidential basis to regulators, e.g., information regarding their assets, liabilities, holdings, leverage, collateral, liquidity, counterparties, and aggregate exposures to key financial variables and other risks; and (3) Because systemic risk cuts across multiple regulatory bodies that do not necessarily share the same objectives and constraints, it may be more efficient to create an independent agency patterned after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), solely devoted to measuring, tracking, and investigating systemic risk events in support of—not in competition with—all regulatory agencies.
Journal of Financial Economic Policy 1 (2009), 4-43
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.
with Judy Lewent; Donald Lessard; Lakshmi Shyam-Sunder. Moderated by Robert Merton, Journal of Applied Corporate Finance 20, 3–25.
Our topic is corporate risk management, with perhaps a look at the implications for the current financial crisis. And I’d like to start by saying a few things that might help set the stage for our four panelists, who are all very interesting and accomplished people. When we think about risk and risk management, everybody says it’s very important. When a firm or an institution goes down, a lot of people lose their jobs, assets change hands, and a lot of franchise value can be destroyed in the process. So risk management is important in the sense of protecting on the downside. But there’s also a common perception that risk management has very little to do with creating growth and value—that you’ll never get to the Fortune 100 just by having good risk management. And I think that’s a serious misunderstanding of what risk management is really all about.
This document is the written testimony submitted to the House Oversight Committee for its hearing on hedge funds and the financial crisis, held November 13, 2008, and is not a formal academic research paper, but is intended for a broader audience of policymakers and regulators. Academic readers may be alarmed by the lack of comprehensive citations and literature review, the imprecise and qualitative nature of certain arguments, and the abundance of illustrative examples, analogies, and metaphors. Accordingly, such readers are hereby forewarned—this paper is not research but is instead a summary of the policy implications that I have drawn from my interpretation of that research I begin with a proposal to measure systemic risk and argue that this is the natural starting point for regulatory reform since it is impossible to manage something that cannot be measured. Then I review the relation between systemic risk and hedge funds, and show that early warning signs of the current crisis did exist in the hedge-fund industry as far back as 2004. However, I argue that financial crises may be an unavoidable aspect of human behavior, and the best we can do is acknowledge this tendency and be properly prepared. This behavioral pattern, as well as traditional economic motives for regulation—public goods, externalities, and incomplete markets—are relevant for systemic risk or its converse, 'systemic safety', and I suggest applying these concepts to the functions of the financial system to yield a rational process for regulatory reform. Also, I propose the formation of a new investigative office patterned after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to provide the kind of information aggregation and transparency that is called for in the previous sections. Another aspect of transparency involves fair-value accounting, and I review some of the recent arguments for its suspension and propose developing a new branch of accounting focusing exclusively on risk. I conclude with a discussion of the role of financial technology and education in the current crisis, and argue that more finance training is needed, not less.
with Nicholas Chan, Mila Getmansky, Shane M. Haas, The Risks of Financial Institutions and the Financial Sector, edited by M. Carey and R. Stulz, 2007. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
In this article, we attempt to quantify the potential impact of hedge funds on systemic risk by developing a number of new risk measures for hedge funds and applying them to individual and aggregate hedge-fund returns data. These measures include: illiquidity risk exposure, nonlinear factor models for hedge-fund and banking-sector indexes, logistic regression analysis of hedge-fund liquidation probabilities, and aggregate measures of volatility and distress based on regime-switching models. Our preliminary findings suggest that the hedge-fund industry may be heading into a challenging period of lower expected returns, and that systemic risk is currently on the rise.