The National Transportation Safety Board: A Model for Systemic Risk Management
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.
What Happened To The Quants In August 2007?: Evidence from Factors and Transactions Data
with Amir Khandani, Journal of Financial Markets 14 (2011), 1-46.
During the week of August 6, 2007, a number of quantitative long/short equity hedge funds experienced unprecedented losses. It has been hypothesized that a coordinated deleveraging of similarly constructed portfolios caused this temporary dislocation in the market. Using the simulated returns of long/short equity portfolios based on five specific valuation factors, we find evidence that the unwinding of these portfolios began in July 2007 and continued until the end of 2007. Using transactions data, we find that the simulated returns of a simple market-making strategy were significantly negative during the week of August 6, 2007, but positive before and after, suggesting that the Quant Meltdown of August 2007 was the combined effects of portfolio deleveraging throughout July and the first week of August, and a temporary withdrawal of market-making risk capital starting August 8th. Our simulations point to two unwinds—a mini-unwind on August 1st starting at 10:45am and ending at 11:30am, and a more sustained unwind starting at the open on August 6th and ending at 1:00pm—that began with stocks in the financial sector and long Book-to-Market and short Earnings Momentum. These conjectures have significant implications for the systemic risks posed by the hedge-fund industry.
Consumer Credit Risk Models via Machine-Learning Algorithms
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.
WARNING!: Physics Envy May Be Hazardous To Your Wealth
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 Thomas J. Brennan, Management Science 56 (2010), 905-923.
A key result of the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) is that the market portfolio—the portfolio of all assets in which each asset's weight is proportional to its total market capitalization—lies on the mean-variance-efficient frontier, the set of portfolios having mean-variance characteristics that cannot be improved upon. Therefore, the CAPM cannot be consistent with efficient frontiers for which every frontier portfolio has at least one negative weight or short position. We call such efficient frontiers 'impossible', and show that impossible frontiers are difficult to avoid. In particular, as the number of assets, n, grows, we prove that the probability that a generically chosen frontier is impossible tends to one at a geometric rate. In fact, for one natural class of distributions, nearly one-eighth of all assets on a frontier is expected to have negative weights for every portfolio on the frontier. We also show that the expected minimum amount of shortselling across frontier portfolios grows linearly with n, and even when shortsales are constrained to some finite level, an impossible frontier remains impossible. Using daily and monthly U.S. stock returns, we document the impossibility of efficient frontiers in the data.
Jumping the Gates: Using Beta-Overlay Strategies to Hedge Liquidity Constraints
with A. Healy, Journal of Investment Management 7 (2009), 1–20.
In response to the current financial crisis, a number of hedge funds have implemented "gates" on their funds that restrict withdrawals when the sum of redemption requests exceeds a certain percentage of the fund's total assets. To reduce the investor's risk exposures during these periods, we propose a futures overlay strategy designed to hedge out or control the common factor exposures of gated assets. By taking countervailing positions in stock, bond, currency, and commodity exposures, an investor can greatly reduce the systematic risks of their gated assets while still enjoying the benefits of manager-specific alpha. Such overlay strategies can also be used to reposition the betas of an investor's entire portfolio, effectively rebalancing asset-class exposures without having to trade the less liquid underlying assets during periods of market dislocation. To illustrate the costs and benefits of such overlay, we simulate the impact of a simple beta-hedging strategy applied to long/short equity hedge funds in the TASS database.
Regulatory Reform in the Wake of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008
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.
Where Do Alphas Come From?: A New Measure of the Value of Active Investment Management
Journal of Investment Management 6 (2008), 1–29.
The value of active investment management is traditionally measured by alpha, beta, tracking error, and the Sharpe and information ratios. These are essentially static characteristics of the marginal distributions of returns at a single point in time, and do not incorporate dynamic aspects of a manager's investment process. In this paper, I propose a new measure of the value of active investment management that captures both static and dynamic contributions of a portfolio manager's decisions. The measure is based on a decomposition of a portfolio's expected return into two distinct components: a static weighted-average of the individual securities' expected returns, and the sum of covariances between returns and portfolio weights. The former component measures the portion of the manager's expected return due to static investments in the underlying securities, while the latter component captures the forecast power implicit in the manager's dynamic investment choices. This measure can be computed for long-only investments, long/short portfolios, and asset allocation rules, and is particularly relevant for hedge-fund strategies where both components are significant contributors to their expected returns, but only one should garner the high fees that hedge funds typically charge. Several analytical and empirical examples are provided to illustrate the practical relevance of these new measures.
130/30: The New Long-Only
with Pankaj Patel, Journal of Portfolio Management 34 (2008), 12-38.
Long-only portfolio managers and investors have acknowledged that the long-only constraint is a potentially costly drag on performance, and loosening this constraint can add value. However, the magnitude of the performance drag is difficult to measure without a proper benchmark for a 130/30 portfolio. In this paper, we provide a passive but dynamic benchmark consisting of a 'plain-vanilla' 130/30 strategy using simple factors to rank stocks and standard methods for constructing portfolios based on these rankings. Based on this strategy, we produce two types of indexes: investable and 'look ahead' indexes, in which the former uses only prior information and the latter uses realized returns to produce an upper bound on performance. We provide historical simulations of our 130/30 benchmarks that illustrate their advantages and disadvantages under various market conditions.
Complexity, Concentration and Contagion: A Comment
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.