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.Download (PDF) >
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.
United States courts publish a shocking number of judicial opinions without divulging the author. Per curiam opinions, as traditionally and popularly conceived, are a means of quickly deciding uncontroversial cases in which all judges or justices are in agreement. Today, however, unattributed per curiam opinions often dispose of highly controversial issues, frequently over significant disagreement within the court. Obscuring authorship removes the sense of accountability for each decision’s outcome and the reasoning that led to it. Anonymity also makes it more difficult for scholars, historians, practitioners, political commentators, and—in the thirty-nine states with elected judges and justices—the electorate, to glean valuable information about legal decision-makers and the way they make their decisions. The value of determining authorship for unsigned opinions has long been recognized but, until now, the methods of doing so have been cumbersome, imprecise, and altogether unsatisfactory.
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.Download (PDF) >
In this paper we provide a brief survey of algorithmic trading, review the major drivers of its emergence and popularity, and explore some of the challenges and unintended consequences associated with this brave new world. There is no doubt that algorithmic trading has become a permanent and important part of the financial landscape, yielding tremendous cost savings, operating efficiency, and scalability to every financial market it touches. At the same time, the financial system has become much more of a system than ever before, with globally interconnected counterparties and privately-owned and -operated infrastructure that facilitates tremendous integration during normal market conditions, but which spreads dislocation rapidly during period of financial distress. A more systematic and adaptive approach to regulating this system is needed, one that fosters the technological advances of the industry while protecting those who are not as technologically advanced. We conclude by proposing “Financial Regulation 2.0,” a set of design principles for regulating the financial system of the Digital Age.Download (PDF) >
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-definite. 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.Download (PDF) >
In this paper, we describe a new approach to financing biomedical innovation that we first proposed in Fernandez, Stein, and Lo (2012) and extend in several ways here: using portfolio theory and securitization to reduce the risk of translational medicine. By combining a large number of drug-development projects within a single portfolio, a “megafund,” it becomes possible to reduce the investment risk to such an extent that issuing bonds backed by these projects becomes feasible. Debt financing is a key innovation because the cost of each drug-development project can be several hundred million dollars; hence, a sufficiently diversified portfolio may require tens of billions of dollars of investment capital, and debt markets have much greater capacity than either private or public equity markets. If these bonds are structured to have different priorities, the most senior class or “tranche” may be rated by credit-rating agencies, opening up a much larger pool of institutional investors who can purchase such instruments, e.g., pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowments, and foundations.Download (PDF) >
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.Download (PDF) >
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.Download (PDF) >
A common theme in the regulation of financial institutions and transactions is leverage constraints. Although such constraints are implemented in various ways—from minimum net capital rules to margin requirements to credit limits—the basic motivation is the same: to limit the potential losses of certain counterparties. However, the emergence of dynamic trading strategies, derivative securities, and other financial innovations poses new challenges to these constraints. We propose a simple analytical framework for specifying leverage constraints that addresses this challenge by explicitly linking the likelihood of financial loss to the behavior of the financial entity under supervision and prevailing market conditions. An immediate implication of this framework is that not all leverage is created equal, and any fixed numerical limit can lead to dramatically different loss probabilities over time and across assets and investment styles. This framework can also be used to investigate the macroprudential policy implications of microprudential regulations through the general-equilibrium impact of leverage constraints on market parameters such as volatility and tail probabilities.Download (PDF) >
We provide a survey of 31 quantitative measures of systemic risk in the economics and finance literature, chosen to span key themes and issues in systemic risk measurement and management. We motivate these measures from the supervisory, research, and data perspectives in the main text, and present concise definitions of each risk measure—including required inputs, expected outputs, and data requirements—in an extensive appendix. To encourage experimentation and innovation among as broad an audience as possible, we have developed open-source Matlab code for most of the analytics surveyed, which can be accessed on the Resources page.Download (PDF) >
The recent financial crisis has generated many distinct perspectives from various quarters. In this article, I review a diverse set of 21 books on the crisis, 11 written by academics, and 10 written by journalists and one former Treasury Secretary. No single narrative emerges from this broad and often contradictory collection of interpretations, but the sheer variety of conclusions is informative, and underscores the desperate need for the economics profession to establish a single set of facts from which more accurate inferences and narratives can be constructed.Download (PDF) >