Unlike other industries in which intellectual property is patentable, the financial industry relies on trade secrecy to protect its business processes and methods, which can obscure critical financial risk exposures from regulators and the public. We develop methods for sharing and aggregating such risk exposures that protect the privacy of all parties involved and without the need for a trusted third party. Our approach employs secure multi-party computation techniques from cryptography in which multiple parties are able to compute joint functions without revealing their individual inputs. In our framework, individual financial institutions evaluate a protocol on their proprietary data which cannot be inverted, leading to secure computations of real-valued statistics such a concentration indexes, pairwise correlations, and other single- and multi-point statistics. The proposed protocols are computationally tractable on realistic sample sizes. Potential financial applications include: the construction of privacy-preserving real-time indexes of bank capital and leverage ratios; the monitoring of delegated portfolio investments; financial audits; and the publication of new indexes of proprietary trading strategies.Download (PDF) >
In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007–2009, investors, financial advisers, portfolio managers, and regulators are still at a loss as to how to make sense of its repercussions and where to turn for guidance. The traditional paradigms of modern portfolio theory and the efficient markets hypothesis (EMH) seem woefully inadequate, but simply acknowledging that investor behavior may be irrational is cold comfort to individuals who must decide how to allocate their assets among increasingly erratic and uncertain investment alternatives. The reason for this current state of confusion and its strange dynamics is straightforward: Many market participants are now questioning the broad framework in which their financial decisions are being made. Without a clear and credible narrative of what happened, how it happened, why it happened, whether it can happen again, and what to do about it, their only response is to react instinctively to the most current crisis, which is a sure recipe for financial ruin. In this article, I describe how the adaptive markets hypothesis—an alternative to the EMH that reconciles the apparent contradiction between behavioral biases and the difficulty of outperforming passive investment vehicles—can make sense of both the current market turmoil and the emergence and popularity of the EMH in the decades leading up to the recent crisis.Download (PDF) >
Most economic theories are based on the premise that individuals maximize their own self-interest and correctly incorporate the structure of their environment into all decisions, thanks to human intelligence. The influence of this paradigm goes far beyond academia—it underlies current macroeconomic and monetary policies, and is also an integral part of existing financial regulations. However, there is mounting empirical and experimental evidence, including the recent financial crisis, suggesting that humans do not always behave rationally, but often make seemingly random and suboptimal decisions.
Here we propose to reconcile these contradictory perspectives by developing a simple binary-choice model that takes evolutionary consequences of decisions into account as well as the role of intelligence, which we define as any ability of an individual to increase its genetic success. If no intelligence is present, our model produces results consistent with prior literature and shows that risks that are independent across individuals in a generation generally lead to risk-neutral behaviors, but that risks that are correlated across a generation can lead to behaviors such as risk aversion, loss aversion, probability matching, and randomization. When intelligence is present the nature of risk also matters, and we show that even when risks are independent, either risk-neutral behavior or probability matching will occur depending upon the cost of intelligence in terms of reproductive success. In the case of correlated risks, we derive an implicit formula that shows how intelligence can emerge via selection, why it may be bounded, and how such bounds typically imply the coexistence of multiple levels and types of intelligence as a reflection of varying environmental conditions.
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. 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 probability of reproductive success, and bounds on rationality are determined by physiological and environmental constraints.Available Here >
Biomedical innovation has become riskier, more expensive and more difficult to finance with traditional sources such as private and public equity. Here we propose a financial structure in which a large number of biomedical programs at various stages of development are funded by a single financial entity to substantially reduce the portfolio’s risk. The portfolio entity can finance its activities by issuing debt, a critical advantage because a much larger pool of capital is available for investment in debt versus equity. By employing financial engineering techniques such as securitization, it can raise even greater amounts of more-patient capital. In a simulation using historical data for new molecular entities in oncology from 1990 to 2011, we find that megafunds of $5−15 billion may yield average investment returns of 8.9−11.4% for equityholders and 5−8% for “research-backed-obligation” holders, which are lower than typical venture-capital hurdle rates but attractive to pension funds, insurance companies and other large institutional investors.Download (PDF) >
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is among the world’s largest investors in biomedical research, with a mandate to: “…lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.” Its funding decisions have been criticized as insufficiently focused on disease burden. We hypothesize that modern portfolio theory can create a closer link between basic research and outcome, and offer insight into basic-science related improvements in public health. We propose portfolio theory as a systematic framework for making biomedical funding allocation decisions–one that is directly tied to the risk/reward trade-off of burden-of-disease outcomes.
Using data from 1965 to 2007, we provide estimates of the NIH “efficient frontier”, the set of funding allocations across 7 groups of disease-oriented NIH institutes that yield the greatest expected return on investment for a given level of risk, where return on investment is measured by subsequent impact on U.S. years of life lost (YLL). The results suggest that NIH may be actively managing its research risk, given that the volatility of its current allocation is 17% less than that of an equal-allocation portfolio with similar expected returns. The estimated efficient frontier suggests that further improvements in expected return (89% to 119% vs. current) or reduction in risk (22% to 35% vs. current) are available holding risk or expected return, respectively, constant, and that 28% to 89% greater decrease in average years-of-life-lost per unit risk may be achievable. However, these results also reflect the imprecision of YLL as a measure of disease burden, the noisy statistical link between basic research and YLL, and other known limitations of portfolio theory itself.
Our analysis is intended to serve as a proof-of-concept and starting point for applying quantitative methods to allocating biomedical research funding that are objective, systematic, transparent, repeatable, and expressly designed to reduce the burden of disease. By approaching funding decisions in a more analytical fashion, it may be possible to improve their ultimate outcomes while reducing unintended consequences.Available Here >
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, economists. However, as with many important ideas that become clichés, 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 GHK’s compelling article, I will seek to amplify their results and place them in a broader context.Download (PDF) >
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 reducing the number of fatalities in various modes of transportation since the NTSB’s inception in 1967 as an independent agency. 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 the participation in its investigations of all interested parties who can provide technical assistance to the investigations, the NTSB produces definitive analyses of even the most complex accidents and provides actionable measures for reducing the chances of future accidents. It is possible to create more efficient and effective systemic-risk management processes in many other industries, including financial services, by studying the organizational structure and functions of the NTSB.Download (PDF) >
We establish a link between illiquidity and positive autocorrelation in asset returns among a sample of hedge funds, mutual funds, and various equity portfolios. For hedge funds, this link can be confirmed by comparing the return autocorrelations of funds with shorter vs. longer redemption-notice periods. We also document significant positive return-autocorrelation in portfolios of securities that are generally considered less liquid, e.g., small-cap stocks, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and emerging-market investments. Using a sample of 2,927 hedge funds, 15,654 mutual funds, and 100 size- and book-to-market-sorted portfolios of U.S. common stocks, we construct autocorrelation-sorted long/short portfolios and conclude that illiquidity premia are generally positive and significant, ranging from 2.74% to 9.91% per year among the various hedge funds and fixed-income mutual funds. We do not find evidence for this premium among equity and asset-allocation mutual funds, or among the 100 U.S. equity portfolios. The time variation in our aggregated illiquidity premium shows that while 1998 was a difficult year for most funds with large illiquidity exposure, the following four years yielded significantly higher illiquidity premia that led to greater competition in credit markets, contributing to much lower illiquidity premia in the years leading up to the Financial Crisis of 2007–2008.Download (PDF) >
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 decisions 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.Download (PDF) >
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. When the uncertainty in reproductive success is systematic, natural selection yields behaviors that may be individually sub-optimal but are optimal from the population perspective; when reproductive uncertainty is idiosyncratic, the individual and population perspectives coincide. This framework generates a surprisingly rich set of behaviors, and the simplicity and generality of our model suggest that these derived behaviors are primitive and nearly universal within and across species.Download (PDF) >