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) >
We propose several econometric measures of connectedness based on principal-components analysis and Granger-causality networks, and apply them to the monthly returns of hedge funds, banks, broker/dealers, and insurance companies. We find that all four sectors have become highly interrelated over the past decade, likely increasing the level of systemic risk in the finance and insurance industries through a complex and time-varying network of relationships. These measures can also identify and quantify financial crisis periods, and seem to contain predictive power in out-of-sample tests. Our results show an asymmetry in the degree of connectedness among the four sectors, with banks playing a much more important role in transmitting shocks than other financial institutions.Download (PDF) >
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 >