Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out With The Old Year, and In WIth The New

Well, it's the last finally the day of the year. So, here's wishing you all a safe, happy, and prosperous New Year.

It's been a pretty eventful one in the Unknown Household - we had one son pass away from cancer, and had another one join the family. So, I can pretty much guarantee that 2010 will be less eventful for us than 2009 (at least I hope so).

We finished out the old year yesterday by taking the Unknown Daughter up to Boston to see the Science Museum's Harry Potter Exhibit. Total Cost:
  • Three Tickets - $93
  • Parking - $9
  • Various Junk from the Museum Store - $35
  • Overcooked and dried food from the Museum Food Court - $20
  • Hearing the Unknown Daughter say (wide-eyed) "This is Fantastic" - Priceless
Luckily, our two nieces were home from college., They drove down the night before to baby-sit Wonder Boy for the day, so we got to go without munchkin in tow. But Boston traffic still sucked - it took us 45 minuted to go about 3 miles on Rte 93 (and this was not even rush hour traffic). Ah well, that's the price of being in a city.

Remember - there will be a lot of alcohol-impaired folks out there tonight, so be safe, and see you next year. Being old fogeys with a couple of young kids, we'll be home, warm, and in bed by 10 or so.

Yeah, we're boring. But I'm O.K. with that - I'm in touch with my inner old fogey.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

As The Semester Winds Down

Since Unknown University starts (and ends) their fall semester a bit late, I'm just putting the finishing touches on my grades - two classes down and one (the smallest, luckily) to go.

It's been a tough semester - three preps (for the non academics among you, a prep is a unique class - so three preps means I taught three different classes), and one was a brand new one (Fixed Income) for me. I took it because the senior faculty who regularly teaches it took a sabbatical, and it's required of all our students. The new prep took far more time than I'd thought, so I didn't get as much research done as I'd hoped.

The winter break will be dedicated first to getting two papers completed and submitted to journals. I let things slide a bit these last few years due to the Unknown Son's illness, so I'm glad to be finally working on things that have the potential to go to decent journals - these two will likely be sent to Financial Management and Journal of Banking and Finance (two very solid journals). As for the other things I'm working on, one should go to to a solid accounting journal (JAAF), another to Journal of Futures or Journal of Derivatives, and another will be targeted to the Financial Analyst's Journal. I'm also working on a piece with a PhD student that will hopefully be finished in time to submit to the FMA annual meetings.

Somewhere in there, I'll also make some minor changes to my class (it's the same class I taught for the first time this past semester, so it's in pretty good shape). It shouldn't take more than a day or two to make the changes, since I prepped pretty thoroughly for it last time.

It's an ambitious schedule, but three of the pieces use the same data set, and a fourth is mostly done. With a bit of hard work, I should have a very productive Winter break. So, to all of my coauthors who read the blog: take heart - things will be done soon enough.

On a more somber note, please keep Mark Bertus and his family in your prayers. He's a fairly young faculty member at Auburn, with several young children. He's in the final stages of colon cancer, and is a remarkable guy. He'll leave an amazing legacy of memories to those of us who've had the privilege of knowing him. You can read the blog his wife has been maintaining to keep everyone informed about the illness here.

Mark's journey reminds me of something Steve Brown (a radio preacher) once said. It's something to the extent of "Whenever a pagan gets cancer, God allows a Christian to get cancer
so that the world will see the difference in how Christians deal with it." Depending on your beliefs, that might or might not sit all that well with you. But as you read his blog, you'll see that it definitely applies here.

To all who're reading this - Have a Merry Christmas (or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lots of This White Stuff

I love living in the NorthEast - it's where I grew up, and there's just something about real winter that feels right. But I can do without 3-foot snowdifts in my driveway. Luckily I have neighbors with plows and snowblowers.

The Unknown Daughter was at a friend's house for a birthday party/sleepover. No school for her tomorrow, so we get to see if we can get the neighborhoods to build a huge snowman.

Good stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Information Traders Must Be Compensated

I'm still in the thick of exams week (one to give today, one Friday, and one Saturday), and they're not all written yet. But this piece from Burton Malkiel in was worth highlighting. The best part was the last paragraph:
As de facto market makers, high-frequency traders can exploit pricing anomalies and pick up pennies at the expense of other traders. Such activities are not sinister. The paradox of the efficient market hypothesis is that the people whose trades help make the market efficient must be compensated for their efforts. As former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt has written: “We should not set a speed limit to slow everyone down to the pace set by those unwilling or unable to compete.” High-frequency trading networks let large and small investors enjoy a more efficient and less costly trading environment.
Read the whole thing here.

HT: Abnormal Returns

Sunday, December 13, 2009

R.I.P. Paul Samuelson

Paul Samuelson (the first American Nobel Laureate in Economics, and arguably the most influential economist of the 20th century) died today at home at age 94. He was largely responsible for the transformation of economics from a largely descriptive and discursive discipline to a highly mathematical and rigorous one.

He was responsible for turning MIT into a world-class economics center - over the years, he played a role in bringing in Solow, Engle, Klein, Krugman, Modigliani, Merton, and Stiglitz.

In addition, he wrote perhaps the single most popular and widely used economics text in history - "Economics", published in 1948. I read it in my undergraduate years in the late 1970s, and it was still selling 50,000 copies a year in the late 1980s.

A giant has passed.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Backing off on Blogging For A While

I need to focus on research for the next couple of months, so blogging will likely be much less frequent for a while. I'm not closing down, but I am scaling back - probably only a post a week or so. In the meanwhile, here's a picture of the Billboard for Anders Bookstore, which is just at the edge of the Auburn campus. Smart marketing.

For any students reading - good luck with finals - if you're at Auburn, consider a longer rental term. For all the faculty - good luck writing (and grading) them and wrapping up the semester.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

This is a bit belated - I started it, and then didn't finish before all family got here for the festivities. But better late than never, eh?

Here's hoping you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. It's a good exercise to occasionally thing about the things we're thankful for, so here's a few of the things I'm particularly thankful for:
  • My Family - I somehow managed to marry well above my station (the Unknown Wife is far better a person than I deserve, with the exception of her poor taste in spouses), I have a nine year-old daughter who still thinks her dad is pretty cool (I figure I still have another year on that score), and a very good-natured 8 month old baby boy (yeah, I'm too old for this stuff, but it's still pretty cool).
  • My Job - I love being a professor (well, at least most of the time). I spend my workday with smart people, I get to learn interesting things about topics of my choice (they call it research), and teaching is pretty fun. And they pay me well and give me lots of time off.
  • Where I live - I live in a beautiful area, in a nice neighborhood, in a relatively new house less than two miles from my office, and both my and the Unknown Wife's family are within two hours' drive (in fact, they were here for Thanksgiving Dinner), and we visited my mom last weekend.
  • My health - while I have a few things that'll eventually need fixing, I'm basically healthy. And I live in a time where replacement parts are getting better, more available, and cheaper all the time.
  • My church - As evangelical born-again Christians, having a good church to attend is very important to us. We are fortunate enough to have a great one - a good preacher, good worship (our worship band kicks some serious hiney), and people who get involved in each others' lives in good ways.
  • My country - the USA has problems (after all, it's populated and run by people, and people are inherently messed up). But over all, I think it's the most amazing place in the world. We're an incredibly wealthy country, with more freedom (still) than any place else, and there's always opportunity for those willing to take advantage of it.
  • The times we live in - The advances in almost any field over my lifetime astound me. We can now cure things that would have been a death sentence thirty years ago: to give you just a few examples, the Unknown Son wouldn't have lasted a year back in 1980 (instead, we got an additional five years), AIDS has become a manageable disease, and they can do heart surgery on babies in the mother's womb. As far as technology, I'm old enough to recall the original Star Trek in the 70s. Now we all have our own "communicators" (cell phones), I don't know anyone (including my students) without a microwave and color TV, and I'm posting a message that will be read by people all over the world on a machine that's many thousands of times more powerful than the computer that was used in the original space program.
As regular readers know, it's been a Hell of a year (and I do mean "Hell"), what with the Unknown Son losing his battle with cancer in June. But even with that, there are things to be thankful about. When he was diagnosed, it looked like he wouldn't last a year, as the cancer was both aggressive and resistant to treatment. But we had another five years with him, and got to see him grow into an amazing ten-year old boy. And we got to see his excitement at his new baby brother (and to see him relate to him for two months). In fact, here's a picture (it's the desktop background on my computer):

One of my favorite blogs (the Aleph Blog) is run by David Merkel, a CFA charter holder, portfolio manager and fellow Christian with eight kids. He just put up his own Thanksgiving post, and in it he mentions Job - the one book of the Bible that there never seem sot be a good time to read: when you're happy, it can bring you down, and when you're down, it can be even worse.

For those of you who aren't "people of the Book", it's about a wealthy, happy, and religious man who God allows Satan to test by taking everything from him - his wealth, his family, and even his health.

At the end, Job decides two things - that God is beyond his understanding, and that he'll still praise him regardless of his circumstances. So at the end of the day, being thankful is a choice. I've noticed that there are people who are generally happy and thankful, and those who aren't. More often than not, when I ask the happy ones why, the only common answer is that they simply choose to be happy.

In any event, it's time for a late breakfast, and then off to work.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SNL Takes a Chunk Out of Obama

Looks like SNL is finally starting to put Obama in the cross-hairs:

The funniest part (a little rude, but funny nonetheless) is about 2/3 of the way through - "Will you kiss me? I believe it is the polite thing to do when someone is doing sex to me!"

Not a good sign for the President - to this point, comics have been slow to start ragging him. Looks like the honeymoon's over.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Amazing Dance Video

A friend just sent this. They call this guy (Robert Muraine) "Mr Fantastic" after the rubber-limbed comic-book hero in the Fantastic Four. Here's a clip of his entry on "So You Think You Can Dance".

I used to have what's called hyper-mobile joints (before I got old and still) - I could easily get my elbows well past each other behind my back, do full splits, get my feet behind my head, and so on.

But this is in a whole 'nother world.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Scott Adams Must Be Eavesdropping on My Email

This sounds like a couple of my students. For some reason, family deaths always seem to increase around exam time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spreadsheets, Spreadsheet, and More Spreadsheets.

Yesterday, I thought I was coming down with something - I had a sore throat when I went to bed, and I woke up this morning feeling kind of blah. So, I thought I'd muddle through my classes (unfortunately, it's my long teaching day), and then come home and go to bed. By the end of the day, I felt like I'd been beaten with a stick - sore and feeling heavy-limbed all over.

But, it was the Unknown Daughter's birthday, so we had festivities first.

Then, I thought I'd put in a little work on before going to bed. Big mistake.

I started working on some spreadsheet models for my Fixed Income class at about 9 (just for an hour or so, I thought). Before I realized it, it's 3 a.m., and I've stayed up too late once again.

So far, I've made two spreadsheet models. One calculates duration and convexity for any combination of coupon, maturity, frequency, and yield, along with some graphs. The other calculates the average life of a mortgage pass-through based on various prepayment assumptions (multiples of PSA). While they're not pretty (I'm not exactly a wizard at formatting), I'm pretty happy with them, because they both use fairly complicated (for me) nested IF statements.

Next up will be a model for a sequential-pay CMO. That should be fun.

I'll end up eventually turning all the models into video tutorials (probably over the break), and will assign them for the students to replicate the next time I teach the class.

My basic approach to teaching is that if they can't calculate it, they don't understand it. So hopefully these will help.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Unknown Colonoscopy

Disclaimer: the following post is not for the faint of heart (or for those who have an overly developed sense of propriety). But then again, most of my readers aren't in those categories anyway.

Since I recently turned 50, I got to have that little procedure that comes with the turf - a colonoscopy. The actual deed wasn't bad at all, but the prelude was, shall we say, less than enjoyable. Since the docs want a clear "field of play". they make you go on a clear-liquid diet for the day prior to the procedure. So, I got to teach 3 classes on a diet of Jello, black coffee, and chicken bullion - not the easiest thing to do.

More importantly, they give you what they call "prep". the best way to give you a feel for what that involves is to point you towards this this classic video (warning: may not be safe for work - so turn the audio down a bit). The "prep" is essentially laxative mixed with rocket fuel. On the bright side, I got to read a couple of books I hadn't recently had time for while "parked" in the little room.

In any event, the actual procedure went fine, and there was nothing of concern down below deck. All I can say about it is "thank goodness for high-quality sedatives" - I went to sleep just before they started, and woke up in the recovery room after, with no memory of anything.

Once it was done, I grabbed lunch and went home to sleep off the remaining effects of the sedative (this took most of the afternoon). Of course, there was only one food that was appropriate for the first mean after waking. Luckily, since I married well above myself, the Unknown Wife was ready with pancakes and BACON for dinner.

For those of you that want a better sense of what the whole thing was like, no one says it better than Dave Barry. Just don't read it with any liquid in your mouth, or you'll be cleaning off your monitor (seat belt, indeed!). Then go sign up for a colonoscopy, if you are over 5o and haven't had one yet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Damodaran on the Equity Risk Premium

The Equity Risk Premium is one of the central concepts of finance theory and practice. However, when we teach it in class (usually as part of the CAPM), we tend to do a lot of hand-waving and tell students to use historical ERPs. Aswath Damodaran of New York University has an excellent piece on SSRN titled "Equity Risk Premiums: Determinants, Estimation, and Implications" that's a must-read whether you're a professor, student, or practitioner. Here's the abstract:
Equity risk premiums are a central component of every risk and return model in finance and are a key input into estimating costs of equity and capital in both corporate finance and valuation. Given their importance, it is surprising how haphazard the estimation of equity risk premiums remains in practice. In the standard approach to estimating equity risk premiums, historical returns are used, with the difference in annual returns on stocks versus bonds over a long time period comprising the expected risk premium. We note the limitations of this approach, even in markets like the United States, which have long periods of historical data available, and its complete failure in emerging markets, where the historical data tends to be limited and volatile. We look at two other approaches to estimating equity risk premiums - the survey approach, where investors and managers are asked to assess the risk premium and the implied approach, where a forward-looking estimate of the premium is estimated using either current equity prices or risk premiums in non-equity markets. We close the paper by examining why different approaches yield different values for the equity risk premium, and how to choose the "right" number to use in analysis. (In an addendum, we also look at equity risk premiums during the market crisis, starting on September 12, 2008 through October 16, 2008.)
Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'd Eat That

I just stopped by my favorite (on campus) coffee, bagel, and sandwich shoppe - I'm spending the afternoon grading exams that are due back tomorrow (groan).

Their latest sandwich offering is a Veggie Burger with Tomato, Onion, Provolone cheese, and Bacon. That's right - a veggie burger with bacon - probably the only way I'd eat one of those. Actually, it sounds pretty good. Bacon improves just about everything.

Talking With Practitioners

Unknown University recently had a function where they brought back a number of prominent alumni to talk about various topics. At dinner after the function, I ended up at a table with an MD from a major investment bank who manages about 10Billion overall in both traditional funds and alternative investments in the market where I'm currently doing some research. It was not by chance - I offered to lead a session that he was the main speacker for, and asked to be put at his table afterward.

So, at dinner (in between him checking his Blackberry every few minutes (dan - that is distracting), I got a chance to see whether my story about what I saw in my data passed the "sniff test" from someone who works in that market on a daily basis. Luckily, it did. Having topped that bar, we started talking about what sorts of things his firm has done in terms of research on the particular topic. So, it looks like I made a connection that could result in my getting some pretty scarce data in exchange for doing some research for the guy. It's a win-win - he gets some relatively low-cost access to eggheads, and I and my coauthor get some scarce data and access to people who can tell us far more about the markets involved than we could learn from academic articles and textbooks.

So, the bottom line is - If you're an academic who works on related topics, talk to practitioners. It's good for you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Best Headline Ever

I'm a big fan of satire. But sometimes reality comes out with something that's far funnier and more bizarre than anything I could have come up with (even during the 70s, which were very, very interesting). Here's a newspaper headline that I just can't get out of my mind:

One gay man, two lesbians, a three-legged cat and a poisoned curry plot.

From the Mail Online. Hey - brit tabloids just do this stuff better than us.

Occam's Razor vs. Occam's Professor

I try not to be Occam's Professor - unless it's the right thing to do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Williamson and Ostrom Win Nobel In Economics

The announcement just came in - The Nobel Prize in Economics (actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, to be precise) was awarded jointly to Elinor Ostrom (for her work on usage of common goods) and to Oliver Williamson (for his work on business as means of mitigating transactions costs). While I'm familiar with Williamson's work, I'm not with Ostrom's - so it looks like some reading is in order..
Click here for a list of past laureates.
In somewhat surprising related news, Obama was not awarded the prize (neither was Michael Moore or Timothy Geithner).

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

When I read this morning that Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I first thought it was a joke. Then, when I found out that it was real, I realized it was still a joke. Unfortunately, it was one that the prize committee played on themselves. They've definitely beclowned themselves - if I were to guess why they gave it to Obama, I'd have to say "Because he's not Bush").

I know, I know - this isn't a political blog (it's supposed to be about finance, or at least about being a finance professor). But some things cry out for comment.

Since it's Friday at 5:00, I guess it's time to call it a day. If the weather holds out, I'm trying a 100 kilometer ride tomorrow. Should be interesting - the course is not as hilly as the last ride. But, it might rain, in which case I'll stay home.

update: a reader just informed me that nominations had to be in by February 1st. So that means that Obama was nominated after eleven days in office.

update 2: From Greg Mankiw: "First Year Grad Student Wins Nobel Prize In Economics"

update3: From the Wall Street Journal: "Our own reaction is bemusement at the Norwegian decision to offer what amounts to the world's first futures prize in diplomacy, with the Nobel Committee anticipating the heroic concessions that it believes Mr. Obama will make to secure treaties that will produce a new era of global serenity."

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Christian Finance Faculty Association

Robert Brooks is a finance professor at the University of Alabama. He's trying to get a new organization (the Christian Finance Faculty Association) off the ground. Since it's a worthwhile endeavor (and one I'd be a part of if I were going), I thought I'd post some information about it.

Professor Brooks has scheduled an organizational meeting at the upcoming Financial Management Association meeting in Reno in a few weeks. Rather than retype everything, I'll just pass along the info that was forwarded to me (efficient AND lazy- now there's a combination. Unfortunately, I don't have the looks to go with it.)
The purpose of this email is to announce the formation of The Christian Finance Faculty Association. The first formal meeting will be held at the Nugget Hotel in Reno (Lake Tahoe) during the FMA meeting this year. The meeting will be held in the Alpine Room on Friday, October 23, 2009 from 7:00 to 9:00 AM.

The following are information items related to this association:
  1. Volunteers are needed and welcomed. Direct any questions, comments, to Robert Brooks at
  2. Information about this emerging organization can be found at (hopefully the site will be improved shortly). The web site will be the primary means of communicating about the activities and opportunities within CFFA.
  3. As this organization is in its early formative stage, you have an opportunity to influence its overall objectives and focus. Your feedback and insights are needed.
  4. If you wish to be added to our email distribution list, please send an email to and indicatyour willingness to be included. The email list will be private and only blind copies will be mass distributed in the same manner as this email. The email list will be limited to CFFA announcements. We may eventually create a blog for more interactive and frequent contributions.
  5. Please forward this email to anyone you believe may have an interest in this organization.
Unfortunately, I won't be there in Reno. But if you will be and you're interested, check it out.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nash Meets Feynman

Those of you who haven't seen "A Beautiful Mind" might not get it. Butif you have (or if you know Nash's work), it's funny.

In case you didn't know, in addition to Richard Feynman being a Nobel-prize winning physicist, also found the Feynman-Kac solution to the third-order partial differential solution that Black and Scholes used in their option-pricing formula. So, he's actually about a Nobel-Prize winner and maybe a quarter (once on his own, and once for being useful to B&S.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Funny Economist

It turns our Austan Goolsbee (U of Chicago Economics prof and member of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors) is a pretty funny guy.

From what I recall, I'd gotten a couple of emails from him a while back (when he was just a normal mortal) regarding possible things to blog on. Of course, that could be just the Alzheimer's talking.

Regardless, he's a pretty funny guy - decent material (not fantastic, but he IS an Economics Prof, after all) and interesting delivery.

Now that I've mention you Austin - about MY stimulus package...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Excellent Video On The Health Care Debate

I try not to post too many political things on the blog because 1) I have a mostly finance readership, and 2) It brings out the moonbats (from both sides). But sometimes you find something too good to pass up.

Recently Will Ferrell put up a video of celebrities chiming in on the health care debate. It was a masterpiece of typical Hollywood arrogance. As an aside, I often find myself upset when I hear some celebrity preaching to us normal mortals on one topic or another. Just remember - in reality, these are people whose main claim to fame is that they can convincingly read lines written by someone else (can you tell I don't care for celebrity "messages"?).

Well, here's the rejoinder to Ferrell's piece. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, you have to appreciate the level of snark that they use to lampoon the celebrities (or maybe not - but I liked it, and it's my blog).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Can't You Bump My Grade Up?

At the end of the semester, I often get a student or two who want to protest their grades. Not too many, because I make a lot of preemptive moves explaining how their grade is determined, and I try to be very explicit in my syllabus. In addition, I teach mostly upper-level courses with almost all finance majors, so most of my student can actually do the simple computation necessary to figure out their grades. Finally, I think they get the sense that trying to work me for a grade simply won't be worth the effort.

Still, it happens - often because "they need to get a "C" to graduate" (or some variation involving a scholarship, Dean's list, or so on).

Rate Your Students
has a pretty good piece on this topic that nails it. You can read the whole thing here, but the money quote comes at the:
Up until now, I was always suckered into actually engaging in the debate. But this fall I'm going to try a new tactic, and anyone out there who wants to is free to adopt it, 'cause I think it's going to work, and save me a lot of frown lines and email editing. Rather than getting into the specifics of their grades, I'll write the following: "It looks like you're asking to be graded under different guidelines from those in the syllabus, which were used to calculate the grades of the other 170 people in your class. Is this correct?"
Priceless. I think I'll use it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Wet Hilly Ride

I just did the a bikeathon for The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp. Today would have been Jonathan's 11th birthday, so being able to do a fundraiser for the camp had special meaning.

I had initially planned on riding the 60-mile course, but they canceled that ride due to inclement weather(it was raining heavily, and riding for 4 hours soaking wet and doing 15-20 mph could lead to hypothermia). So, I did the 30 miler instead.

It started with a 3 mile, 6% downgrade in the pouring rain. By the bottom of the hill, my feet were soaked, my butt was frozen from the water thrown off by the rear tire, and my glasses were completely covered with water. Since it wandered through Northeast Connecticut, the course was extremely hilly (close to 10 hills of over a quarter mile and greater than 5% grade), and rained most of the way. Since they mismeasured the course, it turned out to be more like 38 miles than 30.

Still, it was a blast. I'm actually glad they cancelled the 60 miler. Where I live is relatively flat, and it's easy to avoid the hills (so, I usually do). Ashford,CT and the surrounding areas, on the other hand, are extremely hilly. So, if I'd done the 60 miler (which, given how they measured the 30 miler, could have been a 70 miler), I'd have ended up in the sag-wagon (or limping for a week).

As it was, there were some ridiculous hills. There was one at the 25 mile mark that was only about 150 yards, but was probably a 8-10% grade. It was so ridiculously steep that everyone just started laughing when they saw it.

But still, it was a great time, and I'll definitely come back next year. Thanks to my supporters - they ponied up almost a thousand dollars, and it was for a great cause.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Excel Video

Since students in all three of my classes will need to do a data table in Excel at some point, I decided to put together a short video on 1 and 2-variable data tables.

Teaching three preps has been much more time consuming than I'd expected. Luckily, I'm almost through the most time consuming parts of my classes - in one, the most technical material comes first, and the other two (the case course and the student-managed fund) require a lot of "setup" at the beginning of the class. So, I'm hoping that crunch time will shortly be over.

In any event, here are the videos

click here for the video file in MPEG-4 format, and here if you want it in MOV format.

It takes time to make these, but it should save me a fair bit of time in the long run. For example, I won't need to spend class time on teaching my students the basics of data tables any more. They'll still have questions after viewing the video, I'm sure, but they can review it multiple times, and it'll eliminate the need to go over the basics in class.

I know one person who's put the majority of his introductory finance lectures into video files like these (he did it initially for an online course). Now he uses them as review material for upper-level students who are weak in one area or another.

Any comments on the video are welcome. It's not perfect - there are some "ummm" and "uh" moments. And yes, I've stripped out the identifying data - I finally realize what some people had said in the comments.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Brief Update

I survived the first week of the semester at Unknown University. This is my first time ever teaching three preps, and it's tougher than I expected. I'm about 1 1/2 weeks ahead in my classes, so I'm not running around playing catch up (another first, it seems). But, it's still no cake walk.

On a different note - I just got an email from a coauthor. It contained a graph with some absolutely kick-hiney (that's a technical term) results. Times like this remind me what I love about this job - finding out interesting new things. I've got great hopes for this project - not only that it'll place in a good journal but that it'll be the start of a new stream of research. Time will tell, but for now, I'm excited.

Ah well - time to give the Unknown Baby Boy his last bottle for the night, and then turn in.

updates the next day - even more good new results. Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Blogging Has Been Light

Blogging's been light lately for a couple of reasons (and probably will continue to be for a while). School just started up at Unknown University and anyone in academia knows that the beginning of the semester is always crazy. In addition, I have THREE preps this fall (I typically have two preps, but one of the faculty went on sabbatical, and I got his class - a new prep).

Most important, I've come to the conclusion that I have to focus more on my research. I have a number of project that are "close" to completion, but it's better to have ONE completed and submitted than THREE that are "close". So, for the fall semester, I'm trying to work on only one project at at time until it (or at least my part of it) is done. I've tried to "juggle" projects in the past, but that ends up with me spinning my wheels. For me, multitasking just doesn't work.

To give you an idea as to what's on my plate:
  • I just finished a paper to submit to the Eastern Finance Association annual meeting - it's a regional conference, but i go more often than not, since I have a lot of friends in the association. The deadline is today (in about an hour), but it's done and submitted. Now we let it sit for a week and then give it another go-round.
  • Next on the line is a couple of days' work on a paper that's being presented at the FMA meeting in about a month's time. All I have to do is write up a short section of the lit review, so it should be done by Friday.
  • Then I put in about a week's work on a third paper. I've done most of the empirical analysis except for one part. Once done, this goes to my coauthor who does the writeup.
  • While I'm waiting for one or the other of these things to come back to me, I work on creating a data set for another paper.
Somewhere in there, I'll be juggling three separate classes. Interestingly enough, one is a "practicum" (the student-managed fund, one is a case class (advanced corporate finance), and the third is a straight lecture course (fixed income and credit markets). Since each class demands a different teaching style, this semester could get interesting (and possibly the beginning of a good case of multiple personality disorder).

In fact, I have some students who are taking all three classes with me, so we'll either end up on very good or very bad terms by December. Either way, it should be interesting.

Friday, September 04, 2009

You Can't Measure Alpha Independent of Risk

When I teach investments, there's always a section on market efficiency. A key point I try to make is that any test of market efficiency suffers from the "joint hypothesis" problem - that the test is not tests market efficiency, but also assumes that you have the correct model for measuring the benchmark risk-adjusted return.

In other words, you can't say that you have "alpha" (an abnormal return) without correcting for risk.

Falkenblog makes exactly this point:
In my book Finding Alpha I describe these strategies, as they are built on the fact that alpha is a residual return, a risk-adjusted return, and as 'risk' is not definable, this gives people a lot of degrees of freedom. Further, it has long been the case that successful people are good at doing one thing while saying they are doing another.
Even better, he's got a pretty good video on the topic (it also touches on other topics). Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Summer Winds Down

It's been a busy week here in Unknownville. Unknown University starts up next week (we start later than most), so we've had a rash (or is that a plague?) of meetings. I'm still juggling several papers (writing a lit review for one, doing data work for another, and some polishing/editing for a third) and sequentially disappointing my coauthors.

Ah well - them's the breaks. But I have to be nice, since coauthors on each paper read the blog. So fear not, coauthors - my parts will be done in good time.

Along those lines, I just received a bunch of results from one coauthor, some of which are pretty interesting. It's an area that I had an unsuccessful paper in several years ago, and she usues s new and difficult data set that allows us to revisit the topic in a very new way. WE've got a good story and good results, and it'll gp to the head of the pile, since we're sending the paper to an upcoming conference (the Eastern Finance Association annual meeting) for which the deadline is next week. I hope it gets accepted since the Unknown Wife and I plan on making it a little vacation (she's neve been to Miami). We're pretty confident - its a good idea,goood data, and believable results (And we know the program chair).

After all, that's potentially one of the perks of academia - you can sometimes have the university partially fund your vacations by choosing your conferences wisely.

Finally, I just got an email telling me I've won 12,841,340 Euros in an inernational lottery that I don't recall entering. I have to share it with 14,000 winners, but it'll give my students something to calculate when I cover foreign exchange rates.

UnknwonDaughter is now back in scnool and once agaion well ahead of her classmates.. And Unknown Baby boy continues t alternately make us laugh and make us gag as he exceeds manufacturers capacit on his diapers (or as we call them "Code Brown!). Ah well - the wages fo hchild rearing.



What to Use as the Equity Risk Premium?

I'm teaching Corporate Finance again this semester. In the class, we spend a fair bit of time on the CAPM (yes, I know - it's not perfect. But it is a still pretty good). One of the big issues is what to use as the Market Risk Premium (or, as it's sometimes called, the "Equity Risk Premium). Looks like I'll be using this piece as background: The Equity Risk Premium in 100 Textbooks by Pablo Fernandez of the University of Navarra. Here's the abstract:
I review 100 finance and valuation textbooks published between 1979 and 2008 (Brealey, Myers, Copeland, Damodaran, Merton, Ross, Bruner, Bodie, Penman, Weston, Arzac...) and find that their recommendations regarding the equity premium range from 3% to 10%, and that several books use different equity premia in different pages.

Some confusion arises from not distinguishing among the four concepts that the word equity premium designates: Historical equity premium, Expected equity premium, Required equity premium and Implied equity premium.

Finance professors should clarify the different concepts of equity premium and convey a clearer message about their sensible magnitudes.
It's worthwhile reading - you can download the full version on SSRN here.

HT: Jim Mahar at

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Difficulty of Measuring the Gains To Fundamental Research

Here's a paper by Bradford Cornell that I've had in my in box for a while. It's titled "Investment Research: How Much Is Enough?" Here's the abstract
Aside from the decision to enter the equity market, the most fundamental question an investor faces is whether to passively hold the market portfolio or to do investment research. This thesis of this paper is that there is no scientifically reliable procedure available which can be applied to estimate the marginal product of investment research. In light of this imprecision, investors become forced to rely on some combination of judgment, gut instinct, and marketing imperatives to determine both the research approaches they employ and the capital they allocate to each approach. However, decisions based on such nebulous criteria are fragile and subject to dramatic revision in the face of market movements. These revisions, in turn, can exacerbate movements in asset prices.
I raises some interesting issues about the difficulties in measuring gains to fundamental research. To name a few:
  • The difficulty in measuring "abnormal" performance", given the stochastic (i.e. random) nature of stock returns
  • The time-varying nature of any possible gains to analysis (funds and strategies change over time).
  • Given the needs for sample size and duration necessary to get high levels of statistical significance, most findings are of pretty low confidence
  • The ad hoc nature of many analysis strategies and the role that judgement plays
It's worth reading, and give some good points for discussion in a class module on efficient markets (and the related topic of "anomalies" like the size and value effects). You can read the working paper on SSRN here

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My First Century (Bike Ride, That Is)

I recently signed up to ride in my first "Metric Century" - a 100 kilometer (that's about 62 miles for those of you who don't speak metric) bike ride. Fittingly, it's a fund-raiser for the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp.

The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp was started by Paul Newman (yes, that Paul Newman) in the late 1980s to provide seriously ill children with a Wild West-themed camp experience (the original HITWG camp was formed in Ashford CT and was based on the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"). The original camp has been built up over the years - it now has an "OK Corral" for its infirmary (with a 24 hour medical staff), horse stables, totem poles, tee pees, swimming pools, boating, horseback riding, sports, theater, and camping, along with much, much more. Over the years, the HITWG camps (there are now 11 separate camps in several countries) have hosted over 130,000 seriously ill children.

My nephew (who also died of cancer a little over two years ago) went there several times in his final years. And while Jonathan never made it out there, the HITWG camp would send two staff workers out to the clinic where he was treated several times each week to play with the kids. These guys were amazing. One had gone to clown college (and no, I never taught there, but one of my previous schools resembled it on a regular basis) and could do everything from magic tricks to impersonations to juggling. The other had technical skills that would let him make rap tapes for the kids, PhotoShop their faces onto pictures of Superheroes (I have one of "Jonathan Hulk"), and do just about anything else they'd want with a computer. They made quite an impact on the kids - for most, they made the clinic a far brighter place.

In any event, this give me a good goal to shoot for. So far, the farthest ride I've taken this summer has been today's ride of 33 miles. I did it at a (for me) good pace, and it had a couple of pretty good hills in it. But I'll have to step up my game a bit if I want to make it - I'm still only halfway there, and the terrain for the ride is pretty hilly. So even if I slow down significantly, it'll be a stretch. Since every pound counts when going up hills, I'm hoping to ease the burden of schlepping up all those hills ny losing 8-10 pounds over the next 5 weeks.

This means you'll have to put up with occasional training posts. Ah well - them's the breaks.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Data Analysis With Stata

The Unknown Family went to the Unknown Sister-in-Law's family's house in an adjacent state (their youngest daughter is going off to college, and Unknown Wife wanted to see her before she leaves for the Big Adventure). So, I got a couple of days to myself. Nothing very exciting - I've been grinding data during the day, and went on a couple of longish bike rides (I'm up to 25-30 miles at a time at what for me is a pretty good clip).

On the data analysis front, I finally took the plunge and started using Stata. It's a pretty amazing package of tools. I work with a lot of large and complicated data sets, and there's always a lot of data manipulation before I get to the point where I'm running statistical analyses. When it comes to moving data around (merging data, sub-setting, mean adjusting, etc...) SAS wins hands down. And I've put a lot of time getting my SAS chops, so I'd put off learning Stata for a long time.

But I now understand what so many of my friends have been telling me for so long - once you get to the point that your data is all nice and neat, Stata rocks. I was able to do many permutations of regression models (fixed effects, random effects, robust and/or clustered errors, etc...) in about a quarter of the time it would take in SAS. And while it's possible to work in batch mode by writing "do" files, you can do quick and dirty analyses with drop down menus.

I have seen the statistical light, and it reveals that I'll be doing a lot more with Stata in the future.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Capital Structure, Buybacks, and Free Cash Flow

I'm in the process of putting together material for my Advanced Corporate Finance class. Of course, it has a module on capital structure and payout policy. One of concepts we'll get across is that holding extra cash often gives managers incentives to invest in negative NPV projects (the old "free cash flow" problem). So, according to agency theory, managers should lever up and pay out the excess cash to shareholders in the form of buybacks and/or dividends. Unfortunately, higher leverage and lower cash holdings exposes the firm to increased risk of financial distress.

Along those lines, I was going through my "clippings file" and came across this piece in the Economist. It discusses some of the costs of excess debt during recessions. Of course, it's always easy to look back after the fact and say that firms shouldn't have levered up so much, since it means they'll face distress costs during a recession (hindsight's always 20/20, after all).

In a related piece David Merkel id a piece a while back on financial slack and how he uses it in evaluating cyclical companies in Real Money. He illustrates his approach using the steel industry. When identifying good companies in the steel industries he looks for several things:
...With a cyclical company, watching the pricing trends of the commodity produced is the most critical factor in short-run stock performance. Longer term, it comes down to finding companies that have these four characteristics:

They're industry leaders with impeccable balance sheets.

2. They have reasonable operating leverage; they should be profitable at the cycle trough.

Their industry is hated, so their stocks can be bought at a cheap price.

4. They use free cash flow at a cycle peak in a way that prepares for the trough.

Points 2 and 4 suggest a corporate humility that arises from restraining the increase of productive capacity when times are good, and a willingness to invest when times are bad.
Point 4 is the most relevant to the whole leverage/payout discussion: what's the best use of free cash flow? Should it be invested, used to pay down debt, or be distributed to shareholders? If good time are expected to continue, the company is best off investing the excess in positive NPV projects and then paying out excess free cash in the form of dividends and buybacks (and buybacks result in increased leverage). However, if troble is expected ahead, they're better off paying down debt or holding more cash in reserve.

I think it'll make for a good discussion in class.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tutorials For The BA2+ Calculator

In any class, there are some sections that take up a disproportionate amount of class time but are only needed by some of the class. For example, in my case course, some of the students have a very good grasp of how to use their business calculators, while others somehow made it out of the introductory class without learning something as basis as how to calculate simple present and future values using the built in financial functions of their calculator.

So, how do I make sure that all my students have the basic background knowledge needed to survive the class? My solution this semester is to use screen recording software to create a few tutorials for the Texas Instruments BA2+ calculator (the model we encourage our students to use in the intro class).

I made a short 5-6 minute video that goes over how to change the settings on the calculator (i.e. the number of decimals displayed, number of periods per year, etc), and another to demonstrate how to solve problems involving present and future values of lump sums (and how to solve for interest rate and number of periods, too). I'll make a third video to cover annuity problems, a fourth to cover NPV and IRR problems, and a fifth to work some problems in depth.

I've posted a link to one of the videos below. In case you're interested, I created the guides using Techsmith's Camtasia software, Texas Instrument's calculator software emulator, and hosted it on Techsmith's Screencast platform. It's not professionally done by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it gets the basics across (and there aren't enough "ummm's" and "Ah's" to be too distracting).

Updated 8/22: I put all the tutorials in one spot for easier access. Updated 8/20: They're in MP4 format, which should be playable on the latest versions of Windows Media Player and most other video players. If you want to download them, feel free, but realize that the largest is about 20 meg. So it might take a while (depending on your connection speed).

Introduction To The BA2+ Calculator

Solving Present and Future Value Lump Sum Problems On The BA2+ Calculator.

Solving Annuity Problems on the BA2+ Calculator

Using the Cash Flow Register on the BA2+ Calculator

Any feedback is appreciated.

Beloit College Publishes Its Latest Mindset List

Every year, Beloit college publishes its "Mindset List." This list is updated annually to reflect what the latest crop of incoming freshman has experienced. Here are some of my favorites:
12. The KGB has never officially existed.
13. Text has always been hyper.
18. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
30. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.

Read the whole thing here.

It's CFA Level 2 and Level 3 Results Day

Today is the day they give out results for the Level 2 and Level 3 CFA exams. Looks like pass rates for the Levels 2 and 3 exams were lower than their historical levels.

To all who passed, congratulations - you're now one step closer to finishing the process. If not, here's some perspective from the "Godfather of the Analyst Forum" (he goes by the pseudonym of "Joey DeVivre"). It was geared towards the Level 1 Exam, but it fits for L2 and L3 as well:
If You Failed
1) You are in distinguished company
I know a college finance professor who took 7 tries to pass three exams. This guy even wrote a college textbook on corporate finance. (That sounds like an apocryphal story, but I swear it's true but there is no way I'm posting his name).

2) Nobody will care
Everybody seems to have this dread that something terrible will happen when they tell their colleagues, boss, significant other, and parents. What will happen is they will say "Wow, hard test. When are you taking it again?"

3) You will be 6 months older when you get your charter.
I was in my late 30's so most of you will be at least ten years ahead of me when you get it even if you fail a few times.

4) You will get a solid foundation to build on for the next two levels
Learning this stuff again means you will learn it better, deeper, and more committed to long-term learning. This will pay dividends over the next couple of exams.

5) You failed a really hard exam
Every year the pass rate is less than 50%. In that >50% who fail number are oodles of smart people who studied hard. There is a ton of material on this exam and you have a career and a life outside of this exam. It's a bear and you don't even need an excuse for failing.

And to those who passed - Congrats and well done.
If you haven't yet done so, go register on Analyst Forum - it's worth it.

So far I've heard from the three former students who took the L2 exam this time around (all took the L1 exam in the last 18 months) - one passed, and two failed. Not bad, given the overall pass rate was 41%.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Finding the Lowest-Cost Textbooks

I've blogged on this previously, but this piece on sources for finding low-cost textbooks bears repeating (particularly with school starting back up shortly).

Of the sources mentioned, I tried out CampusBooks to search for a few reference materials I needed (used, of course). It's outstanding, and well worth checking out.

HT: Newmark's Door

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How To Remember Material For the CFA Exam

I just read a study that is highly applicable to anyone who's studying for the CFA exams, since there's a ridiculous amount of information that must be retained. When people ask me how much they have to study for the L1 exam, I answer "about 16 pounds", since that's the weight of the curriculum.

But the study is applicable to students in many other disciplines.

The study is titled "The Critical Importance of Retrieval For Learning" by Jeffrey Karpicke and Henry Roediger, and it's in the February 2008 issue of the journal Science. They examine the question of how best to improve long-term recall. Specifically, they tested whether, once a student can recall a piece of knowledge once, they most improve their long term recall by repeated studying of the material, by repeated testing of the material, or both. Here's the abstract:
Learning is often considered complete when a student can produce the correct answer to a question. In our research, students in one condition learned foreign language vocabulary words in the standard paradigm of repeated study-test trials. In three other conditions, once a student had correctly produced the vocabulary item, it was repeatedly studied but dropped from further testing, repeatedly tested but dropped from further study, or dropped from both study and test. Repeated studying after learning had no effect on delayed recall, but repeated testing produced a large positive effect. In addition, students' predictions of their performance were uncorrelated with actual performance. The results demonstrate the critical role of retrieval practice in consolidating learning and show that even university students seem unaware of this fact.
So, the takeaway is that the best way to retain (for example), the Black-Scholes option pricing formula isn't to keep going over the formula once you've gotten it down - it's to repeatedly TEST yourself on it. I don't necessarily mean a formal test -- just put the formula on a flash card and periodically (every couple of days at first, but eventually at longer intervals) try to write it out. After that, check your results against the flash card.

Of course, if you're studying for the CFA exams, most of the test-prep companies have test banks with numerous questions on each topic, so using them would be perfectly consistent with this approach.

I almost forgot - you can read the Science article here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Penn and Teller on Progressive Taxation

I try to get across to my students that the government has no money of its own - everything either comes from taxes or from borrowing(which is paid off with future taxes). So in the end, most government programs involve taking money from one group and giving it to another. That's not necessarily bad (there might be a compelling reason to do so in some circumstances), but it's useful to frame things this way.

Here's a videos by Penn and Teller from their Bullsh*t (this is mostly a family friendly blog) series that hits the nail pretty much on the head:

HT: Ace of Spades, which, FWIW, is NOT a family-friendly blog. Funny, but not family friendly)

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Good Ride

I just went on my longest ride of the year (26 miles). I know it's not long by serious cyclists' standards, but it's as long as anything I did last summer (but slower than last year's rides). Unfortunately, it was also the hottest day of the year in UnknownVille - 90 degrees and very humid.

Still, not too bad considering I only started riding the week after Jonathan's passing (eight weeks ago). So, I have hopes of getting up to a 40 miler before Unknown University starts classes 4 weeks from now.

It takes longer to get it back as I get older. But still, an almost 2 hour ride (and at a fairly good clip- just under 16 mph) isn't too bad considering I just turned 51.

Ah well, pain is just nature's way of telling you you're fat, lazy, and out of shape.

The 50 Greatest Film Monologues

Here's something for your weekend viewing pleasure - the 50 Greatest Movie Monologues of All Time (from

I think Pacino's in there about 4 times, and there are a lot of other big names - James Earl Jones, Mel Gibson, Morgan Freeman, etc...


Markets in Receivables

Here's an interesting article in the WSJ from a while back (7/16) titled "CIT's Woes Prompt Surge In Activity At Receivables Exchange".

CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--The turmoil surrounding finance giant CIT Group Inc. (CIT) is driving a surge in new business for a New Orleans-based company that runs a market in receivables.

The Receivables Exchange, which lets small- and mid-sized companies auction their accounts receivable to buyers that include hedge funds and commercial banks, on Wednesday recorded its busiest day ever and is fielding a flood of calls from businesses searching for financing alternatives.

"These people want to do their own underwriting and do their own credit determination," said Justin Brownhill, co-founder and chief executive of The Receivables Exchange, or TRE.

Events this week have shown that "they can't rely on others like CIT to do it," Brownhill said.

New York-based CIT, among the biggest U.S. lenders to small and mid-sized businesses, disclosed this week that it could face bankruptcy and won't be able to get help from the U.S. government.

The company is among the biggest names in the factoring marketplace, a $125 billion sector that functions as a middleman for short-term financing - paying vendors for goods up front and collecting full payment from retailers later.
It's a pretty neat example of how markets can be used as a solution to an old problem. Factoring companies have been around for quite a while, but typically dealt with firms with working capital needs on a one-to-one basis. Exchanges like these allow those companies to better diversify their portfolios and reduce their risk. At the same time, since it makes for multiple bidders, it could also extract some of the factoring companies' surplus and transfer it to firms selling their receivables (i.e. they get a higher price for their receivables).

Read the whole thing here (online subscription required, unless you find it through Google News).

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Research Love/Hate

I love doing research. Actually, I like finding out new stuff. But sometimes the research process makes me rue the fact that I work on a dry campus.

Like this week.

I've been working on a paper where I needed to update the data on. Since the latest version was a rush job put together for a conference (yes - this happens a lot), I decided to go back and check every line of my program (always a good thing to do). I also wanted to do the anal-retentive (I know, that's redundant. - except in research, where it's expected) thing where I can relate what happens to my sample at each filtering step. While doing this, I found out that I'd used the wrong data code for one of my variables - one of my MAIN variables. So, the whole data set was, in a word, crap.

After taking a deep breath, I made the corrections and redid most of the analysis. Luckily, the results still held, with minor modifications.

Then I discovered a minor discrepancy in the number of observations at one step. It's likely not very important at all. But I need to track it down before I go further. So, since my coauthor reads the blog, he'll just have to wait another day or so. But I'm getting close, so I should be able to finish my part of the work and ship it off to my coauthors in another day or two.

Then a coauthor on another paper told me that she'd found an error she made in her coding. In this case, when she found and corrected her error, it quadrupled our sample size. If you're an empiricist, you know how much an increase from about 90 observations to about 400 means. If not, let's just say it's a big deal to the alpha nerds among us (and that description applies to most of my friends).

So, like most days in the research salt mines, there's some good and some bad.

Now about that "dry campus" thing...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Ideas Report

I just came across an interesting new blog: the Ideas Report for Serious Investors. It's put out by the Manual of Ideas (a for-fee service) and obviously) geared towards investing. However, it ranges pretty far afield. Check it out.

Advice From A Journal Editor

Here's a very interesting and informative piece titled "Edifying Editing" by R. Preston McAfee (former co-editor of AER and editor of Economic Inquiry). It's not entirely applicable to finance because he's an econ guy. But there is a great deal of similarity between the fields. Here are a few things that stuck with me:
  1. He cites a paper by Dan Hamermesh (1994), who discovered that, conditional on not receiving a report in 3 months, the expected waiting time was a year. So, if you want to endear yourself to editors and you're a reviewer, get stuff done quickly. I know that the longer I wait on a referee report, the less I feel like punching it out.
  2. Around 25% of the to AER during his tenure were rejected due to poor execution. That is, the paper represented a good start on an article worthy topic, but provided too little for the audience. I recently was discussing a former student (and current coauthor) with a friend of mine who edits a pretty good journal. His comment was that my friend does good work, but "needs to finish his papers". Unfortunately, my friend often sends papers out to journals to get feedback from referees. That's what colleagues are for.
  3. He feels like a a surprising number of papers provide no meaningful conclusion. Don;t merely reiterate your introduction in the conclusion. The introduction is to motivate a problem and summarize your results, and the conclusion is your opportunity to tie things together and make some parting shots.
  4. He feels that submitting a paper where the editor has deep expertise usually produces a higher bar but less variance in the evaluation.
All in all a very worthwhile read. So read it here.

HT: Marginal Revolution

Monday, August 03, 2009

Things You Wish You Could Write On Students' Papers

Here's a pretty good list of things I wish I could write on some students' papers, from Sapience Speaks. #6, while harsh even for this list, is my favorite. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
  1. "You certainly have a way with words. A long, long way."
  2. "You seem to be attempting a very delicate approach to the assignment--so delicate, in fact, that you fail to touch on it at all."
  3. "Every one of the words in this sentence is utterly devoid of meaning."
  4. "I can't help feeling that you treat the ideas in your paper much as a black hole treats its neighboring star systems: forcefully and vigorously synthesizing them, you condense them beyond recognition, leading to utter destruction and chaos."
  5. "like the broad swift stream / a thesaurus will go far / but yields no great depth."
  6. "This paper isn't even bulls*&t. Bulls*&t has substance. This is diarrhea."
  7. "I find your rhetorical strategy in this expository to be similar to that of a rhinoceros in extracting a tooth: large, blunt, and wholly ineffective."
  8. "This entire page says exactly NOTHING."
  9. "Every teacher wishes she could read a paper like this one. It makes the rest of her life so much brighter by contrast."
  10. "As I was reading, I felt that you were trying to include in your paper every type of fallacy possible. If so, you only missed one."
  11. "The level of disorganization in your paper suggests that your true topic must be chaos theory, not, as your title implied, Wordsworth."
  12. "the wind speaks all day / yet with only empty breath: / you have no thesis"
  13. "I'm not sure even you believe this sentence."

Robert Shiller on Charlie Rose

Here's an interesting interview of Yale finance professor Robert Shiller on the Charlie Rose show. The early part of the clip is an interview of Winston Churchill's grandson - it's also interesting (I'm a Churchill fan), but if you want to skip it, Shiller starts around 14:15.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's CFA Level 1 Results Day!

Results for the CFA level 1 exam came out today. According to the CFA Institute, there was a 46% pass rate - the highest in years. I don't know if it was due to the move to 3-answer multiple choice questions or to a better-than-average candidate pool (there were probably a number of people out of work with extra time to study in there). Either way, congratulations to those who passed - you can now register for the Level 2 exam. If you didn't make it this time, you can take Level 1 again in December.

I have 3 former students (that I know of) who took the exam, and a couple more that were considering it. I expect the three I know of did well (hopefully, they'll let me know sometime today).

update: So far, two have reported in, and one passed - still waiting on the thrid.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Pretty Good Week (and Month) In the Markets

I try not to get too excited about short-term market movements. At the same time, I have to keep up since I'm the faculty advisor for Unknown University's St udent-managed fund. Even so, it's been a pretty good week (and month and year) so far - almost every equity index I can think of is in the green for the last month (and even year to date). As an aside, our fund is up 11.4% YTD (but I'm sure that'll change).

click for larger image (courtesy of

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Here I Go Again!

As many of you know, I'm in the midst of taking the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exams. I had been registered for the Level 3 exam this last June, but dropped out because of the Unknown Son's health issues (and I'm glad I did, because the time was much better spent with him in his last days).

Well, I just re-upped and re-registered for the 2010 exam. So, I'm once again a Level 3 Candidate. At least this time I'm already familiar with well over half the material, so it shouldn't be nearly as stressful.

I might even start early and keep with it this time around. With luck, I might be done with my first pass through he material by January 1. While that seems early, if I shoot for January 1, I'll probably actually finish by March or so, and then I can focus on actually locking this stuff down. After all, the material is interesting, but I don;t want to take any more exams for a while after this.

Happy 40th Anniverary, Moon Landing

I remember watching/listening to the Apollo 11 moon landing as it happened on the television. Hard to believe, but it's been 40 years since .

And yet, some conspiracy theory whack jobs still doubt that it happened. One moonbat (sarcasm intended) named Bart Sibrel systematically harassed the Apollo crewmembers to see if they'd admit that the landing was a hoax. He made the mistake of calling Buzz Aldrin a liar. Click below to see what happened.

Man - I could easily keep clicking this all day like one of those experiments where they gave mice crack.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Garbage Research" and The Equity Risk Premium

Instead of the CCAPM (Consumption CAPM), we now have the GCAPM (Garbage CAPM). Alexi Savov (graduate student at U of Chicago) finds that he can explain much more of the Equity Risk Premium using aggregate garbage production than he can using National Income and Product Account (NIPA) data. Here's the logic behind his research (from Friday's Wall Street Journal article titled "Using Garbage to Measure Consumption"):
In theory, one way to explain the premium would be to look at consumption, a broad measure of wealth. People should demand a premium from an investment that goes down when consumption goes down. That’s because the alternative — bonds — hold on to their value when consumption declines. Another way to put it: When you are making lots of garbage, you are rich. When you stop making garbage, you are poor. Unlike bonds, which continue to pay out whether you produce lots of garbage (and are rich) or not, stocks are likely to lose their value during bad times. Therefore, investors should want a large reward for putting their money in something whose value decreases at the same time as their overall wealth decreases.
Unfortunately, the data typically used to measure consumption (the US Government's figures for personal expenditure on nondurable goods and services category in the National Income and Product Account) don't have a lot of variation. So, they don't work very well as an explanatory variable. Savov finds that whe he uses EPA records on aggregate garbage production, they're exhibit a correlation with equity returns that are twice as high as the NIPA/Equity returs correlations. Here's the abstract of his paper (downloadable from the SSRN):
A new measure of consumption -- garbage -- is more volatile and more correlated with stocks than the standard measure, NIPA consumption expenditure. A garbage-based CCAPM matches the U.S. equity premium with relative risk aversion of 17 versus 81 and evades the joint equity premium-risk-free rate puzzle. These results carry through to European data. In a cross section of size, value, and industry portfolios, garbage growth is priced and drives out NIPA expenditure growth.
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Asset Class Correlations Increase In Bad Times

It's a pretty well-known fact that correlations between asset classes increase in really bad markets. To get a sense of how much this effect matters in terms of portfolio diversification, read this Wall Street Journal piece (published Friday, 7/10) titled "Failure of a Fail-Safe Strategy Sends Investors Scrambling. Here's a snippet:
Correlation is a statistical measure of the degree to which investment returns move together. Between 1991 and 1994, the correlation between the S&P 500 index and high-yield bonds was low, at 0.2 or 0.3, according to Pimco statistics. (A correlation of 1 means returns move in perfect sync.) International stocks had a correlation with the S&P 500 of 0.3 or 0.4, and real-estate investment trusts had a correlation of 0.3, according to Pimco data. Commodities showed little correlation to U.S. stocks. By early 2008, investment categories of just about every stripe were moving significantly more in sync with the S&P 500. The correlation on international stocks and high-yield bonds rose to 0.7 or 0.8, and real-estate investment trusts to 0.6 or 0.7, according to Pimco's data for the previous three years
Read the whole thing here (note: subscription required).

The problem with portfolio diversification is that it is typically implemented using historical correlations (actually, on covariances, but the two are essentially the same). To provide optimal diversification, portfolio allocations should be made based on "forward looking" correlations. In practice, some managers adjust historical correlation estimates to reflect their views of future relationships. But that becomes far more complicated than simply using historical estimates and assuming that they'll continue unto the future.

Note: if you don't have an online subscription to the Journal, try searching for the article using Google News - if you click on the link there, it works around the WSJ subscription filter (however, not all WSJ articles can be accessed this way).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Getting Your Data Straight

I've made progress on the paper I'm working on. Unfortunately, this week has been a good illustration of a quote from McCloskey: I believe it went something like "90% of writing is getting your thoughts straight, and 90% of empirical work is getting your data straight."

Unfortunately, my data wasn't straight - I realized that I had used the wrong data code (a certain type of dividend distribution) from CRSP. So, my previous analysis was basically crap (that's a technical term for the unitiated) and had to be redone using the proper data set.

Luckily, it looks like my primary results after using the proper code, but with a few minor changes. For now, I'm still doing the preliminary descriptive stuff. Since I did the initial version of the paper in a hurry (hey - it was a conference deadline), I took a few shortcuts. This time, I'm going back to step 1 and going over every line of code, and (just as important), making sure I know how the sample changes at each point. As a result, I'm much more confident with my data this time around.

But doing the descriptive statistics is still (to me) about the most boring part of the paper. Still, it's gotta be done.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Limits of Models

Here's an excellent piece on the Psi-Fi Blog, titled "Quibbles With Quants." Here's a choice part:
What the models failed to capture was that humans don’t behave in simple, predictable and uncorrelated ways. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the way these models cope with correlation of peoples’ psychology. To sum it up: they don’t. Let me know if that’s too complex an analysis for the mathematical masters of the universe.

Anyone who’s ever been to a nightclub, a football game or even a very loud party will know that there are situations where we don’t act as individuals, buzzing about doing our own thing. These are occasions when we all suddenly stop being individuals and start doing the same thing – usually involving large quantities of drugs and some very bad singing. Although these sorts of events are specifically designed to trigger this behaviour – which is probably a deep evolutionary adaptation to sponsor group behaviour, useful when it comes to running down tasty antelope and dealing with giant, carnivorous sabre toothed beavers – it can also happen in other situations. Most stockmarket booms and busts are generated by similar group effects.

In general, people behave in an uncorrelated fashion right up until the point they don’t.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Momentum Effects and Firm Fundamentals

The more Long Chen's work I read, the more I like it. I recently mentioned one of his pieces on a new 3-factor model. Here's another, on the momentum effect, titled "Myopic Extrapolation, Price Momentum, and Price Reversal." In it, he links the well-known momentum effect to patterns in firm fundamentals. Here's the abstract:
The momentum profits are realized through price adjustments reflecting shocks to firm fundamentals after portfolio formation. In particular, there is a consistent cross - sectional trend, from short-term momentum to long-term reversal, that happens to earnings shocks, to revisions to expected future cash flows at all horizons, and to prices. The evidence suggests that investors myopically extrapolate current earnings shocks as if they were long lasting, which are then incorporated into prices and cash flow forecasts. Accordingly, the realized momentum profits can be completely explained by the cross - sectional variation of contemporaneous earnings shocks or revisions to future cash flows. Importantly, these cash flow variables dominate the lagged returns in explaining the realized momentum profits. As a result, the realized momentum profits represent cash flow news that has little to do with the ex ante expected returns. In fact, the ex ante expected momentum profits are significantly negative.
So, in essence, he finds that investors ignore mean-reverting patterns in firm earnings, and over-weight recent earnings shocks.

Very nice.

On an unrelated note, the Unknown Family will be traveling the next few days for a family reunion in West Virginia (the Unknown Wife's father grew up their, and that fork in the family tree has a get-together every year). So, unless I schedule a few pieces to post automatically, posting will likely be slim for the next few days.