Category Archives: Finance

How Do Energy Companies Measure the Temperature? Not in Fahrenheit or Celsius

Instead of Fahrenheit or Celsius, a metric called “degree days” is used to capture variability in temperature. The risk management lesson here is that this metric makes it possible to create risk indices which companies can rely upon for pricing and hedging weather-related risks with weather derivatives.

How Hurricane Florence Could Move Insurance Markets

Hurricane Florence provides a particularly timely and compelling case study of the economic consequences of natural catastrophes; specifically, the nexus of direct and indirect effects upon property insurance markets, reinsurance markets, alternative risk markets (e.g., catastrophe bonds), and public policy.

Some hurricanes are worse than others — both for people in the way and the insurance industry that tries to understand storms and put a price on their risks.

Your Tolerance for Investment Risk Is Probably Not What You Think

This (year-old) WSJ article is authored by Professor Meir Statman, the Glenn Klimek Professor of Finance at Santa Clara University. Professor Statman’s research focuses on behavioral finance, which is a very important topic in decision theory that I plan to cover during next Tuesday’s meeting of Finance 4335.

Your Tolerance for Investment Risk Is Probably Not What You Think

The questions financial advisers ask clients to get at the answer actually measure something completely different—often leading to misguided investment strategies.

What Will Trigger the Next Crisis?

Following up on my previous blog posting entitled “The world has not learned the lessons of the financial crisis”, today’s “Heard on the Street” column in the Wall Street Journal entitled “What Will Trigger the Next Crisis?” is required reading! Both articles are motivated by the fact that we are now ten years out from the bankruptcy (on September 15, 2008) of Lehman Brothers. Many commentators mark this day as the seminal event for what is now commonly referred to as the so-called “Global Financial Crisis of 2008” – widely considered to have been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Problem Set 2 helpful hints

Problem Set 2 is now available from the course website at http://fin4335.garven.com/fall2018/ps2.pdf; its due date is Tuesday, September 4.

Problem Set 2 consists of two problems. The first problem requires calculating expected value, standard deviation, and correlation, and using this information as inputs into determining expected returns and standard deviations for 2-asset portfolios; see pp. 17-23 of the http://fin4335.garven.com/fall2018/lecture3.pdf lecture note for coverage of this topic. The second problem involves using the standard normal probability distribution to calculate probabilities of earning various levels of return by investing in risky securities and portfolios. We will devote tomorrow’s class meeting to these and related topics.

The Index Fund featured as one of “50 Things That Made the Modern Economy”

Tim Harford also features the index fund in his “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy” radio and podcast series. This 9-minute long podcast lays out the history of the development of the index fund in particular and the evolution of so-called of passive portfolio strategies in general. Much of the content of this podcast is sourced from Vanguard founder Jack Bogle’s September 2011 WSJ article entitled “How the Index Fund Was Born” (available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111904583204576544681577401622). Here’s the description of this podcast:

“Warren Buffett is the world’s most successful investor. In a letter he wrote to his wife, advising her how to invest after he dies, he offers some clear advice: put almost everything into “a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund”. Index funds passively track the market as a whole by buying a little of everything, rather than trying to beat the market with clever stock picks – the kind of clever stock picks that Warren Buffett himself has been making for more than half a century. Index funds now seem completely natural. But as recently as 1976 they didn’t exist. And, as Tim Harford explains, they have become very important indeed – and not only to Mrs. Buffett.”

Warren Buffett is one of the world’s great investors. His advice? Invest in an index fund

Insurance featured as one of “50 Things That Made the Modern Economy”

From November 2016 through October 2017, Financial Times writer Tim Harford presented an economic history documentary radio and podcast series called 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. This same information is available in book under the title “Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy“. While I recommend listening to the entire series of podcasts (as well as reading the book), I would like to call your attention to Mr. Harford’s episode on a particularly important risk management topic; i.e., the topic of insurance, which I link below. This 9-minute long podcast lays out the history of the development of the various institutions which exist today for the sharing and trading of risk, including markets for financial derivatives as well as for insurance.

“Legally and culturally, there’s a clear distinction between gambling and insurance. Economically, the difference is not so easy to see. Both the gambler and the insurer agree that money will change hands depending on what transpires in some unknowable future. Today the biggest insurance market of all – financial derivatives – blurs the line between insuring and gambling more than ever. Tim Harford tells the story of insurance; an idea as old as gambling but one which is fundamental to the way the modern economy works.”

Postscript: The scene above depicts the early days of Lloyd’s Coffee House in London, England. According to Wikipedia, Lloyd’s Coffee House was opened by Edward Lloyd in 1686 and quickly became “… a popular place for sailors, merchants and shipowners, and Lloyd catered to them with reliable shipping news. The shipping industry community frequented the place to discuss maritime insurance, shipbroking and foreign trade. The dealing that took place led to the establishment of the insurance market Lloyd’s of London…”

Apple Is a Hedge Fund That Makes Phones

This is a fascinating article in today’s Wall Street Journal about how Apple is, for all intents and purposes, a highly levered hedge fund, thanks to its wholly owned Braeburn Capital subsidiary which accounts for 70% of the book value of Apple’s assets.

Quoting from this article,

“Similar shadow hedge funds abound within S&P 500 industrial companies. Most disclose less information than Apple about their activities… in 2012 these corporations managed a combined portfolio of $1.6 trillion of nonoperating financial assets. Of this amount, almost 40% is held in risky financial assets, such as corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, auction-rate securities and equities.”

The (gated) Journal of Finance article upon which this WSJ op-ed is based is available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jofi.12490.

Big companies need to disclose more about their investments.

Plans for next week’s Finance 4335 class meetings, along with a preview of future topics

Next week in Finance 4335 will be devoted to tutorials on probability and statistics. These tools are critically important in order to evaluate risk and develop appropriate risk management strategies for individuals and firms alike. Next Tuesday’s class meeting will be devoted to introducing discrete and continuous probability distributions, calculating parameters such as expected value, variance, standard deviation, covariance and correlation, and applying these concepts to measuring expected returns and risks for portfolios consisting of risky assets. Next Thursday will provide a deeper dive into discrete and continuous probability distributions, in which the binomial and normal distributions are showcased.

While I have your attention, let me briefly explain what the main “theme” will initially be in Finance 4335 (up to the first midterm exam, which is scheduled for Thursday, September 27). Starting on Tuesday, September 4, we will begin our discussion of decision theory. Decision theory addresses decision making under risk and uncertainty, and not surprisingly, risk management lies at the very heart of decision theory. Initially, we’ll focus attention on variance as our risk measure. Most basic finance models (e.g., portfolio theory, the capital asset pricing model (CAPM), and option pricing theory) implicitly or explicitly assume that risk = variance. We’ll learn that while this is not necessarily an unreasonable assumption, circumstances can arise where it is not an appropriate assumption. Furthermore, since individuals and firms are typically exposed to multiple sources of risk, we need to take into consideration the portfolio effects of risk. To the extent that risks are not perfectly positively correlated, this implies that risks often “manage” themselves by canceling each other out. Thus the risk of a portfolio is typically less than the sum of the individual risks which comprise the portfolio.

The decision theory provides a particularly useful framework for thinking about concepts such as risk aversion and risk tolerance. The calculus comes in handy by providing an analytic framework for determining how much risk to retain and how much risk to transfer to others. Such decisions occur regularly in daily life, encompassing practical problems such as deciding how to allocate assets in a 401-K or IRA account, determining the extent to which one insures health, life, and property risks, whether to work for a startup or an established business and so forth. There’s also quite a bit of ambiguity when we make decisions without complete information, but this course will at least help you think critically about costs, benefits, and trade-offs related to decision-making whenever you encounter risk and uncertainty.

After the first midterm, the remainder of the semester will be devoted to various other risk management topics, including the demand for insurance, asymmetric information, portfolio theory, capital market theory, option pricing theory, and corporate risk management.