Calculus, Probability and Statistics, and a preview of future topics in Finance 4366

Probability and statistics, along with the basic calculus principles covered last Thursday, are foundational for the theory of pricing and managing risk with financial derivatives, which is what this course is all about. During tomorrow’s class meeting, we will discrete and continuous probability distributions, calculate parameters such as expected value, variance, standard deviation, covariance, and correlation, and apply these concepts to measure expected returns and risks for portfolios comprising risky assets. During Thursday’s class meeting, we will take a deeper dive into discrete and continuous probability distributions, in which the binomial and normal distributions will be showcased.

On Tuesday, February 1, we will introduce and describe the nature of financial derivatives, and motivate their study with examples of forwards, futures, and options. Derivatives are so named because they derive their values from one or more underlying assets. Underlying assets typically involve traded financial assets such as stocks, bonds, currencies, or other derivatives, but derivatives can derive value from pretty much anything. For example, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) offers exchange-traded weather futures and options contracts (see “Market Futures: Introduction To Weather Derivatives“). There are also so-called “prediction” markets in which derivatives based upon the outcome of political events are actively traded (see “Prediction Market“).

Besides introducing financial derivatives and discussing various institutional aspects of markets in which they are traded, we’ll consider various properties of forward and option contracts, since virtually all financial derivatives feature payoffs that are isomorphic to either or both schemes. For example, a futures contract is simply an exchange-traded version of a forward contract. Similarly, since swaps involve exchanges between counter-parties of payment streams over time, these instruments essentially represent a series of forward contracts. In the option space, besides traded stock options, many corporate securities feature “embedded” options; e.g., a convertible bond represents a combination of a non-convertible bond plus a call option on company stock. Similarly, when a company makes an investment, so-called “real” options to expand or abandon the investment at some future is often present.

Perhaps the most important (pre-Midterm 1) idea that we’ll introduce is the concept of a so-called “arbitrage-free” price for a financial derivative. While details will follow, the basic idea is that one can replicate the payoffs on a forward or option by forming a portfolio comprising the underlying asset and a riskless bond. This portfolio is called the “replicating” portfolio, since, by design, it replicates the payoffs on the forward or option. Since the forward or option and its replicating portfolio produce the same payoffs, then they must also have the same value. However, suppose the replicating portfolio (forward or option) is more expensive than the forward or option (replicating portfolio). If this occurs, then one can earn a riskless arbitrage profit by simply selling the replicating portfolio (forward or option) and buying the forward or option (replicating portfolio). However, competition will ensure that opportunities for riskless arbitrage profits vanish quickly. Thus the forward or option will be priced such that one cannot earn arbitrage profit from playing this game.

On the ancient origin of the word “algorithm”

The January 25th assigned reading entitled “The New Religion of Risk Management” (by Peter Bernstein, March-April 1996 issue of Harvard Business Review) provides a succinct synopsis of the same author’s 1996 book entitled “Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk“. Here’s a fascinating quote from page 33 which explains the ancient origin of the word “algorithm”:

“The earliest known work in Arabic arithmetic was written by al­Khowarizmi, a mathematician who lived around 825, some four hun­dred years before Fibonacci. Although few beneficiaries of his work are likely to have heard of him, most of us know of him indirectly. Try saying “al­Khowarizmi” fast. That’s where we get the word “algo­rithm,” which means rules for computing.”

Note: The book cover shown above is a copy of a 1633 oil-on-canvas painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt van Rijn.

On the relationship between the S&P 500 and the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX)

Besides going over the course syllabus during the first day of class on Tuesday, January 18, we will also discuss a particularly important “real world” example of financial risk. Specifically, we will study the relationship between realized daily stock market returns (as measured by daily percentage changes in the SP500 stock market index) and changes in forward-looking investor expectations of stock market volatility (as indicated by daily percentage changes in the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX)):

As indicated by this graph (which also appears in the lecture note for the first day of class), daily percentage changes on closing prices for the SP500 (the y-axis variable) and for the VIX (the x-axis variable) are strongly negatively correlated with each other. The blue dots are based on 8,070 contemporaneous observations of daily returns for both variables, spanning the (more than 30-year) time period from January 2, 1990, through January 10, 2022. When we fit a regression line through this scatter diagram, we obtain the following equation:

{R_{SP500}} = .00065 - .1131{R_{VIX}},

where {R_{SP500}} corresponds to the daily return on the SP500 index and {R_{VIX}} corresponds to the daily return on the VIX index. The slope of this line (-0.1131) indicates that on average, daily realized SP500 returns during this time period were inversely related to contemporaneous daily returns on the VIX; i.e., when forward-looking investor expectations of stock market volatility fell (rose), then the stock market return as indicated by SP500 typically rose (fell). Nearly half of the variation in the stock market return during this time period (specifically, 48.68%) can be statistically “explained” by changes in volatility, and the correlation between {R_{SP500}} and {R_{VIX}} comes out to -0.698. While a correlation of -0.698 does not imply that {R_{SP500}} and {R_{VIX}} always move in opposite directions, it does suggest that this will be the case more often than not. Indeed, closing daily returns on {R_{SP500}} and {R_{VIX}} during this period moved inversely 78.68% of the time.

You can also see how the relationship between the SP500 and VIX evolves prospectively by entering http://finance.yahoo.com/quotes/^GSPC,^VIX into your web browser’s address field.