The Pursuit

“How can we lift up the world together, starting with those at the margins of society?” This question inspired former American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks to travel around the world seeking answers. Released in Spring 2018, Dr. Brooks’ documentary reveals insights into not only alleviating poverty, but also achieving lasting happiness for all.

Now streaming on Netflix @

Problem Set 2 helpful hints

Problem Set 2 is available from the course website at; its due date is Tuesday, January 28.

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. The second problem involves using the standard normal probability distribution to calculate the probabilities of earning various levels of return by investing in risky securities and portfolios; see pp. 17-23 of the lecture note for coverage of that topic.

New (1 page) reading entitled “Mean and Variance of a Two-Asset Portfolio”

I just posted a new (1 page) reading entitled "Mean and Variance of a Two-Asset Portfolio" which (not surprisingly) explains the origins of the formulas for mean and variance of a two-asset portfolio. I expect you’ll find such knowledge very helpful in understanding and completing the 4th and 5th sections of the Statistics Class Problem as well as parts D, E, and F of Problem 1 and part B of Problem 2 in Problem Set 2.

Prediction markets’ take on removal of POTUS from office

As of 2:15 p.m. central standard time today, the prediction market put the odds of President Trump being removed from office at 8%.  Specifically, currently offers for sale a “share” which pays $1 if the answer to the question, “Will the Senate convict Donald Trump in his first term?, turns out to be “yes”.

Allow me to provide further context for this “prediction”. is a New Zealand-based prediction market that offers “shares” on political and financial events.  The idea behind shares (technically, these are binary options, but I digress) is quite simple – you can buy and sell “yes” and “no” shares which pay off $1 if the answer to the contract question ends up being “yes” or “no”.  If you buy yes (no) but no (yes) is the answer, then your share expires worthless and you have lost the full value of your original “investment”.  However, if you sell yes (no) and no (yes) is the answer, then you don’t owe your counterparty any money and you get to pocket the price received (net of transactions costs) as profit.

Since the payoffs on shares feature binary payoffs (i.e., $1 if yes and $0 if no),  these shares are canonical examples of Arrow-Debreu, or “pure” securities.  Arrow-Debreu securities pay $1 if a particular state (in this case, either “yes” or “no”) occurs at a particular time in the future.  Thus, the current price for a given share is the “state price”,  which corresponds to the value today of $1 received when a particular future state of the world is realized.  Breaking the state price down further, its components include 1) the probability of a particular future state of the world, 2) the rate of interest (to compensate for the time value of money), and 3) a further discount (to compensate for risk averse behavior by the bettor) or premium (to compensate for risk loving behavior by the bettor).

Prediction market prices are frequently referred to in the news media as probabilities for future state-contingent events; if prediction market participants are risk neutral and interest rates are negligible, then this is technically appropriate and roughly correct.  What’s fascinating about prediction markets is that they showcase, in very pure form, how market prices reflect the statistical odds of some future event happening.  Similarly, prices of speculative assets generally (e.g., corporate securities such as stocks and bonds and derivative securities such as options and futures) also reflect probabilistic beliefs about future states of the world, albeit in more of an opaque fashion.

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

Besides insurance, 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 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 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.”

Khan Academy “Finance and capital markets” videos

Not only are the Khan Academy Calculus and Statistics videos that I referenced in a previous posting quite useful; I am also a big fan of the Khan Academy “Finance and capital markets” videos; these videos do a great job of effectively presenting some of the most important concepts which are typically covered in undergraduate and MBA level finance curricula. Note also that the “Options, swaps, futures, MBSs, CDOs, and other derivatives” subsection of the “Finance and capital markets” page covers many of the same topics that we will cover this semester in Finance 4366!

Finance 4366