# Visualizing Taylor polynomial approximations

In his video lesson entitled “Visualizing Taylor polynomial approximations“, Sal Kahn essentially replicates the tail end of last Thursday’s Finance 4366 class meeting in which we approximated y = eˣ with a Taylor polynomial centered at x=0.  Sal approximates y = eˣ with a Taylor polynomial centered at x=3 instead of x=0, but the same insight obtains in both cases, which is that one can approximate functions using Taylor polynomials, and the accuracy of the approximation increases as the order of the polynomial increases (see pp. 19-25 in my Mathematics Tutorial lecture note if you wish to review what we did in class last Thursday).

# Plans for next week’s Finance 4366 class meetings, along with a preview of future topics

Next week in Finance 4366 will be devoted to tutorials on probability and statistics. These tools are foundational for the theory of pricing and managing risk with financial derivatives, which is what this course is all about.  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.

Beginning Tuesday, January 29, we introduce financial derivatives, We will begin by defining financial derivatives and motivating their study with examples of forwards, futures, and options. Derivatives are so named because the prices of these instruments are derived from the prices of one or more underlying assets. The types of underlying assets upon which derivatives are based are often traded financial assets such as stocks, bonds, currencies, or other derivatives, but they can be pretty much anything. For example, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) offers exchange-traded weather futures contracts and options on such 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 Markets“).

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 of these 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 there are also embedded options in corporate securities; 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, there may be embedded “real” options to expand or abandon the investment at some future date.

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 consisting of the underlying asset and a riskless bond. This portfolio is called the “replicating” portfolio, since it is designed to perfectly replicate 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). It 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 very quickly. Thus the forward or option will be priced such that one cannot earn arbitrage profit from playing this game.

# What Drove Jack Bogle to Upend Investing

This week’s Intelligent Investor column in the Wall Street Journal presents an homage to the memory of Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Group. Mr. Bogle passed away this past Wednesday at the age of 89, and as the inventor of index investing, he is arguably one of the most important public figures in the practice of finance of the past 50 years. Burton Malkiel’s WSJ op-ed in today’s paper entitled “The Secrets of Jack Bogle’s Investment Success” is also a must read!

# 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 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.”

# Problem Set 1 hint…

Problem Set 1 is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, January 22. Here is a hint for solving the 4th question on problem set 1.

The objective is to determine how big a hospital must be so that the cost per patient-day is minimized. We are not interested in minimizing total cost; if this were the case, there would be no hospital because marginal costs are positive, which implies that total cost is positively related to the number of patient-days.

The cost equation C = 4,700,000 + 0.00013X2 tells you the total cost as a function of the number of patient-days. This is why you are asked in part “a” of the 4th question to derive a formula for the relationship between cost per patient-day and the number of patient days. Once you have that equation, then that is what you minimize, and you’ll be able to answer the question concerning optimal hospital size.

# Volatility, now the whole thing

It just so happens that Hoover Senior Fellow (and former Univ. of Chicago Finance professor) John Cochrane posted an article yesterday entitled “Volatility, now the whole thing” which builds and expands upon today’s implied volatility topic in Finance 4335. Cochrane’s article provides a broader framework for thinking critically about the implications of volatility for future states of the overall economy. This article is well worth everyone’s time and attention, so I highly encourage y’all to read it!

# Lagrangian Multipliers

There is a section in the assigned “Optimization” reading due Thursday, 1/17 on pp. 74-76 entitled “Lagrangian Multipliers” which (as noted in footnote 9 of that reading) may be skipped without loss of continuity. The primary purpose of this chapter is to re-acquaint students with basic calculus and how to use the calculus to solve so-called optimization problems. Since the course only requires solving unconstrained optimization problems, there’s no need for Lagrangian multipliers.

Besides reading the articles entitled “Optimization” and “How long does it take to double (triple/quadruple/n-tuple) your money?” in preparation for this coming Thursday’s meeting of Finance 4366, make sure that you fill out and email the student information form as a file attachment to options@garven.com prior to the beginning of tomorrow’s class. As I explained during today’s class meeting, this assignment counts as a problem set, and your grade is 100 if you turn this assignment in on time (i.e., sometime prior to tomorrow’s class meeting) and 0 otherwise.

# How to know whether you are on track with Finance 4366 assignments

At any given point in time during the upcoming semester, you can ensure that you are on track with Finance 4366 assignments by monitoring due dates which are published on the course website. See http://fin4366.garven.com/readings/ for due dates pertaining to reading assignments, and http://fin4366.garven.com/problem-sets/ for due dates pertaining to problem sets. Also, keep in mind that short quizzes will be administered in class on each of the dates indicated for required readings. As a case in point, since the required readings entitled “Optimization” and ” How long does it take to double (triple/quadruple/n-tuple) your money?” are listed for Thursday, January 11, this means that a quiz based upon these readings will be given in class on that day.

Important assignments due on the second class meeting of Finance 4366 (scheduled for Thursday, January 11) include: 1) filling out and emailing the student information form as a file attachment to options@garven.com, 2) subscribing to the Wall Street Journal, and 3) subscribing to the course blog. A completed Student information form is graded as a problem set and receives 100 points; if you don’t turn in a Student information form, then you will receive a 0 for this “problem set”. Furthermore, tasks 2 and 3 listed above count toward your class participation grade in Finance 4366.

Regarding the student information form, I prefer that you complete this form (by either typing or writing) and email it to options@garven.com prior to the beginning of class on Thursday, January 17.  However, if you prefer, you may turn in a hard copy instead at the beginning of class on that day.

# 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 which are located at https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/core-finance; these videos do a great job of effectively presenting many of the most important concepts which are typically covered in undergraduate and MBA level finance curricula (indeed, the content provided by the “Options, swaps, futures, MBSs, CDOs, and other derivatives” subsection of the “Finance and capital markets” page effectively subsumes most of the Finance 4366 course content!