Category Archives: Finance

Financial versus Mathematical literacy

It is rare when I actually take the time to read Baylor’s student newspaper, the Baylor Lariat, and even rarer when I post a critical response to a Lariat article. However, I couldn’t resist commenting on an editorial from earlier this month entitled, “Baylor should implement class to ready students for real world”. In this editorial, the members of the Lariat editorial board opine that Baylor should require a one-hour credit “Life Skills” course in lieu of a basic math course such as “Ideas in Mathematics”. Basically, such a course would be designed to cover very basic personal finance principles, such as budgeting, paying off student loans, buying insurance, saving for retirement, etc. I think this is a manifestly bad idea; let me explain why.

While I am not aware of an empirical literature concerning mandated personal finance courses at colleges and universities, many states have experimented with personal finance and minimum math requirements at the high school level. A recent (2014) Harvard Business School working paper entitled “High School Curriculum and Financial Outcomes: The Impact of Mandated Personal Finance and Mathematics Courses” provides a thorough empirical analysis of personal finance and minimum math requirements and finds that mandated personal finance courses at the high school level do little to improve outcomes that are generally associated with financial literacy (e.g., such as building wealth through asset accumulation, prudent credit management, etc.), whereas “… individuals who were exposed to greater math requirements in high school are more likely to accumulate assets, have more real estate equity, are less likely to be delinquent on their loans, and are less likely to undergo foreclosure.”

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Bank of Japan Introduces Negative Interest Rates

The Bank of Japan’s (somewhat counterintuitive) stated goal for implementing it’s new (negative interest rate) policy is “…to push down borrowing costs to stimulate inflation”. While I certainly do not claim or pretend to be a monetary economist, a policy that punishes savers and rewards borrowers doesn’t seem like a particularly good script for long-term economic success. I think it’s a tacit acknowledgment that the Japanese economy is struggling with deflation.  See https://www.boj.or.jp/en/announcements/release_2016/k160129a.pdf for the official policy statement issued by BOJ…

BOJ Introduces Negative Interest Rates for First Time
wsj.com|By Takashi Nakamichi and Megumi Fujikawa
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As Interest Benchmarks Go Negative, Banks May Have to Pay Borrowers

I never thought that I would ever live to see the day when interest rates turned negative, creating a world where investors pay for the opportunity to lose money over time and banks pay interest to borrowers…

As Interest Benchmarks Go Negative, Banks May Have to Pay Borrowers

“As Euribor, a key benchmark used to set interest rates, seems to sliding toward zero and below, banks in some European countries are looking at previously inconceivable problem: They may soon have to pay interest to customers who borrow from them.”

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Are Shareholders Obsolete?

Corporate Governance

Are Shareholders Obsolete?

In his January 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal essay, columnist Holman Jenkins makes a compelling case for the principle of shareholder value maximization by noting that owners seeking to maximize the value of their businesses end up doing a pretty decent job of satisfying customer and employees along the way. Think of this essay as a 2015 sequel to Milton Friedman’s famous New York Times Magazine essay (published September 13, 1970) entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” (see http://bit.ly/Social_Responsibility_of_Business for Friedman’s essay; Thomas Coleman provides important context in his recent (2013) essay about Friedman entitled “Corporate Social Responsibility: Friedman’s View @ http://bfi.uchicago.edu/feature-story/corporate-social-responsibilty-friedmans-view)…

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Terrorism risk insurance

Clearly insurance is an enabling technology; without insurance many if not most large-scale commercial activities would grind to a halt. In a Business Week article entitled “The Unexpected Threat to Super Bowl XLIX“, Wharton professors Howard Kunreuther and Erwann Michel-Kerjan point out that that if Congress decides not to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) (set to expire on Dec. 31), there is a chance that the Super Bowl might not be played. Will Warren Buffet step in as an insurer of last resort if TRIA is not reauthorized?  Also, Gordon Woo raises some excellent points about possible private sector alternatives to TRIA in his blog posting entitled “RMS and the FIFA World Cup: Insuring Against Terrorism“.

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Suggested books and readings on finance and risk management

In my opinion, the following 3 books are particularly worthwhile for students who are interested in learning more about finance and risk management:

  1. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter L. Bernstein.
  2. A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing, by Burton G. Malkiel.
  3. Stocks for the Long Run : The Definitive Guide to Financial Market Returns and Long-Term Investment Strategies, by Jeremy J. Siegel.

Philosophically, these books present what I would consider to be an “orthodox” perspective; i.e., they fit well with the so-called rational choice, efficient markets view of the world which is prevalent in most departments of finance and economics. For some “heterodox” alternatives, I like (but am nevertheless highly critical of) both of Nicholas Taleb’s books:

  1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (read this first).
  2. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (the sequel to “Fooled by Randomness”).

Finally, I would be remiss to not also include two other favorites which are not books on finance or economics; rather they deal with the history and philosophy of applied mathematics. These books include:

  1. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos.
  2. A Brief History of Infinity, by Brian Clegg.
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The Economist: Essay on the history of finance in five crises

From The Economist:

“This week we publish an essay on the history of finance in five crises. They have a common theme: in each case the state increased the subsidies and guarantees it gave to finance—and helped set up the next crisis. Our cover leader points out that this is happening again. An American can now blindly put $250,000 in a bank, knowing his deposit is insured by the state. Finance, we say, should be treated more like other industries.”

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About Social Security’s future…

Quoting from my annual Social Security Statement; I can’t help but wonder what the numbers are for “optimistic” assumptions and for “pessimistic” assumptions (see the “fine print” by the asterisk below):

About Social Security’s future…

Social Security is a compact between generations. Since 1935, America has kept the promise of security for its workers and their families. Now, however, the Social Security system is facing serious financial problems, and action is needed soon to make sure the system will be sound when today’s younger workers are ready for retirement.

Without changes, in 2033 the Social Security Trust Fund will be able to pay only about 77 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.* We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations.

* These estimates are based on the intermediate assumptions from the Social Security Trustees’ Annual Report to the Congress.

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The Nobel Prize in Economics goes to Eugene F. Fama (University of Chicago), Lars Peter Hansen (University of Chicago) and Robert J. Shiller (Yale University)

This year’s Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (AKA the Nobel Prize in Economics) goes to Eugene F. Fama (University of Chicago), Lars Peter Hansen (University of Chicago) and Robert J. Shiller (Yale University) for “…their empirical analysis of asset prices”.  In retrospect, it has never been a question of whether Fama would receive the Nobel Prize; it has always been a question of when, and when is now.

In a nutshell, Fama is famous for his “efficient market hypothesis” as well as a number of important empirical asset pricing contributions. Fama’s Chicago colleague Lars Hansen is famous for his work in financial econometrics, and Shiller provides an important behavioral counterpoint to the efficient market theory.

Here are articles worth reading about this prize:

1. The “official” announcement posted at Nobelprize.org: “The Prize in Economic Sciences 2013″. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 14 Oct 2013. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2013/

2. Wall Street Journal (10/14/2013): U.S. Trio Wins Nobel Economics Prize

3. Also, a trio of postings this morning by University of Chicago finance professor John Cochrane (10/14/2013)

a. Fama, Hansen, and Shiller Nobel

b. Gene Fama’s Nobel

c. Understanding Asset Prices (this is the Nobel Committee’s “scientific background” paper which explains why the Fama, Hansen, and Shiller received this award)

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