- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; annotated edition edition (March 7, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465043577
- ISBN-13: 978-0465043576
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 152 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Financial Turbulence annotated edition Edition
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Mandelbrot goes through the models that set up the whole thing: Bachelier, Sharpe, Black-Scholes, and standard portfolio theory. He briefly discusses their power. It's a great, if somewhat sketchy overview of what tools financiers and bankers often use. But in each case, lurking in the background are the assumptions of normality in price movements, and of statistical independence between time periods and between different asset classes.
There is no question that Mandelbrot proves that cotton price fluctuations are badly described by the normal distribution. The quantitative and qualitative information he brings to other asset classes is much less robust. He gives us very good arguments as to why other classes behave as does cotton; but It is hard to say that he brings the same level of quantitative rigor to these. For those of us who want the argument to end with everyone believing the fractal story, it's a bit of a disappointment. What he does do, though, is to describe the Cauchy distribution function which, with some slight generalizations can produce distribution functions that will accurately characterize time series price data whose variation obeys power-laws in the tails of the distribution. The upshot is that anyone with a solid understanding of college level statistics could go on to derive their own Black-Scholes formula.
His publisher appears to have set two rules: 1) no math of any sort in the body of the book, and 2) only simple algebraic equations in the notes. These prohibitions have several consequences. One is that the book is quite readable to anyone, even someone who has not finished eighth grade algebra. A reader can get a vague sense for what Mandelbrot is saying without the math. The flip side is that people who have finished eighth grade algebra may find the arguments hand-wavy when they could be much more solid. Anyone who has a solid background in statistics is likely to be able to fill in the gaps much better, but they will find the arguments fall far short of the kind of proof that one would expect in a 300 page book written by a world-famous mathematician. The people who have studied Black-Scholes, understand its derivation, and use it everyday will likely want a little bit more data and a lot more math before they kill the beast that writes their paychecks. Specifically, they will want a replacement method, which Mandelbrot only hints at.
I found the text here to be a little bit discursive and somewhat repetitive. I often enjoyed his anecdotes, but I did find myself skipping paragraphs, pages, and even chapters. I bought the book knowing that markets have fractal behavior, and hoping to be able to make my own mathematical models based on information in this book. It did allow me to make the intuitive connection between power-law behavior and fractal behavior. And I believe the book has gotten me to the point where I can do all the steps required to price risk and characterize random motions in the prices of assets; although I think a six page monograph that admitted mathematical notation would have been more than sufficient.
My key takeaway from this book is that market participants' tools underassess risk and thus market participants should be wary of becoming model-dependent.
Additionally, supporting research and proofs are in the appendix or on the book's designated website for the more curious readers.
He examines CAPM, MPT, and Black-Scholes and shows that these models have major issues, mainly rigid assumptions.
He then shows that fractals provide a more realistic approach.
Before reading this book, I have only heard about fractals. It is interesting that fractals can be used in finance.
However, as the other reviews suggest fractals have some issues as well (large subjectivity!).
Overall, the book is still a good read because Mandelbrot shows the issues in modern finance and tries to
suggest a better approach (fractals).
fractals are the by now familiar mathematical objects that display self-similarity when scaled larger or smaller. their progenitors are those weird constructs, such as peano's space-filling curve and the cantor set, that were introduced in the late nineteenth century and subsequently sparked a revolution in logic. all of these animals of pure mathematical fancy were designed to challenge the conventional notions of the time and forced mathematicians to revisit the foundations of their craft. indeed, this line of thought led to the strange notion of non-integer fractional dimensions.
so what does all of this have to do with finance? the dimension of a fractal is given by a power law. a lot of economic and financial data seem to fit power laws as well. fractals are characteristically self-similar. charts of stock prices exhibit self-similarity. yada yada yada and thus, markets are governed by fractals. wait a minute. that's actually not quite logical!
ok, so there are some speculative aspects fueling this enterprise. this is the source of most of the negative criticism mandelbrot receives for this book. in my opinion, laying out some speculative avenues of thought is not a crime. scientists should dare to dream! mandelbrot himself acknowledges that this circle of ideas is merely in its infancy. he hopes others will pursue this path of inquiry and continue his life's work. and just why would anybody pick up that banner? well, because our current understanding of finance is deeply flawed while mandelbrot offers a (very rough) potential alternative.
in the first part of the book, mandelbrot does an outstanding job presenting data contradicting conventional financial theories. the punchline: markets are much riskier than people think. in particular, he attacks the use of the so-called "normal" probability distributions in finance. this foundational attack threatens modern portfolio theory, the capital asset pricing model, the black-scholes formula for pricing options, etc. essentially, all the major developments in finance in the second half of the twentieth century are in jeopardy. some of the creators of these theories have won nobel prizes in economics, so a lot is at stake here. (an understatement!) note that mandelbrot's arguments in part one are valid even if the fractal speculations presented afterward turn out to be unfounded.
mandelbrot uses plain language and analogies in his exposition throughout the book. he purposefully avoided equations, but he partially makes up for it through the use of pictures. mandelbrot was a very visual thinker and it shows in this book. for example, on p.179 mandelbrot offers a diagram of what "removing the trend" means in hurst's research. stare at the picture for a little while and the meaning should become clear to anyone with an interest in math and science. similarly, mandelbrot doesn't really explain how multifractal time works since the given father-mother-child analogy is fuzzy at best. however, the "fractal market cube" diagram on p.214 explains the concept of multifractal time in one picture. anyone familiar with projections should be able to understand this diagram without any problems. this compromise approach of offering analogies for a general audience while providing supplementary mathematical content in the pictures is suitable for an introductory book aimed at a wide audience, in my opinion.
the best feature of this book for me was the autobiographical chronicling of a sharp mathematical mind at work. mandelbrot was able to see patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated fields and then he pursued these links relentlessly over decades of time. his individuality and perseverance allowed him to carry on even when the rest of the establishment were pursuing contrary ideas. mandelbrot also doesn't hide the moments when he was in the dark or when he saw connections that turned out to be trickier than his first instinct suggested. after all, this train of thought spanned a lifetime. and amazingly, some of his greatest insights came from pure serendipity. mandelbrot received a major breakthrough from reading a paper that was pulled out of a garbage can!
in the interest of fairness, there are some relatively minor oversights in this book. this was the only real negative i could think of and it's easily forgivable. for example, mandelbrot incorrectly states that peter lynch's stellar performance as manager of fidelity's magellan fund was most significant when the fund was small. it's actually the opposite: market impact costs become a burden when a mutual fund grows too large, making it much easier to outperform the market when a fund's assets are small, especially with lynch's trading style. in spite of this minor criticism, i found this book to be a page turner written by an obviously extraordinary thinker.
it's always a good idea to read the masters. if you want to understand the spirit of passive investing, read jack bogle. if you want to partake in value investing, read ben graham. and if you want to know why the house of modern finance might stand on shaky foundations, read mandelbrot. read, think, then judge for yourself. lastly, if you were hoping to make a fortune from fractals, read the following quote from p.6 of the book:
"i see a pattern in these price movements -- not a pattern, to be sure, that will make anybody rich; i agree with the orthodox economists that stock prices are probably not predictable in any useful sense of the term."
Most recent customer reviews
Greatly recommended read if you work with or within financial markets.