Mathematics and Economics

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Bubbles and Crashes: A Survey of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, Part I

In Asset Pricing Reading Group, Bubbles and Crashes, Economics, Finance on November 29, 2009 at 2:58 am

“A study of economics usually reveals that the best time to buy anything is last year.”

-Marty Allen

1. Introduction

A thorough study of asset price bubbles and market crashes necessitates the study of the efficient market hypothesis, one of the most controversial theories in modern finance and economics. In the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the efficient market hypothesis (EMH) has faced both opprobrium and found defense. In various editorials and journal articles, economists have criticized the financial community for what they argue was unreasonable and nearsighted adherence to the pronouncements of the hypothesis (Thaler, 2008). Others, however, hold that government interference, specifically its attempts to manage inefficiencies, have created the conditions necessary to promote price bubbles (Thompson, 2006).

In an ideal capital market, prices incorporate all available information necessary for the proper allocation of resources. However, the existence of asset bubbles and crashes may suggest that the allocation of resources is often improper. Indeed much of the discussion about the current financial crisis implies that efficient markets preclude asset price bubbles. However, definitions of the EMH vary and are implicitly based on general equilibrium principles that may be consistent with asset price bubbles. Therefore one must determine the extent to which the forms of the efficient market hypothesis preclude various assertions about bubbles. Of related importance are the relationships between financial efficiency, loosely defined as the absence of arbitrage opportunities, and other standards of efficiency (e.g. informational and welfare efficiency). The latter are the frameworks of normative economics, and our discussion of how resources should be allocated.
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