The Physics of Wall Street

Floyd Norris in the New York Times:

9780547317274_p0_v1_s260x420Ever since the financial crisis, James Owen Weatherall writes in his new book, “The Physics of Wall Street,” “words like ‘quant,’ ‘derivative’ and ‘model’ have taken on some nasty connotations.” He is out to change that.

What finance and economics need, he says, is more physics, not less. So what if the quantitative models that underlay such products as mortgage-backed securities blew up, nearly bringing down the world financial system in the process? Models always have assumptions; it is up to the users to pay attention to whether those assumptions hold.

Did some so-called quants — investors who use sophisticated mathematical models in deciding what and when to buy and sell — lose their shirts? Indeed they did. But others did not. Weatherall points to Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund founded by James Simons, who was an esteemed mathematician before he became an esteemed investor. Simons’s success, Weatherall argues, “shows that mathematical sophistication is the remedy, not the disease.”

More here. [An excellent and gripping book which I just finished reading, by the way.]