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Finding Alpha – Eric Falkenstein


“Eric Falkenstein is more than one of the smartest and funniest people in finance. He’s been a banker, a key model builder at a major rating agency, and a hedge fund trader.

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Praise for Finding Alpha

“Eric Falkenstein is more than one of the smartest and funniest people in finance. He’s been a banker, a key model builder at a major rating agency, and a hedge fund trader. In this tour de force, he outlines the successes and failures of financial theory applications in the real world from the perspective of an aggressive early adopter of the best ideas in finance. To this day, I think Eric’s private firm default model is one of the best papers ever published in applied finance, and this wonderful book falls into the same category.”

Donald R. van Deventer, PhD, founder and Chief Executive Officer, Kamakura Corporation

“People dismissed Columbus when he said the world was round. Thank goodness he persisted. Like Columbus, Falkenstein challenges standard thinking, only this time about risk and reward. As the meltdown of the capital markets has shown, the financial industry clearly missed something with regard to risk management. As an industry, we need to consider alternative theories on risk, and clearly Falkenstein is on to something here. Agree with him or not, Finding Alpha is worth a read.”

Kevin M. Blakely, President and CEO,The Risk Management Association

“Writing through the lens of an experienced practitioner, Falkenstein digests decades of research in capital markets, financial economics, and investment psychology that have shaped modern investment theory. This text is an excellent companion for portfolio managers, investment students, or anyone seeking to better understand the relationship between risk, returns, and financial reward.”

Todd Houge, PhD, CFA, The University of Iowa

How do we find alpha whenrisk does not correlate with return?

Finding Alpha is a practical guide to achieving alpha when conventional measures of risk rarely correlate with higher returns. Author Eric Falkenstein-a PhD who has also been a risk manager and portfolio manager—tells the story of alpha from its beginnings to its current reversal, where risk is now evidenced by return as opposed to vice versa.

Falkenstein begins by walking readers through the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), as well as other well-documented theories about risk and return, and explores how these theories measure up to current empirical evidence being documented by researchers and academics. He also outlines a novel approach to the issues of how benchmark risk and investor overconfidence affects expected asset returns, how to understand the nature of alpha and risk, and how to use practical applications of alpha-seeking strategies that he developed as a successful hedge fund manager.

Finding Alpha concludes by outlining some real-life applications of alpha in finance and explains how the search for alpha affects the day-to-day life of all financial professionals.

From the Inside Flap

In 1992, a long-established finance theory was turned upside down when researchers published a paper in the Journal of Finance—later cited in the New York Times—which documented that the main empirical implication of the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) was untrue: that is, that “beta” was not positively related to stock returns. The article, later corroborated in many subsequent studies, was to be one of the most heavily cited Journal of Finance articles in its history. The basic model of risk and return that academics had taught for decades was shown to be empirically useless, and subsequent extensions have been successful only by redefining risk merely as anything with a high average return. Since that groundbreaking article was published, practitioners have been left asking: So how do we find alpha if we can’t measure risk?

Finding Alpha offers a new approach to finding alpha, backed by current empirical evidence and grounded in the notion that risk and return are not necessarily correlated. Author Eric Falkenstein offers a serious criticism and counterproposal to current financial theory on risk and return that is comprehensive yet understandable to the average person. He argues convincingly for replacing the old assumptions with new ones, primarily replacing greed and introducing another factor—the innate human desire for hope and certainty. Falkenstein clearly shows that once one understands that “risk adjusting” returns, in the sense of adjusting for a priced risk factor, is a red herring, one can search for alpha more productively.

The author brings his theories down to earth with practical applications of alpha-seeking strategies that he developed through his own experience at Moody’s Risk Management Services and with his own investment company. But ultimately, as the author shows, alpha is about finding a comparative advantage, both in the financial markets and in life. This means sticking to things you are good at, things you enjoy doing, because those are the things where making that extra effort is costless because it is something you like to do. That is the risk-taking that leads to greater returns. Maximizing your alpha should provide you with not merely a way to maximize your income, says Falkenstein, but also give you the greatest satisfaction, and the most meaning, in your life.


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