# ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? by Peter Tryfos York University

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1 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? by Peter Tryfos York University For some years now, the question of whether the history of a stock's price is relevant, useful or pro table in forecasting the future price of the stock has been a subject of controversy among academics and stock market professionals. On the one hand, there are those who believe that stock prices tend to follow certain patterns. These patterns may be simple or complex, easy or di±cult to identify, but are nonetheless predictable. Careful study of past prices, it is claimed, may reveal these patterns, which can then be used to forecast future prices, thereby providing pro ts for traders who buy or sell on the basis of the forecasts. 1 On the other hand, there are some who argue that stock prices are no more predictable than the outcomes of a series of tosses of a coin, rolls of a die, or spins of a roulette wheel. In the stock market, proponents of this view say, the price of a stock is determined by its demand and supply. These are in uenced by traders' expectations of the future earnings of the company. A change in the price of a stock will occur as a result of new information becoming available related to the future earnings of the company. Since this information is unlikely to have any connection to past prices, the study of the past should be of no value to the market analyst or investor their e orts might more enjoyably be devoted to another pastime. This view has become known as the random walk theory of stock market prices. To get a grasp of the issues, let us consider how an extreme and rather outrageous version of the random walk theory would operate. Let us suppose that the closing price of a stock is in fact determined by someone with the help of a roulette wheel divided into three sections marked \ 1," \0", and \+1," as shown in Figure 1. At the end of a business day, the wheel is spun and the section coming to rest against the pointer is noted. If it is the section labeled \0," this is interpreted to mean that the price did not change. If the section labeled \ 1" rests against the pointer, the price change is \$ 1, while the \+1" is interpreted as a price increase of \$1. Because the section labeled \0" takes up one-half of the wheel's circumference, and the other two sections one-quarter each, a \$0 change should occur in 50% of the spins, a \$ 1 change in 25%, and a \$+1 change in the remaining 25% of the spins. To illustrate, suppose that the wheel is spun 10 times, simulating 10 successive price 1 The term technical analysis refers to this approach. Its followers tend to look at charts of past stock prices and trading volumes for clues concerning future prices. See, for example, Copsey (1999), Bauer and Dahlquist (1999), and Tadian (1996). An entertaining account of the controversy can be found in Malkiel (1985). c Peter Tryfos

2 2 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? changes: Figure 1 Partitioned roulette wheel Day (t) Price change (Y t ) If the initial price of the stock was \$10, the closing price of the stock at the endofeachdaywouldbe: Day (t) : Closing price (X t ): The hypothesis is, of course, preposterous, but the point is that if this were indeed the mechanism generating stock prices, a study of past price changes would be useless, since the outcome of any one roulette spin is unrelated to the outcome of any preceding or succeeding spin. The outcomes are independent of one another. The random walk theory asserts that successive changes in the price of a stock behave as if they are generated by repeated spins of an appropriately designed roulette wheel, i.e., a wheel so partitioned as to re ect a realistic distribution of price changes. Roberts (1959) carried out a simulation of weekly changes of a stock market index. Figure 2 shows 52 simulated index changes. These changes can be thought of as having been generated by a roulette wheel partitioned according to a certain distribution of changes of the index. Assuming that the initial level of the index was 450, the corresponding simulated index levels are shown in Figure 3. It is interesting to note that Figure 3 looks like the chart of a stock market index. To an observer unaware of the manner in which it was constructed, it may even suggest a pattern and raise the hope of a pro table strategy. It may appear, for example, that positive changes tend to be followed by positive changes (weeks 8-30, 43-49), and that negative changes tend to be followed by negative changes (weeks 3-8, 30-43). If this were a stock rather than an index, a possible strategy

3 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? 3 Figure 2 Simulated index changes for 52 weeks Figure 3 Simulated index levels for 52 weeks

4 4 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? might be to buy when the price just begins to rise and to sell when the price just begins to decline. Such a strategy may have worked for this particular series, but any resulting pro t would have been accidental: in Roberts' simulation, in fact, a positive index change occurs 50% of the time and a negative one 50% of the time, regardless of whether the previous change was positive or negative. Let us now consider how to test the random walk theory, that is, how to determineifchangesinthepriceofastockareindependentofoneanother.suppose that the observed closing price and price change of a certain stock on each of 10 consecutive trading days was as follows: Day (t): Closing price (X t ): Price change, (Y t = X t X t 1 ): We may start with consecutive price changes and treat the eight pairs of changes: ( 1; 0), (0; +1), ::: as observations from a joint distribution, thereby forming the joint frequency distribution shown in Table 1. Table 1 Joint frequency distribution of consecutive price changes Today's Tomorrow's change change (Y t+1 ) (Y t ) Total Total For example: a price change of +1 was followed by a change of +1 once; a change of 0 was followed by change of 0 twice; and so on. From this joint frequency distribution, we construct the conditional distributions of tomorrow's change given today's change and the joint relative frequency distribution, as shown in Tables 2and3. Now, if tomorrow's price change was independent of today's change, the distributions of tomorrow's change given that today's change is +1 (row 1 of Table 2) or 0 (row 2), or 1 (row 3) should be identical. Equivalently, if today's change and tomorrow's change were independent of one another, the joint relative frequencies of Table 3 should be equal to the product (shown in parentheses) of the marginal relative frequencies. In this arti cial example, the strict de nition of independence is not satis ed. The number of observations is, of course, far too small to support any reliable conclusions. However, even if a reasonably large number of observations were available,

5 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? 5 Table 2 Conditional distributions of tomorrow's price change Today's Tomorrow's change change (Y t+1 ) (Y t ) Total /2 1/ /4 1/2 1/ /2 1/2 0 1 Table 3 Joint relative frequency distribution of today's and tomorrow's price change Today's Tomorrow's change change (Y t+1 ) (Y t ) Total +1 0 (1/16) 1/8 (1/8) 1/8 (1/16) 1/4 0 1/8 (1/8) 2/8 (2/8) 1/8 (1/8) 1/2 1 1/8 (1/16) 1/8 (1/8) 0 (1/16) 1/4 Total 1/4 1/2 1/4 1 Note: Numbers in parentheses are the products of the marginal relative frequencies. we would not expect the strict de nition of statistical independence to be satis ed exactly. For practical purposes, we can treat two variables as independent if the de nition of statistical independence is approximately satis ed. Of course, in addition to (or instead of) a relationship between consecutive price changes, there may be a lagged relationship between price changes tomorrow's change may be related to yesterday's change, or to the change two days ago, etc. To illustrate, let us consider the relationship between price changes lagged two days. Using the same series of price changes, Day (t): Pricechange(Y t 1 ): and pairs of changes lagged two days: ( 1; +1), (0; +1), (+1; 0), :::,wegetthe joint frequency distribution shown in Table 4. We may now proceed exactly as in the previous case to examine if the two variables are independent of one another. Thesameapproachmaybeusedtoexaminetherelationshipbetweenprice changes lagged three days, four days, and so on.

6 6 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? Table 4 Joint frequency distribution of price changes lagged two days Today's Tomorrow's change change (Y t+1 ) (Y t ) Total Total This procedure for determining whether independence holds is not too cumbersome when only one time series is examined for one particular form of dependence. As the number of time series, numerical values, and lags examined becomes larger, the need for a summary measure becomes stronger. The correlation coe±cient (r), it will be recalled, is a summary measure of the extent of a linear relationship between two variables. If the variables are independent, r equals 0; however, r equals 0 also in some cases where the variables are related but in a non-linear fashion. Thus, in using the correlation coe±cient as a measure of dependence there is a risk of reaching the wrong conclusion, but the convenience of having a summary measure for a large number of joint distributions outweighs by far the slight risk involved. In one of the earliest and comprehensive studies of stock market prices, Fama (1965) analyzed the behavior of daily price changes for each of the thirty stocks of thedow-jonesindustrialaverage. Thetimeperiodsvariedfromstocktostock. There were, in all, thirty time series, each with about 1,200 to 1,700 observations. For each stock, Fama calculated ten correlation coe±cients, summarizing the relationship between daily price changes lagged 1, 2, :::, 9, and 10 days; these are showninfigure4. All the correlation coe±cients shown in Figure 4 are quite small in absolute value, indicating that little, if any, relationship exists between consecutive or lagged daily changes, or between consecutive changes across intervals of more than one day. Correlation coe±cients as close to 0 as these appear to support the hypothesis that stock price changes are independent of one another. 2 Numerous subsequent studies [see, for example, the bibliography in Elton and 2 Actually, Fama's price change is not the arithmetic di erence between daily prices, but the di erence in the natural logarithms of these prices. If X t denotes the price on day t, the arithmetic di erence is X t X t 1, while the logarithmic di erence is log X t log X t 1 =log(x t =X t 1 ).Themainreasonforusingchanges in the logarithm of prices, rather than ordinary price changes, is that the variability of ordinary price changes tends to depend on the price level of the stock while that of logarithmic changes does not. Although it appears rather awkward, the change

7 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? 7 Figure 4 Correlation coe±cients, Fama study inlogpricecanbeusedverymuchliketheordinarypricechange.givenaninitial price, X t,thepriceondayt+2, say, can be reproduced either by means of ordinary price changes X t+2 = X t +(X t+1 X t )+(X t+2 X t+1 ); or by means of log price changes log X t+2 =logx t +(logx t+1 log X t )+(logx t+2 log X t+1 ); from which X t+2 can be obtained.

10 10 ARE STOCK PRICES PREDICTABLE? REFERENCES R. J. Bauer and J. R. Dahlquist, Technical Market Indicators: Analysis and Performance, Wiley, P. Cootner (Ed.), The Random Character of Stock Market Prices, MIT Press, I. Copsey, Integrated Technical Analysis, Wiley, E. J. Elton and M. J. Gruber, Modern Portfolio Theory and Investment Analysis, 5th Ed., Wiley, E. F. Fama, \The Behavior of Stock Market Prices," Journal of Business, 98, v. 38 (1965) pp J. Lorie and R. Brealey (Eds.), Modern Developments in Investment Management: ABookofReadings, Praeger, B. G. Malkiel, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, 4th Ed., Norton, V. Niederho er and M. F. M. Osborne, \Market Making and Reversal on the Stock Exchange," Journal of the American Statistical Association, v. 61, 1966, pp H. V. Roberts, \Stock Market `Patterns' and Financial Analysis: Methodological Suggestions," Journal of Finance, v. 14 (1959) pp J. Tadian, DecipheringtheMarket: PrinciplesofChartReadingandTradingStocks, Commodities, and Currencies, Wiley, 1996.

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