Discussion paper

DP14235 Market Efficiency in the Age of Big Data

Modern investors face a high-dimensional prediction problem: thousands of observable variables are potentially relevant for forecasting. We reassess the conventional wisdom on market efficiency in light of this fact. In our model economy, which resembles a typical machine learning setting, N assets have cash flows that are a linear function of J firm characteristics, but with uncertain coefficients. Risk-neutral Bayesian investors impose shrinkage (ridge regression) or sparsity (Lasso) when they estimate the J coefficients of the model and use them to price assets. When J is comparable in size to N, returns appear cross-sectionally predictable using firm characteristics to an econometrician who analyzes data from the economy ex post. A factor zoo emerges even without p-hacking and data-mining. Standard in-sample tests of market efficiency reject the no-predictability null with high probability, despite the fact that investors optimally use the information available to them in real time. In contrast, out-of-sample tests retain their economic meaning.


Martin, I and S Nagel (2019), ‘DP14235 Market Efficiency in the Age of Big Data‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 14235. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp14235