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What is the Efficient Market Hypothesis?

[By Jeffrey S. Coons; PhD, CFA]

[By Christopher J. Cummings; CFA, CFP™]fp-book1

The Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) states that securities are fairly priced based on information about their underlying cash flows and that physician investors should not expect to consistently outperform the market over the long-term. 

 EMH Types 

There are three distinct forms of EMH that vary by the type of information that is reflected in a security’s price:

·  Weak Form: This form holds that investors will not be able to use historical data to earn superior returns on a consistent basis.  In other words, the financial markets price securities in a manner that fully reflects all information contained in past prices.

·  Semi-Strong Form: This form asserts that security prices fully reflect all publicly available information. Therefore, investors cannot consistently earn above normal returns based solely on publicly available information, such as earnings, dividend, and sales data.

·  Strong Form: This form states that the financial markets price securities such that, all information (public and non-public) is fully reflected in the securities price; investors should not expect to earn superior returns on a consistent basis, no matter what insight or research they may bring to the table. 

While a rich literature has been established regarding to test whether EMH actually applies in any of its three forms in real world markets – probably the most difficult evidence to overcome for backers of EMH is the existence of a vibrant money management and mutual fund industry charging value-added fees for their services. 

In fact, no less than Warren Buffett has suggested that the markets are decidedly not efficient. 


And so, while there has been a growing move towards index funds – as well as ETFs – the strength of the money management industry may reflect investor’s concern with risk management and asset allocation – as much as any view that a manager or individual can “beat the market.”   


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3 Responses

  1. Fama Says Markets Were ‘Demonstrably Efficient’ In 2008-09

    Gene Fama PhD, the professor known as the father of modern finance recently told IMCA conference attendees that Modern Portfolio Theory worked during the financial crisis and that “diversification is your buddy.”


    The One Thing That Makes Fama Question Market Efficiency

    And, all the hullaballoo about Fed tapering, quantitative easing and artificially low interest rates is silly.

    He is reported to have said: If “anything will shake my faith” in efficient markets, this is it.”


    Any thoughts?

    Dr. Baglay


  2. Beating the Street with Smart Beta

    Dr. Baglay – ETF companies are rushing to introduce portfolios that weight holdings in unconventional ways in order to beat the street.

    For example, popular choices give each stock an equal weighting or emphasize holdings with characteristics such as low volatility. Many of these smart beta funds have topped their benchmarks by wide margins in recent years.

    Winners include Guggenheim S&P 500 Equal Weight (RSP), PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 (PRF), and WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend (DGS).


    But, smart beta funds beat index funds and shine over the long term? Time will tell.



  3. EMH

    Markets are efficient. It is impossible to outperform the benchmarks such as the S&P 500, on a consistent basis. Sector forecasts by Wall Street experts have consistently been very different from actual results.

    For me, success is measured by my clients reaching their goals. That is my alpha! I do this by creating efficient portfolios based on client’s goals, risk tolerance and time frame. Cash Flow should be based on total returns and not income or dividends.

    An Investment Policy Statement [IPS] should be the guide in creating the portfolios and not the latest hype or media coverage. The return requirement is based on real return and focus is to maximize after tax returns. This approach is research supported, time tested and effective.

    Shikha Mittra AIF® CFP® CRPS® CMFC® MBA


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