Regret ... what is it?
motivated by e-mail from Peter U.

I recently learned something about Regret and ...

>Yeah! Did I tell you the time I didn't ask Sally for a date and ...
Pay attention. I don't mean that regret. I'm talking about the regret if a financial decision falls below your expectations.
It's a notion due (at least in part) to Ron Dembo. Suppose we have two choices:

  1. Invest in a risk-free asset with guaranteed return k ... where k = 0.03 means 3%.
  2. Invest in another asset with a random (hence, perhaps, riskier) return.
If we choose the second and our portfolio has a return greater than k, we rejoice!
If this second portfoolio has a return less than k, we'll regret having made that second choice.
We then ask ourselves: Is there some way to measure our "regret"?

If we pay $1.00 for a lottery ticket which would pays $1 million to the winner - and we lose - we wouldn't cry. It's only $1.00, eh?
However, if we pay $1K for a lottery tocket that pays $1 billion, we would cry if we lost!
This implies that differences in scale matter! See Utility Theory.
Hence there's a difference in "regret" ... whatever "regret" means.

Consider deciding whether to sell your stock or keep it a bit longer.
If we sell and the price goes up, we're unhappy.
If we keep it and the price goes down, we're unhappy.
What to do, to minimize our "regret" ... whatever that means.

When asked how he invested his retirement funds, Markowitz (a father of Modern Portfolio Theory) answered:
"I should have computed the historic co-variances of the asset classes and drawn an efficient frontier.
Instead ... I split my contributions 50/50 between bonds and equities."

He wanted, he added, to "minimize my future regret."

>So you want to measure ... regret?
Yes. We'd like to compare the two choices on the basis of how we'd feel, having made one or the other.

Let's consider a specific problem:
Should I invest 80% in stocks and 20% in bonds ... or 100% in some risk-free financial instrument that gives a guaranteed return?
Suppose that, for the 80/20 portfolio, the returns r have a Mean M and Standard Deviation SD.
Suppose, too, that the risk-free return is k.

Let's also assume that, for the 80/20 portfolio, we can generate a (density) distribution function something like Figure 1A and a cumulative distribution function like Figure 1B.

If we choose to invest in the 80/20 portfolio, we'd expect a return of M ... but it isn't guaranteed.
Let's consider the difference between the returns, namely r - k.
Our first task would be to calculate the mean and standard deviation of this new random variable:
To this end we consider the average value of the squared difference:   (r - k)2.
That's     (r - k)2 f(r) dr = (the mean of the squares).
However, here's something that's well known:  
The (mean of the squares) = (the square of the mean) + (the standard deviation)2.

>Beg pardon?
That's shown here ... and it's true for any random variable r.

Note that   (the mean of r - k) = (the mean of r) - (the mean of k) = M - k.
See Stat stuff #1.

We also note that the variable r - k has the same standard deviation as r itself, namely SD.
Subtracting a constant doesn't change the SD.

Figure 1A

Figure 1B


[1a]       A = (r - k)2 f(r) dr = (M - k)2 + SD2     that's (the square of the mean) + (the standard deviation)2
A can also be written:

[1b]       A = r2 f(r+k) dr

A is some "average" measure of deviations between our portfolio return and the constant, risk-free return.
The deviations are squared so it doesn't matter whether they're positive or negative.
If k = M, the square root of this quantity is just the standard deviation of our portfolio returns
... which some regard as "risk" !
Staring intently at [1b] we note that it's the variance or (standard deviation)2 of the excess of our portfolio returns
over and above k ... and the distribution for this excess if just f(r), but shifted left by the amount k, as indicated in Figure 1C.

Figure 1C

We'd also worry about our whether our portfolio returns will be less than k, so we write down the probability of that happening.

[2]       Probability that r < k = f(r) dr = F(k)

Where, exactly are you heading?
I want to generate (and make sense of) the formula:

We note the following:

  • The first piece is just A = (r - k)2 f(r) dr = (M - k)2 + SD2 ... a measure of how far returns are from k.
  • If M = k, then "regret" is just SD2 (Remember: SD = Standard Deviation).
  • F(r) is the probability that our return is less than k.
  • Regret will decrease if F(r) decreases ... so there's a smaller probability of getting less than k.
  • The ...
>Are you gonna derive that formula ... or not?
Uh ... good question.

a Regret Formula