The idea behind many financial models goes back to Louis Bachelier in 1900, who suggested that fluctuations of the stock market can be modelled by a random process known as Brownian motion. At each instant, the price of a stock either increases or decreases, and the model assumes fixed probabilities for these events. They may be equally likely, or one may be more probable than the other. It's like someone standing on a street and repeatedly tossing a coin to decide whether to move a small step forwards or backwards, so they zigzag back and forth erratically. Their position corresponds to the price of the stock, moving up or down at random. The most important statistical features of Brownian motion are its mean and its standard deviation. The mean is the short-term average price, which typically drifts in a specific direction, up or down depending on where the market thinks the stock is going. The standard deviation can be thought of as the average amount by which the price differs from the mean, calculated using a standard statistical formula. For stock prices this is called volatility, and it measures how erratically the price fluctuates. On a graph of price against time, volatility corresponds to how jagged the zigzag movements look.It's quite put me off my bacon and eggs.
Black-Scholes implements Bachelier's vision. It does not give the value of the option (the price at which it should be sold or bought) directly. It is what mathematicians call a partial differential equation, expressing the rate of change of the price in terms of the rates at which various other quantities are changing. Fortunately, the equation can be solved to provide a specific formula for the value of a put option, with a similar formula for call options.
12 February 2012
The Black-Scholes equation
No, it's nothing to do with football. But The Observer expects us to read and understand this kind of stuff on a Sunday morning: