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3 American Economists Win Nobel Prize


OK, the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics was awarded today to three American men - Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen, Robert Shiller. The Nobel committee cited their research in the predictability of stock prices, as well as other asset prices. We're going to find out more now from Zoe Chace of NPR's Planet Money team. She's on the line. Hi, Zoe.


INSKEEP: Each of these guy's names is a little familiar, I think to the layman, especially maybe Shiller. Who are they?

CHACE: So, all right. These guys, they're kind of, it's kind of the perfect example of what economics is, that these three guys won. Because Fama thinks one thing and Shiller kind of thinks the opposite. And that's sort of what economics is, is like an argument...

INSKEEP: And both won it together, OK, fine. Go on.

CHACE: Yeah, but if you put them together, there's sort of some logic to it. It's both about predictability in the stock market, and sort of what stock prices mean.

Fama, the first guy, the research that he did is basically that the price of a stock is kind of the perfect amount of information. The market absorbs information really quickly and prices, stocks exactly appropriately. So...


CHACE: Like, quarterly earnings come out, or something like that, the stock market reacts right away. That's a perfect assimilation of new information.


CHACE: Like that's great information.

INSKEEP: Investors are watching and people make their conclusions and it's a collective conclusion. OK.

CHACE: Yeah, sales are up, people buy the stock, you know, that's logical and that makes sense. But Shiller looked at stock prices and asset prices kind of over a longer period of time and he kind of puts the heart into it. He says people are crazy and people are emotional and sometimes they will just buy up, you know, a whole bunch of things just because they're excited about it. And it's not really the price of something; how popular something is isn't necessarily a perfect piece of information because we're crazy and we get excited. And so, that is not really absorbed very, you know, into the price of something.

INSKEEP: Robert Shiller, isn't he the guy whose name is on the Case-Shiller Index, which has to do with home prices and so forth?

CHACE: Yes. He is the guy.

INSKEEP: Which, of course, that's something - that's a market that's had quite a lot of craziness in recent years, as all of us know.

CHACE: Yes. So Shiller's kind of the father behavioral finance, basically. Like, he's a really famous guy and he predicted the tech bubble in 2000. He predicted the real estate bubble of 2008 because he sees bubbles as a kind of natural outgrowth of the human emotion that comes along with investing money. And so, the Case-Shiller Home Price Index is something that's really popular because that's a way to look at, you know, like, confident people are feeling in the economy.


CHACE: Confidence is really - that's what investing is all about.

INSKEEP: OK, so you got one guy who thinks the market is rational and another guy who thinks the market is irrational. And we have this third guy, Hansen. Who's he?

CHACE: Yes. Hansen is the math guy. He came up with the model that you can sort of use to prove your assumptions. I can't really get into it because the math is complicated...


CHACE: ...and it's a little bit beyond me, beyond us, probably. But what it is, is that you can use his model to prove Shiller's point and you can use his model to prove Fama's point, which are sort of opposite points...


CHACE: ...but that's economics. You know, it's an argument.

INSKEEP: OK. We were wondering if these guys, since they won the Nobel Prize for the predictability of the markets, if they were able to make themselves rich. But I'm guessing from what you said, maybe not.

CHACE: No. They can invest their couple hundred thousand dollars each in the markets, but they don't know what they're going to get. That's how the markets work.

INSKEEP: Zoe, thanks very much.

CHACE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Zoe Chace of our Planet Money team. And again, the Nobel Prize winners in economics - Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller. You heard it right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Zoe Chace explains the mysteries of the global economy for NPR's Planet Money. As a reporter for the team, Chace knows how to find compelling stories in unlikely places, including a lollipop factory in Ohio struggling to stay open, a pasta plant in Italy where everyone calls in sick, and a recording studio in New York mixing Rihanna's next hit.