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Robert Merton and the effect of time on portfolio choice

FINANCE THEORISTS are, as everybody knows, unworldly people who can scarcely tie their shoelaces, still less change a car tyre. Robert Merton confounds this stereotype. As he talks amiably at the London office of Dimensional Fund Advisors (he is the firm’s “resident scientist”), you sense that here is a man who could fix a flat in no time. He would probably deliver a cheerful lecture on the importance of the correct tyre pressure while he was tightening the wheel nuts.Mr Merton has always had a bent for engineering, whether financial or mechanical. He bought his first stock aged ten and completed a risk-arbitrage trade (on a takeover by Singer, a maker of sewing-machines) aged 11. He rebuilt his first car aged 15. In 1997 he won the Nobel prize for economics aged 53—a career high. A year later, a career low: LTCM, the hedge fund he co-founded, imploded. These markers of the passing years matter. For Mr Merton’s specialism is the mathematics of time applied to finance.
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