On the Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets

16 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2004  

Sanford J. Grossman

University of Pennsylvania - Finance Department; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 1980


If competitive equilibrium is defined as a situation in which prices are such that all arbitrage profits are eliminated, is it possible that a competitive economy always be in equilibrium? Clearly not, for then those who arbitrage make no (private) return from their (privately) costly activity. Hence the assumptions that all markets, including that for information, are always in equilibrium and always perfectly arbitraged are inconsistent when arbitrage is costly.

We propose here a model in which there is an equilibrium degree of disequilibrium: prices reflect the information of informed individuals (arbitrageurs) but only partially, so that those who expend resources to obtain information do receive compensation. How informative the price system is depends on the number of individuals who are informed; but the number of individuals who are informed is itself an endogenous variable in the model.

The model is the simplest one in which prices perform a well-articulated role in conveying information from the informed to the uninformed. When informed individuals observe information that the return to a security is going to be high, they bid its price up, and conversely when they observe information that the return is going to be low. Thus the price system makes publicly available the information obtained by informed individuals to the uninformed. In general, however, it does this imperfectly; this is perhaps lucky, for were it to do it perfectly , an equilibrium would not exist.

In the introduction, we shall discuss the general methodology and present some conjectures concerning certain properties of the equilibrium. The remaining analytic sections of the paper are devoted to analyzing in detail an important example of our general model, in which our conjectures concerning the nature of the equilibrium can be shown to be correct. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our approach and results, with particular emphasis on the relationship of our results to the literature on "efficient capital markets."

Suggested Citation

Grossman, Sanford J., On the Impossibility of Informationally Efficient Markets (December 1980). NBER Working Paper No. R0121. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=228054

Sanford J. Grossman (Contact Author)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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University of Pennsylvania - Finance Department ( email )

The Wharton School
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