How the USSR gave us Wall Street's quant craze

Andrea Chalupa

Wall Street's quant jocks have always held a quiet mystique, but until recently, only the nerdiest of observers knew who and what they were. But the troubles facing big banks with notable names has made financial sleuths of us all, eager to understand and piece together exactly what sank Wall Street. So quants, are you ready for your close up?

They are the rocket scientists of finance, highly trained mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who delve deep into quantitative analysis. They create mathematical models that can make the frat boys who push stocks and commodities on the trading floor very, very rich. Quants cook up formulas that coolly demonstrate which financial instruments have the highest probability of generating the highest return at the lowest risk, and Wall Street rolls with them -- though, as we've learned, those formulas sometimes work better on paper than they do in real life.

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