In finance, the efficient-market hypothesis (EMH) asserts that financial markets are "informationally efficient". In consequence of this, one cannot consistently achieve returns in excess of average market returns on a risk-adjusted basis, given the information available at the time the investment is made.
There are three major versions of the hypothesis: "weak", "semi-strong", and "strong". The weak-form EMH claims that prices on traded assets (e.g., stocks, bonds, or property) already reflect all past publicly available information. The semi-strong-form EMH claims both that prices reflect all publicly available information and that prices instantly change to reflect new public information. The strong-form EMH additionally claims that prices instantly reflect even hidden or "insider" information. Critics have blamed the belief in rational markets for much of the late-2000s financial crisis. In response, proponents of the hypothesis have stated that market efficiency does not mean having no uncertainty about the future, that market efficiency is a simplification of the world which may not always hold true, and that the market is practically efficient for investment purposes for most individuals.
Historically, there was a very close link between EMH and the random-walk model and then the Martingale model. The random character of stock market prices was first modelled by Jules Regnault, a French broker, in 1863 and then by Louis Bachelier, a French mathematician, in his 1900 PhD thesis, "The Theory of Speculation". His work was largely ignored until the 1950s; however beginning in the 1930s scattered, independent work corroborated his thesis. A small number of studies indicated that US stock prices and related financial series followed a random walk model. Research by Alfred Cowles in the ’30s and ’40s suggested that professional investors were in general unable to outperform the market.