Values vs. Bindings: The Map is Not the Territory

By: John Myles White

Re-posted from:

Many newcomers to Julia are confused by the seemingly dissimilar behaviors of the following two functions:

julia> a = [1, 2, 3]
3-element Array{Int64,1}:
julia> function foo!(a)
           a[1] = 10
foo! (generic function with 1 method)
julia> foo!(a)
julia> a
3-element Array{Int64,1}:
julia> function bar!(a)
           a = [1, 2]
bar! (generic function with 1 method)
julia> bar!(a)
julia> a
3-element Array{Int64,1}:

Why does the first function successfuly alter the global variable a, but the second function does not?

To answer that question, we need to explain the distinction between values and bindings. We’ll start with a particularly simple example of a value and a binding.

In Julia, the number 1 is a value:

julia> 1

In contrast to operating on a value, the Julia assignment operation shown below creates a binding:

julia> a = 1

This newly created binding is an association between the symbolic name a and the value 1. In general, a binding operation always associates a specific value with a specific name. In Julia, the valid names that can be used to create bindings are symbols, because it is important that the names be parseable without ambiguity. For example, the string "a = 1" is not an acceptable name for a binding, because it would be ambiguous with the code that binds the value 1 to the name a.

This first example of values vs. bindings might lead one to believe that values and bindings are very easy to both recognize and distinguish. Unfortunately, the values of many common objects are not obvious to many newcomers.

What, for example, is the value of the following array?

julia> [1, 2, 3]
3-element Array{Int64,1}:

To answer this question, note that the value of this array is not defined by the contents of the array. You can confirm this by checking whether Julia considers two objects to be exactly identical using the === operator:

julia> 1 === 1
julia> [1, 2, 3] === [1, 2, 3]

The general rule is simple, but potentially non-intuitive: two arrays with identical contents are not the same array. To motivate this, think of arrays as if they were cardboard boxes. If I have two cardboard boxes, each of which contains a single ream of paper, I would not claim that the two boxes are the exact same box just because they have the same contents. Our intuitive notion of object identity is rich enough to distinguish between two containers with the same contents, but it takes some time for newcomers to programming languages to extend this notion to their understanding of arrays.

Because every container is distinct regardless of what it contains, every array is distinct because every array is its own independent container. An array’s identity is not defined by what it contains. As such, its value is not equivalent to its contents. Instead, an array’s value is a unique identifier that allows one to reliably distinguish each array from every other array. Think of arrays like numbered cardboard boxes. The value of an array is its identifier: thus the value of [1, 2, 3] is something like the identifier “Box 1″. Right now, “Box 1″ happens to contain the values 1, 2 and 3, but it will continue to be “Box 1″ even after its contents have changed.

Hopefully that clarifies what the value of an array is. Starting from that understanding, we need to re-examine bindings because bindings themselves behave like containers.

A binding can be thought of as a named box that can contain either 0 or 1 values. Thus, when a new Julia session is launched, the name a has no value associated with it: it is an empty container. But after executing the line, a = 1, the name has a value: the container now has one element in it. Being a container, the name is distinct from its contents. As such, the name can be rebound by a later operation: the line a = 2 will change the contents of the box called a to refer to the value 2.

The fact that bindings behave like containers becomes a source of confusion when the value of a binding is itself a container:

a = [1, 2, 3]

In this case, the value associated with the name a is the identifier of an array that happens to have the values 1, 2, and 3 in it. But if the contents of that array are changed, the name a will still refer to the same array — because the value associated with a is not the contents of the array, but the identifier of the array.

As such, there is a very large difference between the following two operations:

a[1] = 10
a = [1, 2]
  • In the first case, we are changing the contents of the array that a refers to.
  • In the second case, we are changing which array a refers to.

In this second case, we are actually creating a brand new container as an intermediate step to changing the binding of a. This new container has, as its initial contents, the values 1 and 2. After creating this new container, the name a is changed to refer to the value that is the identifier of this new container.

This is why the two functions at the start of this post behave so differently: one mutates the contents of an array, while the other mutates which array a name refers to. Because variable names in functions are local, changing bindings inside of a function does not change the bindings outside of that function. Thus, the function bar! does not behave as some would hope. To change the contents of an array wholesale, you must not change bindings: you must change the contents of the array. To do that, bar! should be written as:

function bar!(a)
    a[:] = [1, 2]

The notation a[:] allows one to talk about the contents of an array, rather than its identifier. In general, you should not expect that you can change the contents of any container without employing some indexing syntax that allows you to talk about the contents of the container, rather than the container itself.

Belated course announcement: Heike Hofmann’s Julia seminar

By: Gray Calhoun

Re-posted from:

Something I probably should have mentioned two weeks ago: Heike Hofmann is teaching a 1 credit Julia Seminar in the Iowa State Statistics Department this semester. It meets Wednesdays from 12-1, and so far has gone through something close to the content’s of Leah Hanson’sLearn Julia in Y minutes.” You can see the schedule on the course’s GitHub page,, and it should be interesting and fun.

Filed under: Blog Tagged: julia, programming, statistics

Downloading SP500 stock price data with Julia

By: Christian Groll

Re-posted from:

In a previous post I already described how to download stock price data for all constituents of the SP500 with R. Meanwhile, however, I shifted all of my coding to the new and very promising technical computing language julia. I obviously wanted to also enjoy the convenience of downloading stock price data directly in julia. Hence, in this post I will describe how one could use julia to download stock price data from Yahoo!Finance in general, and – as an advanced use case – how to download adjusted closing prices for all SP500 constituents. We also will make use of julia’s parallel computing capabilities, in order to tremendously speed up the downloading and processing steps compared to my original code in R.

Before we start, we first need to make sure that we have all relevant packages installed. As a format for storing time series data I always rely on the TimeData package from the official package repository:


The functions required for data download are bundled in the not yet registered EconDatasets package, which we can clone from github:


1 Download data using readYahooFinance

Now that all required packages are installed, we will first demonstrate a simple use case for the low-level function readYahooFinance. This functions allows easy access to the complete stock data provided by Yahoo!Finance, comprising fields open, high, low, close, volume and adjusted close. As an example, we now download data for NASDAQ-100, S&P 500 and EURO STOXX 50 Index.

using TimeData
using Dates
using EconDatasets

tickerSymbs = ["^NDX"

dates = Date(1960,1,1):Date(2014,7,20)

indexData = [readYahooFinance(dates, symb) for symb in tickerSymbs]

## display first five dates of NASDAQ
indexData[1][1:5, :]

idx Open High Low Close Volume Adj_Close
1985-10-01 221.24 224.32 221.13 224.28 153160000 112.14
1985-10-02 224.28 225.08 221.56 221.65 164640000 110.82
1985-10-03 221.68 222.37 220.24 221.74 147300000 110.87
1985-10-04 221.74 221.74 219.71 220.15 147900000 110.07
1985-10-07 220.15 220.27 216.35 216.4 128640000 108.2

Using comprehension, the function readYahooFinance can be applied to all ticker symbols in an Array. The output will be an Array of type Any, with individual entries being of type Timematr.

When we focus on one variable for each stock only, we can store the data more concisely in a single TimeData object. Therefore, we join individual stocks at the their idx entries. We do not want to lose any data at this step, so that we will use an outer join in order to get a row for each date that occurs for at least one of the individual stocks. Missing values will be replaced by NA, so that we now get an object of type Timenum, as Timematr objects are not allowed to contain NAs.

adjCloseData = indexData[1][:Adj_Close]
names!(adjCloseData.vals, [symbol(tickerSymbs[1])])

for ii=2:3
    nextStock = indexData[ii] |>
         x -> x[:Adj_Close]
    names!(nextStock.vals, [symbol(tickerSymbs[ii])])
    adjCloseData = joinSortedIdx_outer(adjCloseData, nextStock)

adjCloseData[[1:10; (end-10):end], :]

1950-01-03 NA 16.66 NA
1950-01-04 NA 16.85 NA
1950-01-05 NA 16.93 NA
1950-01-06 NA 16.98 NA
1950-01-09 NA 17.08 NA
1950-01-10 NA 17.03 NA
1950-01-11 NA 17.09 NA
1950-01-12 NA 16.76 NA
1950-01-13 NA 16.67 NA
1950-01-16 NA 16.72 NA
2014-07-04 NA NA 3270.47
2014-07-07 3910.71 1977.65 3230.92
2014-07-08 3864.07 1963.71 3184.38
2014-07-09 3892.91 1972.83 3203.1
2014-07-10 3880.04 1964.68 3150.59
2014-07-11 3904.58 1967.57 3157.05
2014-07-14 3929.46 1977.1 3185.86
2014-07-15 3914.46 1973.28 3153.75
2014-07-16 3932.33 1981.57 3202.94
2014-07-17 3878.01 1958.12 3157.82
2014-07-18 3939.89 1978.22 3164.21

2 Download adjusted closing prices of SP500 constituents

Now that we already have seen a first use case of function readYahooFinance, we now want to try the capabilities of julia and the EconDatasets package with a more challenging task. Hence, we want to download adjusted stock prices for all constituents of the SP500 in a fully automated way. Therefore, we first need to get a list of the ticker symbols of all constituents, which we can get from the S&P homepage. However, this list is stored as an Excel sheet with .xls extension, and we need to read in this binary file with package Taro.

To make Taro work, you first need to make sure that it is able to find Java on your system. If your path deviates from the default settings, just make sure to set the respective JAVA_LIB environment variable in your .bashrc file. In my case, the variable is set as follows:

# 64-bit machine
# JAVA_LIB="/usr/lib/jvm/java-7-openjdk-amd64/jre/lib/amd64/server/"

# 32-bit machine
export JAVA_LIB

We can now install and load package Taro:


using Taro

Found libjvm @ /usr/lib/jvm/java-7-openjdk-i386/jre/lib/i386/server/

If something with your Taro configuration is not correct, you will get an error at this step. In this case, you could simply download and export the Excel sheet to .csv manually, which you then can read in with function readtable from the DataFrames package.

Otherwise, you can use Taro to download and read in the respective part of the Excel sheet:

url = ""
filepath = download(url)
constituents = Taro.readxl(filepath, "Constituents", "A10:B511")

Constituent Symbol
Abbott Laboratories ABT
AbbVie Inc. ABBV
Accenture plc ACN
ACE Limited ACE
Actavis plc ACT

We now should have name and ticker symbol of each SP500 constituent stored as a DataFrame. In my case, however, there even is one ticker symbol too much, although I do not know why:

(nTicker, nVars) = size(constituents)


An inconsistency that I will not further invest at this point. In addition, however, some of the ticker symbols are automatically read in as boolean values, and we will have to convert them to strings first. Let’s display all constituents with boolean values:

isBoolTicker = [isa(tickerSymbol, Bool) for tickerSymbol in

constituents[find(isBoolTicker), :]

Constituent Symbol
AT&T Inc true
Ford Motor Co false

The reason for this is that the respective ticker symbols are “T” and “F”, which will be interpreted as boolean values. Once we did correct for this mistake, we transform the array of ticker symbols into an Array of type ASCIIString.

indTrue = find(constituents[2] .== true)
indFalse = find(constituents[2] .== false)

constituents[indTrue, 2] = "T"
constituents[indFalse, 2] = "F"

tickerSymb = ASCIIString[constituents[:Symbol]...]


Now that we already have a list of all ticker symbols, in principle we could apply the same procedure as before: download each stock, extract the adjusted closing prices, and join all individual price series. However, as we have 500 stocks, this procedure would already take approximately 15 minutes if each individual stock took only 2 seconds. Hence, we strive for a much faster result using julia’s parallel computing capabilities, and this is already implemented as function readYahooAdjClose.

Under the hood, readYahooAdjClose uses a map-reduce structure. As the map step, for any given ticker symbol we download the data, extract the adjusted closing prices and rename the column to its ticker symbol. As reduce step we need to specify some operation that combines the individual results of the map step – in our case, this is function joinSortedIdx_outer.

Let’s now set the stage for parallel computation, add three additional processes and load the required packages on each process.


@everywhere using Dates
@everywhere using DataFrames
@everywhere using TimeData
@everywhere using EconDatasets

3-element Array{Any,1}:

To run the parallelized code, simply call function readYahooAdjClose:

dates = Date(1960,1,1):Date(2014,7,20)

## measure time
t0 = time()

@time vals = readYahooAdjClose(dates, tickerSymb, :d)

t1 = time()
elapsedTime = t1-t0
mins, secs = divrem(elapsedTime, 60)

Downloading of all 500 stocks did only take:

println("elapsed time: ", int(mins), " minutes, ", ceil(secs), " seconds")

elapsed time: 3 minutes, 45.0 seconds

Now we convert the data of type Timedata to type Timenum and store the result in the EconDatasets data directory:

valsTn = convert(Timenum, vals)
pathToStore = joinpath(Pkg.dir("EconDatasets"), "data", "SP500.csv")
writeTimedata(pathToStore, valsTn)

3 Visualize missing values

From previous experiences I already know that the saying “you get what you pay for” also holds for the free Yahoo!Finance database: the data comes with a lot of missing values. In order to get a feeling for the data quality, we want to visualize all missing values. Therefore, we sort all assets with respect to the number of missing values.

(nObs, nStocks) = size(valsTn)

NAorNot = Array(Int, nObs, nStocks)

for ii=1:nStocks
    NAorNot[:, ii] = isna(vals.vals[ii])*1

nNAs = sum(NAorNot, 1)
p = sortperm(nNAs[:])
tickSorted = tickerSymb[p]
NAorNotSorted = NAorNot[:, p]

For the visualization, we rely on, as we get an interactive graphic this way. This allows the identification of individual stocks in the graphic by simple mouse clicks. If you want to replicate the figure, you will need to sign in with an own and free account.

using Plotly

## sign in with your account
## Plotly.signin("username", "authentication")

nToPlot = nStocks
datsStrings = ASCIIString[string(dat, " 00:00:00") for dat in valsTn.idx]
data = [
         "z" => NAorNotSorted[:, 1:nToPlot],
         "y" => tickSorted[1:nToPlot],
         "x" => datsStrings, 
         "type" => "heatmap"

response = Plotly.plot([data], ["filename" => "Published graphics/SP500 missing values", "fileopt" => "overwrite"])
plot_url = response["url"]

Although the resulting graphic easily could be directly embedded into this html file, you will need to follow this link to watch it, since the graphic is a large data file and hence takes quite some time to load. Nevertheless, I also exported a .png version of the graphic, which you can find below. Thereby, red dots are representing missing values.


4 Get logarithmic returns

So now we already have our closing price data at our hands. However, in financial econometrics we usually analyze return data, as prices are non-stationary almost always. Hence, we now want to derive returns from our price series.

For this step I rely on the also not yet registered Econometrics package:

using Econometrics

The reason for this is that I can make use of function price2ret then, which implements a slightly more sophisticated approach to return calculation. This can best be described through an example, which we can set up using function testcase from the TimeData package:

logPrices = testcase(Timenum, 4)

idx prices1 prices2
2010-01-01 100 110
2010-01-02 120 120
2010-01-03 140 NA
2010-01-04 170 130
2010-01-05 200 150

As you can see, the example logarithmic prices have a single missing observation at January 3rd. Straightforward application of the logarithmic return calculation formula hence will result in two missing values in the return series:

logRetSimple = logPrices[2:end, :] .- logPrices[1:(end-1),:]

idx prices1 prices2
2010-01-02 20 10
2010-01-03 20 NA
2010-01-04 30 NA
2010-01-05 30 20

In contrast, function price2ret assumes that single missing values in the middle of a price series are truly non-existent: there is no observation, because the stock exchange was closed and there simply was no trading. For example, this could easily happen if you have stocks from multiple countries with different holidays. Note, that this kind of missingness is different to a case where the stock exchange was open and trading did occur, but we were not able to observe the resulting price (for a more elaborate discussion on this point take a look at my blog post about missing stock price data). Using function price2ret, you ultimately will end up with a stock return series with only one NA for this example:

## get real prices
logRetEconometrics = price2ret(logPrices; log = true)

idx prices1 prices2
2010-01-02 20 10
2010-01-03 20 NA
2010-01-04 30 10
2010-01-05 30 20

So the final step in our logarithmic return calculation is to apply price2ret to the logarithmic prices, specify the usage of differences for return calculations through log = true, and multiply the results by 100 in order to get percentage returns.

percentLogRet = price2ret(log(valsTn); log = true).*100

Alternatively, you could get discrete returns with:

percentDiscRet = price2ret(valsTn; log = false).*100

Filed under: financial econometrics, Julia Tagged: data, sp500

Page 1 of 4112345...102030...Last »