A Certainty Equivalent Merton Problem

N. Moehle and S. Boyd

Manuscript, January 2021.

The Merton problem is the well-known stochastic control problem of choosing consumption over time, as well as an investment mix, to maximize expected constant relative risk aversion (CRRA) utility of consumption. Merton formulated the problem and provided an analytical solution in 1970; since then a number of extensions of the original formulation have been solved. In this note we identify a certainty equivalent problem, i.e., a deterministic optimal control problem with the same optimal value function and optimal policy, for the base Merton problem, as well as a number of extensions. When time is discretized, the certainty equivalent problem becomes a second-order cone program (SOCP), readily formulated and solved using domain specific languages for convex optimization. This makes it a good starting point for model predictive control, a policy that can handle extensions that are either too cumbersome or impossible to handle exactly using standard dynamic programming methods.