Categories: Mathematics, Stochastic analysis.

Dynkin’s formula

Given an Itō diffusion \(X_t\) with a time-independent drift \(f\) and intensity \(g\) such that the diffusion uniquely exists on the \(t\)-axis. We define the infinitesimal generator \(\hat{A}\) as an operator with the following action on a given function \(h(x)\), where \(\mathbf{E}\) is a conditional expectation:

\[\begin{aligned} \boxed{ \hat{A}\{h(X_0)\} \equiv \lim_{t \to 0^+} \bigg[ \frac{1}{t} \mathbf{E}\Big[ h(X_t) - h(X_0) \Big| X_0 \Big] \bigg] } \end{aligned}\]

Which only makes sense for \(h\) where this limit exists. The assumption that \(X_t\) does not have any explicit time-dependence means that \(X_0\) need not be the true initial condition; it can also be the state \(X_s\) at any \(s\) infinitesimally smaller than \(t\).

Conveniently, for a sufficiently well-behaved \(h\), the generator \(\hat{A}\) is identical to the Kolmogorov operator \(\hat{L}\) found in the backward Kolmogorov equation:

\[\begin{aligned} \boxed{ \hat{A}\{h(x)\} = \hat{L}\{h(x)\} } \end{aligned}\]

The general definition of resembles that of a classical derivative, and indeed, the generator \(\hat{A}\) can be thought of as a differential operator. In that case, we would like an analogue of the classical fundamental theorem of calculus to relate it to integration.

Such an analogue is provided by Dynkin’s formula: for a stopping time \(\tau\) with a finite expected value \(\mathbf{E}[\tau|X_0] < \infty\), it states that:

\[\begin{aligned} \boxed{ \mathbf{E}\big[ h(X_\tau) | X_0 \big] = h(X_0) + \mathbf{E}\bigg[ \int_0^\tau \hat{L}\{h(X_t)\} \dd{t} \bigg| X_0 \bigg] } \end{aligned}\]

A common application of Dynkin’s formula is predicting when the stopping time \(\tau\) occurs, and in what state \(X_\tau\) this happens. Consider an example: for a region \(\Omega\) of state space with \(X_0 \in \Omega\), we define the exit time \(\tau \equiv \inf\{ t : X_t \notin \Omega \}\), provided that \(\mathbf{E}[\tau | X_0] < \infty\).

To get information about when and where \(X_t\) exits \(\Omega\), we define the general reward \(\Gamma\) as follows, consisting of a running reward \(R\) for \(X_t\) inside \(\Omega\), and a terminal reward \(T\) on the boundary \(\partial \Omega\) where we stop at \(X_\tau\):

\[\begin{aligned} \Gamma = \int_0^\tau R(X_t) \dd{t} + \: T(X_\tau) \end{aligned}\]

For example, for \(R = 1\) and \(T = 0\), this becomes \(\Gamma = \tau\), and if \(R = 0\), then \(T(X_\tau)\) can tell us the exit point. Let us now define \(h(X_0) = \mathbf{E}[\Gamma | X_0]\), and apply Dynkin’s formula:

\[\begin{aligned} \mathbf{E}\big[ h(X_\tau) | X_0 \big] &= \mathbf{E}\big[ \Gamma \big| X_0 \big] + \mathbf{E}\bigg[ \int_0^\tau \hat{L}\{h(X_t)\} \dd{t} \bigg| X_0 \bigg] \\ &= \mathbf{E}\big[ T(X_\tau) | X_0 \big] + \mathbf{E}\bigg[ \int_0^\tau \hat{L}\{h(X_t)\} + R(X_t) \dd{t} \bigg| X_0 \bigg] \end{aligned}\]

The two leftmost terms depend on the exit point \(X_\tau\), but not directly on \(X_t\) for \(t < \tau\), while the rightmost depends on the whole trajectory \(X_t\). Therefore, the above formula is fulfilled if \(h(x)\) satisfies the following equation and boundary conditions:

\[\begin{aligned} \boxed{ \begin{cases} \hat{L}\{h(x)\} + R(x) = 0 & \mathrm{for}\; x \in \Omega \\ h(x) = T(x) & \mathrm{for}\; x \notin \Omega \end{cases} } \end{aligned}\]

In other words, we have just turned a difficult question about a stochastic trajectory \(X_t\) into a classical differential boundary value problem for \(h(x)\).


  1. U.H. Thygesen, Lecture notes on diffusions and stochastic differential equations, 2021, Polyteknisk Kompendie.

© Marcus R.A. Newman, a.k.a. "Prefetch". Available under CC BY-SA 4.0.