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" 1. 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 2. Research by Alfred Cowles in the ’30s and ’40s suggested that professional investors were in general unable to outperform the market.
The efficient-market hypothesis was developed by Professor Eugene Fama at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business as an academic concept of study through his published Ph.D. thesis in the early 1960s at the same school. It was widely accepted up until the 1990s, when behavioral finance economists, who had been a fringe element, became mainstream 3. Empirical analyses have consistently found problems with the efficient-market hypothesis, the most consistent being that stocks with low price to earnings (and similarly, low price to cash-flow or book value) outperform other stocks 4, 5. Alternative theories have proposed that cognitive biases cause these inefficiencies, leading investors to purchase overpriced growth stocks rather than value stocks 6. Although the efficient-market hypothesis has become controversial because substantial and lasting inefficiencies are observed, Beechey et al. (2000) consider that it remains a worthwhile starting point 7.
The efficient-market hypothesis emerged as a prominent theory in the mid-1960s. Paul Samuelson had begun to circulate Bachelier's work among economists. In 1964 Bachelier's dissertation along with the empirical studies mentioned above were published in an anthology edited by Paul Cootner 8. In 1965 Eugene Fama published his dissertation arguing for the random walk hypothesis 9, and Samuelson published a proof for a version of the efficient-market hypothesis 10. In 1970 Fama published a review of both the theory and the evidence for the hypothesis. The paper extended and refined the theory, included the definitions for three forms of financial market efficiency: weak, semi-strong and strong (see below) 11.
It has been argued that the stock market is “micro efficient” but not “macro inefficient”. The main proponent of this view was Samuelson, who asserted that the EMH is much better suited for individual stocks than it is for the aggregate stock market. Research based on regression and scatter diagrams has strongly supported Samuelson's dictum 12.
Further to this evidence that the UK stock market is weak-form efficient, other studies of capital markets have pointed toward their being semi-strong-form efficient. A study by Khan of the grain futures market indicated semi-strong form efficiency following the release of large trader position information (Khan, 1986). Studies by Firth (1976, 1979, and 1980) in the United Kingdom have compared the share prices existing after a takeover announcement with the bid offer. Firth found that the share prices were fully and instantaneously adjusted to their correct levels, thus concluding that the UK stock market was semi-strong-form efficient. However, the market's ability to efficiently respond to a short term, widely publicized event such as a takeover announcement does not necessarily prove market efficiency related to other more long term, amorphous factors. David Dreman has criticized the evidence provided by this instant "efficient" response, pointing out that an immediate response is not necessarily efficient, and that the long-term performance of the stock in response to certain movements are better indications. A study on stocks' response to dividend cuts or increases over three years found that after an announcement of a dividend cut, stocks underperformed the market by 15.3% for the three-year period, while stocks outperformed the market by 24.8% for the three years following the announcement of a dividend increase 13.