Nonlinear Distributionally Robust Optimization

This article focuses on a class of distributionally robust optimization (DRO) problems where, unlike the growing body of the literature, the objective function is potentially non-linear in the distribution. Existing methods to optimize nonlinear functions in probability space use the Frechet derivatives, which present both theoretical and computational challenges. Motivated by this, we propose an alternative notion for the derivative and corresponding smoothness based on Gateaux (G)-derivative for generic risk measures. These concepts are explained via three running risk measure examples of variance, entropic risk, and risk on finite support sets. We then propose a G-derivative based Frank-Wolfe~(FW) algorithm for generic non-linear optimization problems in probability spaces and establish its convergence under the proposed notion of smoothness in a completely norm-independent manner. We use the set-up of the FW algorithm to devise a methodology to compute a saddle point of the non-linear DRO problem. Finally, for the minimum variance portfolio selection problem we analyze the regularity conditions and compute the FW-oracle in various settings, and validate the theoretical results numerically.



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