Problem Statement:

Say you have an array prices for which the $i^{th}$ element is the price of a given stock on day $i$.

Design an algorithm to find the maximum profit. You may complete as many transactions as you like (i.e., buy one and sell one share of the stock multiple times).

Note: You may not engage in multiple transactions at the same time (i.e., you must sell the stock before you buy again).

Example 1:

Input: [7,1,5,3,6,4]
Output: 7
Explanation: Buy on day 2 (price = 1) and sell on day 3 (price = 5), profit = 5-1 = 4.
             Then buy on day 4 (price = 3) and sell on day 5 (price = 6), profit = 6-3 = 3.

Here's the link to the problem.

I know the solution to this problem but what I'd like to know is how do I write the total profit, (i.e. the thing that we are trying to maximize,) as a mathematical expression? I tried the following (where $n$ is the length of the list):

$$\sum_{ \substack{1 \leq i,j \leq n \\ i\lt j}} (x_j - x_i)[i,j \text{ unique}] $$

But this would be wrong since it could include both $i = 1, j = 2$ and $i = 2, j = 3$, and we can't both buy and sell a stock on day 2. Also I had to resort to the Iversonian notation for this, and if possible, I'd like to avoid it.

I don't know if I should be needing two variables for the summation, since we only iterate through the list once for calculating the profit, but I couldn't do it in one variable.

PS: This is my first time posting here and I couldn't really decide on the tags for this problem. Pardon me if they are wrong, and let me know which ones to use and I'll update the question. :)


1 Answer 1


To write the profit as a mathematical expression, you need to set up a little more notation for the buys and sells. Let $x[1], \ldots, x[n]$ be the stock prices on days $1, \ldots, n$. For each buy and sell, let $b$ denote the day on which the stock is bought, and $s$ the day on which it is sold. The problem says that we must have $1 \leq b < s \leq n$. The profit from this single transaction is $P = x[s] - x[b]$.

However, the problem allows many buys and sells, say $(b_1, s_1), \ldots, (b_k, s_k)$ for some numbers which must satisfy $$1 \leq b_1 < s_1 < b_2 < s_2 < \cdots < b_k < s_k \leq n.$$ The total profit from these $k$ transactions is $$ P = \sum_{i = 1}^k \left(x[b_i] - x[s_i]\right). $$ Of course the tricky part is that you don't know ahead of time what $k$ should be, so you're not only trying to optimise over the $b_i$ and $s_i$ variables, but also $k$.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for the answer! This really is very smart. I knew I didn't have to sum over two variables, but it never came to me that I could iterate over the stocks and have separate notations for buying and selling. You're awesome! :) $\endgroup$
    – BK1603
    Sep 29, 2020 at 17:16

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