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Animal Spirits

Are investors and traders cats, rationally and independently sniffing out returns? Or are they cows, flowing with a herd that must know something? These blog entries relate to behavioral finance, the study of the animal spirits of investing and trading.

A Few Notes on Predictably Irrational

In his 2008 book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, behavioral economist Dan Ariely “refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways.” Many of his observations have implications for investing and trading from the perspectives of avoiding irrationality as individuals and exploiting the systematic irrationalities of others. Based on his past studies of irrational behaviors, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Peer Pressure and Individual Investing Behavior

Does interaction with peers significantly affect the choices of individual investors? Are some individuals more susceptible to such pressure than others? In their April 2008 paper entitled “Susceptibility to Interpersonal Influence in an Investment Context”, A. Hoffmann and Thijs Broekhuizen investigate how interpersonal influences affect the investment decisions of individuals and which individuals are most susceptible to such influences. Combining the results of a laboratory experiment involving 154 university students and a survey of 287 investors, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Returns of High-Momentum Stocks Around Earnings Announcements

Do the attention-grabbing past returns of high-flying stocks produce pre-earnings announcement buying frenzies? In the April 2008 version of their paper entitled “Limited Attention and the Earnings Announcement Returns of Past Stock Market Winners”, David Aboody, Reuven Lehavy and Brett Trueman examine whether the limited time and resources of small investors explains a striking return pattern around the earnings releases of firms with extremely strong prior year price momentum. Using daily stock return data and earnings release/forecast news from the beginning of 1971 through the third quarter of 2005 for a broad sample of companies, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Seasonal Environmental Factors and Perceived Risk

Do northern hemisphere seasonal variations impact stock market volatility and return by affecting aggregate investor/trader mood? In their April 2008 paper entitled “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Perceived Market Risk”, Guy Kaplanski and Haim Levy test the effect of seasonal environmental factors (daylight hours, temperature and fall season) on perceived market risk as indicated by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX). VIX, also known as the Fear Index, is a measure of the risk perceived by traders of S&P 500 index options. Using VIX and actual volatility data and environmental measurements (for latitude 41 degrees north, Chicago and New York) over the period 1990-2007, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Local Bias and Regional Abnormal Returns: Invest in Depressed States?

Does bias on the part of U.S. investors in favor of companies headquartered within their home states create opportunities for geographical abnormal returns? In the February 2008 draft of their paper entitled “Long Georgia, Short Colorado? The Geography of Return Predictability”, George Korniotis and Alok Kumar investigate whether the behavior of local investors in response to local economic conditions produces predictable patterns in the returns of local stocks. They define local as individual U.S. states. They define local economic conditions as the combination of: (1) growth rate of state labor income; (2) state unemployment rate relative to a moving average; and, (3) state-level housing collateral ratio (as a measure of borrowing constraints). Using quarterly state-level economic data, company headquarters locations and quarterly stock return data for 1980-2004 (covering a total of 39 states as limited by sample size), they conclude that: Keep Reading

The Behavioral Asset Pricing Model

Do investors price stocks based mostly on rational analysis or feelings? In their February 2008 paper entitled “Affect in a Behavioral Asset Pricing Model”, Meir Statman, Kenneth Fisher and Deniz Anginer use survey results to investigate both the objective and subjective (perceived) connections between risk and return. Using results of: (1) the 1982-2006 annual Fortune surveys of senior executives, directors and security analysts regarding the long-term investment value of companies; and (2) May and July 2007 surveys of high-net worth clients of a large investment firm, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Unconditional Love for Losers?

Do investors love their losers more than their winners? In their January 2007 paper entitled “The Effect of Prior Beliefs and Preferences on Information Processing in an Investment Experiment”, Jeremy Ko and Oliver Hansch use a stock picking simulation to measure the bias investors exhibit when processing new information about stocks they have selected. Each iteration of the simulation involves picking one of two similar stocks that will outperform during the coming week. Using results from simulations involving 99 total participants in 2003 and 2004, they conclude that: Keep Reading

The Belief Component of Risk Premiums

Is risk premium variation principally a consequence of changes in objective business conditions, or is some human dynamic important? In their November 2007 paper entitled “Diverse Beliefs and Time Variability of Risk Premia”, Mordecai Kurz and Maurizio Motolese examine the effect of diverse but individually rational market beliefs on risk premiums. They define belief as a variable independent of all observed fundamentals, with its own dynamic that reflects changes in the distribution of investor risk perceptions. Using monthly interest rate forecasts compiled by Blue Chip Financial Forecasts since 1983 to measure market beliefs and associated actual interest rate data, they conclude that: Keep Reading

99 Cents Is Not a Sale Price

Do round numbers have a special meaning for stock traders? If so, is there a way to exploit any associated trading tendencies? In their 2007 paper entitled “Round Numbers and Security Returns”, Edward Johnson, Nicole Johnson and Devin Shanthikumar examine returns (calculated based on midpoints of subsequent closing bid and ask prices) after closing prices that are just above or just below round numbers. Using closing price and closing bid-ask data and firm characteristics for a broad sample of U.S. stocks during the post-decimalization period of 5/01-12/06, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Jim Cramer’s Gaps and Reversals

Are Jim Cramer’s stock recommendations on CNBC’s Mad Money most meaningful for small-capitalization stocks, for which prices are most susceptible to influence by the concerted behavior of a group of individual investors? In their September 2007 working paper entitled “The Performance and Impact of Stock Picks Mentioned on Mad Money, Bryan Lim and Joao Rosario evaluate the show’s ability to move markets over the short term and to forecast winners and losers over the long term. Using a sample of 10,589 Mad Money buy and sell recommendations representing 2,074 distinct firms, either initiated by Jim Cramer or provided by him in response to callers, from shows aired between June 28, 2005 and December 22, 2006, they conclude that: Keep Reading

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