Cryptic Investing

Kevin Lewis

July 06, 2021

Stock-Return Ignorance
Yulia Merkoulova & Chris Veld
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


Optimal stock investment decisions rely on assessments of the distribution of expected returns. Using a representative sample, we find over half the US population cannot answer simple questions on expected stock returns. Respondents who are unable to make any return prediction, who cannot answer questions on the distribution of expected returns, or who reveal unlikely distributional beliefs participate less in the stock market and have smaller stock investments. However, overoptimistic investors are more likely to participate in the stock market and have larger stock investments. These results persist after controlling for financial literacy, intelligence, education, and demographics. People who are ignorant about stock return distribution are more likely to invest in equities if they have higher levels of trust. Therefore, trust can substitute for cognition as a factor positively associated with individuals' propensity to invest.

The Influence of Media Slant on Short Sellers
April Knill et al.
Florida State University Working Paper, June 2021


Using the positive shift in tone of Fox News coverage of macroeconomic news after the Republican Bush election in 2000, we investigate whether media slant influences the investment decisions of short sellers. We find that firms headquartered in Republican-leaning townships with Fox News availability experienced a relative decrease in short interest post the 2000 election. We further find that the relative decrease is more pronounced for firms that are more subject to investors' home bias. We interpret our findings to suggest that short sellers, as sophisticated as they may be, are not immune to the slant in media coverage.

Investor awareness or information asymmetry? Wikipedia and IPO underpricing
Thomas Boulton et al.
Financial Review, forthcoming


We use the presence of a Wikipedia article for initial public offering (IPO) firms to test theories of information asymmetry and investor awareness. Although we find limited support for the former, our results provide strong support for theories of investor awareness. Specifically, IPO firms with a Wikipedia article exhibit significantly higher underpricing and offer price revisions than do IPO firms without a Wikipedia article. Investor awareness has positive long-term effects, including greater analyst following and institutional ownership for up to 3 years after the offering. The effect is robust to firm-specific Google search volume, news coverage, retail trading intensity, social media activity, propensity score matching, and an instrumental variable approach.

Total returns to single-family rentals
Andrew Demers & Andrea Eisfeldt
Real Estate Economics, forthcoming


The market value of U.S. single-family rental assets totals more than $2.3 trillion. We provide the first systematic analysis of total returns to single-family rentals in a long, broad, and granular panel. Total returns are approximately equalized across U.S. cities at 8.5%, similar to average equity returns. On average, net rental yields and house price appreciation each contribute half total returns. However, they are negatively correlated in the cross section of cities. High-price-tier cities accrued more capital gains, whereas low-price-tier cities had higher net rental yields. Within cities, lower-price-tier ZIP codes have higher total returns.

A picture is worth a thousand words: Measuring investor sentiment by combining machine learning and photos from news
Khaled Obaid & Kuntara Pukthuanthong
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


By applying machine learning to the accurate and cost-effective classification of photos based on sentiment, we introduce a daily market-level investor sentiment index (Photo Pessimism) obtained from a large sample of news photos. Consistent with behavioral models, Photo Pessimism predicts market return reversals and trading volume. The relation is strongest among stocks with high limits to arbitrage and during periods of elevated fear. We examine whether Photo Pessimism and pessimism embedded in news text act as complements or substitutes for each other in predicting stock returns and find evidence that the two are substitutes.

When an Industry Peer Is Accused of Financial Misconduct: Stigma versus Competition Effects on Non-accused Firms
Ivana Naumovska & Dovev Lavie
Administrative Science Quarterly, forthcoming


Research on misconduct suggests that accusations against industry peers generate negative consequences for non-accused firms (a "stigma effect"). Yet, building on research on competitive dynamics, we infer that such accusations can benefit non-accused firms that compete with these peers (a "competition effect"). To reconcile these opposing perspectives, we posit that the negative stigma effect will increase with greater product market overlap between the non-accused firm and its accused peer, up to a point, beyond which the positive competition effect will counterbalance it. We further conjecture that the competition effect will be relatively more pronounced when the market classification used by investors for assessing the market overlap is more fine-grained. Accordingly, we suggest that more sophisticated investors, who rely on more fine-grained market classifications, increase their shareholdings in non-accused firms to a greater extent than less sophisticated investors as the market overlap between the non-accused firm and the accused peer increases. Using elaborate data on products and investments, we analyze investors' shareholdings and stock market returns of non-accused firms in the U.S. software industry following accusations of financial misconduct by their industry peers, and we find support for our predictions. Our study elucidates the interplay between stigma and competition following misconduct by industry peers.

Weather, institutional investors and earnings news
Danling Jiang, Dylan Norris & Lin Sun
Journal of Corporate Finance, forthcoming


We examine how weather conditions near a firm's major institutional investors affect stock market reactions to firms' earnings announcements. We find that unpleasant weather experienced by institutional investors leads to more delayed market responses to earnings news. Moreover, unpleasant weather of institutional investors is associated with higher earnings announcement premium and lower contemporaneous trading volume. The influence of institutional investors' weather is robust after controlling for New York City weather, extreme weather conditions, and firm local weather. Additional cross-sectional evidence suggests that the strength of this weather effect is related to institutional investors' trading behavior.

Social learning and analyst behavior
Alok Kumar, Ville Rantala & Rosy Xu
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


This study examines whether sell-side equity analysts engage in "social learning" in which their earnings forecasts for certain firms are influenced by the forecasts and outcomes of "peer" analysts associated with other firms in their respective portfolios. We find that analyst optimism is negatively correlated with recent forecast errors, by peers, on other firms in the analyst's portfolio. An analyst is also more likely to issue "bold" forecasts when peers recently issued similar forecasts for other portfolio firms. Analysts learn more from peers with similar personal characteristics. Overall, social learning benefits analysts and improves their forecast accuracy.

Macro News and Micro News: Complements or Substitutes?
David Hirshleifer & Jinfei Sheng
NBER Working Paper, June 2021


We study how the arrival of macro-news affects the stock market's ability to incorporate the information in firm-level earnings announcements. Existing theories suggest that macro and firm-level earnings news are attention substitutes; macro-news announcements crowd out firm-level attention, causing less efficient processing of firm-level earnings announcements. We find the opposite: the sensitivity of announcement returns to earnings news is 17% stronger, and post-earnings announcement drift 71% weaker, on macro-news days. This suggests a complementary relationship between macro and micro news that is consistent with either investor attention or information transmission channels.

Market Fragmentation
Daniel Chen & Darrell Duffie
American Economic Review, July 2021, Pages 2247-2274


We model a simple market setting in which fragmentation of trade of the same asset across multiple exchanges improves allocative efficiency. Fragmentation reduces the inhibiting effect of price-impact avoidance on order submission. Although fragmentation reduces market depth on each exchange, it also isolates cross-exchange price impacts, leading to more aggressive overall order submission and better rebalancing of unwanted positions across traders. Fragmentation also has implications for the extent to which prices reveal traders' private information. While a given exchange price is less informative in more fragmented markets, all exchange prices taken together are more informative.

Spoofing in Equilibrium
Basil Williams & Andrzej Skrzypacz
Stanford Working Paper, February 2021


We present a model of dynamic trading with exogenous and strategic cancellation of orders. We define spoofing as the strategic placing and canceling of orders in order to move prices and trade later in the opposite direction. We show that spoofing can occur in equilibrium. Consistent with regulator concerns, we show that spoofing slows price discovery, raises bid-ask spreads, and raises return volatility. A novel prediction is that the prevalence of equilibrium spoofing is single-peaked in the measure of informed traders, suggesting that spoofing should be more prevalent in markets of intermediate liquidity. We consider within-market and cross-market spoofing and discuss how regulators should allocate resources towards cross-market surveillance.

In Search of the Origins of Financial Fluctuations: The Inelastic Markets Hypothesis
Xavier Gabaix & Ralph Koijen
NBER Working Paper, June 2021


We develop a framework to theoretically and empirically analyze the fluctuations of the aggregate stock market. Households allocate capital to institutions, which are fairly constrained, for example operating with a mandate to maintain a fixed equity share or with moderate scope for variation in response to changing market conditions. As a result, the price elasticity of demand of the aggregate stock market is small, and flows in and out of the stock market have large impacts on prices. Using the recent method of granular instrumental variables, we find that investing $1 in the stock market increases the market's aggregate value by about $5. We also develop a new measure of capital flows into the market, consistent with our theory. We relate it to prices, macroeconomic variables, and survey expectations of returns. We analyze how key parts of macro-finance change if markets are inelastic. We show how general equilibrium models and pricing kernels can be generalized to incorporate flows, which makes them amenable to use in more realistic macroeconomic models and to policy analysis. Our framework allows us to give a dynamic economic structure to old and recent datasets comprising holdings and flows in various segments of the market. The mystery of apparently random movements of the stock market, hard to link to fundamentals, is replaced by the more manageable problem of understanding the determinants of flows in inelastic markets. We delineate a research agenda that can explore a number of questions raised by this analysis, and might lead to a more concrete understanding of the origins of financial fluctuations across markets.

Outlier blindness: A neurobiological foundation for neglect of financial risk
Elise Payzan-LeNestour & Michael Woodford
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


How do people record information about the outcomes they observe in their environment? Building on a well-established neuroscientific framework, we propose a model in which people are hampered in their perception of outcomes that they expect to seldom encounter. We provide experimental evidence for such "outlier blindness" and discuss how it provides a microfoundation for neglected tail risk by investors in financial markets.


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