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Barberisthaler 2003

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Chapter 18

NICHOLAS BARBERIS University of Chicago RICHARD THALER University of Chicago

Contents Abstract Keywords 1. Introduction 2. Limits to arbitrage
2.1. Market efficiency 2.2. Theory 2.3. Evidence 2.3.1. Twin shares 2.3.2. Index inclusions 2.3.3. Internet carve-outs

3. Psychology
3.1. Beliefs 3.2. Preferences 3.2.1. Prospect theory 3.2.2. Ambiguity aversion

4. Application: The aggregate stock market
4.1. The equity premium puzzle 4.1.1. Prospect theory 4.1.2. Ambiguity aversion 4.2. The volatility puzzle 4.2.1. Beliefs 4.2.2. Preferences

5. Application: The cross-section of average returns
5.1. Belief-based models

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We are very grateful to Markus Brunnermeier, George Constantinides, Kent Daniel, Milt Harris, Ming Huang, Owen Lamont, Jay Ritter, Andrei Shleifer, Jeremy Stein and Tuomo Vuolteenaho for extensive comments. Handbook of the Economics of Finance, Edited by G.M. Constantinides, M. Harris and R. Stulz © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V All rights reserved .

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6. Application: Closed-end funds and comovement
6.1. Closed-end funds 6.2. Comovement

7. Application: Investor behavior
7.1. 7.2. 7.3. 7.4. 7.5. Insufficient diversification Naive diversification Excessive trading The selling decision The buying decision

8. Application: Corporate finance
8.1. Security issuance, capital structure and investment 8.2. Dividends 8.3. Models of managerial irrationality

9. Conclusion Appendix A References

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Abstract Behavioral finance argues that some financial phenomena can plausibly be understood using models in which some agents are not fully rational. The field has two building blocks: limits to arbitrage, which argues that it can be difficult for rational traders to undo the dislocations caused by less rational traders; and psychology, which catalogues the kinds of deviations from full rationality we might expect to see. We discuss these two topics, and then present a number of behavioral finance applications: to the aggregate stock market, to the cross-section of average returns, to individual trading behavior, and to corporate finance. We close by assessing progress in the field and speculating about its future course.

Keywords behavioral finance, market efficiency, prospect theory, limits to arbitrage, investor psychology, investor behavior JEL classification: G11, G12, G30

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1. Introduction The traditional finance paradigm, which underlies many of the other articles in this handbook, seeks to understand financial markets using models in which agents are “rational”. Rationality means two things. First, when they receive new information, agents update their beliefs correctly, in the manner described by Bayes’ law. Second, given their beliefs, agents make choices that are normatively acceptable, in the sense that they are consistent with Savage’s notion of Subjective Expected Utility (SEU). This traditional framework is appealingly simple, and it would be very satisfying if its predictions were confirmed in the data. Unfortunately, after years of effort, it has become clear that basic facts about the aggregate stock market, the cross-section of average returns and individual trading behavior are not easily understood in this framework. Behavioral finance is a new approach to financial markets that has emerged, at least in part, in response to the difficulties faced by the traditional paradigm. In broad terms, it argues that some financial phenomena can be better understood using models in which some agents are not fully rational. More specifically, it analyzes what happens when we relax one, or both, of the two tenets that underlie individual rationality. In some behavioral finance models, agents fail to update their beliefs correctly. In other models, agents apply Bayes’ law properly but make choices that are normatively questionable, in that they are incompatible with SEU 1 . This review essay evaluates recent work in this rapidly growing field. In Section 2, we consider the classic objection to behavioral finance, namely that even if some agents in the economy are less than fully rational, rational agents will prevent them from influencing security prices for very long, through a process known as arbitrage. One of the biggest successes of behavioral finance is a series of theoretical papers showing that in an economy where rational and irrational traders interact, irrationality can have a substantial and long-lived impact on prices. These papers, known as the literature on “limits to arbitrage”, form one of the two buildings blocks of behavioral finance.

It is important to note that most models of asset pricing use the Rational Expectations Equilibrium framework (REE), which assumes not only individual rationality but also consistent beliefs [Sargent (1993)]. Consistent beliefs means that agents’ beliefs are correct: the subjective distribution they use to forecast future realizations of unknown variables is indeed the distribution that those realizations are drawn from. This requires not only that agents process new information correctly, but that they have enough information about the structure of the economy to be able to figure out the correct distribution for the variables of interest. Behavioral finance departs from REE by relaxing the assumption of individual rationality. An alternative departure is to retain individual rationality but to relax the consistent beliefs assumption: while investors apply Bayes’ law correctly, they lack the information required to know the actual distribution variables are drawn from. This line of research is sometimes referred to as the literature on bounded rationality, or on structural uncertainty. For example, a model in which investors do not know the growth rate of an asset’s cash flows but learn it as best as they can from available data, would fall into this class. Although the literature we discuss also uses the term bounded rationality, the approach is quite different.


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To make sharp predictions, behavioral models often need to specify the form of agents’ irrationality. How exactly do people misapply Bayes law or deviate from SEU? For guidance on this, behavioral economists typically turn to the extensive experimental evidence compiled by cognitive psychologists on the biases that arise when people form beliefs, and on people’s preferences, or on how they make decisions, given their beliefs. Psychology is therefore the second building block of behavioral finance, and we review the psychology most relevant for financial economists in Section 3 2 . In Sections 4–8, we consider specific applications of behavioral finance: to understanding the aggregate stock market, the cross-section of average returns, and the pricing of closed-end funds in Sections 4, 5 and 6 respectively; to understanding how particular groups of investors choose their portfolios and trade over time in Section 7; and to understanding the financing and investment decisions of firms in Section 8. Section 9 takes stock and suggests directions for future research 3 .

2. Limits to arbitrage 2.1. Market efficiency In the traditional framework where agents are rational and there are no frictions, a security’s price equals its “fundamental value”. This is the discounted sum of expected future cash flows, where in forming expectations, investors correctly process all available information, and where the discount rate is consistent with a normatively acceptable preference specification. The hypothesis that actual prices reflect fundamental values is the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH). Put simply, under this hypothesis, “prices are right”, in that they are set by agents who understand Bayes’ law and have sensible preferences. In an efficient market, there is “no free lunch”: no investment strategy can earn excess risk-adjusted average returns, or average returns greater than are warranted for its risk. Behavioral finance argues that some features of asset prices are most plausibly interpreted as deviations from fundamental value, and that these deviations are brought about by the presence of traders who are not fully rational. A long-standing objection to this view that goes back to Friedman (1953) is that rational traders will quickly undo any dislocations caused by irrational traders. To illustrate the argument, suppose


The idea, now widely adopted, that behavioral finance rests on the two pillars of limits to arbitrage and investor psychology is originally due to Shleifer and Summers (1990). 3 We draw readers’ attention to two other recent surveys of behavioral finance. Shleifer (2000) provides a particularly detailed discussion of the theoretical and empirical work on limits to arbitrage, which we summarize in Section 2. Hirshleifer’s (2001) survey is closer to ours in terms of material covered, although we devote less space to asset pricing, and more to corporate finance and individual investor behavior. We also organize the material somewhat differently.

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that the fundamental value of a share of Ford is $20. Imagine that a group of irrational traders becomes excessively pessimistic about Ford’s future prospects and through its selling, pushes the price to $15. Defenders of the EMH argue that rational traders, sensing an attractive opportunity, will buy the security at its bargain price and at the same time, hedge their bet by shorting a “substitute” security, such as General Motors, that has similar cash flows to Ford in future states of the world. The buying pressure on Ford shares will then bring their price back to fundamental value. Friedman’s line of argument is initially compelling, but it has not survived careful theoretical scrutiny. In essence, it is based on two assertions. First, as soon as there is a deviation from fundamental value – in short, a mispricing – an attractive investment opportunity is created. Second, rational traders will immediately snap up the opportunity, thereby correcting the mispricing. Behavioral finance does not take issue with the second step in this argument: when attractive investment opportunities come to light, it is hard to believe that they are not quickly exploited. Rather, it disputes the first step. The argument, which we elaborate on in Sections 2.2 and 2.3, is that even when an asset is wildly mispriced, strategies designed to correct the mispricing can be both risky and costly, rendering them unattractive. As a result, the mispricing can remain unchallenged. It is interesting to think about common finance terminology in this light. While irrational traders are often known as “noise traders”, rational traders are typically referred to as “arbitrageurs”. Strictly speaking, an arbitrage is an investment strategy that offers riskless profits at no cost. Presumably, the rational traders in Friedman’s fable became known as arbitrageurs because of the belief that a mispriced asset immediately creates an opportunity for riskless profits. Behavioral finance argues that this is not true: the strategies that Friedman would have his rational traders adopt are not necessarily arbitrages; quite often, they are very risky. An immediate corollary of this line of thinking is that “prices are right” and “there is no free lunch” are not equivalent statements. While both are true in an efficient market, “no free lunch” can also be true in an inefficient market: just because prices are away from fundamental value does not necessarily mean that there are any excess risk-adjusted average returns for the taking. In other words, “prices are right” ⇒ “no free lunch” but “no free lunch” “prices are right”.

This distinction is important for evaluating the ongoing debate on market efficiency. First, many researchers still point to the inability of professional money managers to beat the market as strong evidence of market efficiency [Rubinstein (2001), Ross (2001)]. Underlying this argument, though, is the assumption that “no free lunch” implies “prices are right.” If, as we argue in Sections 2.2 and 2.3, this link is broken, the


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performance of money managers tells us little about whether prices reflect fundamental value. Second, while some researchers accept that there is a distinction between “prices are right” and “there is no free lunch”, they believe that the debate should be more about the latter statement than about the former. We disagree with this emphasis. As economists, our ultimate concern is that capital be allocated to the most promising investment opportunities. Whether this is true or not depends much more on whether prices are right than on whether there are any free lunches for the taking. 2.2. Theory In the previous section, we emphasized the idea that when a mispricing occurs, strategies designed to correct it can be both risky and costly, thereby allowing the mispricing to survive. Here we discuss some of the risks and costs that have been identified. In our discussion, we return to the example of Ford, whose fundamental value is $20, but which has been pushed down to $15 by pessimistic noise traders. Fundamental risk. The most obvious risk an arbitrageur faces if he buys Ford’s stock at $15 is that a piece of bad news about Ford’s fundamental value causes the stock to fall further, leading to losses. Of course, arbitrageurs are well aware of this risk, which is why they short a substitute security such as General Motors at the same time that they buy Ford. The problem is that substitute securities are rarely perfect, and often highly imperfect, making it impossible to remove all the fundamental risk. Shorting General Motors protects the arbitrageur somewhat from adverse news about the car industry as a whole, but still leaves him vulnerable to news that is specific to Ford – news about defective tires, say 4 . Noise trader risk. Noise trader risk, an idea introduced by De Long et al. (1990a) and studied further by Shleifer and Vishny (1997), is the risk that the mispricing being exploited by the arbitrageur worsens in the short run. Even if General Motors is a perfect substitute security for Ford, the arbitrageur still faces the risk that the pessimistic investors causing Ford to be undervalued in the first place become even more pessimistic, lowering its price even further. Once one has granted the possibility that a security’s price can be different from its fundamental value, then one must also grant the possibility that future price movements will increase the divergence. Noise trader risk matters because it can force arbitrageurs to liquidate their positions early, bringing them potentially steep losses. To see this, note that most real-world arbitrageurs – in other words, professional portfolio managers – are not managing their


Another problem is that even if a substitute security exists, it may itself be mispriced. This can happen in situations involving industry-wide mispricing: in that case, the only stocks with similar future cash flows to the mispriced one are themselves mispriced.

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own money, but rather managing money for other people. In the words of Shleifer and Vishny (1997), there is “a separation of brains and capital”. This agency feature has important consequences. Investors, lacking the specialized knowledge to evaluate the arbitrageur’s strategy, may simply evaluate him based on his returns. If a mispricing that the arbitrageur is trying to exploit worsens in the short run, generating negative returns, investors may decide that he is incompetent, and withdraw their funds. If this happens, the arbitrageur will be forced to liquidate his position prematurely. Fear of such premature liquidation makes him less aggressive in combating the mispricing in the first place. These problems can be severely exacerbated by creditors. After poor short-term returns, creditors, seeing the value of their collateral erode, will call their loans, again triggering premature liquidation. In these scenarios, the forced liquidation is brought about by the worsening of the mispricing itself. This need not always be the case. For example, in their efforts to remove fundamental risk, many arbitrageurs sell securities short. Should the original owner of the borrowed security want it back, the arbitrageur may again be forced to close out his position if he cannot find other shares to borrow. The risk that this occurs during a temporary worsening of the mispricing makes the arbitrageur more cautious from the start. Implementation costs. Well-understood transaction costs such as commissions, bid– ask spreads and price impact can make it less attractive to exploit a mispricing. Since shorting is often essential to the arbitrage process, we also include short-sale constraints in the implementation costs category. These refer to anything that makes it less attractive to establish a short position than a long one. The simplest such constraint is the fee charged for borrowing a stock. In general these fees are small – D’Avolio (2002) finds that for most stocks, they range between 10 and 15 basis points – but they can be much larger; in some cases, arbitrageurs may not be able to find shares to borrow at any price. Other than the fees themselves, there can be legal constraints: for a large fraction of money managers – many pension fund and mutual fund managers in particular – short-selling is simply not allowed 5 . We also include in this category the cost of finding and learning about a mispricing, as well as the cost of the resources needed to exploit it [Merton (1987)]. Finding

The presence of per-period transaction costs like lending fees can expose arbitrageurs to another kind of risk, horizon risk, which is the risk that the mispricing takes so long to close that any profits are swamped by the accumulated transaction costs. This applies even when the arbitrageur is certain that no outside party will force him to liquidate early. Abreu and Brunnermeier (2002) study a particular type of horizon risk, which they label synchronization risk. Suppose that the elimination of a mispricing requires the participation of a sufficiently large number of separate arbitrageurs. Then in the presence of per-period transaction costs, arbitrageurs may hesitate to exploit the mispricing because they don’t know how many other arbitrageurs have heard about the opportunity, and therefore how long they will have to wait before prices revert to correct values.



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mispricing, in particular, can be a tricky matter. It was once thought that if noise traders influenced stock prices to any substantial degree, their actions would quickly show up in the form of predictability in returns. Shiller (1984) and Summers (1986) demonstrate that this argument is completely erroneous, with Shiller (1984) calling it “one of the most remarkable errors in the history of economic thought”. They show that even if noise trader demand is so strong as to cause a large and persistent mispricing, it may generate so little predictability in returns as to be virtually undetectable. In contrast, then, to straightforward-sounding textbook arbitrage, real world arbitrage entails both costs and risks, which under some conditions will limit arbitrage and allow deviations from fundamental value to persist. To see what these conditions are, consider two cases. Suppose first that the mispriced security does not have a close substitute. By definition then, the arbitrageur is exposed to fundamental risk. In this case, sufficient conditions for arbitrage to be limited are (i) that arbitrageurs are risk averse and (ii) that the fundamental risk is systematic, in that it cannot be diversified by taking many such positions. Condition (i) ensures that the mispricing will not be wiped out by a single arbitrageur taking a large position in the mispriced security. Condition (ii) ensures that the mispricing will not be wiped out by a large number of investors each adding a small position in the mispriced security to their current holdings. The presence of noise trader risk or implementation costs will only limit arbitrage further. Even if a perfect substitute does exist, arbitrage can still be limited. The existence of the substitute security immunizes the arbitrageur from fundamental risk. We can go further and assume that there are no implementation costs, so that only noise trader risk remains. De Long et al. (1990a) show that noise trader risk is powerful enough, that even with this single form of risk, arbitrage can sometimes be limited. The sufficient conditions are similar to those above, with one important difference. Here arbitrage will be limited if: (i) arbitrageurs are risk averse and have short horizons and (ii) the noise trader risk is systematic. As before, condition (i) ensures that the mispricing cannot be wiped out by a single, large arbitrageur, while condition (ii) prevents a large number of small investors from exploiting the mispricing. The central contribution of Shleifer and Vishny (1997) is to point out the real world relevance of condition (i): the possibility of an early, forced liquidation means that many arbitrageurs effectively have short horizons. In the presence of certain implementation costs, condition (ii) may not even be necessary. If it is costly to learn about a mispricing, or the resources required it to exploit it are expensive, that may be enough to explain why a large number of different individuals do not intervene in an attempt to correct the mispricing. It is also important to note that for particular types of noise trading, arbitrageurs may prefer to trade in the same direction as the noise traders, thereby exacerbating the mispricing, rather than against them. For example, De Long et al. (1990b)

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consider an economy with positive feedback traders, who buy more of an asset this period if it performed well last period. If these noise traders push an asset’s price above fundamental value, arbitrageurs do not sell or short the asset. Rather, they buy it, knowing that the earlier price rise will attract more feedback traders next period, leading to still higher prices, at which point the arbitrageurs can exit at a profit. So far, we have argued that it is not easy for arbitrageurs like hedge funds to exploit market inefficiencies. However, hedge funds are not the only market participants trying to take advantage of noise traders: firm managers also play this game. If a manager believes that investors are overvaluing his firm’s shares, he can benefit the firm’s existing shareholders by issuing extra shares at attractive prices. The extra supply this generates could potentially push prices back to fundamental value. Unfortunately, this game entails risks and costs for managers, just as it does for hedge funds. Issuing shares is an expensive process, both in terms of underwriting fees and time spent by company management. Moreover, the manager can rarely be sure that investors are overvaluing his firm’s shares. If he issues shares, thinking that they are overvalued when in fact they are not, he incurs the costs of deviating from his target capital structure, without getting any benefits in return. 2.3. Evidence From the theoretical point of view, there is reason to believe that arbitrage is a risky process and therefore that it is only of limited effectiveness. But is there any evidence that arbitrage is limited? In principle, any example of persistent mispricing is immediate evidence of limited arbitrage: if arbitrage were not limited, the mispricing would quickly disappear. The problem is that while many pricing phenomena can be interpreted as deviations from fundamental value, it is only in a few cases that the presence of a mispricing can be established beyond any reasonable doubt. The reason for this is what Fama (1970) dubbed the “joint hypothesis problem”. In order to claim that the price of a security differs from its properly discounted future cash flows, one needs a model of “proper” discounting. Any test of mispricing is therefore inevitably a joint test of mispricing and of a model of discount rates, making it difficult to provide definitive evidence of inefficiency. In spite of this difficulty, researchers have uncovered a number of financial market phenomena that are almost certainly mispricings, and persistent ones at that. These examples show that arbitrage is indeed limited, and also serve as interesting illustrations of the risks and costs described earlier. 2.3.1. Twin shares In 1907, Royal Dutch and Shell Transport, at the time completely independent companies, agreed to merge their interests on a 60:40 basis while remaining separate entities. Shares of Royal Dutch, which are primarily traded in the USA and in the


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Fig. 1. Log deviations from Royal Dutch/Shell parity. Source: Froot and Dabora (1999).

Netherlands, are a claim to 60% of the total cash flow of the two companies, while Shell, which trades primarily in the UK, is a claim to the remaining 40%. If prices equal fundamental value, the market value of Royal Dutch equity should always be 1.5 times the market value of Shell equity. Remarkably, it isn’t. Figure 1, taken from Froot and Dabora’s (1999) analysis of this case, shows the ratio of Royal Dutch equity value to Shell equity value relative to the efficient markets benchmark of 1.5. The picture provides strong evidence of a persistent inefficiency. Moreover, the deviations are not small. Royal Dutch is sometimes 35% underpriced relative to parity, and sometimes 15% overpriced. This evidence of mispricing is simultaneously evidence of limited arbitrage, and it is not hard to see why arbitrage might be limited in this case. If an arbitrageur wanted to exploit this phenomenon – and several hedge funds, Long-Term Capital Management included, did try to – he would buy the relatively undervalued share and short the other. Table 1 summarizes the risks facing the arbitrageur. Since one share is a good substitute for the other, fundamental risk is nicely hedged: news about fundamentals should affect the two shares equally, leaving the arbitrageur immune. Nor are there
Table 1 Arbitrage costs and risks that arise in exploiting mispricing Example Fundamental risk (FR) × √ × Noise trader risk (NTR) √ √ × Implementation costs (IC) × × √

Royal Dutch/Shell Index Inclusions Palm/3Com

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any major implementation costs to speak of: shorting shares of either company is an easy matter. The one risk that remains is noise trader risk. Whatever investor sentiment is causing one share to be undervalued relative to the other could also cause that share to become even more undervalued in the short term. The graph shows that this danger is very real: an arbitrageur buying a 10% undervalued Royal Dutch share in March 1983 would have seen it drop still further in value over the next six months. As discussed earlier, when a mispriced security has a perfect substitute, arbitrage can still be limited if (i) arbitrageurs are risk averse and have short horizons and (ii) the noise trader risk is systematic, or the arbitrage requires specialized skills, or there are costs to learning about such opportunities. It is very plausible that both (i) and (ii) are true, thereby explaining why the mispricing persisted for so long. It took until 2001 for the shares to finally sell at par. This example also provides a nice illustration of the distinction between “prices are right” and “no free lunch” discussed in Section 2.1. While prices in this case are clearly not right, there are no easy profits for the taking. 2.3.2. Index inclusions Every so often, one of the companies in the S&P 500 is taken out of the index because of a merger or bankruptcy, and is replaced by another firm. Two early studies of such index inclusions, Harris and Gurel (1986) and Shleifer (1986), document a remarkable fact: when a stock is added to the index, it jumps in price by an average of 3.5%, and much of this jump is permanent. In one dramatic illustration of this phenomenon, when Yahoo was added to the index, its shares jumped by 24% in a single day. The fact that a stock jumps in value upon inclusion is once again clear evidence of mispricing: the price of the share changes even though its fundamental value does not. Standard and Poor’s emphasizes that in selecting stocks for inclusion, they are simply trying to make their index representative of the U.S. economy, not to convey any information about the level or riskiness of a firm’s future cash flows 6 . This example of a deviation from fundamental value is also evidence of limited arbitrage. When one thinks about the risks involved in trying to exploit the anomaly, its persistence becomes less surprising. An arbitrageur needs to short the included security and to buy as good a substitute security as he can. This entails considerable


After the initial studies on index inclusions appeared, some researchers argued that the price increase might be rationally explained through information or liquidity effects. While such explanations cannot be completely ruled out, the case for mispricing was considerably strengthened by Kaul, Mehrotra and Morck (2000). They consider the case of the TS300 index of Canadian equities, which in 1996 changed the weights of some of its component stocks to meet an innocuous regulatory requirement. The reweighting was accompanied by significant price effects. Since the affected stocks were already in the index at the time of the event, information and liquidity explanations for the price jumps are extremely implausible.


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fundamental risk because individual stocks rarely have good substitutes. It also carries substantial noise trader risk: whatever caused the initial jump in price – in all likelihood, buying by S&P 500 index funds – may continue, and cause the price to rise still further in the short run; indeed, Yahoo went from $115 prior to its S&P inclusion announcement to $210 a month later. Wurgler and Zhuravskaya (2002) provide additional support for the limited arbitrage view of S&P 500 inclusions. They hypothesize that the jump upon inclusion should be particularly large for those stocks with the worst substitute securities, in other words, for those stocks for which the arbitrage is riskiest. By constructing the best possible substitute portfolio for each included stock, they are able to test this, and find strong support. Their analysis also shows just how hard it is to find good substitute securities for individual stocks. For most regressions of included stock returns on the returns of the best substitute securities, the R2 is below 25%. 2.3.3. Internet carve-outs In March 2000, 3Com sold 5% of its wholly owned subsidiary Palm Inc. in an initial public offering, retaining ownership of the remaining 95%. After the IPO, a shareholder of 3Com indirectly owned 1.5 shares of Palm. 3Com also announced its intention to spin off the remainder of Palm within 9 months, at which time they would give each 3Com shareholder 1.5 shares of Palm. At the close of trading on the first day after the IPO, Palm shares stood at $95, putting a lower bound on the value of 3Com at $142. In fact, 3Com’s price was $81, implying a market valuation of 3Com’s substantial businesses outside of Palm of about −$60 per share! This situation surely represents a severe mispricing, and it persisted for several weeks. To exploit it, an arbitrageur could buy one share of 3Com, short 1.5 shares of Palm, and wait for the spin-off, thus earning certain profits at no cost. This strategy entails no fundamental risk and no noise trader risk. Why, then, is arbitrage limited? Lamont and Thaler (2003), who analyze this case in detail, argue that implementation costs played a major role. Many investors who tried to borrow Palm shares to short were either told by their broker that no shares were available, or else were quoted a very high borrowing price. This barrier to shorting was not a legal one, but one that arose endogenously in the marketplace: such was the demand for shorting Palm, that the supply of Palm shorts was unable to meet it. Arbitrage was therefore limited, and the mispricing persisted 7 . Some financial economists react to these examples by arguing that they are simply isolated instances with little broad relevance 8 . We think this is an overly complacent

See also Mitchell, Pulvino and Stafford (2002) and Ofek and Richardson (2003) for further discussion of such “negative stub” situations, in which the market value of a company is less than the sum of its publicly traded parts. 8 During a discussion of these issues at a University of Chicago seminar, one economist argued that these examples are “the tip of the iceberg”, to which another retorted that “they are the iceberg”.

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view. The “twin shares” example illustrates that in situations where arbitrageurs face only one type of risk – noise trader risk – securities can become mispriced by almost 35%. This suggests that if a typical stock trading on the NYSE or NASDAQ becomes subject to investor sentiment, the mispricing could be an order of magnitude larger. Not only would arbitrageurs face noise trader risk in trying to correct the mispricing, but fundamental risk as well, not to mention implementation costs.

3. Psychology The theory of limited arbitrage shows that if irrational traders cause deviations from fundamental value, rational traders will often be powerless to do anything about it. In order to say more about the structure of these deviations, behavioral models often assume a specific form of irrationality. For guidance on this, economists turn to the extensive experimental evidence compiled by cognitive psychologists on the systematic biases that arise when people form beliefs, and on people’s preferences 9 . In this section, we summarize the psychology that may be of particular interest to financial economists. Our discussion of each finding is necessarily brief. For a deeper understanding of the phenomena we touch on, we refer the reader to the surveys of Camerer (1995) and Rabin (1998) and to the edited volumes of Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky (1982), Kahneman and Tversky (2000) and Gilovich, Griffin and Kahneman (2002). 3.1. Beliefs A crucial component of any model of financial markets is a specification of how agents form expectations. We now summarize what psychologists have learned about how people appear to form beliefs in practice. Overconfidence. Extensive evidence shows that people are overconfident in their judgments. This appears in two guises. First, the confidence intervals people assign to their estimates of quantities – the level of the Dow in a year, say – are far too narrow. Their 98% confidence intervals, for example, include the true quantity only about 60% of the time [Alpert and Raiffa (1982)]. Second, people are poorly calibrated when estimating probabilities: events they think are certain to occur actually occur only


We emphasize, however, that behavioral models do not need to make extensive psychological assumptions in order to generate testable predictions. In Section 6, we discuss Lee, Shleifer and Thaler’s (1991) theory of closed-end fund pricing. That theory makes numerous crisp predictions using only the assumptions that there are noise traders with correlated sentiment in the economy, and that arbitrage is limited.


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around 80% of the time, and events they deem impossible occur approximately 20% of the time [Fischhoff, Slovic and Lichtenstein (1977)] 10 . Optimism and wishful thinking. Most people display unrealistically rosy views of their abilities and prospects [Weinstein (1980)]. Typically, over 90% of those surveyed think they are above average in such domains as driving skill, ability to get along with people and sense of humor. They also display a systematic planning fallacy: they predict that tasks (such as writing survey papers) will be completed much sooner than they actually are [Buehler, Griffin and Ross (1994)]. Representativeness. Kahneman and Tversky (1974) show that when people try to determine the probability that a data set A was generated by a model B, or that an object A belongs to a class B, they often use the representativeness heuristic. This means that they evaluate the probability by the degree to which A reflects the essential characteristics of B. Much of the time, representativeness is a helpful heuristic, but it can generate some severe biases. The first is base rate neglect. To illustrate, Kahneman and Tversky present this description of a person named Linda: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. When asked which of “Linda is a bank teller” (statement A) and “Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement” (statement B) is more likely, subjects typically assign greater probability to B. This is, of course, impossible. Representativeness provides a simple explanation. The description of Linda sounds like the description of a feminist – it is representative of a feminist – leading subjects to pick B. Put differently, while Bayes law says that p (statement B | description) = p (description | statement B) p (statement B) , p (description)

people apply the law incorrectly, putting too much weight on p(description | statement B), which captures representativeness, and too little weight on the base rate, p(statement B).
Overconfidence may in part stem from two other biases, self-attribution bias and hindsight bias. Self-attribution bias refers to people’s tendency to ascribe any success they have in some activity to their own talents, while blaming failure on bad luck, rather than on their ineptitude. Doing this repeatedly will lead people to the pleasing but erroneous conclusion that they are very talented. For example, investors might become overconfident after several quarters of investing success [Gervais and Odean (2001)]. Hindsight bias is the tendency of people to believe, after an event has occurred, that they predicted it before it happened. If people think they predicted the past better than they actually did, they may also believe that they can predict the future better than they actually can.

Ch. 18:

A Survey of Behavioral Finance


Representativeness also leads to another bias, sample size neglect. When judging the likelihood that a data set was generated by a particular model, people often fail to take the size of the sample into account: after all, a small sample can be just as representative as a large one. Six tosses of a coin resulting in three heads and three tails are as representative of a fair coin as 500 heads and 500 tails are in a total of 1000 tosses. Representativeness implies that people will find the two sets of tosses equally informative about the fairness of the coin, even though the second set is much more so. Sample size neglect means that in cases where people do not initially know the data-generating process, they will tend to infer it too quickly on the basis of too few data points. For instance, they will come to believe that a financial analyst with four good stock picks is talented because four successes are not representative of a bad or mediocre analyst. It also generates a “hot hand” phenomenon, whereby sports fans become convinced that a basketball player who has made three shots in a row is on a hot streak and will score again, even though there is no evidence of a hot hand in the data [Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky (1985)]. This belief that even small samples will reflect the properties of the parent population is sometimes known as the “law of small numbers” [Rabin (2002)]. In situations where people do know the data-generating process in advance, the law of small numbers leads to a gambler’s fallacy effect. If a fair coin generates five heads in a row, people will say that “tails are due”. Since they believe that even a short sample should be representative of the fair coin, there have to be more tails to balance out the large number of heads. Conservatism. While representativeness leads to an underweighting of base rates, there are situations where base rates are over-emphasized relative to sample evidence. In an experiment run by Edwards (1968), there are two urns, one containing 3 blue balls and 7 red ones, and the other containing 7 blue balls and 3 red ones. A random draw of 12 balls, with replacement, from one of the urns yields 8 reds and 4 blues. What is the probability the draw was made from the first urn? While the correct answer is 0.97, most people estimate a number around 0.7, apparently overweighting the base rate of 0.5. At first sight, the evidence of conservatism appears at odds with representativeness. However, there may be a natural way in which they fit together. It appears that if a data sample is representative of an underlying model, then people overweight the data. However, if the data is not representative of any salient model, people react too little to the data and rely too much on their priors. In Edwards’ experiment, the draw of 8 red and 4 blue balls is not particularly representative of either urn, possibly leading to an overreliance on prior information 11 .

Mullainathan (2001) presents a formal model that neatly reconciles the evidence on underweighting sample information with the evidence on overweighting sample information.



N. Barberis and R. Thaler

Belief perseverance. There is much evidence that once people have formed an opinion, they cling to it too tightly and for too long [Lord, Ross and Lepper (1979)]. At least two effects appear to be at work. First, people are reluctant to search for evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Second, even if they find such evidence, they treat it with excessive skepticism. Some studies have found an even stronger effect, known as confirmation bias, whereby people misinterpret evidence that goes against their hypothesis as actually being in their favor. In the context of academic finance, belief perseverance predicts that if people start out believing in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, they may continue to believe in it long after compelling evidence to the contrary has emerged. Anchoring. Kahneman and Tversky (1974) argue that when forming estimates, people often start with some initial, possibly arbitrary value, and then adjust away from it. Experimental evidence shows that the adjustment is often insufficient. Put differently, people “anchor” too much on the initial value. In one experiment, subjects were asked to estimate the percentage of United Nations’ countries that are African. More specifically, before giving a percentage, they were asked whether their guess was higher or lower than a randomly generated number between 0 and 100. Their subsequent estimates were significantly affected by the initial random number. Those who were asked to compare their estimate to 10, subsequently estimated 25%, while those who compared to 60, estimated 45%. Availability biases. When judging the probability of an event – the likelihood of getting mugged in Chicago, say – people often search their memories for relevant information. While this is a perfectly sensible procedure, it can produce biased estimates because not all memories are equally retrievable or “available”, in the language of Kahneman and Tversky (1974). More recent events and more salient events – the mugging of a close friend, say – will weigh more heavily and distort the estimate. Economists are sometimes wary of this body of experimental evidence because they believe (i) that people, through repetition, will learn their way out of biases; (ii) that experts in a field, such as traders in an investment bank, will make fewer errors; and (iii) that with more powerful incentives, the effects will disappear. While all these factors can attenuate biases to some extent, there is little evidence that they wipe them out altogether. The effect of learning is often muted by errors of application: when the bias is explained, people often understand it, but then immediately proceed to violate it again in specific applications. Expertise, too, is often a hindrance rather than a help: experts, armed with their sophisticated models, have been found to exhibit more overconfidence than laymen, particularly when they receive only limited feedback about their predictions. Finally, in a review of dozens of studies on the topic, Camerer and Hogarth (1999, p. 7) conclude that while incentives can

Ch. 18:

A Survey of Behavioral Finance


sometimes reduce the biases people display, “no replicated study has made rationality violations disappear purely by raising incentives”. 3.2. Preferences 3.2.1. Prospect theory An essential ingredient of any model trying to understand asset prices or trading behavior is an assumption about investor preferences, or about how investors evaluate risky gambles. The vast majority of models assume that investors evaluate gambles according to the expected utility framework, EU henceforth. The theoretical motivation for this goes back to Von Neumann and Morgenstern (1944), VNM henceforth, who show that if preferences satisfy a number of plausible axioms – completeness, transitivity, continuity, and independence – then they can be represented by the expectation of a utility function. Unfortunately, experimental work in the decades after VNM has shown that people systematically violate EU theory when choosing among risky gambles. In response to this, there has been an explosion of work on so-called non-EU theories, all of them trying to do a better job of matching the experimental evidence. Some of the better known models include weighted-utility theory [Chew and MacCrimmon (1979), Chew (1983)], implicit EU [Chew (1989), Dekel (1986)], disappointment aversion [Gul (1991)], regret theory [Bell (1982), Loomes and Sugden (1982)], rank-dependent utility theories [Quiggin (1982), Segal (1987, 1989), Yaari (1987)], and prospect theory [Kahneman and Tversky (1979), Tversky and Kahneman (1992)]. Should financial economists be interested in any of these alternatives to expected utility? It may be that EU theory is a good approximation to how people evaluate a risky gamble like the stock market, even if it does not explain attitudes to the kinds of gambles studied in experimental settings. On the other hand, the difficulty the EU approach has encountered in trying to explain basic facts about the stock market suggests that it may be worth taking a closer look at the experimental evidence. Indeed, recent work in behavioral finance has argued that some of the lessons we learn from violations of EU are central to understanding a number of financial phenomena. Of all the non-EU theories, prospect theory may be the most promising for financial applications, and we discuss it in detail. The reason we focus on this theory is, quite simply, that it is the most successful at capturing the experimental results. In a way, this is not surprising. Most of the other non-EU models are what might be called quasinormative, in that they try to capture some of the anomalous experimental evidence by slightly weakening the VNM axioms. The difficulty with such models is that in trying to achieve two goals – normative and descriptive – they end up doing an unsatisfactory job at both. In contrast, prospect theory has no aspirations as a normative theory: it simply tries to capture people’s attitudes to risky gambles as parsimoniously as possible. Indeed, Tversky and Kahneman (1986) argue convincingly that normative approaches are doomed to failure, because people routinely make choices that are


N. Barberis and R. Thaler

simply impossible to justify on normative grounds, in that they violate dominance or invariance. Kahneman and Tversky (1979), KT henceforth, lay out the original version of prospect theory, designed for gambles with at most two non-zero outcomes. They propose that when offered a gamble (x, p; y, q) , to be read as “get outcome x with probability p, outcome y with probability q”, where x 0 y or y 0 x, people assign it a value of p ( p) v(x) + p ( q) v( y), (1)

where v and p are shown in Figure 2. When choosing between different gambles, they pick the one with the highest value.

Fig. 2. Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979) proposed value function v and probability weighting function p.

This formulation has a number of important features. First, utility is defined over gains and losses rather than over final wealth positions, an idea first proposed by Markowitz (1952). This fits naturally with the way gambles are often presented and discussed in everyday life. More generally, it is consistent with the way people perceive attributes such as brightness, loudness, or temperature relative to earlier levels, rather than in absolute terms. Kahneman and Tversky (1979) also offer the following violation of EU as evidence that people focus on gains and losses. Subjects are asked 12 :

12 All the experiments in Kahneman and Tversky (1979) are conducted in terms of Israeli currency. The authors note that at the time of their research, the median monthly family income was about 3000 Israeli lira.

Ch. 18:

A Survey of Behavioral Finance


In addition to whatever you own, you have been given 1000. Now choose between A = (1000, 0.5) B = (500, 1). B was the more popular choice. The same subjects were then asked: In addition to whatever you own, you have been given 2000. Now choose between C = (−1000, 0.5) D = (−500, 1). This time, C was more popular. Note that the two problems are identical in terms of their final wealth positions and yet people choose differently. The subjects are apparently focusing only on gains and losses. Indeed, when they are not given any information about prior winnings, they choose B over A and C over D. The second important feature is the shape of the value function v, namely its concavity in the domain of gains and convexity in the domain of losses. Put simply, people are risk averse over gains, and risk-seeking over losses. Simple evidence for this comes from the fact just mentioned, namely that in the absence of any information about prior winnings 13 B A, C D.

The v function also has a kink at the origin, indicating a greater sensitivity to losses than to gains, a feature known as loss aversion. Loss aversion is introduced to capture aversion to bets of the form: E = 110, 1 ; 2 −100, 1 . 2

It may seem surprising that we need to depart from the expected utility framework in order to understand attitudes to gambles as simple as E, but it is nonetheless true. In a remarkable paper, Rabin (2000) shows that if an expected utility maximizer rejects gamble E at all wealth levels, then he will also reject 20000000, 1 ; 2 −1000, 1 , 2

an utterly implausible prediction. The intuition is simple: if a smooth, increasing, and concave utility function defined over final wealth has sufficient local curvature to reject

In this section G1 G2 should be read as “a statistically significant fraction of Kahneman and Tversky’s subjects preferred G1 to G2 .”


N. Barberis and R. Thaler

E over a wide range of wealth levels, it must be an extraordinarily concave function, making the investor extremely risk averse over large stakes gambles. The final piece of prospect theory is the nonlinear probability transformation. Small probabilities are overweighted, so that p ( p) > p. This is deduced from KT’s finding that (5000, 0.001) and (−5, 1) (−5000, 0.001), (5, 1),

together with the earlier assumption that v is concave (convex) in the domain of gains (losses). Moreover, people are more sensitive to differences in probabilities at higher probability levels. For example, the following pair of choices, (3000, 1) and (4000, 0.2; 0, 0.8) (3000, 0.25), (4000, 0.8; 0, 0.2),

which violate EU theory, imply p (1) p(0.25) < . p (0.2) p (0.8) The intuition is that the 20% jump in probability from 0.8 to 1 is more striking to people than the 20% jump from 0.2 to 0.25. In particular, people place much more weight on outcomes that are certain relative to outcomes that are merely probable, a feature sometimes known as the “certainty effect”. Along with capturing experimental evidence, prospect theory also simultaneously explains preferences for insurance and for buying lottery tickets. Although the concavity of v in the region of gains generally produces risk aversion, for lotteries which offer a small chance of a large gain, the overweighting of small probabilities in Figure 2 dominates, leading to risk-seeking. Along the same lines, while the convexity of v in the region of losses typically leads to risk-seeking, the same overweighting of small probabilities induces risk aversion over gambles which have a small chance of a large loss. Based on additional evidence, Tversky and Kahneman (1992) propose a generalization of prospect theory which can be applied to gambles with more than two

Ch. 18:

A Survey of Behavioral Finance


outcomes. Specifically, if a gamble promises outcome xi with probability pi , Tversky and Kahneman (1992) propose that people assign the gamble the value pi v (xi ) , i (2)

where v= and pi = w (Pi ) − w (Pi∗ ) , Pg w(P) = . (P g + (1 − P)g )1/ g Here, Pi (Pi∗ ) is the probability that the gamble will yield an outcome at least as good as (strictly better than) xi . Tversky and Kahneman (1992) use experimental evidence to estimate a = 0.88, l = 2.25, and g = 0.65. Note that l is the coefficient of loss aversion, a measure of the relative sensitivity to gains and losses. Over a wide range of experimental contexts l has been estimated in the neighborhood of 2. Earlier in this section, we saw how prospect theory could explain why people made different choices in situations with identical final wealth levels. This illustrates an important feature of the theory, namely that it can accommodate the effects of problem description, or of framing. Such effects are powerful. There are numerous demonstrations of a 30 to 40% shift in preferences depending on the wording of a problem. No normative theory of choice can accommodate such behavior since a first principle of rational choice is that choices should be independent of the problem description or representation. Framing refers to the way a problem is posed for the decision maker. In many actual choice contexts the decision maker also has flexibility in how to think about the problem. For example, suppose that a gambler goes to the race track and wins $200 in his first bet, but then loses $50 on his second bet. Does he code the outcome of the second bet as a loss of $50 or as a reduction in his recently won gain of $200? In other words, is the utility of the second loss v(−50) or v(150) − v(200)? The process by which people formulate such problems for themselves is called mental accounting [Thaler (2000)]. Mental accounting matters because in prospect theory, v is nonlinear. One important feature of mental accounting is narrow framing, which is the tendency to treat individual gambles separately from other portions of wealth. In other words, when offered a gamble, people often evaluate it as if it is the only gamble they face in the world, rather than merging it with pre-existing bets to see if the new bet is a worthwhile addition. xa if −l(−x)a if x 0 x

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