Updates from Chicago Booth

Are investors chronically pessimistic?
No—but that doesn’t mean they adhere to rational expectations
By Dwyer Gunn – The assumption that investors hold rational expectations of market returns is central to many asset pricing models. However, in recent years, surveys of investors have revealed that market participants’ reported expectations often deviate from the objective predictions of financial models working with large pools of data. One theory is that these deviations are the result of persistent pessimism on the part of investors: survey respondents, according to this hypothesis, are discounting the rationally expected rate of return to reflect the risk of investing in stocks.

To examine whether investors have a pessimistic bias, Oxford’s Klaus Adam, the Bank of Canada’s Dmitry Matveev, and Chicago Booth’s Stefan Nagel examined existing evidence—including surveys of individual investors, professional investors, and CFOs going back to the 1980s—to compare expected returns with realized returns.

The research suggests that, contrary to the pessimism hypothesis, investors are just as likely to be optimistic.

Investor expectations closely matched realized market returns over the full length of time the researchers examined. But at any given time, expectations tended to be procyclical: investors expected higher returns during boom times in the stock market and lower returns during market contractions, even though many asset pricing models work in precisely the opposite direction.

Thus, the apparent conformity of investor expectations to market returns on average over time actually reflected investors’ biases—alternately optimistic and pessimistic, with the two balancing each other out. more>

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