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The Declining Equity Premium: What Role Does Macroeconomic Risk Play?

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  • Martin Lettau
  • Sydney C. Ludvigson
  • Jessica A. Wachter

Abstract

Aggregate stock prices, relative to virtually any indicator of fundamental value, soared to unprecedented levels in the 1990s. Even today, after the market declines since 2000, they remain well above historical norms. Why? We consider one particular explanation: a fall in macroeconomic risk, or the volatility of the aggregate economy. We estimate a two-state regime switching model for the volatility and mean of consumption growth, and find evidence of a shift to substantially lower consumption volatility at the beginning of the 1990s. We then show that there is a strong and statistically robust correlation between low macroeconomic volatility and high asset prices: the estimated posterior probability of being in a low volatility state explains 30 to 60 percent of the post-war variation in the log price-dividend ratio, depending on the measure of consumption analyzed. Next, we study a rational asset pricing model with regime switches in both the mean and standard deviation of consumption growth, where the probabilities of a regime change are calibrated to match estimates from post-war data. Plausible parameterizations of the model are found to account for a significant fraction of the run-up in asset valuation ratios observed in the late 1990s.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10270.

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Date of creation: Feb 2004
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Publication status: published as Lettau, Martin, Sydney C. Ludvigson, and Jessica A. Wachter. "The Declining Equity Premium: What Role Does Macroeconomic Risk Play?" Review of Financial Studies 21(4): 1653-1687, July 2008
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10270

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  1. Barsky, Robert B, 1989. "Why Don't the Prices of Stocks and Bonds Move Together?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1132-45, December.
  2. Bonomo, m. & Garcia, r., 1991. "Can Well-Fitted Equilibrium Asset Pricing Model Produce Mean Reversion?," Cahiers de recherche 9127, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
  3. Martin Lettau & Sydney Ludvigson, 2003. "Expected Returns and Expected Dividend Growth," NBER Working Papers 9605, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Sydney Ludvigson, 1999. "Consumption And Credit: A Model Of Time-Varying Liquidity Constraints," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(3), pages 434-447, August.
  5. Martin Lettau & Sydney Ludvigson, 2003. "Understanding Trend and Cycle in Asset Values: Reevaluating the Wealth Effect on Consumption," NBER Working Papers 9848, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Campbell, John Y, 1991. "A Variance Decomposition for Stock Returns," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(405), pages 157-79, March.
  7. Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2002. "Limited Asset Market Participation and the Elasticity of Intertemporal Substitution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 825-853, August.
  8. Martin Lettau & Sydney Ludvigson & Jessica Wachter, 2005. "The declining equity premium: what role does macroeconomic risk play?," Proceedings, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  9. Eugene F. Fama & Kenneth R. French, 2001. "Disappearing Dividends: Changing Firm Characteristics Or Lower Propensity To Pay?," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 14(1), pages 67-79.
  10. Bansal, Ravi & Lundblad, Christian, 2002. "Market efficiency, asset returns, and the size of the risk premium in global equity markets," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 195-237, August.
  11. Marco Cagetti & Lars Peter Hansen & Thomas Sargent & Noah Williams, 2002. "Robustness and Pricing with Uncertain Growth," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 15(2), pages 363-404, March.
  12. Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2002. "Limited Asset Market Participation and the Elasticity of Intertemporal Substitution," NBER Working Papers 8896, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. John Heaton & Deborah Lucas, 2000. "Stock prices and fundamentals," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Apr.
  14. Attanasio, Orazio P & Weber, Guglielmo, 1993. "Consumption Growth, the Interest Rate and Aggregation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 631-49, July.
  15. Abel, Andrew B., 1999. "Risk premia and term premia in general equilibrium," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 3-33, February.
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