The opportunity cost of mean–variance choice under estimation risk
Mean–variance portfolio choice is often criticized as sub-optimal in the more general expected utility framework. It is argued that the expected utility framework takes into consideration higher moments ignored by mean variance analysis. A body of research suggests that mean–variance choice, though arguably sub-optimal, provides very close-to-expected utility maximizing portfolios and their expected utilities, basing its evaluation on in-sample analysis where mean–variance choice is sub-optimal by definition. In order to clarify this existing research, this study provides a framework that allows comparing in-sample and out-of-sample performance of the mean variance portfolios against expected utility maximizing portfolios. Our in-sample results confirm the results of earlier studies. On the other hand, our out-of-sample results show that the expected utility model performs worse. The out-of-sample inferiority of the expected utility model is more pronounced for preferences and constraints under which in-sample mean variance approximations are weakest. We argue that, in addition to its elegance and simplicity, the mean–variance model extracts more information from sample data because it uses the covariance matrix of returns. The expected utility model may reach its optimal solution without using information from the covariance matrix.
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