Empirical risk aversion functions-estimates and assessment of their reliability
In this paper, we examine investor's risk preferences implied by option prices. In order to derive these preferences, we specify the functional form of a pricing kernel and then shift its parameters until realized returns are best explained by the subjective probability density function, which consists of the ratio of the risk-neutral probability density function and the pricing kernel. We examine, alternatively, pricing kernels of power, exponential, and higher order polynomial forms. Using S&P 500 index options, we find surprising evidence of risk neutrality, instead of risk aversion, in both the power and exponential cases. When extending the underlying assumption on the specification of the pricing kernel to one of higher order polynomial functions, we obtain functions exhibiting 'monotonically decreasing' relative risk aversion (DRRA) and anomalous 'inverted U-shaped' relative risk aversion. We find, however, that only the DRRA function is robust to variation in sample characteristics, and is statistically significant. Finally, we also find that most of our empirical results are consistent, even when taking into account market imperfections such as illiquidity.
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