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Reconciling the Return Predictability Evidence

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  • Martin Lettau
  • Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh

Abstract

Evidence of stock-return predictability by financial ratios is still controversial, as documented by inconsistent results for in-sample and out-of-sample regressions and by substantial parameter instability. This article shows that these seemingly incompatible results can be reconciled if the assumption of a fixed steady state mean of the economy is relaxed. We find strong empirical evidence in support of shifts in the steady state and propose simple methods to adjust financial ratios for such shifts. The in-sample forecasting relationship of adjusted price ratios and future returns is statistically significant and stable over time. In real time, however, changes in the steady state make the in-sample return forecastability hard to exploit out-of-sample. The uncertainty of estimating the size of steady-state shifts rather than the estimation of their dates is responsible for the difficulty of forecasting stock returns in real time. Our conclusions hold for a variety of financial ratios and are robust to changes in the econometric technique used to estimate shifts in the steady state. The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for Financial Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Lettau & Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, 2008. "Reconciling the Return Predictability Evidence," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 21(4), pages 1607-1652, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:rfinst:v:21:y:2008:i:4:p:1607-1652
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    JEL classification:

    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • C53 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Forecasting and Prediction Models; Simulation Methods

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