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

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

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. Empirically, we find a strong correlation between low-frequency movements in macroeconomic volatility and low-frequency movements in the stock market. To model this phenomenon, 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 use these estimates from postwar data to calibrate a rational asset pricing model with regime switches in both the mean and standard deviation of consumption growth. Plausible parameterizations of the model are found to account for a significant portion of the run-up in asset valuation ratios observed in the late 1990s. 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.

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Article provided by Society for Financial Studies in its journal The Review of Financial Studies.

Volume (Year): 21 (2008)
Issue (Month): 4 (July)
Pages: 1653-1687

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Handle: RePEc:oup:rfinst:v:21:y:2008:i:4:p:1653-1687
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  1. Robert B. Barsky, 1986. "Why Don't the Prices of Stocks and Bonds Move Together?," NBER Working Papers 2047, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Andrew B. Abel, 1998. "Risk Premia and Term Premia in General Equilibrium," NBER Working Papers 6683, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
  5. John Heaton & Deborah Lucas, 2000. "Stock Prices and Fundamentals," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1999, Volume 14, pages 213-264 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. Martin Lettau & Sydney C. Ludvigson, 2004. "Understanding Trend and Cycle in Asset Values: Reevaluating the Wealth Effect on Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 276-299, March.
  8. Bonomo, Marco & Garcia, Rene, 1994. "Can a Well-Fitted Equilibrium Asset-Pricing Model Produce Mean Reversion?," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(1), pages 19-29, Jan.-Marc.
  9. Lettau, Martin & Ludvigson, Sydney & Wachter, Jessica, 2006. "The Declining Equity Premium: What Role Does Macroeconomic Risk Play?," CEPR Discussion Papers 5519, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. 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.
  11. Lettau, Martin & Ludvigson, Sydney C., 2005. "Expected returns and expected dividend growth," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 583-626, June.
  12. 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.
  13. Otrok, C. & Ravikumar, B. & Whiteman, C., 1998. "Habit Formation: A Resolution of the Equity Premium Puzzle?," Working Papers 98-04, University of Iowa, Department of Economics.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2002. "Limited Asset Market Participation and the Elasticity of Intertemporal Substitution," NBER Working Papers 8896, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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