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Can Small Fluctuations in Investors' Subjective Preferences Induce Large Volatility in Equity Prices?

  • Rajnish Mehra
  • Raaj Sah

This paper focuses on the potential effects of small fluctuations in investors' subjective preferences (specifically, their discount factors and attitudes towards risk) on the volatility of equity prices. We briefly summarize some of the arguments and evidence regarding the fluctuations in subjective preferences. Our analysis indicates that such fluctuations may have significant implications for understanding the volatility of the prices of financial assets. We derive a closed-form expression for equilibrium equity prices, and use this expression to map the fluctuations in investors' subjective preferences to the fluctuations in equity prices. Our analysis suggests that small fluctuations in the discount factor have potentially large effects on the latter. For example, if the standard deviation of the fluctuations in the discount factor is of the order of 1/10th of one percent, then this by itself can induce a 3 to 4% standard deviation in the fluctuations in equity prices. The fluctuations in the attitude towards risk have a smaller, but nevertheless non-negligible effect. We present the intuition underlying our conclusions.

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Paper provided by Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago in its series Working Papers with number 9917.

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Date of creation: Sep 1999
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Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:9917
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  1. R. Mehra & E. Prescott, 2010. "The equity premium: a puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1401, David K. Levine.
  2. Olivier J. Blanchard, 1984. "Debt, Deficits and Finite Horizons," NBER Working Papers 1389, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith, Jr., . "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomy," GSIA Working Papers 1997-37, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  4. Black, Fischer, 1986. " Noise," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 41(3), pages 529-43, July.
  5. George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Projection Bias In Predicting Future Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1209-1248, November.
  6. Kamstra, M.J. & Kramer, L.A. & Levi, M.D., 1998. "Losing Sleep at the Market: The Daylight-Savings Anomaly," Discussion Papers dp98-04, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  7. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1978. "Asset Prices in an Exchange Economy," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(6), pages 1429-45, November.
  8. Loewenstein, George & Adler, Daniel, 1995. "A Bias in the Prediction of Tastes," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(431), pages 929-37, July.
  9. Becker, Gary S & Mulligan, Casey B, 1997. "The Endogenous Determination of Time Preference," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(3), pages 729-58, August.
  10. Saunders, Edward M, Jr, 1993. "Stock Prices and Wall Street Weather," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1337-45, December.
  11. Barsky, Robert B, et al, 1997. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 537-79, May.
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