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Optimal Reference Points and Anticipation

  • Todd Sarver

This paper considers a model of reference-dependent utility in which the individual makes a conscious choice of her reference point for future consumption. The model incorporates the combination of loss aversion and anticipatory utility as competing forces in the determination of the optimal reference point: anticipating better outcomes boosts current utility but also raises the reference level for future consumption, making the individual more susceptible to losses. A central focus of the paper is on the implications of this model of Optimal Anticipation for attitudes toward risk in dynamic environments. The main representation is formulated in an infinite-horizon framework, and axiomatic foundations are provided. I also describe special cases and show in particular that recursive expected utility in the sense of Epstein and Zin (1989) and Kreps and Porteus (1978) can be reinterpreted in terms of optimal anticipation and loss aversion. Finally, I describe a homogeneous version of the model and apply it to a portfolio choice problem. I show that asset pricing for the Optimal Anticipation model is based on simple modifications of standard Euler equations. While maintaining tractability, this model is rich enough to permit first-order risk aversion and can overcome several deficits of standard expected utility, such as the equity premium puzzle and Rabin's paradox. JEL Classification: D03, D81, G12

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Paper provided by Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science in its series Discussion Papers with number 1566.

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Date of creation: 18 Jun 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nwu:cmsems:1566
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  1. Epstein, Larry G. & Zin, Stanley E., 2001. "The independence axiom and asset returns," Journal of Empirical Finance, Elsevier, vol. 8(5), pages 537-572, December.
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  14. Kreps, David M. & Porteus, Evan L., 1979. "Temporal von neumann-morgenstern and induced preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 81-109, February.
  15. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
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  19. Shlomo Benartzi & Richard H. Thaler, 1995. "Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 73-92.
  20. Epstein, Larry G. & Zin, Stanley E., 1990. "'First-order' risk aversion and the equity premium puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 387-407, December.
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  25. Barillas, Francisco & Hansen, Lars Peter & Sargent, Thomas J., 2009. "Doubts or variability?," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(6), pages 2388-2418, November.
  26. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2002. "The 6D Bias and the Equity-Premium Puzzle," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2001, Volume 16, pages 257-330 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  27. Epstein, Larry G & Zin, Stanley E, 1991. "Substitution, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Consumption and Asset Returns: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(2), pages 263-86, April.
  28. Larry G. Epstein, 2008. "Living with Risk," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1121-1141.
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