The misguided beliefs of financial advisors

with Brian Melzer and Alessandro Previtero
2018, Journal of Finance, forthcoming

A common view of retail finance is that conflicts of interest contribute to the high cost of advice. Within a large sample of Canadian financial advisors and their clients, however, we show that advisors typically invest personally just as they advise their clients. Advisors trade frequently, chase returns, prefer expensive, actively managed funds, and underdiversify. Advisors' net returns of -3% per year are similar to their clients' net returns. Advisors do not strategically hold expensive portfolios only to convince clients to do the same; they continue to do so after they leave the industry.

The history of the cross section of stock returns

with Michael Roberts
2017, Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming

Using data spanning the 20th century, we show that the majority of accounting-based return anomalies, including investment, are most likely an artifact of data snooping. When examined out-of-sample by moving either backward or forward in time, most anomalies' average returns and Sharpe ratios decrease, while their volatilities and correlations with other anomalies increase. The data-snooping problem is so severe that even the true asset pricing model is expected to be rejected when tested using in-sample data. The few anomalies that do persist out-of-sample correlate with the shift from investment in physical capital to intangible capital, and the increasing reliance on debt financing observed over the 20th century. Our results emphasize the importance of validating asset pricing models out-of-sample, question the extent to which investors learn of mispricing from academic research, and highlight the linkages between anomalies and economic fundamentals.

Award: Marshall E. Blume Prize, First Prize for Best Paper Published by the Rodney L White Center, 2017 (announcement)

Decomposing value

with Joseph Gerakos
2018, Review of Financial Studies 31(5), 1825-1854

Firms move between growth and value because of either changes in size or the book value of equity. We show that the value premium is specific to the variation in book-to-market ratios that emanates from changes in firm size. A factor based on this variation earns the entire value premium; one based on the remaining variation earns no premium. Hence, not all high book-to-market firms earn value premium, and some low book-to-market firms earn value-like returns. This disconnect between book-to-market and the value premium provides testable restrictions for theories of the value premium. Many models price portfolios sorted by size and book-to-market. None distinguish firms that earn the value premium from those that have a high book-to-market but do not earn the premium.

Award: Second prize in the academic competition at the Chicago Quantitative Alliance (CQA) Fall 2012 Conference.

Accruals, cash flows, and operating profitability in the cross section of stock returns

with Ray Ball, Joseph Gerakos, and Valeri Nikolaev
2016, Journal of Financial Economics 121(1), 28–45

A cash-based operating profitability measure (that excludes accruals) outperforms other measures of profitability and subsumes accruals in predicting the cross section of average returns. Firms with high accruals earn low average returns because they are less profitable on a cash basis.

Note: Fama and French (2015) compare our cash-based operating profitability factor against two alternative profitability factors, and find that the cash factor improves the description of average returns for many left hand side sorts.

Award: First prize in the academic competition at the Chicago Quantitative Alliance (CQA) Fall 2015 Conference.

Retail financial advice: Does one size fit all?

with Stephen Foerster, Brian Melzer, and Alessandro Previtero
2017, Journal of Finance 72(4), 1441-1482

Advisor fixed effects explain considerably more variation in portfolio risk and home bias than a broad set of investor attributes that includes risk tolerance, stage in the lifecycle and financial sophistication. An advisor's own asset allocation strongly predicts the allocations chosen on clients' behalf.

Awards: 2015 CFA Society & Hillsdale Canadian Investment Research Award (announcement), 2018 Amundi Smith Breeden Prize (list of prize winners)

Media: Featured in Wall Street Journal ("Client Portfolios May Match Advisers’ Own Asset Allocation", December 12, 2014), Globe and Mail ("Make portfolio-building a priority to justify investment adviser fees," December 5, 2014; "Putting a number on the value of financial advice: 3%," June 14, 2015), Fiscal Times ("Expensive, one-size-fits-all advice," December 10, 2014), Booth Capital Ideas ("Why financial advice isn't worth the fees," February 25, 2015), and Kellogg Insight ("What Good is a Financial Advisor?," November 2, 2016)

Reading the tea leaves: Model uncertainty, robust forecasts, and the autocorrelation of analysts' forecast errors

with Walter Torous and James Yae
2016, Journal of Financial Economics 122(1), 42–64

Analysts optimally underreact to new information if they try to provide forecasts that are robust to model misspecification. We estimate that analysts' concerns for model misspecification explain approximately 60% of the autocorrelation in analysts' forecast errors. Our model of robust forecasting applies not only to analysts' forecasts but to all model-based forecasts.

Return seasonalities

with Matti Keloharju and Peter Nyberg
2016, Journal of Finance 71(4), 1557–1590

We document return seasonalities in individual stock returns, portfolio returns, anomalies, commodities, international stock market indices, and at the daily frequency. These return seasonalities overwhelm unconditional differences in expected returns.

Note: To replicate the results on seasonalities in daily returns, you need to account for market closures due to U.S. holidays. As the lag k grows, the likelihood that the days go out of sync increases; a regression at lag k=200, for example, is very unlikely a Monday-on-Monday (or Tuesday-on-Tuesday, and so forth) regression. You should "pad" the data with missing values so that there is an observation for every stock-day even when the market is closed.

Award: AQR Insight Award Finalist 2015 [Announcement]

Deflating profitability

with Ray Ball, Joseph Gerakos, and Valeri Nikolaev
2015, Journal of Financial Economics 117(2), 225–248 (lead article)

An alternative measure of firm profits, operating profits, exhibits a far stronger link with expected returns than either net income or gross profit.

Note: The XSGA variable in Compustat adds to the SG&A reported by the company other items such as R&D expenses. This issue is discussed on p. 254 of Volume 5 of Compustat Manuals. You can recover the reported SG&A by subtracting XRD from XSGA.

Media: Featured in Forbes ("The Profitability Factor Redux: Super-Duel in Space," June 2, 2014)

Market reactions to tangible and intangible information revisited

with Joseph Gerakos
2016, Critical Finance Review 5, 135–163

A decomposition of book-to-market ratio into stock and book returns creates a book return polluted by past book-to-market ratios, stock returns, net issuances, and dividends. Our results cast doubt on the argument that book-to-market forecasts returns because it is a good proxy for the intangible return.

Reverse survivorship bias

2013, Journal of Finance 68(3), 789–813 (lead article)

The distribution of estimated alphas is biased downwards if funds tend to disappear following poor performance. This paper estimates a structural model to correct for this "reverse survivorship bias."

Media: Mutual fund research featured in Time magazine ("The Triumph of Index Funds," September 18, 2014) and "The Big Question: Are successful active managers lucky or skilled?" (Capital Ideas, August 2014).

Do investors buy what they know? Product market choices and investment decisions

with Matti Keloharju and Samuli Knüpfer
2012, Review of Financial Studies 25(10), 2921–2958 (lead article)

Individuals’ product market choices influence their investment decisions.

Lack of anonymity and the inference from order flow

with Gideon Saar
2012, Review of Financial Studies 25(5), 1414–1456

We demonstrate that broker identity is a powerful signal about the identity of investors who initiate trades, and that the broker ID signal is important enough to affect prices.

IQ, trading behavior, and performance

with Mark Grinblatt and Matti Keloharju
2012, Journal of Financial Economics 104(2), 339–362 

Reprinted in Household Finance, M. Haliassos (ed.), The International Library of Critical Writings in Economics series, Edward Elgar Publishing (2015)

High-IQ investors are less subject to the disposition effect and more aggressive about tax-loss trading, and they exhibit superior market timing, stock-picking skill, and trade execution.

Award: Runner-up for Goldman Sachs International - Best Conference Paper Award at the 2010 European Finance Association Conference.

IQ and stock market participation

with Mark Grinblatt and Matti Keloharju
2011, Journal of Finance 66(6), 2121–2164

Reprinted in Household Finance, M. Haliassos (ed.), The International Library of Critical Writings in Economics series, Edward Elgar Publishing (2015)

Stock market participation is monotonically related to IQ, controlling for wealth, income, age, and other demographic and occupational information.

Media: Featured in Bloomberg Businessweek ("Smart Money Owns More Equities Says IQ Study of Who Buys Stocks," January 19, 2012) and New York Times ("What High-I.Q. Investors Do Differently," February 26, 2012)

Why do (some) households trade so much?

2011, Review of Financial Studies 24(5), 1630–1666

When agents can learn about their abilities as active investors, they rationally "trade to learn" even if they expect to lose from active investing. This learning-about-type mechanism may explain why some households begin experimenting with day trading, lose money, and then quit. 

Jensen's inequality, parameter uncertainty, and multi-period investment

with Mark Grinblatt
2011, Review of Asset Pricing Studies 1(1), 1–34 (lead article)

The proper application of Jensen’s inequality to the multi-period investment decision turns finance intuition on its head: multi-period investments with negative risk premia can be profitable, risk-averse investors can have infinite demand for risky securities, settings exist in which risk-averse investors should not diversify, and demand for mutual funds with negative alphas may be rational.

Do limit orders alter inferences about investor performance and behavior?

2010, Journal of Finance 65(4), 1473–1506

Use of limit orders drives a wedge between investors' intentions and realized trades. Limit orders are contrarian; they are more likely to execute when there are news or asymmetric information; and they lose money when new information arrives to the market. When we try to infer investors' information sets or intentions from their realized trades, our inferences are biased. I call this bias the "limit order effect."

Media: Featured in the Chicago Booth Capital Ideas (October 2007) and the Economist Intelligence Unit.