Two Essays on the Cross-Section of Stock Returns

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2013-08

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Abstract

This dissertation consists of two essays that address issues related to the cross-section of stock returns. The first essay documents that actively managed mutual funds invest disproportionately in stocks with high historical risk-adjusted returns (alpha). This alpha-chasing behavior has a destabilizing effect on stock price. Specifically, low-alpha stocks earn higher subsequent returns than high-alpha stocks up to two months following portfolio formation—i.e. alpha is not persistent, but reverses. Consistent with liquidity-based price pressure, I find that low- (high)-alpha stocks that are heavily traded by mutual funds exhibit strong subsequent return reversals. Further analysis finds that trades from a few large funds are the primary source of this trading. However, there is no evidence to support the view that herding by fund managers explains fund managers’ preference for high-alpha stocks. The reason why managers of large mutual funds chase high-alpha stocks when alpha is not persistent remains a puzzle. The second essay shows that a better measure of mispricing confirms the primary prediction of the limits-of-arbitrage hypothesis that high levels of idiosyncratic risk prevent arbitrage activity. Rather than using returns to size, B/M and momentum portfolios, I construct a mispricing measure based on the difference between a stock’s price and its intrinsic value estimated using the residual income model of Ohlson (1995). I confirm that this measure explains future returns. I then use it and idiosyncratic return volatility to proxy for mispricing and arbitrage risk, respectively. I find that expected returns to undervalued (overvalued) stocks monotonically increase (decrease) with idiosyncratic risk. These findings support the limits-of-arbitrage hypothesis and that idiosyncratic risk is an impediment to arbitrage.

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Keywords

Mutual funds, Alphas, Quantitative stock selection, Arbitrage risk, Idiosyncratic risk, Limits to arbitrage, Valuation

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