Representative agent earnings momentum models: the impact of sequences of earnings surprises on stock market returns under the influence of the Law of Small Numbers and the Gambler's Fallacy
thesisposted on 2015-09-22, 15:07 authored by Aloysius Igboekwu
This thesis examines the response of a representative agent investor to sequences (streaks) of quarterly earnings surprises over a period of twelve quarters using the United States S&P500 constituent companies sample frame in the years 1991 to 2006. This examination follows the predictive performance of the representative agent model of Rabin (2002b) [Inference by believers in the law of small numbers. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 117(3).p.775 816] and Barberis, Shleifer, and Vishny (1998) [A model of investor sentiment. Journal of Financial Economics. 49. p.307 343] for an investor who might be under the influence of the law of small numbers, or another closely related cognitive bias known as the gambler s fallacy. Chapters 4 and 5 present two related empirical studies on this broad theme. In chapter 4, for successive sequences of annualised quarterly earnings changes over a twelve-quarter horizon of quarterly earnings increases or falls, I ask whether the models can capture the likelihood of reversion. Secondly, I ask, what is the representative investor s response to observed sequences of quarterly earnings changes for my S&P500 constituent sample companies? I find a far greater frequency of extreme persistent quarterly earnings rises (of nine quarters and more) than falls and hence a more muted reaction to their occurrence from the market. Extreme cases of persistent quarterly earnings falls are far less common than extreme rises and are more salient in their impact on stock prices. I find evidence suggesting that information discreteness; that is the frequency with which small information about stock value filters into the market is one of the factors that foment earnings momentum in stocks. However, information discreteness does not subsume the impact of sequences of annualised quarterly earnings changes, or earnings streakiness as a strong candidate that drives earnings momentum in stock returns in my S&P500 constituent stock sample. Therefore, earnings streakiness and informational discreteness appear to have separate and additive effects in driving momentum in stock price. In chapter 5, the case for the informativeness of the streaks of earnings surprises is further strengthened. This is done by examining the explanatory power of streaks of earnings surprises in a shorter horizon of three days around the period when the effect of the nature of earnings news is most intense in the stock market. Even in shorter windows, investors in S&P500 companies seem to be influenced by the lengthening of negative and positive streaks of earnings surprises over the twelve quarters of quarterly earnings announcement I study here. This further supports my thesis that investors underreact to sequences of changes in their expectations about stock returns. This impact is further strengthened by high information uncertainties in streaks of positive earnings surprise. However, earnings streakiness is one discrete and separable element in the resolution of uncertainty around equity value for S&P 500 constituent companies. Most of the proxies for earnings surprise show this behaviour especially when market capitalisation, age and cash flow act as proxies of information uncertainty. The influence of the gambler s fallacy on the representative investor in the presence of information uncertainty becomes more pronounced when I examine increasing lengths of streaks of earnings surprises. The presence of post earnings announcement drift in my large capitalised S&P500 constituents sample firms confirms earnings momentum to be a pervasive phenomenon which cuts across different tiers of the stock markets including highly liquid stocks, followed by many analysts, which most large funds would hold.
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