Monday, April 18, 2011

Cochrane Excited by 'Expected Return' Data

John Cochrane is one of the top finance academics in the world, and I think he's very thoughtful. He's also swallowed the risk premium story so much, he's like a Keynesian who thinks the 1970's highlight the relevance of the Keynesian model.

Here's his latest survey:
We thought returns were uncorrelated over time, so variation in price-dividend ratios was due to variation in expected cashflows. Now it seems all price-dividend variation corresponds to discount-rate variation. We thought that the cross-section of expected returns came from the CAPM. Now we have a zoo of new factors.

In the beginning, there was chaos; practitioners thought one only needed to be clever to earn high returns. Then came the CAPM. Every clever strategy to deliver high average returns ended up delivering high market betas as well. Then anomalies erupted, and there was chaos again. The “value effect” was the most prominent anomaly.

Fama and French (1993), (1996) brought order once again with size and value factors.

Explaining the value and size effect using value and size portfolios does work if you don't mind circular explanations. We have, as Fama stated in 1991, given a fishing license for factors, where every exception to the standard model is now a potential factor. It's a bit like the effects of Global Warming, except here you can say these are the one thousand things caused by variations in risk premiums.


Anonymous said...

To say that Fama and French brought order once again is such a preposterous proposition. Even in his book 'Asset Pricing', Cochrane defends the two factors, saying they are not a tautology. He can use whichever words he wants. They are a tautology and a circular explanation. I have no problem with explaining the "anomalies" with factors. But at least let's not pretend that investors natively care about the SMB and HML factors.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is Eric's gripe with Cochrane here?