Hundreds of papers and factors attempt to explain the cross-section of expected returns. Given this extensive data mining, it does not make sense to use the usual criteria for establishing significance. Which hurdle should be used for current research? Our paper introduces a new multiple testing framework and provides historical cutoffs from the first empirical tests in 1967 to today. A new factor needs to clear a much higher hurdle, with a t-statistic greater than 3.0. We argue that most claimed research findings in financial economics are likely false.
We present an economic model of systemic risk in which undercapitalization of the financial sector as a whole is assumed to harm the real economy, leading to a systemic risk externality. Each financial institution's contribution to systemic risk can be measured as its systemic expected shortfall (SES), that is, its propensity to be undercapitalized when the system as a whole is undercapitalized. SES increases in the institution's leverage and its marginal expected shortfall (MES), that is, its losses in the tail of the system's loss distribution. We demonstrate empirically the ability of components of SES to predict emerging systemic risk during the financial crisis of 2007-2009.
A five-factor model that adds profitability (RMW) and investment (CMA) factors to the three-factor model of Fama and French (1993) suggests a shared story for several average-return anomalies. Specifically, positive exposures to RMW and CMA (stock returns that behave like those of profitable firms that invest conservatively) capture the high average returns associated with low market beta, share repurchases, and low stock return volatility. Conversely, negative RMW and CMA slopes (like those of relatively unprofitable firms that invest aggressively) help explain the low average stock returns associated with high beta, large share issues, and highly volatile returns.
We introduce SRISK to measure the systemic risk contribution of a financial firm. SRISK measures the capital shortfall of a firm conditional on a severe market decline, and is a function of its size, leverage and risk. We use the measure to study top financial institutions in the recent financial crisis. SRISK delivers useful rankings of systemic institutions at various stages of the crisis and identifies Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers as top contributors as early as 2005-Q1. Moreover, aggregate SRISK provides early warning signals of distress in indicators of real activity.
Using a news-based index of policy uncertainty, we document a strong negative relationship between firm-level capital investment and the aggregate level of uncertainty associated with future policy and regulatory outcomes. More importantly, we find evidence that the relation between policy uncertainty and capital investment is not uniform in the cross-section, being significantly stronger for firms with a higher degree of investment irreversibility and for firms that are more dependent on government spending. Our results lend empirical support to the notion that policy uncertainty can depress corporate investment by inducing precautionary delays due to investment irreversibility.
Growing concerns about low awareness and take-up rates for government support programs like college financial aid have spurred calls to simplify the application process and enhance visibility. We present results from a randomized field experiment in which low-income individuals receiving tax preparation help were also offered immediate assistance and a streamlined process to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for themselves or their children. Treated participants were also provided with aid estimates that were compared against tuition cost amounts for nearby colleges. The combined assistance and information treatment substantially increased FAFSA submissions and ultimately the likelihood of college attendance, persistence, and aid receipt. In particular, high school seniors whose parents received the treatment were 8 percentage points more likely to have completed two years of college, going from 28% to 36%, during the first three years following the experiment. Families who received aid information but no assistance with the FAFSA did not experience improved outcomes. The findings suggest many other opportunities for using personal assistance to increase participation in programs that require filling out forms to become eligible. JEL Codes: I2, H4, J24.
We develop a new index of economic policy uncertainty (EPU) based on newspaper coverage frequency. Several types of evidence-including human readings of 12,000 newspaper articles-indicate that our index proxies for movements in policy-related economic uncertainty. Our U.S. index spikes near tight presidential elections, Gulf Wars I and II, the 9/11 attacks, the failure of Lehman Brothers, the 2011 debt ceiling dispute, and other major battles over fiscal policy. Using firm-level data, we find that policy uncertainty is associated with greater stock price volatility and reduced investment and employment in policy-sensitive sectors like defense, health care, finance, and infrastructure construction. At the macro level, innovations in policy uncertainty foreshadow declines in investment, output, and employment in the United States and, in a panel vector autoregressive setting, for 12 major economies. Extending our U.S. index back to 1900, EPU rose dramatically in the 1930s (from late 1931) and has drifted upward since the 1960s.
We investigate whether short-termism distorts the investment decisions of stock market-listed firms. To do so, we compare the investment behavior of observably similar public and private firms, using a new data source on private U.S. firms and assuming for identification that closely held private firms are subject to fewer short-termist pressures. Our results show that compared with private firms, public firms invest substantially less and are less responsive to changes in investment opportunities, especially in industries in which stock prices are most sensitive to earnings news. These findings are consistent with the notion that short-termist pressures distort investment decisions.
Market size matters for innovation and hence for productivity. Improved access to foreign markets will thus encourage firms to simultaneously export and invest in raising productivity. We examine this insight using the responses of Canadian plants to the elimination of U. S. tariffs. Unique "plant-specific" tariff cuts serve as an instrument for changes in exporting. We find that Canadian plants that were induced by the tariff cuts to start exporting or to export more (a) increased their labor productivity, (b) engaged in more product innovation, and (c) had higher adoption rates for advanced manufacturing technologies. Further, these responses were heterogeneous.
Financial constraints are fundamental to empirical research in finance and economics. We propose two tests to evaluate how well measures of financial constraints actually capture constraints. We find that firms typically classified as constrained do not actually behave as if they were constrained: they have no trouble raising debt when their demand for debt increases exogenously and use the proceeds of equity issues to increase payouts to shareholders. Our evidence suggests that extant findings that have been attributed to constraints may instead reflect differences in the growth and financing policies of firms at different stages of their life cycles. (JEL G12, G31, G32, G33, E44, E52, L26)