Study of Behavioural Finance: A Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated: 06 Jul 2020
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Behavioural Finance is a relatively new and popular subject in the area of finance which is being widely used in the stock markets world over. Behavioural finance is the study of the psychology of the investors in connection with their financial decisions. It is usual that the investors fall prey to the mistakes committed by their own decisions or due to the advise of others by using their emotions in the investment decisions.

The study of behavioural finance tries to explain the action of the people in forgetting the fundamental principles of financial decision making and making investments on the basis of emotions. 2. 0 Fundamentals of Market Efficiency: An efficient stock market is one in which stock prices fully reflect available information. According to Andrei Shleifer (2000) there are three determinants of market efficiency. They are (1) Rationality, (2) independent deviations from rationality, (3) arbitrage. 2. 1 Rationality:

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Under the conditions of rationality, it is assumed that when new information is released in the market place, all investors will adjust their estimates of stock prices in a rational way, without heeding to their emotions. This is one of the foremost assumption and condition basic to classify the stock market as efficient. (Ross Wasterfield Jaffe) 2. 2 Independent Deviations from Rationality: Due to emotional resistance it may so happen that some investors could just as easily react to the new information in a pessimistic manner.

If the investors are primarily of this type the stock market prices are likely to rise less than the expectations of an efficient market conditions. On the other hand if a proportion of the investors was irrationally optimistic and reacts positively to the new market information then there is the likelihood of an increase in the stock market prices. Since the stock market will consists of investors of both kinds always the stock market would remain efficient. Thus this condition also leads to an efficient stock market. (Ross Wasterfield Jaffe) 2. 3 Arbitrage:

The stock market consists of both irrational amateurs and rational professional investors. Based on their irrational thinking some times the amateurs may carry the stocks either above or below their efficient prices. This irrational thinking comes as a result of their emotions about the valuation of the stocks. The professionals on the other hand do not react on the basis of their emotions but evaluate the market information coolly and clearly and make their investment decisions. This way the professionals have more confidence than that of the amateurs.

This enables the professional to take larger risks on certain stocks even knowing that such stocks are mispriced, while the amateurs might take risk for a smaller sum. Here ‘Arbitrage’ comes into place. Arbitrage generates profit from the simultaneous purchase and sale of different but substitute securities. If the arbitrage of professionals dominates the speculation of amateurs markets would still be efficient. This is one of the determinants of market efficiency. (Ross Wasterfield Jaffe) 3. 0 Behavioural Challenge to Market Efficiency:

According to Prof. Shleifer any of the above three conditions would will lead to market efficiency. Normally it is assumed that at lease one of the conditions would be prevalent in the real world. But many academicians argue that none of these conditions would hold good in reality. This point of view is based on what is called the ‘behavioural finance’. According to this theory there are several factors that influence the investment decisions of the individuals like tax planning as well as profit maximization.

By their trading the investors create commissions as well as taxation. This naturally brings irrationality into their investment decisions. However the behavioural theory states that ‘not all investors are irrational; rather it is that some perhaps many investors are’. On the question of deviations from rationality there are two principles of psychology namely ‘representativeness’ and ‘conservatism’ that can be applied to finance and market efficiency where people deviate from rationality.

Under the condition of representativeness people act and draw conclusions from too little data. This principle when applied to stock market, in a market dominated by representativeness there is every chance that the market may move toward a bubble. It may so happen that people see a sector of the market, for instance internet stocks having a short history of high revenue growth may attract more investors in the hope that the revenue growth would continue for ever. When the growth inevitably stalls the stock prices have naturally to come down.

Under the second principle of ‘conservatism’ people are considered too slow in adjusting their beliefs to new information. The stock prices seem to adjust slowly to the information contained in the earnings announcements due to slow reaction of the investors to adjust their belies to the new information under conditions of conservatism. (Bernard and Thomas, 1990) Under ‘arbitrage’ concept of efficient market it is suggested that the professional investors, even though they know certain securities are mispriced they could buy them by selling the correct priced or over priced substitutes.

This might result in undoing of the mispricing caused by the emotional amateurs. But the behavioural finance theory claims that trading of this sort is likely to be more risk. There is a possibility of this correction only when the amateurs act in opposite way to the way in which the professionals act. Moreover the volume handled by the amateurs should be relatively small for the professional investors’ actions to take effect. There is also a possibility that the amateurs make further mispricing of the securities.

This risk of further mispricing even when there is no new market information might demand the professionals to cut back their arbitrage position. Thus the near term risk would reduce the size of arbitrage strategies. In conclusion the arguments presented here suggested the determinants or conditions leading to efficient markets in reality do not exist. The behavioural finance theorists suggest that the investors may be irrational, irrationality may be related across investors rather than cancelling out across investors and arbitrage strategies may involve too much risk to eliminate market efficiencies.

` 4. 0 Behavioural Finance and Keynesian Approach: “A conventional valuation which is established as the outcome of the mass psychology of a large number of ignorant individuals is liable to change violently as a result of the sudden fluctuation of opinion due to factors which do not really make much difference to the prospective yield; Since there will be no strong roots of conviction to hold it steady. ” (Keynes, 1936)

Thus it may be noted that the relevance of the psychological factors to the operation of the stock market and the relative changes in the prices and their impact on the economic development is not entirely confined to the review by behavioural economic theories or financial theories. The origin of this phenomenon can be traced back to the works of Keynes with his remarks of ‘animal spirits’ and the part played by uncertainty and confidence in contributing to the growth of the economy and creation of employment opportunities.

According to Keynes the psychology of the economic agents is susceptible to disturbances and manipulation. It is viewed that psychology is one of the key elements in shaping up the economy which is in quite contrast with the view of the main stream where the emphasis is always placed on the rational behaviour of various economic agents. Hence there may arise an argument that the approaches of behavioural finance in describing the impact of the psychological factors are mostly the justification of the Keynesian ideas.

Kindleberger (1978) has provided a description of the behavioural aspects of the financial markets closely resembling the ideas of Keynes. According to Livio Stracca (2004) “the behavioral finance literature, however, contains some important innovative elements compared with the Keynesian approach, namely the stronger focus on experimental – and in general empirical – evidence and the larger use of formal models, which may lead to sharper predictions.

So, one might conclude that while behavioral finance is close in spirit to the Keynesian tradition, it makes use of a different methodology and analytical framework. ” 5. 0 Objectives of Behavioural Finance: Though subjected to severe criticism the contribution by behavioural finance to modern finance is considerable. The main objective of behavioural finance is to understand and report on the implications of the investors’ psychological reactions on the systematic market behaviour.

It is important to consider the impact of such psychological reactions on the markets from an economic perspective especially on those markets which are large and does not have nay strategic interactions. (Mas-Colell, 1999) The existing theories of behavioural finance are not matured enough to provide a coherent and unified explanation for human behaviour in the context of market transactions as is expected in the main stream economics and modern finance have provided through the expected utility theories.

However there are certain studies like the ‘cumulative prospect theory’ contributed by Starmer and Sugden (1989) and Tversky and Kahneman (1992) provide better alternative theories on the behaviour of market agents acting under risk which may be considered as superior to the expected utility theory. The economic perspective of the behaviour of the agents on the basis of maximization of the expected utility is not accepted by the behavioural finance.

The ground on which such rejection is attempted relates to the evidences available to point out that market agents do not behave according to the axioms of expected utility both under circumstances of controlled experiments as well as in real life situations. (Starmer, 2000) According to Livio Stracca (2004) the focus of the behavioural finance is to describe the human behaviour in a positive way under conditions of risk and uncertainty instead of a normative approach of such behaviour which is typical under the mainstream approach. 6.

0 Conflict between Modern Finance and Behavioural Finance: The concept of behavioural finance has always been subject to criticism. Ball (1996) and Fama (1998) have contributed much in this direction. Apart from this there had been continued conflicts between the Modern Finance (also described as ‘Financial Economics’) and the behavioural finance theories. The modern finance has always tried to overrule the behavioural finance theory by adding its own methods and models on the latter without any major changes in its own methodology.

In other word the modern finance has marginalized the behavioural finance by converting it to an ‘anomalies literature’ as conceived by Frankfurter and McGoun, (2000) The results and findings of various studies in the area of Efficient Market Hypothesis and Capital Asset Pricing Model combination have cast serious doubts on the ability of these concepts in establishing any acceptable finance theories on the stock market behaviour in the modern finance area. This has also resulted in a “potentially precipitating crisis” for the modern finance theory.

However instead of understanding and appreciating the seriousness of these problems, the theorists named them ‘anomalies’ and accepted them to denote an acceptable group of aberrations against common beliefs rather than viewing them as serious challenges to the whole beliefs themselves. The theorists like Fama (1998) also suggested that such anomalies can be made to disappear by gathering more data with more diligence and putting the data so collected to rigourous statistical tests. However there were conflicting views to this approach and this formed the basis for the behavioural finance theory. 7.

0 Role of Anomalies in Behavioural Finance: The word ‘anomaly’ has gained a substantial recognition and prominence in the literature relating to finance as a branch of economics. The word also denotes a complete set of studies that have brought out evidences which are in contrast to the theory of efficient market hypothesis and/or the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) The conceptual purpose of anomalies has two dimensions in the study by These dimensions relate to the identification of the significance of the term in the area of finance and the role of anomalies in the growth of scientific knowledge in the financial world.

The word ‘anomaly’ has been defined differently by different scholars. But the word ‘anomaly’ in financial economics focuses on the irregularity, or a deviation from the common or natural order, specifying an exceptional condition. In order to provide a meaning to these terms Thomas Kuhn (1970) states “Discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly, i. e. , with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science. It then continues with a more or less extended exploration of the area of anomaly.

And it closes only when the paradigm theory has been adjusted so that the anomalous has become the expected. ”(Kuhn, 1970) An extensive study of the anomalies would result in a scientific approach to the whole issue of the behavioural finance aspects. 7. 1 Post –Earnings Announcement Drift and Behavioural Finance: Most of the studies show that the stock returns are highly predictable after the announcement of the earnings. It so happens that the stock prices react instantly to the announcements about the earnings and will continue to change during the first three quarters in the same direction.

The prices will reverse the direction partially in the last quarter. Chan et al (1996) have illustrated that the changes after the post-earnings announcements do not have any relation to the price momentum. It has also been established that the post-earnings announcement changes is closely correlated to the behavioural model in the same way as the prices react very slowly to the market information . Bernard and Thomas (1990) present a model in which the investors do not have any knowledge about the potential for the future earnings. 8. 0 Financial Anomalies and Behavioural Finance:

A financial anomaly can be explained as a documented pattern or price behaviour which is not consistent with the “prediction of traditional efficient markets, rational expectations asset pricing theory” (Alon Brav and J B Heaton, 2002) This theory comprises of two characteristic features. The first one is that the investors have a through knowledge of the basic structure of the economy and the second one is that the investors are expected to be “rational information processors” who are capable of arriving at statistical decisions that are optimal.

According to the Freidman (1979) the investors in the benchmark theory are able to possess knowledge and are able to “access both to the correct specification of the ‘true’ economic model and to unbiased estimators of its coefficients”. However in view of the increased evidences against the traditional models, competing theories of financial anomalies have been evolved. On the evolution of these theories certain relaxations have been made to the two assumptions of ‘full knowledge of the economy’ and the ‘rational information processing capabilities’. The second assumption has the relaxation backed by the behavioural explanation.

The behavioural theory suggests that the investors due to the impact of the cognitive bias may not have the capacity to process the information rationally (Thaler, 1993). The results of the experiments conducted to study the behavioural finance theories provide the basis for many other behavioural theories that though the investors possess a sound knowledge of the basic structure of the economy the investors tend to act irrationally. Thus the irrationality found in the behavioural finance forms the basis for several theories that explain the financial anomalies.

According to Shiller (1981) there are evidences to show that the stock prices vary to a large extent in close relation to news about future dividends etc. due to the financial anomalies emanating from irrationality. Here again it can be seen that the behavioural finance theory provides the basis for the financial anomalies. 8. 1 Behavioural Finance and Asset Pricing: While the behavioural finance is considered to have identified the financial anomalies there are chances that these anomalies may affect the market prices of securities.

On a survey these anomalies have been grouped under different categories by Livio Stracca (2003) in the paper ‘Behavioural finance and asset prices: Where do we stand? ’ and the study extends further to assess how these anomalies may affect the stock market prices. The anomalies can be explained as the qualities of the behaviour of the economic agents that do not come under the purview of the expected utility model of the main stream economics. There are quite a number of anomalies identified by the behavioural finance based on the experimental evidences. Some of the anomalies are discussed hereunder: Decision Heuristics:

One of the major anomalies identified by the behavioural finance theory is the action of the representative agents in using available short cut methods and rules of thumb while considering various alternatives since he may not have the ability to solve the problems that are complex in nature in view of the costs involved in deliberating and optimizing the revenues. Emotions and Visceral Factors: These factors do have a role in the decision making process of the agents (Loewenstein, 2000) Choice Bracketing: This denotes the general tendency of the agents to narrow down the choices due to the complexities involved in the alternatives.

One of the examples is the shorter time available for decision making. Stochastic and Context-dependent Preferences: The theory has identified the presence of stochastic and context dependent preferences in the place of ‘well defined and deterministic’ preferences which are a rarity. (Loomes & Sugden, 1995) Reference Dependent Models: In the review of anomalies by the behavioural finance there is no precise and abstract definition of the preferences of the consumers in terms of consumption or other variables as has been dealt with in the standard approach; rather there are reference points identified to denote the preferences.

However, it must be noted that till date there is no precise behavioural finance model which has considered all the anomalies and made an analysis there of (Shleifer, 2000). 9. 0 Accounting Anomalies and Stock Market Efficiency: Some part of the trading in securities which are subjected to behavioural aspects of human beings relate to the trading on the basis of the balance sheet data and opinions expressed by the statutory auditors of the listed companies. Hirshleifer et al.

(2004) and Taffler, Lu and Kausar (2004) have documented the impact of trading on the basis of accounting results and audit opinions and the abnormal returns resulting there from. However Sudipta Basu (2004) opines that the study has not taken into account the high transaction costs involved especially in selling transactions which would prove that the trading strategies on the basis of accounting results might become unprofitable. Sudipta Basu (2004) further argues that though the study of Hirshleifer et al.

and Taffler et al cite the behavioural finance theories to explain the reasons for the abnormal returns, market inefficiencies may arise due to “poor market designs, poor benchmark models, regulatory interferences, test misspecification or other joint hypothesis violations” (Sudipta Basu, 2004) He is of the opinion that there are some other factors other than behavioural finance theory that will explain the abnormal returns and the reaction of the stock market while trading merely on the basis of the accounting data and the audit reports of the listed companies.

10. 0 Behavioural Finance Theory – Impact of Gender Differences: The individual investor behaviour had been studied extensively by Odean (1998) and Barber and Odean (1999). The studies have provided normative and empirical results about the various investor behaviours. The studies have proved the basic facts that the investors trade in securities to a great extent and the trading largely reduce the net gains of investors. It has also been proved that the investors are reluctant to realize that they are making losses in such trading.

The studies also show that there is more number of men dealing in securities than women. In the United States 80 percent of the investors are males while women constitute only 20 percent of the investing public. Barber and Odean (2001) show “that men trade 45 percent more than women. Trading reduces men's net returns by 2. 65 percentage points a year as opposed to 1. 72 percentage points for women. ” As a part of the behavioural finance L. Feng, M. S. Seasholes (2007) conducted a study on the participation of men and women in the securities trading in the Peoples Republic of China.

The results of the study was in stark contrast to the existing studies in which it was found that both male and female investors take part almost equally in the stock trading in China. The study also reports that men have slightly larger portfolios and take greater risks than women. But the investment behaviour of both men and women are more or less similar in the following respects: ? Both males and females suffer from an equal home bias. ? It is the tendency of the men to invest in stocks with higher betas and mostly the stocks women buy over-perform the stocks bought by men.

Similarly the prices of stocks that are being sold by men go down to a larger extent than those being sold by women. In sum the performance of both genders remain more or less same on a statistical base. ? The trading intensity among both the genders remain the same though men tend to trade more before controlling the factors like the number of share and the ability to trade on the stocks over telephone. After giving effect to these factors the trading intensity of men and women remain the same.

The study also revealed that the gender differences do play a role in the stock trading in China to the extent the facilities for remote trading through telephone and compute are available. This is understandable due to the fact most of the people trading in stocks are youngsters and the young women who have other occupations may not have the chance of trading by physically visiting the stock exchange. They need the support of the trading through telephone or computer and this affects their trading tendency.

This interpretation of trading by young investors is corroborated by Barber and Odean (2002) by their study on the young men representing the active investors. This study goes to prove the application of the behavioural finance theory on the investment behaviour of the different genders and it is proved that both men and women behave in the same way as the behavioural finance theory assumes with irrationality and deviations from rationality depending on the circumstances. It can be observed that the gender makes no difference in the application of the behavioural finance theory with respect to the stock market trading.

11. 0 Behavioural Portfolio Theory: Hersh Shefrin and Meir Statman (2000) have developed a Behavioural Portfolio Theory (BPT) based on the lines of the work by Friedman and Savage (1948). The authors have developed the theory on the foundation of the prospect theory advocated by (Kahneman and Tversky (1979) which in turn was developed on the work of Friedman and Savage (1948). The BPT also suggests an efficient frontier which is not equivalent to the mean variance coefficient frontier.

In mean-variance investors select the portfolios on the basis of the mean and variance where as the BPT investors take the anticipated wealth, their intention to ensure security and the potential aspiration levels that the investors want to reach as the base for their investment decisions. The optimal portfolio decided by the BPT investors is also different from that of the CAPM investors. The optimal portfolio of the investors under CAPM prefers a combination of a market portfolio and the risk factors associated with the securities. In the case of BPT the optimal portfolio mostly looks like a combination of bonds and lottery tickets.

12. 0 Criticisms on Behavioural Finance Theory: The important people among the theorists who raised sever criticisms against behavioural finance are Ball (1996) and Fama (1998). Ball (1996) adopted a direct approach in leveling his arguments by saying that the Efficient Market Hypothesis has to be continued to be adopted because 1. There was no alterative theories available which can better explain the stock market behaviour 2. The Efficient Market Hypothesis was considered sufficient at that point of time taking into consideration the application of the principles of the theory and

3. The Efficient Market Hypothesis had been accepted by everyone. Ball (1996) considered the contribution of DeBondt and Thaler (1985, 1987) to the behavioural finance as the only alternative to the Efficient Market Hypothesis and dismissed it by describing it as the investors’ myopia developed by DeBondt and Thaler (1985, 1987). He also found the work of these authors as ‘grossly inconsistent’ with the possible notions of the modern stock markets which are highly competitive and also that the behavioural finance is also ineffective with its anomalies.

The approach of Fama (1998) in criticizing the behavioural finance is different from that of Ball (1996) in which he made a comparison of the contributions by 20 different authors and formulated his own views and opinions to discredit the concepts of behavioural finance. Fama (1998) made a thorough screening of the papers selected and followed a systematic approach to discredit the empirical evidences in support of the behavioural finance. Based on this analysis he argues that since the evidences on the behavioural finance are only random and conflicting the behavioural finance itself presupposes the efficient market hypothesis.

Fama (1998) selected the papers for study from the domain of ‘post-event studies’. By a study of these papers he arrived at the view that behavioural finance is nothing but a synonymous representation of the anomalies encountered in the event studies. Fama (1998) thus makes the point that “in short, BF is nothing more than an aggregation of so-far inexplicable phenomena encountered in testing the EMH/CAPM. It has no independent existence; it is not a methodology in its own right; it has been assimilated. ” 13. 0 Conclusion:

Form the foregoing discussion it is observed that the behavioural finance opposes the existence of the three determinants namely rationality, deviation from rationality and arbitrage decisions which form the basis of an efficient stock market. The behavioural finance theory thus aims at studying the psychological behaviour of the investors in their investment decisions. The theory encompasses views that are contradicting the concepts promoted by the efficient market hypothesis and also the capital asset pricing model.

The theory has made an analysis of various financial anomalies in order to report the impact of such anomalies on the stock market operations and the stock prices. The behavioural finance theory can be regarded as an extension of the Keynesian views on psychology as it affects the economic development. It has been observed that there are certain accounting anomalies which also affect the behavioural pattern of the investors. It has also been observed that gender differences do not affect the concepts of the behavioural finance. There are different financial anomalies identified by the behavioural finance theory.

The theory was also subject to severe criticism on its applicability to varying market situations. References: Alon Brav and J. B. Heaton (2002) ‘Competing Theories of Financial Anomalies’ The Review of Financial Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Issue: Conference on Market Frictions and Behavioral Finance. (2002), pp. 575-606 Andrei Shleifier (2000) ‘Inefficient Markets: An Introduction to Behavioural Finance’ Oxford United Kingdom Ball, R. , 1996. The theory of stock market efficiency: accomplishments and limitations. Journal of Financial Education 22, 1–13. Bernard, V. , Thomas, J.

(1990) ‘Evidence that stock prices do not fully reflect the implications of current earnings for future earnings’ Journal of Accounting and Economics 13, 305–340. Chan, L. , Jegadeesh, N. , Lakonishok, J. , 1996. Momentum strategies. Journal of Finance 51, 1681–1713. Fama, E. , (1998) ‘Market efficiency, long-term returns, and behavioral finance’ Journal of Financial Economics 49, 283–306 Frankfurter, G. M. , McGoun, E. G. , 2000. Market efficiency and behavioral finance: the nature of the debate, The Journal of Psychology and Financial Markets 1, 200–210. Hirshleifer, D. , Hou, K. , Teoh, S. H. , Zhang, Y.

, (2004) ‘Do investors overvalue firms with bloated Balance sheets? ’ Journal of Accounting and Economics Vol. 38 p 1–3 Keynes, J. M. (1936). The general theory of employment, interest and money Available: http://cepa. newschool. edu/het/essays/keynes/gtcont. htm. Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Kindleberger, C. P. (1978). ‘Manias, panics, and crashes’ Wiley Livio Stracca (2004) ‘Behavioral finance and asset prices: Where do we stand? ’ Journal of Economic Psychology Vol. 25 p 373–405 Mas-Colell, A. (1999). The future of general equilibrium.

Spanish Economic Review, 1, 207–214. Ross A. Stephen, Westerfield A. Tandolph Jaffe Jaffrey ‘Corporate Finance’ Edition VII Tata-McGrawhill Publishing Company Ltd Shiller, R. J. (1987). Comments on Miller and Kleidon In: R. M. Hogarth, & M. W. Reder Eds. ), Rational choice: the contrast between economics and psychology ( pp. 317–321). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Oxford English dictionary (2nd ed). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Starmer, C. (2000). Developments in non-expected utility theory: The hunt for a descriptive theory of choice under risk. Journal of Economic Literature, 37, 332–382. Starmer, C.

, & Sugden, R. (1989) Violations of the independence axiom in common ratio problems: An experimental test of some competing hypotheses. Annals of Operational Research, 19, 79–102. Sudipta Bsau (2004) ‘What do we learn from two new accounting based stock market anomalies? ’ Journal of Accounting and Economics Vol. 38 p 331–348 Taffler, R. J. , Lu, J. , Kausar, A. , 2004. ‘In denial? Market under reaction to going-concern audit report disclosures’ Journal of Accounting and Economics Vol. 38 p 1–3 Tversky, A. , & Kahneman, D. (1992) Advances in prospect theory: Cumulative representation of uncertainty. Journal of Risk and Unc

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