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Does High Risk Mean High Reward?

December 13th, 2017

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For the financial community, the period around earnings announcements—the official public statement of a firm’s profitability—is often a time of speculation. As investors, knowing when to buy or sell stocks is part of the job. And when earnings announcements are released, the risks are only magnified.

The question is: Why hold onto a risky investment?

For decades, researchers have been unable to understand the irregular behavior of investors holding during earnings announcements. Dr. Pavel Savor, associate professor of finance at the Fox School of Business, proposes a groundbreaking explanation of this phenomenon in his paper, “Earnings Announcements and Systematic Risk.”

Depending on the news—good or bad—regarding a firm’s performance, earnings announcements can create a risky investing environment. Savor found that the expectation of a firm’s earnings can entice investors to hold stocks while expecting higher returns.

“People are naturally risk-averse,” says Savor. “If you are holding on to a risky asset, you need to be compensated for it.”

Pavel Savor, Associate Professor of Finance

For example, if you were given the opportunity to hold a one percent stake in Google at the time of an earnings announcement, what should you do? “You would say, that’s not enough [stock], because it’s a very risky time.” If investors are holding a stock around earnings, they are going to demand higher returns. This risk-based explanation, Savor argues, causes the stock prices to increase during these periods.

And this doesn’t just impact the period around the earnings announcements. Savor found that the anticipation of the announcements has a longer term effect than previously thought. According to the research, the performance of a firm during an announcement period can predict its future growth two and three quarters into the future. Savor found that the returns at announcing periods were significantly better predictors for performance than market returns.

Much research has been conducted on earning announcements, but this study is the first of its kind to show that returns around earning announcements can be explained by risks inherent in those announcements.

For this leading-edge research in the finance field, Dr. Savor received the Amundi-Smith-Breeden Prize given to the top three papers each year from the Journal of Finance.

Savor’s word to investors: Proceed with caution. “Be aware of the risk you are bearing,” he says. The gamble of investments may be inevitable, but with the recognition of the risk involved, firms can perform better. Earning announcements not only reveal a firm’s progress, but also give insight to how the economy is reacting to stocks.

“We [researchers] all hope our work will have tremendous impact,” says Savor. He anticipates this research will help investors be better informed when choosing their investments. “Our paper is likely to change at least how people view some return patterns. This is something no one was able to show before.”

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