Is There a Distress Risk Anomaly? Pricing of Systematic Default Risk in the Cross Section of Equity Returns
Virginia Tech Pamplin Business School
University of Georgia - C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry College of Business
January 1, 2010
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5319
The standard measures of distress risk ignore the fact that firm defaults are correlated and that some defaults are more likely to occur in bad times. The paper uses risk premium computed from corporate credit spreads tomeasure a firm's exposure to systematic variation in default risk. Unlike previously used measures that proxy for a firm's physical probability of default, credit spreads proxy for a risk-adjusted default probability and thereby explicitly account for the non-diversifiable component of distress risk. In contrast to prior findings in the literature, the authors find that stocks that have higher credit risk premia, that is stocks with higher systematic default risk exposures, have higher expected equity returns. Consistent with structural models of default, they show that the premium to a high-minus-low systematic default risk hedge portfolio is largely explained by the market factor. The authors confirm the robustness of these results by using an alternative systematic default risk factor for firms that do not have bonds outstanding. The results show no evidence of firms with high systematic default risk exposure delivering anomalously low returns.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 50
Keywords: Debt Markets, Mutual Funds, Emerging Markets, Bankruptcy and Resolution of Financial Distress, Deposit Insurance
Date posted: June 4, 2010
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