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Why Didn’t Subprime Investors Demand (Much More of) a Lemons Premium?

17 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2011  

Claire A. Hill

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: March 1, 2011


The subprime crisis would never have occurred had investors not been such enthusiastic consumers of subprime securities. The investors now say, somewhat self-servingly (but probably correctly), that they did not understand the securities - securities for which they were willing to pay very high prices. This essay seeks to explain investors’ readiness to pay premium prices for these novel and complex instruments.

The most satisfactory explanation lies in the incentives for herding among agents who made investment decisions for others. Investors (and markets) compare investment managers to other investment managers. A manager’s best strategy, therefore, may be to do what her peers do regardless of whether the manager believes her peers are a reliable source of information about the quality of the investment decision. Standard psychological forces including over-optimism and confirmation bias also help explain how this trajectory progresses and continues. Policy responses should take investor herding into account.

Keywords: herding, lemons, subprime securities, investors

JEL Classification: D81, D82, G24, K22

Suggested Citation

Hill, Claire A., Why Didn’t Subprime Investors Demand (Much More of) a Lemons Premium? (March 1, 2011). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 74, p. 47, 2011; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-31. Available at SSRN:

Claire Ariane Hill (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-6521 (Phone)

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