What Explains the Distress Risk Puzzle: Death or Glory?
Jennifer S. Conrad
University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School
Tulane University - A.B. Freeman School of Business
March 15, 2012
Campbell, Hilscher, and Szilagyi (2008) show that firms with a high probability of default have significantly low average future returns. We show that there is a large overlap between stocks classified as high default risk, and those that are likely to produce extremely high returns over the next year (‘glory’ stocks). Predicted glory and predicted distress are highly correlated, with over 50% of firms in the top distress risk quintile also in the top quintile of predicted glory. Stocks with high predicted probabilities for glory also earn abnormally low average returns. We find evidence that low returns to high glory firms are also present in firms with zero leverage, where financial distress is unlikely, and that the low returns to high distress risk firms are large and significant in ‘speculative’ firms (with high sales growth and market-to-book ratios) that have high predicted glory; subsequent returns are small and statistically insignificant in ‘traditionally distressed’ firms. Thus, we show that, on average, firms which have a high potential for death (default) also tend to have a high potential for glory; where the two factors can be separated, the results suggest that it is glory, rather than distress, which is responsible for the low expected returns in securities.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 49
Keywords: distress risk, bankruptcy, skewness, stock returns
JEL Classification: G11, G12, G32, G33
Date posted: March 18, 2012