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Sinking, Fast and Slow: Bifurcating Beta in Financial and Behavioral Space

Aestimatio: The IEB International Journal of Finance, vol. 11, pp. 124-201 (2015)

78 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2015 Last revised: 19 Aug 2016

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: July 11, 2015

Abstract

Modern portfolio theory accords symmetrical treatment to all deviations from expected return, positive or negative. This assumption is vulnerable on both descriptive and behavioral grounds. Many of the predictive flaws in contemporary finance stem from mathematically elegant but empirically flawed Gaussian models. In reality, returns are skewed. The presumption that returns and volatility are symmetrical also defies human behavior. Losing hurts worse than winning feels good; investors do not react equally to upside gain and downside loss. Moreover, correlation tightening during bear markets, not offset by changes in correlation during bull markets, suggest that standard diversification strategies may erode upside returns without providing adequate protection during times of stress.

This article outlines mathematical tools for calculating volatility, variance, covariance, correlation, and beta, not merely across the entire spectrum of returns, but also on either side of mean returns. It pays special attention to beta. Beta is a composite measure that reflects changes in volatility and in correlation as returns move across either side of their expected value. Beta’s separate components address the distinct managerial concerns arising from loss aversion (or upside speculation) and from changes in correlation under different market conditions. Bifurcating beta in financial space describes both phenomena and anticipates the behavioral response to volatility and correlation in falling markets — problems appropriately described as sinking, fast and slow.

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, Sinking, Fast and Slow: Bifurcating Beta in Financial and Behavioral Space (July 11, 2015). Aestimatio: The IEB International Journal of Finance, vol. 11, pp. 124-201 (2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2629541 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2629541

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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