Do Institutional Incentives Distort Asset Prices?

62 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2016 Last revised: 25 Nov 2016

Date Written: November 24, 2016


The incentive contracts of delegated investment managers may have unintended negative consequences for asset prices. I show that managers who are compensated for relative performance optimally shift their portfolio weights towards those of the benchmark when volatility rises, putting downward price pressure on overweight stocks and upward pressure on underweight stocks. In quarters when volatility rises most (top quintile), a portfolio of aggregate-underweight minus aggregate-overweight stocks returns 3% to 8% per quarter depending on the risk adjustment. Prices rebound in the following quarter by similar amounts, suggesting that the changes are temporary distortions. Consistent with the growing influence of asset management in the US equity market, the distortions are stronger in the second half of the sample, while placebo tests on institutions without direct benchmarking incentives show no effect. My findings cannot be explained by fund flows and thus constitute a new channel for the price effects of institutional demand. The effects come into play precisely when market-wide uncertainty is rising and distortions are less tolerable, with implications for the real economy. Additionally, the paper offers novel evidence on a prominent class of models for which empirical investigations have been relatively scarce.

Keywords: Intermediary Asset Pricing, Benchmarking, Agency, Delegated Asset Management

JEL Classification: G11, G12, G14, G23

Suggested Citation

Lines, Anton, Do Institutional Incentives Distort Asset Prices? (November 24, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Anton Lines (Contact Author)

Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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