Rational markets (not)
h/t: Erwan Mahé
For many years, economists have struggled to explain the “equity premium puzzle”—the fact that the average return on stocks is larger than what would be expected to compensate for their riskiness. In this post, which draws on our recent New York Fed staff report, we deepen the puzzle further. We show that since 1994, more than 80 percent of the equity premium on U.S. stocks has been earned over the twenty-four hours preceding scheduled Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announcements (which occur only eight times a year)—a phenomenon we call the pre-FOMC announcement “drift.”…
- Since 1994, there has been a large and statistically significant excess return on equities on days of scheduled FOMC announcements.
- This return is earned ahead of the announcement, so it is not related to the immediate realization of monetary policy actions.
Our sample period starts in 1994, when the Federal Reserve began announcing its target for the federal funds rate regularly at around 2:15 p.m
An International Perspective
Does this striking result apply only to U.S. stocks? While we do not find similar responses of major international stock indexes ahead of their respective central bank monetary policy announcements, we observe that several indexes do display a pre-FOMC announcement drift, as the chart below shows. Cumulative returns rise for the British FTSE 100, German DAX, French CAC 40, Swiss SMI, Spanish IBEX, and Canadian TSE index when each exchange is open for trading over windows of time around each FOMC announcement in our sample
In the Staff Report, we attempt to account for standard measures considered in the economic literature that proxy for different sources of risk, such as volatility and liquidity, but they also fail to explain the return. Finally, we consider alternative theories that feature political risk, investors with capacity constraints in processing information, as well as models where stock market participation varies over time. Although these theories can help qualitatively explain the existence of a price drift ahead of FOMC announcements, they are counterfactual in some dimension of the empirical evidence.
Our findings suggest that the pre-FOMC announcement drift may be key to understanding the equity premium puzzle since 1994. However, at this point, the drift remains a puzzle.