Three essays in behavioral finance

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Over the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in research related to behavioral finance. As Barberis and Thaler (2002) point out, there are two main aspect of behavioral finance: limits to arbitrage and the effects of psychology. My dissertation will focus on the second aspect, the effects of psychology on individual investor behavior. The first essay examines an important question in this behavioral finance literature: changes in aggregate risk aversion. I use changes in the level of terrorism in the United States as a shock to the aggregate mood of American investors, and examine changes in flows to mutual funds as a proxy for investor risk preferences. After examining investors vulnerable to changes in mood after attacks, and ruling out any possible effect due to changes in expect risk, and changes to expected returns, the first essay concludes that mood driven risk aversion is the likely cause of the change in behavior. In the second essay, we use the insights gained from Essay 1 regarding the change in behavior of U.S. investors following an increase in terrorist attacks. Using household level of equity market participation and individual trading data the second essay examines the array of decisions investors make. The second essay finds that households participate less in equity markets, trade less, but purchase more local stocks in response to terrorist attacks. Additionally, this change in behavior is especially apparent in households where the designated head is a male. Finally, in the third essay we turn away from terrorism, and examine the effects that local NFL team performance on equity market participation. Examining the most popular spectator sport in the U.S. the third essay shows that poor performance by local NFL teams correlates with fewer households in that state owning equity. While previous studies argue that sentiment is the driver of sports related behavior, the third essay find that gambling losses may also play a role in the drop in equity market participation following seasons with a low number of wins. Taken together, the dissertation demonstrates the importance of examining external shocks and the effect they have on the behavior of investors. From terrorism to something as seemingly benign as the NFL, the dissertation adds to the behavior finance literature by identifying new shocks that effect the investing behavior of individuals.

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