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Title: Risk Perceptions and Financial Decisions of Individual Investors
Authors: Lee, Boram
Supervisor(s): Veld-Merkoulova, Yulia V
Veld, Chris
Keywords: Portfolio Allocation
Individual Investors
Behavioural Finance
Household Finance
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Standard finance theory portrays investors as rational utility maximisers. Persisting market anomalies and observed investor practice, however, have led to widespread recognition that the fundamental axioms of rationality are often violated. In response to the limitations inherent in standard theory, the Behavioural Finance approach relaxes the rationality assumption and takes account of psychological influences on individuals’ decision-making processes. Adopting the behavioural approach, this thesis, which includes two empirical studies, examines why, and to what extent, investors depart from rational or optimal investment practices. The thesis examines the effect of Myopic Loss Aversion (MLA) suggested by Benartzi and Thaler (1995) as a response to the Equity Premium Puzzle highlighted by Mehra and Prescott (1985). While previous studies are almost exclusively based on experiments in a laboratory setting, this approach provides more compelling empirical evidence by investigating the effects of MLA on real individual investors’ portfolio allocations through the use of the Dutch National Bank Household Survey. For the first time, the concept of MLA is identified through the interaction of two separate effects, firstly, individuals’ myopia, reflected in portfolio evaluation and rebalancing frequencies, and secondly, loss aversion. The thesis finds that individuals who are less affected by MLA invest more in risky financial assets. Further, individuals who are less myopic increase their share of risky assets invested in their financial portfolios over time, although this is unrelated to their loss aversion. These findings support the prediction of MLA theory that short investment horizons and high loss aversion lead to a significantly lower share of risky investments. In summary, the high equity premium can be explained by the notion of MLA. If individuals evaluate their investment performance over the long-term, they perceive much smaller risks relative to stockholding returns; consequently, they will be prepared to accept smaller equity premiums. The findings suggest possible interventions by policy makers and investment advisors to encourage individuals to remain in the stock market, such as providing long-term investment instruments, or restricting evaluation frequency to the annual reporting of investment performance. In response to the stockholding puzzle (Haliassos and Bertaut, 1995), this thesis also investigates individuals’ stock market returns expectations and their varying levels of risk aversion. Previous studies find that individuals’ heterogeneous stock market expectations determine variations in their stockholdings. The thesis accounts for the effect of risk aversion on stock market expectations, as well as on stockholding decisions. Additionally, the causality issue as between individuals’ expectations and stockholding status is controlled. The thesis finds that more risk averse individuals hold lower stock market expectations, and that the stock market return expectations of more risk averse individuals affect their stock market participation decisions negatively. The portfolio allocation decisions of individuals who already hold stocks are only affected by their expectations, with risk aversion being no longer significant. The thesis argues that persistent risk aversion effects cause individuals to hold pessimistic views of stock market returns, thus contributing to the enduring stockholding puzzle. The thesis reinforces existing perceptions that individuals in the real world may not make fully rational decisions due to their judgments which are based on heuristics and affected by cognitive biases. Individual investors often fail to maximise their utility given their preferences and constraints. Consequently, this thesis draws attention to the possible role of institutions, policy makers, and financial advisory bodies in providing effective interventions and guidelines to improve individuals’ financial decisions.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: Stirling Management School
Accounting and Finance

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