Journal of Finance2014-09-28 4:43 PM

The Cross-Section of Expected Stock Returns

Two easily measured variables, size and book-to-market equity, combine to capture the cross-sectional variation in average stock returns associated with market β, size, leverage, book-to-market equity, and earnings-price ratios. Moreover, when the tests allow for variation in β that is unrelated to size, the relation between market β and average return is flat, even when β is the only explanatory variable.

The asset-pricing model of Sharpe (1964), Lintner (1965), and Black (1972) has long shaped the way academics and practitioners think about average returns and risk. The central prediction of the model is that the market portfolio of invested wealth is mean-variance efficient in the sense of Markowitz (1959). The efficiency of the market portfolio implies that (a) expected returns on securities are a positive linear function of their market βs (the slope in the regression of a security's return on the market's return), and (b) market βs suffice to describe the cross-section of expected returns.

There are several empirical contradictions of the Sharpe-Lintner-Black (SLB) model. The most prominent is the size effect of Banz (1981). He finds that market equity, ME (a stock's price times shares outstanding), adds to the explanation of the cross-section of average returns provided by market βs. Average returns on small (low ME) stocks are too high given their β estimates, and average returns on large stocks are too low.


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Journal of Finance

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