Idiosyncratic Risk and the Cross-Section of Expected Stock Returns

Fangjian FU, Singapore Management University


Theories such as Merton [1987. A simple model of capital market equilibrium with incomplete information. Journal of Finance 42, 483-510] predict a positive relation between idiosyncratic risk and expected return when investors do not diversify their portfolio. Ang, Hodrick, Xing, and Zhang [2006. The cross-section of volatility and expected returns. Journal of Finance 61, 259-299], however, find that monthly stock returns are negatively related to the one-month lagged idiosyncratic volatilities. I show that idiosyncratic volatilities are time-varying and thus, their findings should not be used to imply the relation between idiosyncratic risk and expected return. Using the exponential GARCH models to estimate expected idiosyncratic volatilities, I find a significantly positive relation between the estimated conditional idiosyncratic volatilities and expected returns. Further evidence suggests that Ang et al.'s findings are largely explained by the return reversal of a subset of small stocks with high idiosyncratic volatilities.