This paper aims to examine the empirical relationship between firm-level characteristics and the variability of the average portfolio returns of distressed firms. The cross-sectional role of momentum in the market mispricing of distressed firms is evaluated. Distress risk associated with size and book-to-market ratio is also disentangled.
All of NYSE, AMEX and NASDAQ stocks between January 1972 and December 2008 are used, and the individual and joint role of firm characteristics are studied in detail. Using a measure of distressed stocks based on Campbell, Hilscher and Szilagyi (CHS, 2008), new findings on how stock return anomalies are related to the interactions between firm characteristics and financial distress risk are provided.
The findings show that the size and value effects are not due to distress risk. Also, contrary to the existing empirical evidence, momentum does not proxy for distress risk. Furthermore, in the cross-sectional analysis, momentum subsumes the effect of size risk, and book-to-market acts as an independent state variable.
The exposition of the paper is limited in many directions. To measure the extent of financial distress, only the model of CHS (2008) is used. As the level of distress is the key input in the paper, it would be interesting to use some other measure of distress, such as Z-score and O-score in the sample.
Collectively, the pricing results in this paper help to foster a better understanding of the nature of distressed stocks, and the identification of distress risk premium. It will help scholars and investment professionals to make robust portfolio management decisions.
Overall, this paper investigates an important research direction that can potentially shed new light on our understanding of the risk–return relationship of financially distressed stocks. The individual effect of momentum on the variability of the distressed firm’s average returns is highlighted. A formal cross-sectional test of the relationship between distress risk and firm characteristics that include momentum is presented. None of them is quite known in the existing literature.
The author thanks the college of Business and Public Administration at the University of North Dakota for financial support. The author is grateful to Steven Finney, various conference participants and two anonymous referees for many insightful comments that have greatly improved the paper. All remaining errors are those of the author.
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