Time Variations in Equity Returns
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Investors accept that there is uncertainty, or risk, associated with equity investment returns. Consequently, equities are normally priced so that they provide a premium to the returns available on risk-free investments. Equity returns, however, are cyclical. There can be long periods when equity returns greatly exceed risk-free returns; there can be long periods when the premium disappears altogether. This thesis explores the influences and driving forces in equity markets, with a particular emphasis on the UK equity market. Both rational and irrational influences are examined and discussed. A General Literature Review examines the general progression in academic thinking in the area of equity pricing over four decades and takes a close look at the concepts of market efficiency and the challenges mounted by behavioural finance. The “equity risk premium puzzle” is also examined. Chapters 3 to 6 contain empirical studies of the variation in UK equity returns over time from four angles. The chapters look, respectively, at: macro-economic influences on the equity market; the relationship between equity returns and market volatility; the impact of variation in risk-free returns; a full decomposition of both ex-ante and ex-post equity returns. Reassuringly, the results confirm that the UK equity market is driven, in the main, by economic factors. However, the results also indicate that the full set of influences on the equity market is complex. The analyses undertaken suggest that significant swings occur in the risk premium element of expected equity returns. The results also suggest that there are periods when the UK equity market may be in disequilibrium with other financial markets. It is not the contention that many of the puzzles that have confronted equity market researchers over recent decades are now resolved by the analyses undertaken and presented in this thesis. It is to be hoped, however, that a useful platform has been built from which further investigation and analysis can be taken forward. In particular, it is suggested that comprehensive surveys of long-term expectations could lead to a better understanding of equity market mechanisms.