Motivation and Perspective in Analyzing Risk

Why do we need a model that measures risk and estimates expected return? A good model for risk and return provides us with the tools to measure the risk in any investment and uses that risk measure to come up with the appropriate expected return on that investment; this expected return provides us with the hurdle rate in project analysis.

What makes the measurement of risk and expected return so challenging is that it can vary depending upon whose perspective we adopt. When analyzing Disney's risk, for instance, we can measure it from the viewpoint of Disney's managers. Alternatively, we can argue that Disney's equity is owned by its stockholders, and that it is their perspective on risk that should matter. Disney's stockholders, many of whom hold the stock as one investment in a larger portfolio, might perceive the risk in Disney very differently from Disney's managers, who might have the bulk of their capital, human and financial, invested in the firm. In this chapter, we will argue that risk in an equity investment has to be perceived through the eyes of investors in the firm. Since firms like Disney often have thousands of investors, often with very different perspectives, we will go further. We will assert that risk has to be measured from the perspective of not just any investor in the stock, but of the marginal investor, defined to be the investor most likely to be trading on the stock at any given point in time. The objective in corporate finance is the maximization of firm value and stock price. If we want to stay true to this objective, we have to consider the viewpoint of those who set the stock prices, and they are the marginal investors.

Finally, the risk in a company can be viewed very differently by investors in its stock (equity investors) and by lenders to the firm (bondholders and bankers). Equity investors who benefit from upside as well as downside tend to take a much more sanguine view of risk than lenders who have limited upside but potentially high downside. We will consider how to measure equity risk in the first part of the chapter and risk from the perspective of lenders in the latter half of the chapter.

We will be presenting a number of different risk and return models in this chapter. In order to evaluate the relative strengths of these models, it is worth reviewing the characteristics of a good risk and return model.

1. It should come up with a measure of risk that applies to all assets and not be asset-specific.

2. It should clearly delineate what types of risk are rewarded and what are not, and provide a rationale for the delineation.

3. It should come up with standardized risk measures, i.e., an investor presented with a risk measure for an individual asset should be able to draw conclusions about whether the asset is above-average or below-average risk.

4. It should translate the measure of risk into a rate of return that the investor should demand as compensation for bearing the risk.

5. It should work well not only at explaining past returns, but also in predicting future expected returns.

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