Market reaction to bad news: The case of bankruptcy filings
Finance scholars disagree on how real world financial markets work. On the one hand, efficient market hypothesis (EMH) advocates claim that arbitrage ensures that market prices do not systematically deviate from their fundamental value even when some market participants are less than fully rational. Hence, in the EMH world, securities’ prices always reflect all available information. On the other hand, behavioural finance theorists argue that investors suffer important cognitive biases and that arbitrage is both risky and costly. In this alternative setting, prices may not reflect all available information and can systematically deviate from their fundamental value for long periods of time. My thesis contributes to this ongoing debate by exploring how the US equity market reacts to bankruptcy announcements. Using a set of 351 non-financial, non-utility firms filing for Chapter 11 between 1979 and 2005 that remain listed on a main exchange, I first find a strong, negative and statistically significant mean post-bankruptcy announcement drift. This ranges from -24 to -44 percent over the following 12 months depending on the benchmark adopted to measure abnormal returns. A number of robustness tests confirm that this result is not a mere statistical artefact. In fact, the post-bankruptcy drift is not subsumed by known confounding factors like the post-earnings announcement drift, the post-first-time going concern drift, the momentum effect, the book-to-market effect, industry clustering or the level of financial distress. In addition, I show that my main result is robust to different methods for conducting longer-term event studies. My empirical findings are consistent with the previous behavioural finance literature that claims that the market is unable to deal appropriately with acute bad news events. In the second part of this thesis, I investigate how limits to arbitrage impact the stock price of firms undergoing a Chapter 11 reorganization. I find that, despite the apparent large negative abnormal returns, the post-bankruptcy announcement drift offers only an illusory profit opportunity. Moreover, I show that noise trader risk is critical for the pricing of these firms’ stock. Taken together, my results suggest that limits to arbitrage issues can explain the persistence of the market-pricing anomaly I uncover. As such, the market for firms in Chapter 11 appears to be “minimally rational” (Rubinstein, 2001). My work additionally explores whether behavioural finance theory can help clarify why the post-bankruptcy announcement drift occurs in the first place. I find that the Barberis, Shleifer and Vishny (1998) and the Hong and Stein (1999) models do not account well for the typical return pattern associated with the announcement of Chapter 11. My results call into question the reliability of existing theoretical models based on behavioural concepts in explaining how real world financial markets really work. In the last part of this thesis, I show that the different motivations for filing for Chapter 11 Court protection affect the market’s reaction to this extreme event. Solvent firms addressing the Bankruptcy Court not as a last resort but as a planned business strategy characterize a strategic bankruptcy; companies on the verge of imminent failure typify a non-strategic bankruptcy. I find that for non-strategic bankruptcies, there is a negative and statistically significant post-event drift lasting at least twelve months. Conversely, I show that, although the initial market reaction to bankruptcy filing is similar in the case of strategic bankruptcies in terms of viewing all bankruptcies as homogeneous, there is a subsequent reversal in the stock return pattern for these peculiar firms. In effect, abnormal returns become strongly positive and significant suggesting that, over time, the market to recognise strategic bankruptcies as good news events. Overall, the results of my PhD allow me to make some important contributions to finance theory and the finance literature, in particular in the bad news disclosure and market pricing domains.