Phd, Harvard University, 2000; AB, Harvard College, 1996
Wharton: 2003-present. Previous appointments: Stern School of Business, New York University
Jessica Wachter is currently an associate editor at the Review of Financial Studies, the Journal of Economic Theory, and Mathematics and Financial Economics. Previously, she served on the board of directors of the American Finance Association. She has been a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research since 2008. Her research interests include asset pricing models that incorporate rare events, models of portfolio allocation, and financial econometrics.
Abstract: What is the connection between financing constraints and the equity premium? To answer this question, we build a model with inalienable human capital, in which investors decide to finance individuals who can potentially become skilled. Though investment in skill is always optimal, it does not take place in some states of the world, due to moral hazard. In other states of the world, individuals acquire skill; however outside investors and individuals inefficiently share risk. We show that this simple moral hazard problem and the resultant financing friction leads to a realistic equity premium, a low risk riskfree rate, and severe negative consequences for distribution of wealth and for welfare. When investment fails to take place, the economy enters an endogenous disaster state. We show that the possibility of these disaster states distorts risk prices, even under calibrations in which they never occur in equilibrium.
Abstract: What is the risk of the debt tax shield? Berk and DeMarzo (2017) argue that it is the same as the risk of the assets of the firm, under the assumption of a constant debt-to-value ratio. Ross et al. (2016), on the other hand, state that its the same as the risk of the debt. The assumptions imply two different formulas for the relation between the unlevered cost of capital and the equity and debt on the levered firm. In this note, I provide a counterexample to the claim that the risk of the tax shield equals the risk of the firm when the debt-to-value ratio is constant. I give a class of examples in which the risk of the tax shield is strictly between the risk of the debt and the risk of the firm, and discuss conditions under which the formula of Berk and DeMarzo (2017) will be a good approximation.
Abstract: Financial crises appear to have long-lasting effects, even after the crisis itself has past. This paper offers a simple explanation through Bayesian learning from rare events. Agents face a latent and time-varying probability of economic disaster. When a disaster occurs, learning results in greater effects on asset prices because agents update their probability of future disasters. Moreover, agents' belief that the disaster risk is high can rationally persist for years, even when it is in fact low. We generalize the model to allow for a noisy signal of the disaster probability. This generalized model explains excess stock market volatility together with negative skewness, effects that previous models in the literature struggle to explain.
Abstract: A growing literature shows that credit indicators forecast aggregate real outcomes. While the literature has proposed various explanations, the economic mechanism behind these results remains an open question. In this paper, we show that a simple, frictionless, model explains empirical findings commonly attributed to credit cycles. Our key assumption is that firms have heterogeneous exposures to underlying economy-wide shocks. This leads to endogenous dispersion in credit quality that varies over time and predicts future excess returns and real outcomes.
Abstract: Studies of human memory indicate that features of an event evoke memories of prior associated contextual states, which in turn become associated with the current event's features. This mechanism allows the remote past to influence the present, even as agents gradually update their beliefs about their environment. We apply the context framework from the memory literature to four problems in asset pricing and portfolio choice: over-persistence of beliefs, providence of financial crises, price momentum, and the impact of fear on asset allocation. These examples suggest a recasting of neoclassical rational expectations in terms of beliefs as governed by principles of human memory.
Abstract: Financial crises tend to follow rapid credit expansions. Causality, however, is far from obvious. We show how this pattern arises naturally when financial intermediaries optimally exploit economic rents that drive their franchise value. As this franchise value varies over the business cycle, so too do the incentives to engage in risky lending. The model leads to novel insights on the effects of recent unconventional monetary policies in developed economies. We argue that bank lending might have responded less than expected to these interventions because they enhanced franchise value, inadvertently encouraging banks to pursue safer investments in low-risk government securities.
Sang Byung Seo and Jessica Wachter (2019), Option Prices in a Model with Stochastic Disaster Risk, Management Science.
Abstract: Contrary to well-known asset pricing models, volatilities implied by equity index options exceed realized stock market volatility and exhibit a pattern known as the volatility skew. We explain both facts using a model that can also account for the mean and volatility of equity returns. Our model assumes a small risk of economic disaster that is calibrated based on international data on large consumption declines. We allow the disaster probability to be stochastic, which turns out to be crucial to the model's ability both to match equity volatility and to reconcile option prices with macroeconomic data on disasters.
This course provides an introduction to the theory, the methods, and the concerns of corporate finance. The concepts developed in FNCE 100 form the foundation for all elective finance courses. The main topics include: 1) the time value of money and capital budgeting techniques; 2) uncertainty and the trade-off between risk and return; 3) security market efficiency; 4) optimal capital structure, and 5) dividend policy decisions. During the Fall semester there are honors sections of FNCE 100 offered. The seats in the honors sections are awarded through an application process. Please go to: https://fnce.wharton.upenn.edu/programs/course-applications for additional information. Corporate Finance is a Core course and must be taken for a grade.
This course is intended for students with prior knowledge of finance or with strong analytical backgrounds. Together with the pre-term preparation course (FNCE604) the foundation for subsequent courses in corporate finance, corporate valuation, investments, and financial derivatives. Its purpose is to develop a framework for analyzing a firm's investment and financial decisions. This course will start where FNCE604 ends. More precisely, it will provide an introduction to capital budgeting techniques under uncertainty, asset valuation, the operation and efficiency of capital markets, the optimal capital structure and dividend policy of the firm and options. In short, it will cover all the topics of a typical semester-long finance introductory class in six weeks. This course assumes that students are familiar with the material covered in FNCE 604. As a result, it is only available to those students who successfully passed the Finance Placement Exam at the end of the pre-term. This course is not suitable for students new to finance and with limited analytical backgrounds. This course is hard. The pace is fast and it requires a major investment of time and effort outside class. Only first year students can enroll in this class after Fall 2019.
The objective of this course is to undertake a rigorous study of the theoretical foundations of modern financial economics. The course will cover the central themes of modern finance including individual investment decisions under uncertainty, stochastic dominance, mean variance theory, capital market equilibrium and asset valuation, arbitrage pricing theory, option pricing, and incomplete markets, and the potential application of these themes. Upon completion of this course, students should acquire a clear understanding of the major theoretical results concerning individuals' consumption and portfolio decisions under uncertainty and their implications for the valuation of securities.