Can generally available information about consensus earnings expectations be used to generate risk-adjusted excess returns? If the market is truly efficient, such information should be discounted instantaneously and offer no profit opportunity. If the market is inefficient, however, and discounts new information only gradually, then it should be possible to demonstrate a relation between current consensus forecasts and subsequent stock price behavior.
Using a data base that contained earnings estimates for over 2,400 stocks made by more than 70 brokerage firms, the authors examined month-to-month percentage changes in consensus estimates to determine whether large positive revisions in earnings expectations can predict changes in stock prices. Their findings indicate that this information can be used to achieve returns significantly above the market’s return. Furthermore, the returns remain superior after risk adjustment and after transaction costs.
For each of the 24 quarters from March 1975 through December 1980, the authors initiated a portfolio consisting of the 20 stocks with the largest one-month increase in their mean, or consensus, earnings estimate. Not only did these test portfolios achieve a 12-month alpha of 14.2 per cent versus the S&P 500, but 66 per cent of the stocks selected outperformed the S&P 500 on an absolute basis, assuming a six-month holding period. The performance of the selected portfolios also proved superior when compared with the returns on portfolios of similar risk chosen randomly from the same universe.