Article | Journal of Financial Economics | May 2012

Complicated Firms

by Lauren Cohen and Dong Lou


We exploit a novel setting in which the same piece of information affects two sets of firms: one set of firms requires straightforward processing to update prices, while the other set requires more complicated analyses to incorporate the same piece of information into prices. We document substantial return predictability from the set of easy-to-analyze firms to their more complicated peers. Specifically, a simple portfolio strategy that takes advantage of this straightforward vs. complicated information processing classification yields returns of 118 basis points per month. Consistent with processing complexity driving the return relation, we further show that the more complicated the firm, the more pronounced the return predictability. In addition, we find that sell-side analysts are subject to these same information processing constraints, as their forecast revisions of easy-to-analyze firms predict their future revisions of more complicated firms.

Keywords: Investment Portfolio; Information; Price; Forecasting and Prediction; Complexity; Mathematical Methods;


Cohen, Lauren, and Dong Lou. "Complicated Firms." Journal of Financial Economics 104, no. 2 (May 2012). (Winner of Istanbul Stock Exchange 25th Anniversary Best Paper Competition. First Prize presented by Istanbul Stock Exchange. Winner of Center for Research in Security Prices Forum. Best Paper Prize presented by University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Winner of Paul Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. Academic Grant presented by Paul Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. Winner of Crowell Memorial Prize For the best paper on quantitative investing presented by PanAgora Asset Management, Inc.)