Summary

Risk, as we define it in finance, is measured based upon deviations of actual returns on an investment from its' expected returns. There are two types of risk. The first, which we call equity risk, arises in investments where there are no promised cash flows, but there are expected cash flows. The second, default risk, arises on investments with promised cash flows.

On investments with equity risk, the risk is best measured by looking at the variance of actual returns around the expected returns, with greater variance indicating

8 See the Standard and Poor's online site: http://www.standardandpoors.com/ratings/criteria/index.htm

greater risk. This risk can be broken down into risk that affects one or a few investments, which we call firm specific risk, and risk that affects many investments, which we refer to as market risk. When investors diversify, they can reduce their exposure to firm specific risk. By assuming that the investors who trade at the margin are well diversified, we conclude that the risk we should be looking at with equity investments is the market risk. The different models of equity risk introduced in this chapter share this objective of measuring market risk, but they differ in the way they do it. In the capital asset pricing model, exposure to market risk is measured by a market beta, which estimates how much risk an individual investment will add to a portfolio that includes all traded assets. The arbitrage pricing model and the multi-factor model allow for multiple sources of market risk and estimate betas for an investment relative to each source. Regression or proxy models for risk look for firm characteristics, such as size, that have been correlated with high returns in the past and use these to measure market risk. In all these models, the risk measures are used to estimate the expected return on an equity investment. This expected return can be considered the cost of equity for a company.

On investments with default risk, risk is measured by the likelihood that the promised cash flows might not be delivered. Investments with higher default risk should have higher interest rates and the premium that we demand over a riskless rate is the default premium. For most US companies, default risk is measured by rating agencies in the form of a company rating; these ratings determine, in large part, the interest rates at which these firms can borrow. Even in the absence of ratings, interest rates will include a default premium that reflects the lenders' assessments of default risk. These default-risk adjusted interest rates represent the cost of borrowing or debt for a business

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