Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Recovering Probabilities and Risk Aversion from Option Prices and Realized Returns

Jackwerth, Jens Carsten and Rubinstein, Mark (2003): Recovering Probabilities and Risk Aversion from Option Prices and Realized Returns. Published in: The Legacy of Fisher Black


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This paper summarizes a program of research we have conducted over the past four years. So far, it has produced two published articles, one forthcoming paper, one working paper currently under review at a journal, and three working papers in progress. The research concerns the recovery of market-wide risk-neutral probabilities and risk aversion from option prices. The work is built on the idea that risk-neutral probabilities (or their related state-contingent prices) are an amalgam of consensus subjective probabilities and consensus risk aversion. The most significant departure of this work is that it reverses the normal direction of previous research, which typically moves from assumptions governing subjective probabilities and risk aversion, to conclusions about risk-neutral probabilities. Our work is partially motivated by the conspicuous failure of the Black-Scholes formula to explain the prices of index options in the post-1987 crash market. First, we independently estimate risk-neutral probabilities, taking advantage of the now highly liquid index option market. We show that, if the options market is free of general arbitrage opportunities and we can at least initially ignore trading costs, there are quite robust methods for recovering these probabilities. Second, with these probabilities in hand, we use the method of implied binomial trees to recover a consistent stochastic process followed by the underlying asset price. Third, we provide an empirical test of implied trees against alternative option pricing models (including “naïve trader” approaches) by using them to forecast future option smiles. Fourth, we argue that realized historical distributions will be a reliable proxy for certain aspects of the true subjective distributions. We then use these observed aspects together with the option-implied risk-neutral probabilities to estimate market-wide risk aversion.

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