The Year-End Trading Activities of Institutional Investors: Evidence from Daily Trades

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  • [12:05 1/4/2014 RFS-hht057.tex] Page: 1593 15931614

    The Year-End Trading Activities ofInstitutional Investors: Evidence from DailyTrades

    Gang HuBabson College

    R. David McLeanUniversity of Alberta and MIT

    Jeffrey PontiffBoston College

    Qinghai WangGeorgia Institute of Technology

    At year-end, some allege that institutional investors try to mislead investors by placingtrades that inflate performance (portfolio pumping) or distort reported holdings (windowdressing). We contribute direct tests using daily institutional trades and find that year-endprice inflation derives from a lack of institutional selling rather than institutional buying. Infact, institutional buying declines at year-end. Consistent with pumping, institutions tendto buy stocks in which they already have large positions. We find no evidence of windowdressing, as institutions are not more likely to buy high-past return stocks or sell low-pastreturn stocks at year- or quarter-end. (JEL G20, G23, G28, G29)

    Previous studies suggest that institutional investors engage in two differenttypes of quarter-end, and especially year-end, trades that may misleadinvestors. One such trade is commonly referred to as portfolio pumpingor tape painting. Portfolio pumping refers to quarter-end and year-end pricemanipulation on the part of fund managers via the excessive buying of securitiesthat they already own. The idea is that excessive buying on the last day of

    We thank an anonymous referee, Rodger Edelen, Richard Evans, Ron Kaniel, David Musto,Andy Puckett, SimonPrimrose, Richard Roll, Clemens Siam, Laura Starks, Ashley Wang, Scott Weisbenner, and participants at theAmerican Finance Association, European Finance Association, and Financial Intermediation Research SocietyMeetings for helpful comments. We thank EPFR Global and Trimtabs for daily fund data. Any remainingerrors belong to the authors. Hu acknowledges support from a Babson Faculty Research Fund Award. McLeanacknowledges support from the Southam/Edmonton Journal Fellowship Award. Supplementary data can befound on the Review of Financial Studies web site. Send correspondence to Jeffrey Pontiff, Carroll School ofManagement, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA; telephone: (617)552-3985. E-mail: pontiff@bc.edu.

    The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for Financial Studies.All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.doi:10.1093/rfs/hht057 Advance Access publication September 27, 2013

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    The Review of Financial Studies / v 27 n 5 2014

    the quarter or year inflates the funds closing net asset value, which in turnexaggerates the funds performance.1

    The second type of trade is called window dressing. Window dressinginvolves buying (selling) securities that have performed well (poorly) towardthe end of the quarter or year, to make investors believe that these were the firmsholdings throughout the quarter or year. Window dressing therefore underminesthe mandated SEC disclosure of portfolio holdings. In their investmentstextbook, Bodie, Kane, and Marcus (2010) note that, if window dressingis quantitatively significant, even reported quarterly composition data can bemisleading.2

    Despite the fact that both portfolio pumping and window dressing consistof managers making misleading trades, the previous literature has not focusedon trade data. Rather, it presents indirect evidence from holdings data, mutualfund return data, and stock return data. To our knowledge, the only study thatuses trade data is Sias and Starks (1997), who use data from 1990 to studywindow dressing. Carhart et al. (2002) (CKMR hereafter) recognize the valueof trade data when they state, We would like more direct evidence, like audittrails, showing the actual trades these mutual funds managers ordered.

    We begin our analyses by studying portfolio pumping. Although previousresearch has inferred that institutions cause year-end price inflation, no studyhas shown a direct link using institutional trades. We find that both abnormallyhigh institutional buying and abnormally low institutional selling are associatedwith price inflation. We further show that the portion of buy trades increasessharply on quarter-end, and especially year-end, days. Further analyses revealthat institutional buying declines at year-end, whereas institutional selling hasan even larger decline at year-end, thereby creating the high portion of buys.

    Our findings support the idea that institutional trading is the source of market-wide, year-end price inflation. CKMR (2002) report that the prices of ninedifferent Lipper equity mutual fund indexes are inflated at year-end. EachLipper index tracks the returns of thirty different mutual funds, so the nineindexes reflect the prices of a large number of stocks. If mutual funds arecausing such widespread price inflation, then it must be that a large number offunds are pumping the prices of a large number of stocks. Our findings suggestthat this is the case, as a larger decline in selling relative to buying is observedat year-end among the institutions in our sample.

    In contrast to the previous literature, which hypothesizes that year-end priceinflation is caused by a surge in institutional buying, we show that buys declineand sells decline even more. Hence, a good deal of the year-end price inflation

    1 Evidence of portfolio pumping is provided in Carhart et al. (2002), who show that both fund net asset values(NAVs) and the share prices of stocks that are widely held by funds are inflated on quarter-end, and especiallyon year-end, days. In a more recent study, Ben-David et al. (2013) find similar inflation in stocks that are widelyheld by hedge funds.

    2 Another end-of-the-year agency conflict occurs when mutual fund managers alter the risk profile of the fund (forexample, Brown, Van Harlow, and Starks 1996).

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    The Year-End Trading Activities of Institutional Investors: Evidence from Daily Trades

    documented in previous studies (e.g., CKMR 2002; Ben-David et al. 2013)could be due to depressed selling, rather than excessive buying. Although thisis still consistent with pumping, the idea that year-end prices are inflated as aresult of depressed institutional selling has not been mentioned in the literaturepreviously.

    Although buying is lower at year-end, it still could be the case that year-end buys are more focused on stocks in which institutions have large existingpositions. We consider this possibility by testing whether year-end buyingis more likely to occur in stocks that have relatively large weights in theinstitutions portfolio.3 In value-weighted specifications that we think are moreclosely linked to institution-induced price pressure, we find that, conditional onbuying at year-end, institutions tend to buy stocks in which they already havelarge positions. This finding is consistent with intentional pumping. We do notfind evidence of targeted trading with year-end sales; the decline in sellingis not greater for stocks of which institutions hold large positions. However,unlike buying a stock, delaying the sale of a stock is in most cases costless. Ittherefore makes sense for managers to not sell any stock at year-end if they areconcerned about year-end net asset values.

    We conclude our study by examining window dressing. Window dressingshould be associated with an increase in the selling of poorly performingstocks during December and an increase in the buying of the best-performingstocks during December. The existing empirical evidence of window dressingis circumstantial at best. The prior window dressing evidence is that mutualfunds are more likely to sell poorly performing stocks during the last quarter ofthe year as compared with the first three quarters.4,5 Our trade data providean opportunity to take a closer look at December trades that are possiblymotivated by window dressing. Our examination is important, because it hasimplications for both regulators and investors. Window dressing implies thatquarterly holdings data, which are used by both academics and investors, arenot reliable and more frequent reporting might be necessary.

    3 The incentives for tape painting are described in CKMR (2002), Bernhardt and Davies (2005, 2009), andBhattacharyya and Nanda (2008). These studies build on papers by Spitz (1970), Smith (1978), Patel, Zeckhauser,and Hendricks (1991), Kane, Santini, and Aber (1991), and Lakonishok, Shleifer, and Vishny (1992), all ofwhom find evidence of a positive relation between investment performance and subsequent investment flows,suggesting that managers have an incentive to exaggerate their performances. More recent studies have shownthat this performance-flow relation is nonlinear, in that the best performing funds receive especially high flows,whereas poor performing funds do not receive low flows. These studies include Ippolito (1992), Gruber (1996),Chevalier and Ellison (1997), Goetzmann and Peles (1997), and Sirri and Tufano (1998).

    4 One exception is Sias and Starks (1997), who find some evidence of window dressing with trade data fromDecember 1990.

    5 Papers that study window dressing and its effect on security prices include Haugen and Lakonishok (1988),Lakonishok et al. (1991), Chevalier and Ellison (1997), Musto (1997, 1999), He, Ng, and Wang (2004), Ng andWang (2004), Meier and Schaumb

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