Accounting information, disclosure, and expected utility: Do investors really abhor uncertainty?

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Journal of Business Finance and Accounting


Investors are said to “abhor uncertainty,” but if there were no uncertainty they could earn only the risk-free rate. A fundamental result in the analytical accounting literature shows that investors buying into a CARA-normal CAPM market pay lower asset prices, gain higher ex-ante expected returns, and obtain higher expected utility, when the market payoff has higher variance. New investors obtain similar “welfare” gains from risk under a log/power utility CAPM. These results do not imply that investors “abhor information.” To realize investors' ex-ante expectations, the subjective probability distributions representing market expectations must be accurate. Greater payoff risk can add to investors' expected utility, but higher ex-post(realized) utility comes from better information and more accurate ex-ante expectations. An important implication for accounting is that greater disclosure can have the simultaneous effects of (i) exposing more fully or perceptibly firms' payoff uncertainty, thereby increasing new investors' expected utility, and (ii) improving market estimates of firms' payoff parameters (means, variances, covariances), thereby giving investors a better chance of realizing their expectations. Paradoxically, better information can be valuable to new investors by exposing more fully and more accurately the risk in firms' business operations and results–new investors maximizing expected utility want both more risk and better information.

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