Stock-Price Beta Estimation for Google, Inc. (Case Study)

A.                       Describe some of the attributes of an ideal risk indicator for stock market investors.

B.        On the Internet, go to Yahoo! Finance (or msnMoney) and download weekly price information over the past year (52 observations) for GOOG and the Nasdaq market.  Then, enter this information in a spreadsheet like Table 16.6 and use these data to estimate GOOG=s beta.  Describe any similarities or dissimilarities between your estimation results and the results depicted in Figure 16.8.

C.                       Estimates of stock-price beta are known to vary according to the time frame analyzed; length of the daily, weekly, monthly, or annual return period; choice of market index; bull or bear market environment; and other nonmarket risk factors.  Explain how such influence can undermine the usefulness of beta as a risk indicator.  Suggest practical solutions.


A.                            An ideal measure of stock market risk would be simple to derive, accurate and consistent from one year to another.  With an ideal risk measure, investors are able to control the risk exposure faced during volatile markets with well-targeted and well-timed investment buy/sell decisions.  For example, suppose an elderly investor wants to maintain an exposure to the equity markets during retirement, but wants to limit risk to regulate the possibility of devastating losses.  With an ideal risk measure, retired investors could precisely tilt portfolio allocation toward securities with low risk characteristics.  Alternatively, if an investor anticipated a surge in stock prices following a decline in interest rates, precise risk measures could help such an investor tilt an investment portfolio toward more volatile stocks.
The usefulness of stock market risk indicators diminishes to the extent that they fail to provide accurate and consistent measures of risk exposure from one year to another.  In fact, an important limitation of risk estimators derived from the CAPM is that they vary from one period to another in ways that prove highly unpredictable.  When betas vary from one year to another in ways that are essentially random and unpredictable, betas fail to provide investors with a risk assessment tool that can be used to effectively manage portfolio risk.

B.                             It will be a real eye-opener to students when they estimate stock-price beta for GOOG over a more recent time period using weekly returns and compare those results with the beta estimate derived from the monthly returns reported in Table 16.6 for the 52-week time period shown in Figure 16.8.  Stock-price beta estimates often vary markedly depending upon the time frame analyzed, and according to the daily, weekly, monthly, or annual return interval examined.  Such differences, if severe, can undermine the credibility of stock-price betas as useful risk indicators.

C.                            Empirical estimates of stock-price beta are known to vary according to the time frame analyzed; length of the daily, weekly, monthly, or annual return period; choice of market index; bull or bear market environment; and other nonmarket risk factors.  For example, estimates of beta tend to be imperfect risk measures because return volatility for the overall market is very difficult to measure.  On the nightly news, when commentators talk about the market being up or down, they often refer to moves in the DJIA.  Whereas the DJIA offers good insight concerning changes in the prices of large blue chip companies, it offers little insight concerning volatility in the returns earned by investors in smaller high-tech stocks.  From the perspective of many individual and institutional investors, the S&P 500 Index gives superior insight concerning moves in the overall market, but like the DJIA, the S&P 500 is dominated by large blue chip companies.  Although the Nasdaq and Russell 2000 indexes are popular measures of high-tech and smaller stocks, they are much less informative about changes in the overall market.  While there is a high degree of correlation in rates of return earned on the DJIA, S&P 500, Nasdaq, and Russell 2000 indexes, slight differences can have big effects on beta estimates.
From a theoretical perspective, the most appropriate benchmark would be a market index that included all capital assets, including stocks, bonds, real estate, collectibles, and so on.  Unfortunately, no such market index is available.  To greater or lesser degree, this affects the accuracy of all beta estimates and undermines confidence in beta as an accurate measure of security risk.  Another important problem faced in obtaining consistent and reliable beta estimates is the fact that beta estimates are sensitive to the length of time over which stock return data are measured.  When beta estimates differ according to daily, weekly, monthly or annual returns, the usefulness of stock-price beta as a consistent measure of risk is greatly diminished.
The presence of market index bias and return interval bias, among other problems,  makes it imperative that beta comparisons among individual companies reflect identical estimation periods, return intervals, and appropriate market benchmarks.