Retail Bond Investors and Credit Ratings


Using comprehensive data on U.S. corporate bond trades since 2002, we find evidence that retail bond investors appear to over-rely on untimely credit ratings, neglect firm fundamentals, and misunderstand the trade-off between bond risk and yields. Specifically, retail investors appear to select bonds by first screening on a credit rating level and then sorting by yield, buying the highest-yielding bonds within each rating level. Because yields lead credit ratings, selecting on yield-within-rating means that retail investors systematically trade in the opposite direction of accounting fundamentals, buy in advance of credit downgrades and defaults, and generate negative average future returns. Overall, our findings suggest that retail bond investors systematically mislearn from prices, which is hard to reconcile with standard notions of rationality. Our study provides new evidence of ill-informed trading in a market that is thought to be relatively sophisticated, and contributes to our understanding of the roles and consequences of credit ratings in debt markets.

Working Paper
Edward M. Watts
Edward M. Watts
Assistant Professor of Accounting

Edward Watts is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at the Yale School of Management.