We investigate whether prospect theory preferences can predict a disposition effect. We consider two implementations of prospect theory: in one case, preferences are defined over annual gains and losses; in the other, they are defined over realized gains and losses. Surprisingly, the annual gain/loss model often fails to predict a disposition effect. The realized gain/loss model, however, predicts a disposition effect more reliably. Utility from realized gains and losses may therefore be a useful way of thinking about certain aspects of individual investor trading. ONE OF THE MOST ROBUST FACTS ABOUT THE TRADING of individual investors is the “disposition effect”: when an individual investor sells a stock in his portfolio, he has a greater propensity to sell a stock that has gone up in value since purchase than one that has gone down. The effect has been documented in all the available large databases of individual investor trading activity and has been linked to important pricing phenomena such as post-earnings announcement drift and stock-level momentum. Disposition effects have also been uncovered in other settings—in the real estate market, for example, and in the exercise of executive stock options. 1 While the disposition effect is a fundamental feature of trading, its underlying cause remains unclear. Why do individual investors have a greater propensity t
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