Article first published online: 14th September 2016 DOI: 10.1111/jofi.12431
The risk and return trade‐off, the cornerstone of modern asset pricing theory, is often of the wrong sign. Our explanation is that high‐beta assets are prone to speculative overpricing. When investors disagree about the stock market's prospects, high‐beta assets are more sensitive to this aggregate disagreement, experience greater divergence of opinion about their payoffs, and are overpriced due to short‐sales constraints. When aggregate disagreement is low, the Security Market Line is upward‐sloping due to risk‐sharing. When it is high, expected returns can actually decrease with beta. We confirm our theory using a measure of disagreement about stock market earnings.