Attention Allocation over the Business Cycle
Marcin Kacperczyk, New York University
Laura Veldkamp, New York University
Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, New York University

The invisibility of information precludes a direct test of attention allocation theories. To surmount this obstacle, we develop a model that uses an observable variable—the state of the business cycle—to predict attention allocation. Attention allocation, in turn, predicts aggregate investment patterns. Because the theory begins and ends with observable variables, it becomes testable. We apply our theory to a large information-based industry, actively managed equity mutual funds, and study its investment choices and returns. Consistent with the theory, which predicts cyclical changes in attention allocation, we find that in recessions, funds’ portfolios (1) covary more with aggregate payoff-relevant information, (2) exhibit more cross-sectional dispersion, and (3) generate higher returns. The results suggest that some, but not all, fund managers process information in a value-maximizing way for their clients and that these skilled managers outperform others.

How managers allocate their attention to investment prospects is an important determinant of their success. The best managers focus on those potential investment opportunities about which they have the greatest comparative advantage in understanding. During the course of a business cycle, the rewards to different types of research vary with changes in the complexity of the valuation problem. Accordingly, the nature of manager attention also must vary through the business cycle, which is what the authors identify.