Staff Reports

The Persistent Effects of a False News Shock

May 2009Number 374
Revised June 2011
JEL classification: G10, G14

Authors: Carlos Carvalho, Nicholas Klagge, and Emanuel Moench

In September 2008, a six-year-old article about the 2002 bankruptcy of United Airlines' parent company resurfaced on the Internet and was mistakenly believed to be reporting a new bankruptcy filing by the company. This episode caused the company’s stock price to drop by as much as 76percent in just a few minutes, before NASDAQ halted trading. After the “news” had been identified as false, the stock price rebounded, but still ended the day 11.2percent below the previous close. We explore this natural experiment by using a simple asset-pricing model to study the aftermath of this false news shock. We find that, after three trading sessions, the company’s stock was still trading below the two-standard-deviation band implied by the model and that it returned to within one standard deviation only during the sixth trading session. On the seventh day after the episode, the stock was trading at the level predicted by the asset-pricing model. We investigate several potential explanations for this finding, but fail to find empirical evidence supporting any of them. We also document that the false news shock had a persistent negative effect on the stock prices of other major airline companies. This is consistent with the view that contagion effects would have dominated competitive effects had the bankruptcy actually taken place.

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