Weekly Seminar: Was Sandmo right? Experimental evidence on attitudes to price uncertainty

Date: September 10, 2015
Time: 3:30-5 p.m.
Location: Room 75, Morrill Hall of Agriculture

Abstract: In his seminal 1971 article, Sandmo showed that when faced with an uncertain output price, a risk-averse firm manager would hedge by producing less than he would when faced with a certain output price. We take Sandmo’s prediction, among other things, to the lab. We study in turn the effects of price risk (i.e., uncertain prices whose distribution is known) and price ambiguity (i.e., uncertain prices whose distribution is not known, but whose range is known) while controlling for our subjects’ income risk preferences. Our experimental protocol closely mimics Sandmo’s theoretical model. For price risk, we use a two-stage randomization strategy aimed first at studying the effect of price uncertainty relative to price certainty, and then the effect of increases in price uncertainty conditional on there being price uncertainty. For price ambiguity, we use the same randomization strategy to study the effect of price ambiguity relative to price certainty while preventing our subjects from guessing the shape of the price distribution. For price risk, we find that, in stark contradiction to Sandmo’s theoretical result, the presence of price uncertainty causes subjects to produce more than they do under price certainty, but that increases in price uncertainty makes them decrease their production monotonically. For price ambiguity, results are mixed and depend on whether the portion of the experiment aimed at eliciting our subjects’ income risk aversion is played before or after the price uncertainty game. Lastly, we use our price risk data to study the problem structurally, in order to get at preference heterogeneity, and find that our structural results are consistent with our reduced-form results.