Using Stocks or Portfolios in Tests of Factor Models

Andrew Ang, Jun Liu, and Krista B. Schwarz

We examine the efficiency of using individual stocks or portfolios as base assets to test asset pricing models using cross-sectional data. The literature has argued that creating portfolios reduces idiosyncratic volatility and allows more precise estimates of factor loadings, and consequently risk premia. We show analytically and empirically that smaller standard errors of portfolio beta estimates do not lead to smaller standard errors of cross-sectional coefficient estimates. Factor risk premia standard errors are determined by the cross-sectional distributions of factor loadings and residual risk. Portfolios destroy information by shrinking the dispersion of betas, leading to larger standard errors.