Realization Utility: an inbuilt bias to transact

We study the possibility that, aside from standard sources of utility, investors also derive utility from realizing gains and losses on assets that they own.

We propose a tractable model of this “realization utility,” derive its predictions, and show that it can shed light on a number of puzzling facts. These include the poor trading performance of individual investors, the disposition effect, the greater turnover in rising markets, the effect of historical highs on the propensity to sell, the negative premium to volatility in the cross-section, and the heavy trading of highly valued assets.

Underlying some of these applications is one of our model’s more novel predictions: that, even if the form of realization utility is linear or concave, investors can be risk-seeking.