We use a sample of option prices, and the method of Bakshi, Kapadia and Madan (2003), to estimate the ex ante higher moments of the underlying individual securities’ risk-neutral returns distribution. We find that individual securities’ volatility, skewness, and kurtosis are strongly related to subsequent returns. Specifically, we find a negative relation between volatility and returns in the cross-section. We also find a significant relation between skewness and returns, with more negatively (positively) skewed returns associated with subsequent higher (lower) returns, while kurtosis is positively related to subsequent returns. We analyze the extent to which these returns relations represent compensation for risk. We find evidence that, even after controlling for differences in comoments, individual securities’ skewness matters. As an application, we examine whether idiosyncratic skewness in technology stocks might explain bubble pricing in Internet stocks. However, when we combine information in the risk-neutral distribution and a stochastic discount factor to estimate the implied physical distribution of industry returns, we find little evidence that the distribution of technology stocks was positively skewed during the bubble period – in fact, these stocks have the lowest skew, and the highest estimated Sharpe ratio, of all stocks in our sample.
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