Using unique data on employee ownership plans sponsored by U.S. public companies, we find that large negative market shocks lead to active changes in portfolio choices among inexperienced and previously inattentive investors. We use employee ownership plans to identify a set of inexperienced investors who did not actively select to participate in the market and who are confronted with a difficult financial decision. These investors appear inattentive at the beginning of the sample. However, following the 2008 Financial Crisis, they are more likely to exercise options, sell restricted stock and participate in an ESPP. We argue these changes are most likely welfare increasing, since the passive default option (nonparticipation) in the ESPP leaves money on the table. Our results suggest a new wrinkle in our understanding of how investors’ personal return experiences interact with risk preferences. Negative shocks mitigate investor inattention on the extensive margin. Thus, at least along certain dimensions, these shocks can induce investors to make decisions that are closer to the optimum.
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