Trading behavior of Swedish retirement investors during the COVID-19 pandemic

J. Hagen, A. Malisa, T. Post

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


How did investors in the Swedish Premium Pension System (PPS) react to the stock market shock ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The authors use fund-level data from the Swedish Pensions Agency on investment choices in the PPS. For each fund, the authors use monthly information on the number of investors and holdings' market value up to November 2020. The authors also use information on the total number of portfolio changes per day. For analyzing whether PPS investors reacted to the pandemic with claiming their pension, the authors use monthly data on the number of investors of a certain age group who initiate their public pension payment.

Trades more than doubled, and shifted capital from equity funds to low risk interest funds. In economic terms, however, trading stayed at low levels–less than two percent of investors traded in March 2020 and there was no effect on pension withdrawals. The increased trading during the market tumult was disproportionately concentrated among investors in the top of the pension capital distribution.

Research limitations/implications
With fund-level data, the authors cannot investigate what in particular made retirement investors stay calm in the midst of a severe market decline. Either, those investors have a long-term investment horizon as they save for their pension or particular features of the system's choice architecture induce inertia and discourage from trading. The sub-group analyses are more consistent with the explanation that PPS-induced inertia is responsible for the relatively small increase in trading activity, but future research could exploit individual level data to explore this in more detail.

Practical implications
The often-criticized PPS choice architecture provided positive side effects in times of a severe market shock by shielding retail investors from committing trading mistakes when trying to outsmart the market.

The study complements previous evidence on the effects of COVID-19 on investor activity. The small response of PPS investors to COVID-19 is in line with earlier US findings on 401(k) accounts during the 2007 financial crisis (Tang et al., 2012) and industry reports about the COVID-19 period (see, e.g. Mitchell, 2020). The authors find no effects at all on public pension withdrawals in Sweden, while evidence from US 401(k) plans indicates a small share of workers taking COVID-related early withdrawals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of Behavioral Finance
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Mar 2022


  • Financial crisis
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Retirement investors
  • Trading behavior
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • D14
  • D81
  • G01
  • G11
  • G28


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