Noisy covariance matrices and portfolio optimization II

Szilárd Pafka, Imre Kondor

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63 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies inspired by results from random matrix theory (Galluccio et al.: Physica A 259 (1998) 449; Laloux et al.: Phys. Rev. Lett. 83 (1999) 1467; Risk 12 (3) (1999) 69; Plerou et al.: Phys. Rev. Lett. 83 (1999) 1471) found that covariance matrices determined from empirical financial time series appear to contain such a high amount of noise that their structure can essentially be regarded as random. This seems, however, to be in contradiction with the fundamental role played by covariance matrices in finance, which constitute the pillars of modern investment theory and have also gained industry-wide applications in risk management. Our paper is an attempt to resolve this embarrassing paradox. The key observation is that the effect of noise strongly depends on the ratio r=n/T, where n is the size of the portfolio and T the length of the available time series. On the basis of numerical experiments and analytic results for some toy portfolio models we show that for relatively large values of r (e.g. 0.6) noise does, indeed, have the pronounced effect suggested by Galluccio et al. (1998), Laloux et al. (1999) and Plerou et al. (1999) and illustrated later by Laloux et al. (Int. J. Theor. Appl. Finance 3 (2000) 391), Plerou et al. (Phys. Rev. E, e-print cond-mat/0108023) and Rosenow et al. (Europhys. Lett., e-print cond-mat/0111537) in a portfolio optimization context, while for smaller r (around 0.2 or below), the error due to noise drops to acceptable levels. Since the length of available time series is for obvious reasons limited in any practical application, any bound imposed on the noise-induced error translates into a bound on the size of the portfolio. In a related set of experiments we find that the effect of noise depends also on whether the problem arises in asset allocation or in a risk measurement context: if covariance matrices are used simply for measuring the risk of portfolios with a fixed composition rather than as inputs to optimization, the effect of noise on the measured risk may become very small.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-494
Number of pages8
JournalPhysica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2003



  • Noisy covariance matrices
  • Portfolio optimization
  • Random matrix theory
  • Risk management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics

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