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Pairs Trade: Definition, How Strategy Works, and Example

what is pairs trading

Most pairs trades will require a correlation of 0.80, which can be challenging to identify. Second, while historical trends can be accurate, past prices are not always indicative of future trends. Requiring only a correlation of 0.80 can also decrease the likelihood of the expected outcome. If the securities return to their historical correlation, a profit is made from the convergence of the prices. There are many more advanced technical strategies that you can incorporate within your pairs trading strategy to get the best results.

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The successful execution of each of the steps is a critical element in the process of becoming a profitable pairs trader. As is the case with any trading methodology, the complexity and success of the final 3 steps, the actual trading, are integrally dependent on the care and skill that go into the first 3. Pairs trading strategy demands good position sizing, market timing, and decision making skill. Although the strategy does not have much downside risk, there is a scarcity of opportunities, and, for profiting, the trader must be one of the first to capitalize on the opportunity. Let’s say that you decide to open a long position for gold and short an equivalent amount of silver in a pairs trade. Your returns would vary depending on how the two precious metals perform relative to each other, demonstrated in the following examples.

Examples of correlated pairs

Geert Rouwenhorst, the authors attempted to prove that pairs trading is profitable. Using a large set of data from 1967 to 1997, the trio found that over any six-month trading period, the pairs trade averaged a +12% return. To distinguish profitable results from plain luck, their test included conservative estimates of transaction costs and randomly selected pairs.


You should consider whether you understand how this product works, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money. The beauty of pairs trading is that it can be utilised by both fundamental investors and technical analysts. The beauty of pairs trading is that it can be utilized by both fundamental investors and technical analysts. The broad market is full of ups and downs that force out weak players and confound even the smartest prognosticators. Fortunately, using market-neutral strategies like the pairs trade, investors and traders can find profits in all market conditions.

A pairs trading strategy is one of the most popular strategies when it comes to finding trading opportunities between the two stocks that are co-integrated. Short selling and margin trading entail greater risk, including, but not limited to, risk of unlimited losses and incurrence of margin interest debt, and are not suitable for all investors. Please assess your financial circumstances and risk tolerance before short selling or trading on margin.

It seeks to maintain neutrality by keeping the exposure on each trade identical. Pairs trading has the potential to achieve profits through simple and relatively low-risk positions. The pairs trade is market-neutral, meaning the direction of the overall market does not affect its win or loss. The generation of profits in pairs trading involves relying on margins that are too less. The transactions are made in large quantities which shows the risk of filling the stock orders at the desired price when positions are open in a pair trading is high. Even a small difference in the purchase price or sale price of the security can prove significant as the volume of transactions is high.

This strategy could be applied to financial markets including shares, indices and commodities. The strategy has reduced directional risk, since a trader that goes long or short faces the possibility that the market will move in an opposite direction to that of the trade. But in pairs trading the second position is a hedge against the first, cutting back on the risk.

The long/short relationship of two correlated securities acts as a ballast for a portfolio caught in the choppy waters of the overall market. Good luck with your hunt for profit in pairs trading, and here’s to your success in the markets. Option traders use calls and puts to hedge risks and exploit volatility (or the lack thereof). A call is a commitment by the writer to sell shares of a stock at a given price sometime in the future. A put is a commitment by the writer to buy shares at a given price sometime in the future. As the two underlying positions revert to their mean again, the options become worthless allowing the trader to pocket the proceeds from one or both of the positions.

  1. Having such a distribution ~ N(0, 1) is very useful for creating threshold levels.
  2. “Quants” is Wall Street’s name for market researchers who use quantitative analysis to develop profitable trading strategies.
  3. Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage.

For most traders, such programs are more of a convenience than a necessity because the slippage that occurs during execution is minimal relative to the profit objective of the overall trade. To illustrate the potential profit of the pairs trade strategy, consider Stock A and Stock B, which have a high correlation of 0.95. The two stocks deviate from their historical trending correlation in the short-term, with a correlation of 0.50. Over time, the relative valuation of physical assets tend to change, including precious metals, agricultural commodities and financial assets such as stocks and bonds.

what is pairs trading

For instance, in pairs trading, we have a distribution of spread between the prices of stocks A and B. We can convert these raw scores of spread into z-scores as explained below. If both fell by 10%, the profit on the short silver position would be offset by the loss on the long gold position. If gold and silver move the same amount on a percentage basis, the returns on the two sides of the trade should offset each other.

If the price of Pepsi rose to close that gap in price, the trader would make money on the Pepsi stock, while if the price of Coca-Cola fell, they would make money on having shorted the Coca-Cola stock. The strategy monitors performance of two historically correlated securities. One is that the pairs trade relies on a high statistical correlation between two securities.

You should consider whether you understand how spread bets, CFDs, OTC options or any of our other products work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money. The risks of loss from investing in CFDs can be substantial and the value of your investments may fluctuate. 70% of retail client accounts lose money when trading CFDs, with this investment provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage.

Pairs trading can be a highly effective advanced trading strategy that can be applied to a variety of financial markets. However, relying on mean reversion in pairs trading can provide risks, as markets are constantly changing. A trader’s prediction that their pairs trading correlation will revert back to its original after buying and selling the positon may not always prove correct. Therefore, you need to ensure that you have a solid risk management​ plan for when pair trading strategies do not result in the profit that you had hoped for.

There are many different types of technical and fundamental overlays that can be employed, from candlestick charting to relative strength. Consider that both metals fall and gold drops by 8%, while silver falls by 10%. The gain on the short silver position would be partly offset by the loss on the long gold position, leaving you with a 2% net gain.

Your profits on a pairs trade are based on relative returns, meaning that one position is doing better than the other. Both sides can go up, both can go down or the results can be split, but it is how the two parts of the pair fare relative to each other that matters, instead of what happens within the wider market. Pairs trading is a popular strategy, but like all strategies it is not without risks and it is not successful all the time. No investor or trader knows how a trade will turn out, and must always guard against the possibility of losses. By following the risk management rule mentioned above, investors and traders can help limit the downside of any unsuccessful pairs trade.

For instance, in this case, if the equation above is stationary, that suggests that the mean and variance of this equation remain constant over time. Gordon Scott has been an active investor and technical analyst or 20+ years. For more info on how we might use your data, see our privacy notice and access policy and privacy webpage. IG International Limited vantage fx broker is licensed to conduct investment business and digital asset business by the Bermuda Monetary Authority. Stay on top of upcoming market-moving events with our customisable economic calendar. What often works is your experience and a broad range of potent skill sets that allow you to grasp a hold of the complete scenario before jumping to conclusions.

Pairs trading is a popular strategy, but like all strategies, it is not without risks and it is not successful all the time. While it sounds like an ideal strategy to avoid the risks of uni-directional trading, pairs trading is not a magic formula. Correlations can change over time, so as ever it is important to manage risk correctly, risking only 2% of your capital on each trade.

In such a situation, the trader could choose 1 of 2 options to prudently manage the trade moving forward. The trade could be immediately closed with a view that the additional return does not warrant the risk or the opportunity cost. The other option is to initiate a trailing stop loss level to lock in at least a portion of the profit. The trader will develop a feel for which of these options more suits their particular style, and may make different decisions for different pairs at different times. Pepsi (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) are different companies that create a similar product, soda pop. Historically, the two companies have shared similar dips and highs, depending on the soda pop market.

The revenue from the short sale can help cover the cost of the long position, making the pairs trade inexpensive to put on. Position size of the pair should be matched by dollar value rather than by the number of shares; this way a 5% move in one equals a 5% move in the other. As with all investments, there is a risk that the trades could move into the red, so it is important to determine optimized stop-loss points before implementing the pairs trade. Pairs trading is a strategy that tends to use statistics to identify relationships, assist in determining the direction of the relationship, and then ascertain how to execute a trade based on the data. The pairs trader attempts to capitalize on market imbalances between 2 or more financial instruments, such as stocks or funds, in anticipation of making money when the inequality is corrected. Pairs trading was first introduced in the mid-1980s by a group of technical analyst researchers that were employed by Morgan Stanley, the multinational investment bank and financial services company.

Copper, however, is slightly more sensitive to the building infrastructure of emerging economies, such as China and India, while crude oil pricing tends to be more sensitive to US demand. We look at pairs trading – what it is, how investors can implement it as a strategy, and both the positives and negatives of using it. In an important research paper written by Yale Business School economists Even G. Gatev, William Goetzmann, and K.

The risk of the trade is therefore controlled to a degree, but is not eliminated entirely. For example, when long and short two companies in the same sector, if both prices fall, then the money made on the short position offsets the loss in the long position. A pairs trade in the futures market might involve an arbitrage between the futures contract and the cash position of a given index.