Algorithmic Trading : Hidden Markov Models on Foreign Exchange Data

University essay from Linköpings universitet/Matematiska institutionen; Linköpings universitet/Matematiska institutionen


In this master's thesis, hidden Markov models (HMM) are evaluated as a tool for forecasting movements in a currency cross. With an ever increasing electronic market, making way for more automated trading, or so called algorithmic trading, there is constantly a need for new trading strategies trying to find alpha, the excess return, in the market.

HMMs are based on the well-known theories of Markov chains, but where the states are assumed hidden, governing some observable output. HMMs have mainly been used for speech recognition and communication systems, but have lately also been utilized on financial time series with encouraging results. Both discrete and continuous versions of the model will be tested, as well as single- and multivariate input data.

In addition to the basic framework, two extensions are implemented in the belief that they will further improve the prediction capabilities of the HMM. The first is a Gaussian mixture model (GMM), where one for each state assign a set of single Gaussians that are weighted together to replicate the density function of the stochastic process. This opens up for modeling non-normal distributions, which is often assumed for foreign exchange data. The second is an exponentially weighted expectation maximization (EWEM) algorithm, which takes time attenuation in consideration when re-estimating the parameters of the model. This allows for keeping old trends in mind while more recent patterns at the same time are given more attention.

Empirical results shows that the HMM using continuous emission probabilities can, for some model settings, generate acceptable returns with Sharpe ratios well over one, whilst the discrete in general performs poorly. The GMM therefore seems to be an highly needed complement to the HMM for functionality. The EWEM however does not improve results as one might have expected. Our general impression is that the predictor using HMMs that we have developed and tested is too unstable to be taken in as a trading tool on foreign exchange data, with too many factors influencing the results. More research and development is called for.

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