## Cointegration or spurious regression?

\(\newcommand{\betab}{\boldsymbol{\beta}}\)Time-series data often appear nonstationary and also tend to comove. A set of nonstationary series that are cointegrated implies existence of a long-run equilibrium relation. If such an equlibrium does not exist, then the apparent comovement is spurious and no meaningful interpretation ensues.

Analyzing multiple nonstationary time series that are cointegrated provides useful insights about their long-run behavior. Consider long- and short-term interest rates such as the yield on a 30-year and a 3-month U.S. Treasury bond. According to the expectations hypothesis, long-term interest rates are determined by the average of expected future short-term rates. This implies that the yields on the two bonds cannot deviate from one another over time. Thus, if the two yields are cointegrated, any influence to the short-term rate leads to adjustments in the long-term interest rate. This has important implications in making various policy or investment decisions.

In a cointegration analysis, we begin by regressing a nonstationary variable on a set of other nonstationary variables. Suprisingly, in finite samples, regressing a nonstationary series with another arbitrary nonstationary series usually results in significant coefficients with a high \(R^2\). This gives a false impression that the series may be cointegrated, a phenomenon commonly known as spurious regression.

In this post, I use simulated data to show the asymptotic properties of an ordinary least-squares (OLS) estimator under cointegration and spurious regression. I then perform a test for cointegration using the Engle and Granger (1987) method. These exercises provide a good first step toward understanding cointegrated processes. Read more…