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Exploit Follower Stocks?

December 4, 2023 • Posted in Technical Trading

Is there an exploitable way to find which stocks lead and which stocks lag in returns? In their October 2023 paper entitled “Detecting Lead-Lag Relationships in Stock Returns and Portfolio Strategies”, Álvaro Cartea, Mihai Cucuringu and Qi Jin test three ways to measure and exploit linear and non-linear lead-lag relationships in individual stock returns via three steps:

  1. Use daily returns for stocks over the last 60 trading days to compute all pairwise lead-lag relationships using one of two cross-correlation methods (linear relationships) or a third method based on the Levy-area of pairwise asset returns (linear and non-linear relationships).
  2. Rank all stocks from strongest leaders to weakest followers for each of the three sets of pairwise relationships.
  3. Each day for each set of ranks, if the sign of the average prior-day return of the strongest 20% of leader stocks is positive (negative):
    • Buy (sell) an equal-weighted portfolio of the weakest 20% of follower stocks.
    • Sell (buy) an offsetting position in SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) to approximate market neutrality.

Their universe each trading day is the top 25% of market capitalizations cross NYSE, NASDAQ and AMEX, excluding stocks with missing returns during the last 60 trading days. To test leader-follower relationship persistence, they consider also measurement frequencies of every two days, weekly, every two weeks, every three weeks and monthly. Using daily prices, market capitalizations, trading volumes and sectors of listed U.S. stocks during July 1963 through December 2022, they find that:

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