Correlations and Copulas

Suppose that a company has an exposure to two different market variables. In the case of each variable, it gains $10 million if there is a one-standard-deviation increase and loses $10 million if there is a one-standard-deviation decrease. If changes in the two variables have a high positive correlation, the company’s total exposure is very high; if they have a correlation of zero, the exposure is less but still quite large; if they have a high negative correlation, the exposure is quite low because a loss on one of the variables is likely to be offset by a gain on the other. This example shows that it is important for a risk manager to estimate correlations between the changes in market variables as well as their volatilities when assessing risk exposures.

This chapter explains how correlations can be monitored in a similar way to volatilities. It also covers what are known as copulas. These are tools that provide a way of defining a correlation structure between two or more variables, regardless of the shapes of their probability distributions. Copulas have a number of applications in risk management. They are a convenient way of modeling default correlation and, as we will show in this chapter, can be used to develop a relatively simple model for estimating the value at risk on a portfolio of loans. (The Basel II capital requirements, which will be discussed in the next chapter, use this model.) Copulas are also used to value credit derivatives ...

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