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Covariance is a statistical measure that determines the degree to which two different securities move in relation to each other. In finance, it is primarily used in the diversification of portfolios through understanding how different securities interact. A positive covariance implies securities move together while a negative covariance indicates they move inversely.


The phonetic spelling of “Covariance” is: koh-vair-ee-uhns.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Covariance is a measure of joint variability – Covariance is a statistical measure that indicates the extent to which two random variables change in the same direction or together. It is used to gauge the linear dependence between two variables.

  2. Sign of Covariance is significant – The sign of covariance can be interpreted as the direction of the linear relationship between two variables. If the sign is positive, both variables tend to move in the same direction whereas if it is negative, they tend to move in inverse or opposite directions.

  3. Covariance is dimensional – This means that the value of covariance is influenced by the units of the variables, which makes it difficult to interpret in isolation. This limitation of covariance is addressed by correlation coefficient, which provides a measure of dependence between two variables that is scale-free.

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Covariance is significant in business and finance as it is a statistical measurement used to determine the relationship between two or more variables, specifically how much two random variables change together. Covariance is crucial for portfolio management, risk management, option pricing, and trading strategies. It is often used to estimate the correlation between different assets’ returns, aiding in the diversification and risk reduction of an investment portfolio. Essentially, a positive covariance indicates that asset prices move together, while a negative covariance suggests they move inversely. If the covariance is zero, this indicates that there is no linear relationship between the variables. Understanding covariance enables investors and financial analysts to make informed investment decisions that balance return with risk.


Covariance is a statistical tool which is primarily utilized in finance to understand the directional relationship between two separate asset prices. Fund managers, financial analysts, investors and other stakeholders often rely on covariance to diversify their portfolios, manage investment-related risks, and maximize returns. The concept helps in understanding how changes in one variable can be expected to influence the other, thus assisting in predicting market trends. Should two variables display high covariance, this suggests they move in the same direction, whether it be an upward or downward price trend. Furthermore, covariance is crucial in the creation of an efficient frontier which is fundamental in Modern Portfolio Theory. This theory suggests that optimal portfolio selection lies on an efficient frontier, a graph which showcases the highest expected returns for a given level of risk. Covariance provides the correlations between assets which, when combined strategically, results in the least possible risk for a particular level of expected return in a portfolio. Therefore, this statistical measure is essential for financial experts as it aids in portfolio optimization through diversification, therefore minimizing risk while maximizing potential returns.


1. Stock Market Investment: Two investors are looking at their stock portfolios. Investor 1 has stocks A and B, while Investor 2 has stocks X and Y. The portfolio of Investor 1 may be considered a good one if stocks A and B tend to rise and fall together (positive covariance), as they could sell one stock when its price is high and buy more of the other when its price is low. Conversely, Investor 2 might be in a riskier situation if stocks X and Y move in opposite directions (negative covariance), because the decrease in price of one isn’t counterbalanced by the increase in price of the other. 2. Supermarket Goods: A supermarket tracks the sales of bread and butter. It finds that when the sales of bread increase, the sales of butter also increase, and vice versa – indicating a positive covariance. This is probably because customers tend to buy these two items together. Understanding this relationship might help the supermarket in placing these two products near each other or optimizing marketing strategy for these products. 3. Weather and Clothing Sales: A clothing company observes that during colder months, sales of their winter jackets tend to increase, whereas during warmer months, these sales decrease and sales of their summer clothes tends to boost. This shows that seasonal weather fluctuations and demand for certain types of clothing have a high positive covariance. This insight can help the company better manage inventory and promotional efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is covariance?

Covariance is a statistical concept that measures the degree to which two variables move in relation to each other. If the variables increase and decrease together, they are considered to have a positive covariance. If one variable decreases while the other increases, they are considered to have a negative covariance.

How is covariance calculated?

Covariance is calculated by multiplying the deviation (difference from the average) of each variable for every data point. The results are then summed and divided by the number of data points minus one.

What is the difference between covariance and correlation?

While both covariance and correlation measure the relationship between two variables, they differ in their approach. Covariance only indicates the direction of the linear relationship between variables, without telling much about the strength or degree. On the other hand, correlation measures both the strength and direction of the relationship, with a value between -1 and 1, inclusive.

What does positive and negative covariance indicate?

Positive covariance indicates that two variables increase or decrease together, meaning they have a direct relationship. Negative covariance, on the other hand, indicates that as one variable increases, the other decreases, and vice versa, signifying an inverse relationship.

How is covariance used in finance?

In finance, covariance is used in portfolio theory to determine the overall variance (risk) of a portfolio of investments. It helps to gauge the extent to which the returns on two potential investments move together. A diversified portfolio ideally pairs investments with a negative Covariance as this signifies that one investment would potentially offset any losses from another.

Can covariance be a negative number?

Yes, covariance can be a negative number. A negative covariance indicates an inverse relationship between two variables – when one variable decreases, the other is likely to increase, and vice versa.

What are the limitations of using covariance in finance?

The biggest limitation of using covariance is that it doesn’t give a standardised measure, as the figures can range from negative infinity to positive infinity. Because it lacks a defined range of values, comparing covariances can be challenging. That’s why many financial analysts instead prefer to use correlation, which provides a standardised measure.

Related Finance Terms

  • Variance: Measure of the spread between numbers in a data set.
  • Correlation Coefficient: Statistical measure that calculates the strength of the relationship between the relative movements of two variables.
  • Risk Diversification: Strategy of combining a variety of investments, which are likely to yield higher returns.
  • Expected Return: Amount of profit or loss an investor expects on an investment or trade.
  • Probability Distribution: Function that describes the likelihood of obtaining the possible values that a random variable can assume.

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