A negative (inverse) correlation occurs when the correlation coefficient is less than 0. This is an indication that both variables move in the opposite direction. In short, any reading between 0 and -1 means that the two securities move in opposite directions. When ρ is -1, the relationship is said to be perfectly negatively correlated.
In short, if one variable increases, the other variable decreases with the same magnitude (and vice versa). However, the degree to which two securities are negatively correlated might vary over time (and they are almost never exactly correlated all the time).
Examples of Negative Correlation
For example, suppose a study is conducted to assess the relationship between outside temperature and heating bills. The study concludes that there is a negative correlation between the prices of heating bills and the outdoor temperature. The correlation coefficient is calculated to be -0.96. This strong negative correlation signifies that as the temperature decreases outside, the prices of heating bills increase (and vice versa).
When it comes to investing, a negative correlation does not necessarily mean that the securities should be avoided. The correlation coefficient can help investors diversify their portfolio by including a mix of investments that have a negative, or low, correlation to the stock market. In short, when reducing volatility risk in a portfolio, sometimes opposites do attract.
For example, assume you have a $100,000 balanced portfolio that is invested 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds. In a year of strong economic performance, the stock component of your portfolio might generate a return of 12% while the bond component may return -2% because interest rates are rising (which means that bond prices are falling).
Thus, the overall return on your portfolio would be 6.4% ((12% x 0.6) + (-2% x 0.4). The following year, as the economy slows markedly and interest rates are lowered, your stock portfolio might generate -5% while your bond portfolio may return 8%, giving you an overall portfolio return of 0.2%.
What if, instead of a balanced portfolio, your portfolio were 100% equities? Using the same return assumptions, your all-equity portfolio would have a return of 12% in the first year and -5% in the second year. These figures are clearly more volatile than the balanced portfolio’s returns of 6.4% and 0.2%.