Fast recursive portfolio optimization

Laurence Irlicht*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Institutional equity portfolios are typically constructed via taking expected stock returns and then applying the computationally expensive processes of covariance matrix estimation and mean-variance optimization. Unfortunately, these computational costs make it prohibitive to comprehensively backtest and tune higher frequency strategies over long histories. In this paper, we introduce a recursive algorithm which significantly lowers the computational cost of calculating the covariance matrix and its inverse as well as an iterative heuristic which provides a very fast approximation to mean-variance optimization. Together, these techniques cut backtesting time to a fraction of that of standard techniques. Where possible, the additional step of caching pre-calculated covariance matrices, can result in overall backtesting speeds up to orders of magnitude faster than the standard methods. We demonstrate the efficacy of our approach by selecting a prediction strategy in a fraction of the time taken by standard methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-188
Number of pages16
JournalAlgorithmic Finance
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • algorithmic finance
  • Backtesting
  • computational finance
  • covariance estimation
  • mathematical programming
  • Portfolio optimization
  • quadratic optimization


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