The WTI-Brent spread is the difference between the prices of two types of crude oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) on the long side and Brent Crude (Brent) on the short side. The two oils differ only in the ability of WTI to produce slightly more gasoline in the cracking ratio, which causes WTI’s slight pricing margin over Brent.

As both oils are very similar, their spread shows signs of strong predictability and usually oscillates around some average value. It is, therefore, possible to use deviations from the fair spread value to bet on convergence back to fair value. The fair spread value could be calculated via moving average, regression, neural network regression, or other procedures. We present moving average calculation as an example trading strategy from the source paper.

Fundamental reason

Both oils differ in chemical compositions, and they also differ in production and transportation attributes. These differences are reflected in the price spread between both futures contracts. The spread is mean reverting because most of the price shocks are only temporal so the spread moves back to its long term economic equilibrium, and therefore it is possible to create a trading strategy based on this mean reversion. Caution should be only needed in utilizing parameters from the source paper as they are based on the short history and therefore could be susceptible to data-mining bias.

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Markets Traded
commodities

Financial instruments
futures

Confidence in anomaly's validity
Moderately Strong

Backtest period from source paper
1995-2004

Notes to Confidence in Anomaly's Validity

Indicative Performance
39.4%

Period of Rebalancing
Daily

Notes to Indicative Performance

per annum, calculated as weighted average of in sample and out of sample period, data from table 2


Notes to Period of Rebalancing

Estimated Volatility
21.65%

Number of Traded Instruments
2

Notes to Estimated Volatility

worse number from in and out of sample period, data from table 2


Notes to Number of Traded Instruments

Maximum Drawdown
-13.45%

Complexity Evaluation
Simple strategy

Notes to Maximum drawdown

worse number from in and out of sample period, data from table 2


Notes to Complexity Evaluation

Sharpe Ratio
1.64

Simple trading strategy

A 20-day moving average of WTI/Brent spread is calculated each day. If the current spread value is above SMA 20 then we enter a short position in the spread on close (betting that the spread will decrease to the fair value represented by SMA 20). The trade is closed at the close of the trading day when the spread crosses below fair value. If the current spread value is below SMA 20 then we enter a long position betting that the spread will increase and the trade is closed at the close of the trading day when the spread crosses above fair value.

Source paper
Evans, Dunis, Laws: Trading Futures Spread: An Application of Correlation
- Abstract

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/AFE/AFE_docs/Ben1004.PDF

Abstract:

Original motivation for this paper is the investigation of a correlation filter to improve the risk/return performance of the trading models. Further motivation is to extend the trading of futures spreads past the “Fair Value” type of model used by Butterworth and Holmes (2003). The trading models tested are the following; the cointegration “fair value” approach, MACD, traditional regression techniques and Neural Network Regression. Also shown is the effectiveness of the two types of filter, a standard filter and a correlation filter on the trading rule returns. Our results show that the best model for trading the WTI-Brent spread is an ARMA model, which proved to be profitable, both in- and out-of-sample. This is shown by out-of-sample annualised returns of 34.94% for the standard and correlation filters alike (inclusive of transactions costs).

Strategy's implementation in QuantConnect's framework (chart+statistics+code)
Other papers
Lubnau: Spread trading strategies in the crude oil futures market
- Abstract

his article explores whether common technical trading strategies used in equity markets can be employed profitably in the markets for WTI and Brent crude oil. The strategies tested are Bollinger Bands, based on a mean-reverting hedge portfolio of WTI and Brent. The trading systems are tested with historical data from 1992 to 2013, representing 22 years of data and for various specifications. The hedge ratio for the crude oil portfolio is derived by using the Johansen procedure and a dynamic linear model with Kalman filtering. The significance of the results is evaluated with a bootstrap test in which randomly generated orders are employed. Results show that some setups of the system are able to be profitable over every five-year period tested. Furthermore they generate profits and Sharpe ratios that are significantly higher than those of randomly generated orders of approximately the same holding time. The best results with some Sharpe ratios in excess of three, are obtained when a dynamic linear model with Kalman filtering and maximum likelihood estimates of the unknown variance of the state equation is employed to constantly update the hedge ratio of the portfolio. The results indicate that the crude oil market may not be weak-form efficient.

Donninger: The Poverty of Academic Finance Research: Spread Trading Strategies in the Crude Oil Futures Market
- Abstract

Harvey, Liu and Zhu argue that probably most of the Cross-Section of Returns literature is garbage. One can always try an additional factor and will find a significant Cross-Sectional result with enough trial and error. Lopez de Prado argues in a series of articles in a similar vein. Theoretically scientific results are falsifiable. Practically previous results and publications are checked only in rare occasions. Growth in a Time of Depth by Reinhart-Rogoff was the most influential economic paper in recent years. It was published in a top journal. Although the paper contained even trivial Excel-Bugs it took 3 years till the wrong results and the poor methodology was fully revealed. The reviewers did not check the simple spreadsheets. This paper analyzes a less prominent example about spread trading in the crude oil futures market by Thorben Lubnau. The author reports for his very simple strategy a long term Sharpe-Ratios above 3. It is shown that – like for Reinhart-Rogoff – one needs no sophisticated test statistics to falsify the results. The explanation is much simpler: The author has no clue of trading. He used the wrong data.

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