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Predicting the FIFA World Cup – Statisticians Vs the Investment Banks

As a break from projecting the strength of collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps and other obscure financial instruments, quantitative analysts at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS and
Danske Bank have modeled the 2010 FIFA World Cup. We have set up a
competition, allowing competitors to go head-to-head with these
corporate giants. The challenge is to correctly predict how far each
country will go in the tournament.

What did the banks do?

UBS and Danske Bank use econometric models to find variables that explain World Cup success. UBS find recent record to be important. On this score Spain looks promising, having won every single qualifying
game. Also important is where the cup is hosted – a third of all
tournaments have been won by the host nations and those playing on
their own continent tend to perform well. UBS also find a role for a
team’s total salary package (as in what players get paid during the
regular season), however this turns out to be less important than one
might have thought. They cite England as a case in point - players
often earn huge sums but the team’s performance tends to be mediocre.

Danske Bank modelling accounts for socio-economic variables such as population size and GDP (bad luck Greece). According to Danske, the wealthier countries tend to perform better as do those with larger
populations – but this effect diminishes with population size. However,
the Danske model has some odd features – for example they find FIFA
ranking correlates negatively with a country’s performance. Moreover,
the model’s explanatory power pretty feeble.

Goldmans and JPMorgan’s approach is somewhat different. Rather than trying to find the characteristics of a World Cup winner, they look for variables that correlate with World Cup success. They take into account
betting market odds and FIFA ranking. JP Morgan also compare odds
across betting markets as a proxy for the certainty of punters’
convictions about different teams. Both Goldmans and JP Morgan look at
the difficulty of a team’s fixture.

Goldman Sachs, UBS and Danske Bank are all predicting Brazil to win, while the quants at JP Morgan tip England to hoist the trophy on July 11. England may take heart from this prediction, but they should bare
in mind that JP Morgan have tipped Slovenia to finish fourth, beating
the likes of Germany and Argentina. Betting markets predict strong
performances from Spain, Brazil and England. UBS marks England and
Spain as perennial underachievers.

The Kaggle challenge closes just before the World Cup commences on June 11. To give it a shot visit the World Cup 2010 – Take on the Quants competition page.

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