Pandas: Calculate the rolling sample covariance of a DataFrame

Updated: February 21, 2024 By: Guest Contributor Post a comment


Pandas is an essential library in Python’s data science stack, enabling efficient manipulation and analysis of large and complex datasets. One of the advanced features that Pandas offers is the ability to calculate the rolling sample covariance between series in a DataFrame. This capability is especially useful in financial analysis, environmental data analysis, and any field that requires understanding the relationship between two time series variables over a moving window. In this tutorial, we shall explore how to calculate the rolling sample covariance using Pandas, starting from basic concepts and gradually moving to more advanced applications.

Understanding Covariance

Before diving into rolling sample covariance, let’s briefly understand what covariance is. Covariance measures the degree to which two variables change together. If the variables increase together, the covariance is positive; if one variable tends to increase when the other decreases, the covariance is negative. Covariance is a foundational concept for understanding relationships between variables and is crucial in finance for portfolio optimization and in meteorology for predicting weather patterns.

Getting Started with Pandas and Data Preparation

The initial step requires installing Pandas if you haven’t already. Use the following command in your terminal:

pip install pandas

Next, we need some data to work with. In this tutorial, we use synthetic time series data for simplicity. Let’s create two time series representing, for instance, the daily temperature and humidity over a year.

import pandas as pd
import numpy as np

df = pd.DataFrame({
  'Temperature': np.random.normal(20, 5, 365),
  'Humidity': np.random.uniform(30, 70, 365)},
  index=pd.date_range(start='2022-01-01', end='2022-12-31'))

Basic Rolling Sample Covariance Calculation

Now that we have our DataFrame, we can calculate the rolling sample covariance between temperature and humidity over a specified window size. For simplicity, let’s start with a 30-day rolling window.

roll_cov = df.rolling(window=30).cov(pairwise=True)

The roll_cov DataFrame now contains the rolling covariance between temperature and humidity, calculated over a 30-day rolling window, for each pair of days throughout the year. The pairwise=True argument ensures that covariance is calculated for each pair of columns in the DataFrame.

Visualizing Rolling Sample Covariance

Visualizing the rolling sample covariance can help in better understanding the changes in the relationship between the two variables over time. We can do this using matplotlib:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

roll_cov['Temperature']['Humidity'].plot(title='30-Day Rolling Covariance between Temperature and Humidity')

Adjusting the Rolling Window and Calculating Partial Windows

To investigate how the covariance changes with different window sizes, we can adjust the window parameter. Furthermore, Pandas allows for the calculation of rolling statistics on partial windows (windows with less than the specified number of observations), which can be useful at the beginning of the time series.

roll_cov = df.rolling(window=60, min_periods=1).cov(pairwise=True)

Advanced Techniques: Custom Rolling Window Functions

Pandas rolling objects can also utilize custom functions for more complex analysis. Say we want to apply a different statistical model for our covariance calculation, or include additional logic in our rolling computation. This can be achieved using the apply method with a custom function.

def custom_cov(x):
    return np.cov(x, rowvar=False)[0, 1]

roll_cov = df.rolling(window=30).apply(custom_cov, raw=False)

Using Weighted Rolling Covariance

In certain scenarios, it might be beneficial to apply different weights to the observations in a rolling window. This approach can give more importance to recent observations, for example. Pandas does not directly support weighted rolling covariance in its API, but you can combine rolling windows with apply and manually weighted calculations for similar effects.

weights = np.linspace(1, 0, 30)  # Example weighting: linearly decreasing weights

def weighted_cov(x):
    return np.average((x - x.mean())**2, weights=weights)

roll_cov = df.rolling(window=30).apply(weighted_cov, raw=False)


Understanding the rolling sample covariance can provide deep insights into the dynamic interplay between variables in a dataset over time. Through this tutorial, we covered the basic to advanced steps involved in calculating the rolling sample covariance using Pandas. This functionality is versatile and can be applied across different sectors, enhancing data analysis and informed decision-making processes.