Marketing Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

January 2005


Causal forces are a way of summarizing forecasters' expectations about what will happen to a time series in the future. Contrary to the common assumption for extrapolation, time series are not always subject to consistent forces that point in the same direction. Some are affected by conflicting causal forces; we refer to these as complex times series. It would seem that forecasting these times series would be easier if one could decompose the series to eliminate the effects of the conflicts. Given forecasts subject to high uncertainty, we hypothesized that a time series could be effectively decomposed under two conditions: 1) if domain knowledge can be used to structure the problem so that causal forces are consistent for two or more component series, and 2) when it is possible to obtain relatively accurate forecasts for each component. Forecast accuracy for the components can be assessed by testing how well they can be forecast on early hold-out data. When such data are not available, historical variability may be an adequate substitute. We tested decomposition by causal forces on 12 complex annual time series for automobile accidents, airline accidents, personal computer sales, airline revenues, and cigarette production. The length of these series ranged from 16 years for airline revenues to 56 years for highway safety data. We made forecasts for one to ten horizons, obtaining 800 forecasts through successive updating. For nine series in which the conditions were completely or partially met, the forecast error (MdAPE) was reduced by more than half. For three series in which the conditions were not met, decomposition by causal forces had little effect on accuracy.


Postprint version. Published in International Journal of Forecasting, Volume 21, Issue 1, January 2005, pages 25-36.
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airline accidents, extrapolation, Holt's exponential smoothing, model formulation, personal computers, revenue forecasting, transportation safety



Date Posted: 14 June 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.