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Correlated Random Walks and the Joint Survival Probability

by Mark Wise of the California Institute of Technology, and
Vineer Bhansali of Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO)

July 7, 2004

Abstract: First passage models, where corporate assets undergo correlated random walks and a company defaults if its assets fall below a threshold provide an attractive framework for modeling the default process. Typical one year default correlations are small, i.e., of order a few percent, but nonetheless including correlations is very important, for managing portfolio credit risk and pricing some credit derivatives (e.g. first to default baskets). In first passage models the exact dependence of the joint survival probability of more than two firms on their asset correlations is not known. We derive an expression for the dependence of the joint survival probability of n firms on their asset correlations using first order perturbation theory in the correlations. It includes all terms that are linear in the correlations but neglects effects of quadratic and higher order. For constant time independent correlations we compare the first passage model expression for the joint survival probability with what a multivariate normal Copula function gives. As a practical application of our results we calculate the dependence of the five year joint survival probability for five basic industrials on their asset correlations.

Keywords: random walk, survival probability, first passage.

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