Attempting to forecast future prices is by definition a task prone to error. With this caveat, we have created this forecasting tool to offer a well-informed understanding of future price developments in the markets that WFP monitors.

The tool tests different approaches: ARIMA models, and the Seasonal Holt-Winters (SHW) multiplicative model.
The best model is the one with the lowest Root Mean
Square Error ()
which represents the size of the error
for a given time
,
measured as the difference between the actual and the estimated price
.
It is measured in the same unit as the original data, applying a greater penalty on large forecasting errors. If both the ARIMA and the SHW approaches fail to produce results, we rely on forecasts using a third approach: a Moving Average Smoother corrected with the Grand Seasonal Index to account for seasonality.

#### ARIMA (p,d,q)

The class of models called ARIMA can be used to forecast stationary time-series. The aim of having stationary time-series is to remove autocorrelation from the forecast errors by adding lags of differenced series and/or of the forecast errors.
We adopt the following notation:

**p** is the autoregressive term (AR);
**d** is the number of non-seasonal differences, namely the differences needed to make the series integrated – i.e. stationary (I);
**q** is the moving average term (MA).

An automatic procedure scans our price database, performing the following steps:

**Step 1:**
We retain only those foods that provide caloric contribution to the local diet in the range of 5 percent or more.
We also ensure the time-series are at least three years long and have less than 30 percent of values missing both
for the entire time-series and for the last three years of data. We only show time-series with a minimum of price
variability, given by two indicators: the coefficient of variation, as described by
, and the highest price
variation, as described by
,
where
is the standard deviation,
is the average price,
and
and
are respectively the highest and the lowest price observation.
For both the coefficient of variation and the price variation, we control for the entire time-series and the
last three years of data, allowing the tool to show all time-series that have at least one of the four indicators
above an arbitrarily defined threshold (i.e. cv for the entire time-series equal to 15 percent,
for the last
three years equal to 10 percent,
for the entire time-series equal to 50 percent, and
for the last three
years equal to 30 percent).

**Step 2:**
We linearly interpolate missing values. Note that normally, less than 5 percent of the data is interpolated in this step.

**Step 3:**
We determine the number of autoregressive terms (p) to be included in the model.
Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC) is used to make the selection.

**Step 4:**
We check whether the model with lags p determined above also has a statistically significant trend.

**Step 5:**
We test for stationarity of the model resulting from steps 3 and 4 (i.e. lags and trend) using both the Augmented Dickey Fuller (ADF) and Kwiatkowski–Phillips–Schmidt–Shin (KPSS) unit root tests. If the time-series is not stationary, steps 6 and 7 are performed on a differentiated time-series to obtain stationarity (d=1), otherwise with d equal to 0.

**Step 6:**
We create ARIMA models using p, d, and the trend where applicable, and we iteratively test the number of lagged forecast errors q from 0 to 3.

**Step 7:**
The choice of the best ARIMA (p,d,q) model is eventually made using AIC statistics.

We acknowledge the limitation derived from running a thorough statistical routine for all the market-commodity pairs in our price database, without doing more in-depth market-specific price analyses, including controlling for structural breaks.

#### Seasonal Holt-Winters (SHW)

This method is a variant of exponential smoothing, which is a procedure for continually revising a forecast in light of more recent data. We apply the SHW multiplicative method, using a forecast equation and three level equations – one for the level, one for the trend and one for the seasonal component. Intuitively, this method averages backwards past observations, attaching more importance to the most recent ones. It also introduces a trend estimate that changes over time, and a seasonal component. The major limitations are as follows: i) the trend can dominate the forecasts after a short period; ii) the missing values need to be estimated; and iii) the outliers strongly affect the forecasting. This is a widely used approach for short-term forecasts and normally provides the best forecasts of the three approaches proposed here.

#### Moving Average Smoother corrected with Grand Seasonal Index (GSI) changes

This method equally weights past (and future) observations by deriving the (centred) moving average (CMA) in a rolling window of 13 months, looking backwards and forwards. We compute the seasonal indices dividing each observation by its CMA value. We then compute the grand seasonal index (GSI), which is the mean by month of the seasonal indices. Finally, we compute the monthly changes of the GSI. Monthly forecasts are therefore based on the previous known price adjusted by its value times the corresponding GSI change.

__References:__

Maddala G.S., and I.-M. Kim (1998). *Unit Roots, Cointegration and Structural Change*,
Cambridge University Press.

Holt, C.C. (1957). *Forecasting Trends and Seasonals by Exponentially Weighted Averages*, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh ONR memorandum no. 52.