Forecast Friday Topic: Does Combining Forecasts Work?

(Forty-second in a series)

Last week, we discussed three approaches to combining forecasts: a simple average, assigning weights inversely proportional to sum of squared error, and regression-based weights. We combine forecasts in order to incorporate the best features of each forecasting method used and to minimize the errors of each. But does combining forecasts work in practice? The literature over the years suggests that it does. Newbold and Bos (1994) summarize the research on the combination of forecasts below:

  1. Regardless of the forecasts combined or individual forecasting methods used in the composite, the combined forecast performs quite well, and is often superior to the individual forecasts;
  2. The simple average approach to combining forecasts performs very well;
  3. The weights inversely proportional to SSE generally performs better than regression-based weights, unless there’s just a small number of forecasts to be combined and some forecasts are much superior to others. In situations like those, regression-based combining methods tend to work better than simple averages and weights inversely proportional to SSE, or the worst forecasts are excluded from the composite.

Why does the combination of forecasts work? Makridakis, Wheelwright, and Hyndman (1998) provide four reasons. Generally, many forecasts can’t measure the very thing they desire. For example, it’s very hard to measure demand for a product or service, so companies measure billings, orders, etc., as proxies for demand. Because the use of proxies can introduce bias in forecasts, the combination of forecasts can reduce the impact of these biases. Secondly, errors in forecasting are inevitable, and some forecasts have errors that are much greater than others. Combining the forecasts can smooth out the forecast error. Moreover, time series can have patterns or relationships that are unstable or frequently changing. By combining forecasts, we can reduce the errors brought on by random events in forecasting. Finally, most forecasting models minimize the forecast errors for one-period ahead. Forecasts are often necessary for several periods ahead; yet the further into the future we aim to predict, the less accurate our forecasts. Combining forecasts helps to minimize the error of forecasts several periods ahead.

Whenever and wherever possible, organizations should try to generate forecasts via many different approaches and then derive a composite forecast. Different approaches touch on different functions within the organization and increase the representativeness of the real world factors under which it operates. When those factors are accounted for in the composite forecast, accurate predictions frequently emerge.

Next Forecast Friday Topic: Evaluating Forecasts – Part I

Next week, we will begin the first of two-part discussion on the evaluation of forecasts. Once we generate forecasts, we must evaluate them periodically. Model performance degrades over time and we must see how our models are performing and tweak or alter them, or remodel all together.

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