In a solution to the problem below, the teaching assistant solves it by calculating $\mathbb{E}[X_t^2]$ and ends up with also having to calculate $\mathbb{E}[X_{t-1}Z_t]$ after expanding the square. To do this, he states that "$\mathbb{E}[X_{t-1}Z_t]=0$ since $X_{t-1}$ is independent of $Z_t$ and $X_{t-1}$ is uncorrelated with $Z_t$".


  1. Why is $X_{t-1}$ independent of $Z_t$? I don't see that we assume that the time series is causal.
  2. Why is $X_{t-1}$ uncorrelated with $Z_t$?


Let a timeseries model $X:=(X_t, t\in\mathbb{Z})$ be given by

$$X_t=\phi X_{t-1}+Z_t, \quad \text{where} \quad Z_t\sim \text{WN}(0,\sigma^2)\quad \text{and} \quad |\phi|\neq 1.$$

Assume that the stochastic process satisfying this model is stationary. Compute the variance of $X.$

Note: Yes, I know that one simply can calculate $\text{Var}[X_t]$ directly in one line, but I'm trying to understand the motivations behind the instructors steps.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Isn't this just the definition of the white noise $Z_t$? A new shock that is unrelated to the previous value of the process. Because of the normal distribution, uncorrelated = independent. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Aug 19, 2021 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin in the non-causal case (i.e. $\phi > 1$), the stationary solution of the process is given by $X_t = - \sum_{j=1}^\infty \phi^{-j} Z_{t+j}$. I don't think it's obvious in this case that $E(X_t Z_{t+1}) = 0$ $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2021 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin: White noise is not nessecarily normally distributed. I don't see how you concluded it to be normal. $\endgroup$
    – Parseval
    Aug 19, 2021 at 15:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Parseval Good point, I tend to implicitly take white noise to be Gaussian. Nonetheless, to compute $\mathbb{V}\text{ar}[X]$ and $\mathbb{E}[XY]$, you only care about correlations (or covariances). Independence is stronger and not required (but equivalent for Gaussian white noise). The key remains: $Z_t$ is, by definition, uncorrelated to $X_{t-1}$. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Aug 19, 2021 at 16:04

1 Answer 1


$E(X_{t-1}Z_t) = 0$ in the causal case $|\phi | < 1$, but not in the non-causal case $|\phi | >1$.

Causal case $(|\phi| < 1)$

In this case, the unique stationary solution to the AR(1) equation is given by $$X_t = \sum_{j=1}^\infty \phi^j Z_{t-j}$$ Thus, $$E(X_{t-1} Z_t) = E \left( Z_t \sum_{j=1}^\infty \phi^j Z_{t-1-j} \right) = \sum_{j=1}^\infty \phi^j E (Z_t Z_{t-1-j}) = 0$$ where the last equality follows from $Z_i$ and $Z_j$ being uncorrelated for $i \neq j$, and all the exchanges of integration are guaranteed by Fubini's theorem.

Non-causal case $(|\phi| > 1)$

The unique stationary solution to the AR(1) equation is $$X_t = - \sum_{j=1}^\infty \phi^{-j} Z_{t+j}$$ This equation can be arrived at by performing the recursion forward, rather than backward. Thus,

$$E(X_{t-1}Z_t) = -\sum_{j=1}^\infty \phi^{-j} E(Z_{t-1+j} Z_t) = - \frac{\sigma_Z^2}{\phi}$$

This finding is confirmed if you use the AR equations to get $$Var(X_t) = \phi^2 Var(X_{t-1}) + Var(Z_t) + 2 \phi E(X_{t-1} Z_t)$$

Using $Var(X_{t-1}) = \frac{\sigma_Z^2}{\phi^2 - 1}$ you get $E(X_{t-1} Z_t) = - \frac{\sigma_Z^2}{\phi}$.

Aside: most people restrict the study of ARMA processes to the first case for two reasons: (i) the non-causal future-dependent case is strange, and (ii) in the non-causal stationary case you may always find a white noise process $\tilde{Z}_t$ such that $X_t$ is the causal solution to $X_t = \phi^{-1} X_{t-1} + \tilde{Z}_t$. This may explain why your TA simply assumed $E(X_{t-1}Z_t) = 0$ always.

Edit: There seems to be some confusion in the comments about what the solutions to a time series equation are. I find most textbooks skim over this technical detail.

A solution to a stochastic equation $$g(X_t, Z_t) = 0$$ is a pair $(X_t, Z_t)$ such that $(Z_t)_{t \in \mathbb{Z}}$ is a white noise and for each $t \in \mathbb{Z}$, $X_t$ is a (measurable) function of the entire white noise sequence (i.e. $X_t = h((\epsilon_{k})_{k\in\mathbb{Z}})$) and $X_t$ satisfies the stochastic equation in some sense (e.g. almost surely). Note that $X_t$ can depend on the "past" noise, on the "future" noise, or the entire sequence restrictions. The solution $(X_t, Z_t)$ is said to be stationary if $X_t$ is a stationary process.

Notice that for the AR(1) equation $X_t = \phi X_{t-1} + Z_t$ we can find unique stationary solutions when $|\phi| \neq 1$; you can do this by recursion into the past if $|\phi| < 1$ or by recursion into the future (time-reversal) if $|\phi| >1$. See Example 3.1.2 and Theorems 3.1.1-3.1.3 of Brockwell and Davis for more details.

In the case $|\phi| > 1$, we may also fix a stochastic process $(X_t)_{t \in \mathbb{N}}$ such that $X_0 = x$ and for $t \geq 1$, $X_t = X_0 + \sum_{j=1}^t Z_j$. While this is indeed a solution to the AR(1) equation, it is clearly not stationary. Thus, we can remove this case, as the OP asked us to consider the solution to the AR(1) equation when $X_t$ is stationary.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hi. In the question, it says that the process satisfying the model is stationary. My textbooks have always said that $\phi > 1$ is a non-stationary process. I think non-causal means that the time is reversed which is not the case in this formulation. $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Aug 19, 2021 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Hi @markleeds, your textbooks seem to differ from mine. In particular, $\phi > 1$ falls under the stationary case (see e.g. Chapter 3 in Brockwell and Davis or Chapter 3 in Shumway and Stoffer). This is a technical point which is often overlooked in many other texts (with good reason, as they often focus on the causal---or past-dependent--- case). See my edit for more details on this. $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2021 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Jose: I have those texts but I can't say that they are my favorites. This question was cross posted to cross-validated so, if you care to, check out the answers over there. Dilipe Sawarte gave an answer which is more in line what I said. Maybe there's a terminology ambiguity when it comes to causal and non-causal. I'll check out those texts that you mentioned. Also, I'll try to find the cross-validated thread and send the link in another comment. $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Aug 20, 2021 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ Here's the thread on cross-validated in case you are interested. stats.stackexchange.com/questions/540769/… $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Aug 20, 2021 at 4:02
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Hi Jose: It's probably best just to leave it as a terminology issue unless someone else throws in their 2 cents. I don't remember where I read it but, for me, causal versus non-causal always pertained to whether the response came before regressors ( in time ) or before. No problem and good to meet you. $\endgroup$
    – mark leeds
    Aug 20, 2021 at 10:34

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