11+ Market Neutral Trading Strategies

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Written By
Contributor Image
Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

Market-neutral trading strategies are designed to minimize exposure to market risk by simultaneously taking long and short positions in closely related instruments.

In this way, it aims for returns largely independent of the overall market movement (i.e., no beta).

These strategies are a cornerstone of quantitative finance, which leverage statistical and mathematical models to identify mispricings or structural inefficiencies within the markets.

They’re particularly favored as part of the value proposition of hedge funds and proprietary trading desks – i.e., for their potential to generate positive returns in both rising and falling market environments and not correlate to traditional equity and bond/credit indices.


Key Takeaways – Market Neutral Trading Strategies

  • Market Neutrality – Strategy’s success relies on mispricings correcting, not overall market direction. This makes the strategy less susceptible to broad market swings.
  • Pairs Trading
  • Statistical Arbitrage
  • Merger Arbitrage
  • Equity Market Neutral (EMN)
  • Convertible Arbitrage
  • Capital Structure Arbitrage
  • Volatility Arbitrage
  • Index Arbitrage
  • Fixed-Income Arbitrage
  • Dividend Arbitrage
  • Risk Arbitrage
  • Basket Trading


Below, we look at several prominent market-neutral strategies:

1. Pairs Trading

Pairs trading involves identifying two securities with historically correlated movements but have temporarily diverged in price (e.g., gold and gold miners).

Traders take a long position in the undervalued security and a short position in the overvalued one.

Essentially, they bet on the convergence of their price ratio to its historical average.

This strategy typically uses statistical measures such as correlation, covariance, and/or cointegration to identify suitable pairs.


Coca-Cola and PepsiCo stocks diverge; long Coca-Cola, short PepsiCo.


2. Statistical Arbitrage

Statistical arbitrage extends the concept of pairs trading to a broader set of securities.

It uses complex statistical models, such as mean reversion, machine learning algorithms, and principal component analysis, to identify temporary mispricings across hundreds or thousands of assets.

Trades are executed in a way that the portfolio’s overall exposure is market-neutral, often dynamically adjusting positions in response to market movements.


Use machine learning to identify mispriced stocks based on P/E ratios, implied volatility, debt-to-capital ratios, etc.; construct a balanced long/short portfolio.


3. Merger Arbitrage

Merger arbitrage involves trading the securities of companies involved in mergers and acquisitions.

Traders might go long on the target company’s stock and short the acquiring company’s stock, trying to profit from the spread between the current market price and the eventual acquisition price.

This strategy requires a lot of due diligence and a deep understanding of regulatory environments.


For example, if a $40/share company is purchased for $50/share and is priced at $48/share pre-close, this suggests an 80% chance that the deal will close.

Accordingly, about 80% of the time you should expect to pocket the extra $2/share if you’re long the stock.

Nonetheless, about 20% of the time it won’t go through.

It’s a zero-sum type of strategy, so knowing the market better than others takes significant work and know-how.


4. Equity Market Neutral (EMN)

This strategy involves taking long and short positions in equities to neutralize market exposure.

It relies on fundamental or quantitative analysis to select stocks that are expected to outperform (for long positions) and underperform (for short positions) the market.

The goal is to maintain a beta (market exposure) close to zero and focus solely on the relative performance of the securities.


An example strategy would be going short high-leverage companies and going long low-leverage companies, expecting this trade to outperform during market and economic downturns.

This would be an example of a factor exposure (e.g., “quality,” “leverage”).


5. Convertible Arbitrage

Convertible arbitrage involves taking a long position in a company’s convertible securities (e.g., convertible bonds) and a short position in its stock.

This strategy tries to exploit price differences between the convertible bond and the underlying stock – adjusting positions to remain market-neutral to fluctuations in the stock price.


Buy convertible bonds of XYZ, short XYZ stock.


6. Capital Structure Arbitrage

This strategy exploits mispricings between different securities issued by the same company, such as bonds and stocks, by taking a long position in the undervalued security (e.g., bonds) and a short position in the overvalued security (e.g., stocks).

It bets on a convergence of their value discrepancies.


Long XYZ bonds, short XYZ stock.


7. Volatility Arbitrage

Involves exploiting differences between the implied volatility of options and the subsequent realized volatility of the underlying asset, typically by purchasing options perceived as undervalued (low implied volatility) and selling options considered overvalued (high implied volatility).

This can be a difficult strategy for non-specialists to pull off because options have other factors embedded (e.g., delta, gamma, time decay (theta), interest rate sensitivity (rho), and other multi-order sensitivities).


Buy underpriced XYZ options, sell overpriced XYZ options.


8. Index Arbitrage

Takes advantage of price discrepancies between a stock index and the futures contract on that index by simultaneously buying (selling) the undervalued (overvalued) side and expecting prices to converge by the futures contract’s expiration date.

This can also be applied to discrepancies between the ETF, futures contract, underlying stock components, etc.


S&P 500 index is undervalued compared to its futures; buy index, sell futures.


9. Fixed-Income Arbitrage

Tries to exploit pricing inefficiencies between related fixed-income securities, such as differences in interest rates or credit spreads, often through the use of derivative instruments to hedge interest rate risk.


Exploit yield curve discrepancies in US Treasuries.

Related: How to Model the Term Structure of Interest Rates


10. Dividend Arbitrage

This strategy capitalizes on pricing inefficiencies around dividend payments.

Uses the mispricing between the expected dividend payment and options prices to secure risk-free profits, typically by buying stocks before the ex-dividend date and hedging with corresponding put options.

This occurs due to the stock falling (all else equal) on the ex-dividend date by the amount of the dividend.

The options market also knows/expects this.


Buy XYZ before ex-dividend, hedge with puts.

Related: Dividend Capture Strategy


11. Risk Arbitrage

This encompasses strategies that aim to profit from mispriced risks, such as catastrophe bonds (insurance-linked securities) or credit default swaps.

Traders construct portfolios that isolate and monetize specific risk exposures.


  • Identify mispriced credit default swaps (CDS) of a financially stable company.
  • Go long on the CDS (betting on the company’s stability) at a low cost.
  • Hedge position with options or shorting the company’s stock.
  • Profit from the convergence of the CDS price to its true risk-adjusted value.


12. Basket Trading

Similar to statistical arbitrage, but instead of individual stocks, the focus is on baskets of securities that share characteristics (sector, industry, size, etc.).

Aims to find undervalued baskets to go long on and overvalued ones to short.

Useful for gaining exposure to themes without the risk of individual stock moves.


Long a basket of undervalued “new economy” stocks, short overvalued “old economy” stocks.


Implementation and Risks

Implementing market-neutral strategies requires sophisticated risk management techniques and may required advanced infrastructure.

Despite aiming for market neutrality, these strategies are still be subject to specific risks, such as model risk, execution risk, and liquidity risk. The success of these strategies heavily relies on the precision of the models and analysis.

In quantitative finance, professionals leverage programming languages like Python for data analysis, model development, and backtesting these strategies to make sure they’re robust and have a solid empirical foundation before execution.

It’s always important to understand why something works and its track record of performance on historical data (in addition to other forms of stress testing).



FAQs – Market Neutral Strategies

What is factor-neutral trading and how is it implemented?

Factor-neutral trading is a strategy designed to neutralize exposure to one or more risk factors that drive asset returns, such as size, value, momentum, or volatility.

This strategy involves constructing a portfolio that has a neutral exposure to specified factors, aiming to isolate returns from other sources of alpha.

Implementation typically requires a quantitative model that can estimate the sensitivities (betas) of securities to these factors.

The portfolio is then weighted such that the aggregate exposure to each factor is minimized or neutralized, often using optimization techniques to balance the trade-offs between factor neutrality and expected returns.

What’s a list of factors?

Factors include:

  • Value
  • Momentum
  • Size
  • Quality
  • Volatility
  • Yield
  • Liquidity
  • Growth
  • Leverage

How does volatility arbitrage create market-neutral positions?

Volatility arbitrage seeks to exploit differences between the implied volatility of options and the expected or realized volatility of the underlying asset.

A common approach is to create a delta-neutral position by buying or selling options while offsetting the delta through buying or selling an appropriate amount of the underlying stock.

This strategy tries to profit from the eventual convergence of implied and realized volatility, regardless of the direction of the underlying asset’s price movement.

Traders have to continuously adjust their positions to maintain neutrality as market conditions and the option’s delta change over time.

This requires sophisticated software and algorithms as well as monitoring of transaction costs.

What’s capital structure arbitrage and its market neutrality aspect?

Exploits pricing discrepancies between a company’s different securities (stocks, bonds, derivatives).

  • Premise – While these securities have varying claims on the company, they are connected by the company’s underlying health.
  • Typical trade – Going long on an undervalued security (e.g., bonds) and shorting an overvalued one (e.g., equity).
  • Requires – Deep understanding of the company’s financials and its different securities.

How can machine learning help in developing market neutral strategies?

Here’s how machine learning can help in developing market-neutral strategies.

  • Identifying opportunities
    • ML finds complex patterns and relationships in data that traditional statistical approaches may overlook.
    • This can lead to new trade ideas for potential mispricings.
  • Improving execution
    • ML algorithms predict the best prices and times for trades.
    • This minimizes market impact and cost from slippage.
  • Managing risk
    • ML better forecasts market conditions and potential stress situations.
    • This helps you dynamically adjust the portfolio’s exposure to risk as needed.
  • Overall benefit
    • ML makes market-neutral strategies smarter and more adaptable.
  • Note
    • ML also adds complexity, so be sure to thoroughly test and validate your models.

What is global macro neutral trading, and how does it differ from traditional market-neutral strategies?

Global macro neutral trading is a strategy that looks to profit from macroeconomic and geopolitical shifts without taking a directional bet on the market as a whole.

Unlike traditional equity market neutral strategies, which often focus on stock pairs or sectors, global macro neutral strategies may involve a wide range of asset classes, including currencies, commodities, bonds, and equities across different countries.

The neutrality aspect is achieved by constructing a portfolio that is balanced to be insensitive to global market movements, often by offsetting long positions in one asset class or geography with short positions in another.

The key challenge and differentiator of this strategy lie in the analysis and forecasting of complex, interrelated global economic and political trends.

It requires a deep, sophisticated, and nuanced understanding of international finance and geopolitical dynamics.

Some examples:

  • Interest Rate Outlook
    • Long bonds of a country where interest rates are expected to decline (i.e., lower inflation and/or lower growth relative to what’s priced in).
    • Short bonds of a country where interest rates are expected to rise (i.e., higher inflation and/or higher growth relative to what’s priced in).
  • Currency Fluctuations
    • Long a currency expected to strengthen due to improving economic conditions or due to a hiking cycle by its domestic central bank.
    • Short a currency expected to weaken due to a deteriorating economy or political instability.
  • Commodity Shifts
    • Long gold or other commodities as a hedge against lower real rates or rising inflation expectations.
    • Short commodities in a market where oversupply is anticipated or to hedge out certain exposures (e.g., short silver to hedge out some of the risk associated with being long silver miners).
  • Geopolitical Events
    • Long stocks in a market expected to benefit from trade agreements or political stability.
    • Short stocks of companies likely to be negatively impacted by sanctions or instability in a certain region.

These are simplified examples. Global macro neutral trades are often complex and may include derivatives and hedging techniques to carefully manage risk and exposure.