Random Forest Versus Logit Models: Which Offers Better Early Warning of Fiscal Stress?

45 Pages Posted: 14 May 2020

Date Written: May, 2020


This study seeks to answer whether it is possible to design an early warning system framework that can signal the risk of fiscal stress in the near future, and what shape such a system should take. To do so, multiple models based on econometric logit and the random forest models are designed and compared. Using a dataset of 20 annual frequency variables pertaining to 43 advanced and emerging countries during 1992-2018, the results confirm the possibility of obtaining an effective model, which correctly predicts 70-80% of fiscal stress events and tranquil periods. The random forest-based early warning model outperforms logit models. While the random forest model is commonly understood to provide lower interpretability than logit models do, this study employs tools that can be used to provide useful information for understanding what is behind the black-box. These tools can provide information on the most important explanatory variables and on the shape of the relationship between these variables and the outcome classification. Thus, the study contributes to the discussion on the usefulness of machine learning methods in economics.

Keywords: early warning system, interpretability of machine learning, predictive performance

JEL Classification: C40, C53, H63, G01

Suggested Citation

Jarmulska, Barbara, Random Forest Versus Logit Models: Which Offers Better Early Warning of Fiscal Stress? (May, 2020). ECB Working Paper No. 20202408, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3600911 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3600911

Barbara Jarmulska (Contact Author)

European Central Bank (ECB) ( email )

Sonnemannstrasse 22
Frankfurt am Main, 60314

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