Annals of Statistics

Testing for principal component directions under weak identifiability

Davy Paindaveine, Julien Remy, and Thomas Verdebout

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We consider the problem of testing, on the basis of a $p$-variate Gaussian random sample, the null hypothesis $\mathcal{H}_{0}:\boldsymbol{\theta}_{1}=\boldsymbol{\theta}_{1}^{0}$ against the alternative $\mathcal{H}_{1}:\boldsymbol{\theta}_{1}\neq \boldsymbol{\theta}_{1}^{0}$, where $\boldsymbol{\theta}_{1}$ is the “first” eigenvector of the underlying covariance matrix and $\boldsymbol{\theta}_{1}^{0}$ is a fixed unit $p$-vector. In the classical setup where eigenvalues $\lambda_{1}>\lambda_{2}\geq \cdots \geq \lambda_{p}$ are fixed, the Anderson (Ann. Math. Stat. 34 (1963) 122–148) likelihood ratio test (LRT) and the Hallin, Paindaveine and Verdebout (Ann. Statist. 38 (2010) 3245–3299) Le Cam optimal test for this problem are asymptotically equivalent under the null hypothesis, hence also under sequences of contiguous alternatives. We show that this equivalence does not survive asymptotic scenarios where $\lambda_{n1}/\lambda_{n2}=1+O(r_{n})$ with $r_{n}=O(1/\sqrt{n})$. For such scenarios, the Le Cam optimal test still asymptotically meets the nominal level constraint, whereas the LRT severely overrejects the null hypothesis. Consequently, the former test should be favored over the latter one whenever the two largest sample eigenvalues are close to each other. By relying on the Le Cam’s asymptotic theory of statistical experiments, we study the non-null and optimality properties of the Le Cam optimal test in the aforementioned asymptotic scenarios and show that the null robustness of this test is not obtained at the expense of power. Our asymptotic investigation is extensive in the sense that it allows $r_{n}$ to converge to zero at an arbitrary rate. While we restrict to single-spiked spectra of the form $\lambda_{n1}>\lambda_{n2}=\cdots =\lambda_{np}$ to make our results as striking as possible, we extend our results to the more general elliptical case. Finally, we present an illustrative real data example.

Article information

Ann. Statist., Volume 48, Number 1 (2020), 324-345.

Received: October 2017
Revised: July 2018
First available in Project Euclid: 17 February 2020

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Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62F05: Asymptotic properties of tests 62H25: Factor analysis and principal components; correspondence analysis
Secondary: 62E20: Asymptotic distribution theory

Le Cam’s asymptotic theory of statistical experiments local asymptotic normality principal component analysis spiked covariance matrices weak identifiability


Paindaveine, Davy; Remy, Julien; Verdebout, Thomas. Testing for principal component directions under weak identifiability. Ann. Statist. 48 (2020), no. 1, 324--345. doi:10.1214/18-AOS1805.

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Supplemental materials

  • Supplement to “Testing for principal component directions under weak identifiability”. In this supplement, we prove all theoretical results of the present paper.