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What is Sharpe Ratio and How to Calculate it?

The Sharpe ratio is a popular risk-adjusted return metric used in investing to determine if gains justify the volatility. It factors in investment outcomes and their swings, providing complete performance efficiency. In this article, we will learn its utility in mutual funds selection, asset analysis, and decision-making.

What is Sharpe ratio?

The Sharpe ratio is a measure that compares the average return of a security or portfolio to a near-risk-free option while also taking into account the actual variability in returns over time. This ratio helps investors determine if the additional returns are worth the risks taken. Here is the high-level Sharpe ratio formula in all its glory:

Sharpe Ratio = (Asset Return – Risk-Free Return) / Standard Deviation of Asset Return

How to calculate Sharpe ratio?

Let’s walk through crunching the numbers on a Sharpe ratio example using sample investments. 

Consider two funds – Fund A and Fund B. Analysing just the most recent year of returns, Fund A averaged 11% gains with a Std Dev of 5%. Fund B captured 16% annual returns but suffered 12% variability. The current “risk-free” 1-year T-Bill rate sits at 3%.

Plugging it all into our formula:

  • Fund A:  

(11% Return – 3% Risk-Free) / 5% Std Dev = *1.6 Sharpe Ratio*

  • Fund B:

(16% Return – 3% Risk-Free) / 12% Std Dev = *1.08 Sharpe Ratio* 

Despite Fund B boasting a higher raw 16% return average compared to Fund A’s 11%, once contrasted against their respective risk profiles, Fund A actually emerges the winner on a risk-adjusted basis with a superior Sharpe ratio of 1.6 vs 1.08.

This proves pursuing Fund B’s additional yield boost requires taking on outsized volatility deviance to achieve those amplified gains. So, while producing bigger gross returns, Fund B lags severely, adjusting for uncertainty tolerated.

Therefore, Fund A more efficiently converts risk factors into calculable return premiums. The Sharpe ratio quantifies this relationship – introducing much-needed context on whether ratcheting up risk generates commensurate higher yields or proves excessive beyond reason.

What is a good Sharpe ratio?

Higher Sharpe scores signal assets efficiently achieving elevated returns appropriate to risk parameters, whereas poorer grades reveal underperformance adjusting for endured turbulence en route.

As a general guideline:

  • Sharpe Ratio under 1 = Poor/unacceptable risk-adjusted return   
  • 1 to 2 = Acceptable to decent
  • 2+ = Very good risk & reward balance   
  • Over 3 = Exceptionally efficient asset conversion  

For example, using our previous funds:

Fund A managed a sound 1.6, indicating substantial excess returns harvested considering still-moderate variability.

Conversely, Fund B scored a mediocre 1.08 – showing high 16% returns still proves excessive adjusting for the outsized volatility challenge of three times the standard deviation faced. Investors would favour Fund A here on risk-adjusted merit.

In practice, applying this analysis across multiple funds facilitates more informed comparisons for portfolios.

Why do investors find Sharpe ratios useful?

While surface-level gross returns judge overt profitability alone during periods, integrating the Sharpe ratio into decision matrices injects the all-important additional risk dimension conspicuously absent in standalone rearview calculations.

In one singular metric encapsulating the bundled risk-return dynamic that permeates investing, the ratio empowers more fully informed analyses by:  

  • Enabling “Apple to Apple” Fund Contrasts- Position similar category funds irrespective of strategy on evenly weighted comparisons accounting for return AND risks in one fell swoop. Discovers optimal balance.
  • Determining Portfolio Fit – Match investment objectives and risk tolerance to funds exhibiting commensurately high Sharpe scores, aligning returns to suitable volatility levels. Screens prospects.
  • Pinpointing Strategy Effectiveness- Analyse if current portfolio holdings efficiently convert weathered uncertainty into positive net yield or underperform on risk-adjusted scales, suggesting room for optimisation.
  • Benchmarking Performance – Gauge whether funds over/underperform relative to category averages, indexes, or proprietary blended benchmarks across comprehensive metrics – not just bottom-line annualised returns in isolation. Provides a universal contextual yardstick. 

In a nutshell, by acknowledging return generation spawns in tandem with often unpredictable volatility, the Sharpe ratio distils these interlinked facets into an easily interpreted singular risk-adjusted score.

Using the Sharpe ratio in mutual fund analysis

Given their diversified multi-asset construction blending stocks, bonds, and other securities to reduce standalone volatility, mutual funds, in particular, thrive under a Sharpe ratio microscope, spotlighting returns achieved over variability endured.

As an investor filtering prospects, comparing category-specific Sharpe scores uncovers which funds reliably capture adequate yields compensating for risk factors in play. This prevents alluring eye-popping returns, masking speculative volatility. 

Moreover, fund managers themselves leverage Sharpe ratios, reviewing holdings on total return/standard deviation profiles. By quantifying volatility tolerance thresholds relative to performance, managers pinpoint lagging positions requiring replacement or hedging.

For both manager and investor usage, incorporating the Sharpe ratio in mutual fund analyses with an all-in-one risk/return context grants peace of mind that portfolios harvest returns efficiently by design rather than by blind luck alone.

Treynor Ratio vs Sharpe Ratio

  • Primary difference 

The key distinction between the Sharpe ratio and Treynor ratio formulas comes down to how each defines and quantifies “risk” in their calculations.

The Sharpe ratio utilises the total observed standard deviation of returns as its risk variable. This captures overall volatility in periodic performance – both upside and downside.

Whereas the Treynor ratio specifically relies on beta exposure relative to a stated benchmark. So, risk gets expressed in terms of market correlation rather than return deviation alone.

In practice, standard deviation better accommodates more concentrated portfolios with company-specific risks. But beta alignment suits broader diversified funds tracking market-based systematic risks.

So, the Sharpe metric can better analyse an uneven mid-cap portfolio. However, the Treynor metric optimises for balanced large-cap indexes tied to benchmarks. Each has advantageous applications.

  • Limitations of each ratio

While popular, the simplified assumptions behind both Sharpe and Treynor have disadvantages:

The Sharpe ratio struggles with investments featuring returns not conforming to normal statistical distributions – like hedge funds exhibiting dynamic styles accentuating ratio distortions.

Meanwhile, the Treynor ratio’s reliance on historical beta carries a backward-looking bias. Since beta calculations derive from a stated benchmark, the investment may not adhere to that exact market correlation in the future. 

Therefore, both ratios have useful applications as well as vulnerabilities based on risk parameters over time or across investments. It is important to match the strengths of the ratios appropriately to the portfolio behaviours.


The Sharpe ratio is a simple statistical measure that quantifies the relationship between risk and return in a single score. Despite its limitations, it has influenced portfolio construction philosophy for over 50 years. Criticised for its vulnerability to manipulation, it has nevertheless contributed significantly to quantifying the cost of generating outsized gains. Its development has inspired more sophisticated risk-adjusted models, making investing risks more transparent.


What is the Sharpe ratio in investing?

The Sharpe ratio is a statistic quantifying portfolio returns earned per unit of risk taken on, formally factoring volatility into performance using the standard deviation of returns.

What is considered a good Sharpe ratio score?

Scores under 1 show poor efficiency, 1-2 is decent, 2+ is very good, and over 3 exceptional in converting risk into additional normalised returns.

 What does a higher Sharpe ratio allow investors to do?

Achieve greater returns without taking on excessive extra risk since the investment converts volatility into high yield more efficiently.

Can the Sharpe ratio be used to compare funds?

Yes, contrasting Sharpe ratios normalised for strategy and risk parameters facilitates standardised mutual fund comparisons on comprehensive risk-adjusted metrics.

Does a high Sharpe ratio guarantee future returns?

No, past performance does not guarantee future results. However, prudent funds exhibiting good histories suggest an ability to harvest returns efficiently with lower embedded risk.

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