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6 Metrics To Measure Portfolio Performance

Updated: Apr. 12, 2022By: Kent Thune

Measuring portfolio performance involves monitoring and analyzing the two primary measures of return and risk. Within those basic measures, there are several metrics that an investor may choose from to gauge the progress of their investments over time. We highlight six performance and risk metrics for investors to use for portfolio evaluation.

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How To Analyze and Monitor Portfolio Health

When analyzing and monitoring portfolio health, investors may use a number of portfolio metrics. While total return is a key metric for performance, it only tells half the story. There are risk measures, such as standard deviation, that are equally important.

Investors often create an Investment Policy Statement, or IPS, to outline their investment strategy. An IPS may be used by individual investors, professional money managers, and investment advisors to outline investment goals, objectives, and the measures used to monitor performance. For example, the IPS will clearly state the goal of the portfolio and metrics that monitor whether the portfolio is on the right track.

Some of the basic parameters outlined in the IPS may include the:

  • Specific metrics used for monitoring
  • Investment time horizon
  • Performance benchmark

The IPS may also include investment selection criteria and determining factors for replacing investments that are underperforming or otherwise not meet its standards.

Calculate Total Return

Total return is the best way to measure overall returns of an investment and to compare returns across asset classes.

This measurement includes:

  • Capital gains
  • Dividends
  • Interest
  • Distributions

Total return of an investment or portfolio are generally compared to a benchmark.

Choose a Monitoring Time Horizon

When choosing a monitoring time horizon, an investor will need to consider their investment goals and investment style. For example, an investor with a long-term goal, such as retirement, may emphasize 5-year and 10-year returns over shorter periods when evaluating performance.

Examples of investment objectives of a portfolio include:

  • Long-term growth/retirement planning
  • Current income
  • Capital preservation
  • Short-term expense funding
  • College savings

Tip: The most common unit of measurement for monitoring investment performance is one year. For longer periods, returns are "annualized," which means an annual average. The most commonly published rates of return are 1-year, 3-year, 5-year and 10-year returns. However, investors need to clearly state their performance monitoring metrics and benchmark in their investment policy statement. For example, a long-term investor may choose to focus more on 5- and 10-year returns and less on short-term returns.

Select a Performance Benchmark

The performance benchmark used will depend on the investments held in the portfolio. Investors may use one or multiple benchmarks. For example, the primary benchmark used for stocks is the S&P 500 index and the main performance benchmark for bonds is the Barclays US Aggregate Bond index.

List of Performance Monitoring Metrics

Investors may use multiple benchmarks for monitoring portfolio performance or for measuring individual investment security performance. The primary portfolio monitoring metric for performance is total return, which is usually measured against a benchmark. Other metrics include statistical risk methods, such as Standard Deviation, Beta, R-Squared, Sharpe Ratio, and Sortino Ratio.

  1. Portfolio Return vs. Benchmark
  2. Standard Deviation
  3. Beta
  4. R-Squared
  5. Sharpe Ratio
  6. Sortino Ratio

Monitoring Frequency

In addition to selecting the appropriate performance monitoring metrics, investors need to choose the monitoring frequency. For example, a common monitoring frequency for an investment or for a portfolio is quarterly (every three months). This frequency is often chosen, in part, because investment data is commonly reported during earnings season on a quarterly basis. While an investor may not make changes to their portfolio on a consistent basis, it's important to monitor the metrics periodically.

Tip: Monitoring metrics are commonly calculated and published on investment websites. Return vs. benchmark can be easily found for almost any investment security. However, risk metrics such as standard deviation, Beta, and R-squared are generally used for portfolios, which means they're more commonly calculated and published on mutual funds and ETFs, not stocks or bonds. For example, Seeking Alpha provides performance, standard deviation, and other risk metrics on ETFs. Morningstar.com is an example of a research site that provides monitoring metrics for investors.

Portfolio Return vs. Benchmark

Performance can be monitored for each investment or for the portfolio as a whole. For example, in addition to using the S&P 500 index for stock holdings and the Barclays Aggregate for bonds, an investor with a moderate allocation of 60% stocks and 40% bonds may choose to use a balanced index fund with a similar allocation, such as Vanguard Balanced Index (VBIAX). Alternatively, the investor can take a weighted average of the returns of the indices, where the weights equal the asset allocation of their portfolio.

Standard Deviation

Standard deviation is a measure of volatility of an investment or a portfolio. For example, a higher standard deviation indicates a greater price variation, or higher volatility, from average performance. To reduce volatility in a portfolio, many investors employ diversification strategies by investing in a variety of assets.


Beta is a statistical risk metric that measures an investment's risk compared to a market benchmark. The market will always have a Beta of 1.0. If an investment has a Beta higher than 1.0, it is more volatile than the market and if an investment has a Beta lower than 1.0, it is less volatile than the market.


R-squared is a statistical measure that represents an investment's price movements that correlate with the movements of its benchmark index. Usually expressed as a percentage, R-squared may range from 0% to 100%. For example, an R-squared of 0.95 means that 95% of the investment's price movements are correlated to its benchmark.

For example, if an investor were using an S&P 500 index fund as a core holding in their portfolio, they may want to find an investment with a low R-squared compared to the S&P 500 to help diversify the portfolio.

Sharpe Ratio

The Sharpe ratio is a measure of risk-adjusted return that expresses a level of volatility an investor is required to assume to achieve a return higher than a risk-free asset. Put differently, the Sharpe ratio can help an investor decide if additional risk of an asset or portfolio justifies its return. A good Sharpe ratio is one higher than 1.5.

Sortino Ratio

The Sortino ratio is a modification of the Sharpe ratio that measures risk-adjusted return of an investment or portfolio. Where Sortino differs from Sharpe is that Sortino only factors in downside risk. Many investors prefer this because they believe upside volatility (large price increases) are not risk. Thus, the Sortino ratio may be best used for a high volatility portfolio measure of risk and the Sharpe ratio may be best for a lower-volatility portfolio.

Bottom Line

There's more to measuring portfolio performance than total return. Investors are wise to select appropriate benchmarks, such as the S&P 500 index for a stock portfolio or the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index for a fixed income portfolio. Statistical measures, such as Standard Deviation, Sharpe ratio, and R-squared can be used to measure risk of a portfolio.

This article was written by

Kent Thune profile picture
Kent Thune, CFP®, is a fiduciary investment advisor specializing in tactical asset allocation and portfolio management with a focus on ETFs and sector investing. Mr. Thune has 25 years of wealth management experience and has navigated clients through four bear markets and some of the most challenging economic environments in history. As a writer, Kent's articles have been seen on multiple investing and finance websites, including Seeking Alpha, Kiplinger, MarketWatch, The Motley Fool, Yahoo Finance, and The Balance. Mr. Thune's registered investment advisory firm is headquartered in Hilton Head Island, SC where he serves clients all around the United States. When not writing or advising clients, Kent spends time with his wife and two sons, plays guitar, or works on his philosophy book that he plans to publish in 2024.

Analyst’s Disclosure: I/we have no stock, option or similar derivative position in any of the companies mentioned, and no plans to initiate any such positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Seeking Alpha's Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. Any views or opinions expressed above may not reflect those of Seeking Alpha as a whole. Seeking Alpha is not a licensed securities dealer, broker or US investment adviser or investment bank. Our analysts are third party authors that include both professional investors and individual investors who may not be licensed or certified by any institute or regulatory body.

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Comments (4)

MISAAK profile picture
Great article, thanks for sharing!
Kent Thune profile picture
@MISAAK My pleasure! Thanks for reading!
Mountain Lover profile picture
Sortino is calculated for several time periods. Which of the time periods do you feel is best for evaluating closed-end funds?
Kent Thune profile picture
@Mountain Lover Since many CEFs use leverage to boost performance, they are generally not long-term holdings. With that said, downside risk metrics like Sortino Ratio are generally best for evaluating a time period that is similar to your expected holding period.
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