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Sharpe Ratio Meaning

Jun 22, 2024 | Updated Jun 22, 2024
The Sharpe Ratio is a formula that helps investors understand how an investment could perform compared to its risks.

What is the Sharpe Ratio?

Since investors can only evaluate an investment in terms of its potential returns, estimating the risks involved is key to holistically understanding the trajectory of their portfolio. This is where the Sharpe Ratio comes in. It allows investors to analyze the past and predict the future performance of their investments.

Investors use this ratio to assess their investments’ performance in relation to risk, making their decisions about the future of their investment strategies that much more precise. The Sharpe Ratio can determine a single financial security or an entire portfolio. If the ratio is higher, the investment has delivered more returns relative to its risks.

The Sharpe Ratio Formula

The Sharpe ratio formula is crucial in helping investors maximize returns while minimizing losses. The formula for calculating this ratio is as follows:

The formula is crucial for investors aiming to maximize returns while minimizing losses. The formula is:

Sharpe Ratio = (Rp – Rf) / σp


  • Rp (Actual Rate of Return): This is the actual gain or loss on the investment or portfolio over a specific period. It’s the return you actually earned.
  • Rf (Risk-Free Return): This is the return you would get from a risk-free investment, such as government bonds. It represents the benchmark for a “no-risk” investment.
  • σp (Standard Deviation of Return): This measures the volatility or risk of the investment’s returns. A higher standard deviation means more variability and risk.

Breaking It Down

  1. Actual Rate of Return (Rp): Imagine you invested in a stock, and over a year, it gained 8%. This 8% is your actual rate of return.
  2. Risk-Free Return (Rf): If you had instead invested in a very safe government bond, you might have earned 2%. This 2% is your risk-free return.
  3. Standard Deviation of Return (σp): This tells you how much the returns on your investment vary over time. If your investment’s returns vary widely from the average, it has a high standard deviation, meaning higher risk.

How It Works

Using the Sharpe ratio, investors can see how much extra return they are getting for the extra risk they are taking compared to a risk-free investment. Here’s how:

  1. Calculate Excess Return: Subtract the risk-free return (Rf) from the actual return (Rp) to find the “excess return.” This shows how much more the investment earned compared to a risk-free option.
  2. Assess Risk: Divide the excess return by the standard deviation (σp). This adjusts the return based on the risk taken.


If an investment portfolio earned an 8% return (Rp), the risk-free rate is 2% (Rf), and the standard deviation of the portfolio’s returns is 10% (σp), the Sharpe ratio would be:

Sharpe Ratio = (8% – 2%) / 10% 

= 6% / 10% 

= 0.6

This formula gives investors a topline, ‘risk-adjusted’ view of their portfolio (or securities). The first step in deciphering the Sharpe ratio is to arrive at the “average excess return” of an investment over a given time span.

This means examining how much more a particular investment earns compared to a safer one. A higher Sharpe ratio indicates a better risk-adjusted return. It helps investors understand if they are being adequately compensated for the risk they are taking.

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