Alpha is a measure used to quantify a fund manager's value added. Alpha measures the difference between a portfolio's actual returns and what it might be expected to deliver based on its level of risk. A positive alpha means the fund has beaten expectations and implies a skillful manager. A negative alpha means that the manager failed to match performance with the given risk level.

Beta is a measure of risk that gauges the sensitivity of a manager to movements in the benchmark (market). If the market returns change by some amount x, then the manger returns can be expected to changes by Beta times x. A Beta of 1 implies that you can expect the movement of a fund's return series to match that of the benchmark. A portfolio with a beta of 2 would move approximately twice as much as the benchmark.

Downside Deviation
The downside standard deviation is also referred to as downside risk. The downside standard deviation shows the average size of the deviations (from the mean) when the return is negative.

Excess Return
The difference between the returns of a mutual fund and its benchmark.

Explained Variance
The explained variance measures the variance of the fund that is explained by the benchmark (similar to the R-squared statistic).

Information Ratio
The information ratio is a measure of the consistency of excess return. The rato is calculated by taking the annualized excess return over a benchmark (numerator) and dividing it by the standard deviation of excess return (denominator). The result is a measure of the portfolio management's performance against risk and return relative to a benchmark. This is a straightforward way to evaluate the return a fund manager achieves, given the risk they take on.

Median Rank
Median rank refers to the midpoint of the range numbers that are arranged in order of value (lowest to highest).

R-squared measures (on a scale of 0 to 100) the amount of movement of a fund's return that can be explained by that fund's benchmark. An R-squared of 100 means that all movements of a fund are completely explained by movements in the associated index (benchmark).

Returns Based Style Analysis
Returns based style analysis uses a fund's return series to help identify the style of the fund. This is done by comparing those returns across a specific time period to a series of index returns of various styles (Large Cap Growth, Small Cap Value, etc.) over the same period. Through quadratic optimization, the best fit style is calculated. Once the best fit is found, the fund's style can then be analyzed and weightings toward each asset class can be made.

Sharpe Ratio
A ratio developed by Bill Sharpe to measure risk-adjusted performance. It is calculated by subtracting the risk free rate from the rate of return for a portfolio and dividing the result by the standard deviation of the portfolio returns to measure reward on a per unit of risk basis. For example if a bond fund returns 6% and has a standard deviation of 4% and the risk free rate is 2% then the Sharpe Ratio for this fund will be 1. (6-2)/4 = 1.

Significance Level
The significance level indicates the level of confidence (of a percentage basis) with which the statement “the manager's annualized excess return over the benchmark is positive” or “the manager's annualized excess return over the benchmark is negative,” as the case may be, holds true.

Standard Deviation
Standard deviation of return measures the average deviations of a return series from its mean (average) return. A large standard deviation implies that there have been large swings in the return series of the manager. The larger the swing, the more volatile the fund's returns and hence more implied risk. For smaller swings the opposite is true. Standard deviation helps us analyze risk by revealing how much the return on the fund is deviating.

Style Drift
The tendency of a fund to deviate from its investment style over time is style drift. This generally occurs because of a change in the fund's strategy, the manager's philosophy or even a portfolio manager change. During the 1990's dotcom boom, for example, many managers – regardless of the strategies they were initially bound by ­– were able to justify buying tech stocks for their portfolio, in hopes of capitalizing on the tech boom in the market at the time. Consequently, their styles “drifted” from their original strategy.

Tracking Error
Tracking error refers to the standard deviation of excess returns or the divergence between the return behavior of a portfolio and the return behavior of a benchmark. Tracking error is reported as a “standard deviation percentage” difference that accounts for the volatility between the return of a fund versus its benchmark.

Volatility of Rank
Volatility of rank is measured by taking the median of a series of numbers, or taking the absolute value of the distance of each individual number to that median, then finding the median of those distances. Volatility is used because it makes a better companion to the median than the standard deviation. Standard deviation is commonly used when measuring volatility around the mean (average), while volatility of rank is used for medians.

Up/Down Capture
The up/down capture is a measure of how well a manager was able to replicate or improve on periods of positive benchmark returns, and how badly the manager was affected by periods of negative benchmark returns. For example, if a fund has an up capture of 120 that means that the fund goes up 12% when the benchmark moves up 10%. The same fund has a down capture of 90 so that means the fund returns a -9% when the benchmark returns a -10%.


Glossary Links

FINRA Smart 401(k) Investing
PSCA 401(k) Terms
401k Helpcenter
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Encyclopedia Britannica


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