What is Absolute Return? A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Content

The term “absolute return” resonates profoundly in the ever-changing finance landscape. It represents a metric that dissects the authentic gains or losses an investment accrues over a specific period, devoid of comparative benchmarks.

This comprehensive guide aims to illuminate the intricacies of absolute returns, providing a deep dive into their mechanics and underscoring their pivotal role for investors.

Understanding Absolute Return

Absolute return constitutes a financial gauge that measures an investment’s genuine profit or loss within a predefined timeframe, expressed as a percentage. It encapsulates the extent to which the investment has grown or contracted. What sets absolute return apart is its autonomy from external benchmarks or norms, focusing solely on the asset’s performance. Whether positive or negative, it stands independently, impervious to concurrent market fluctuations.

How Absolute Return Functions

The principle underpinning absolute return is straightforward: it evaluates the monetary gain an investment has yielded. Also recognized as total return, it computes the profit or loss an asset or portfolio has incurred, regardless of any benchmark or standard. Whether the returns are black or red, they remain unlinked from broader market movements.

For instance, investing $10,000 in a mutual fund that appreciates $11,000 a year results in an absolute return of 10%. In other words, the investment has grown by $1,000, equivalent to 10% of the initial investment.

Relative versus Absolute Returns

The crux of the distinction between relative and absolute returns lies in their comparative nature. While total returns meticulously scrutinize the return of a specific asset, relative returns juxtapose an investment’s return against a benchmark or alternative measure, be it an index, sector, or market average, contingent on the investment.

For instance, if a mutual fund manager endeavors to surpass peers, the category, or the market, this pursues relative return. Conversely, an absolute return fund strives to secure positive returns through unique investment management strategies, irrespective of market conditions.

Absolute Return Funds History

1949, Alfred Winslow Jones established the first total return in New York. Jones’ pioneering spirit laid the groundwork for a financial vehicle that would soon grow to become one of the most influential in global investment markets. This investment vehicle has increased globally and is today known more as a hedge fund.

What Comprises an Absolute Return Fund?

A hedge fund, often affiliated with absolute return investing, isn’t a specific investment type but a vehicle. It comprises a collection of investment funds structured as a limited liability corporation (LLC) or limited partnership. The fund manager raises capital from external investors and deploys it based on a defined strategy. These strategies encompass short selling, futures, options, derivatives, arbitrage, leverage, and unconventional assets.

Examples of Absolute Return

For example, for absolute return, consider investing in the Vanguard 500 Index ETF (VOO), which yielded a total return of 150.15% over the ten years ending Dec. 31, 2017, differing from its 10-year annualized return of 8.37% over the same period.

Conversely, the S&P 500 Index recorded a total return of 153.07% over the identical span. Consequently, the absolute return deviated from the relative return of -2.92%.

The Absolute Return Credit Strategy

A credit strategy endeavors to generate absolute returns by diversifying into a range of global credit instruments and combines long and short positions across various asset classes, including government and corporate bonds and derivatives. Its primary aim is to generate returns irrespective of market dynamics.

Distinguishing Absolute Return from CAGR

While absolute return gauges an investment’s actual return over a specific period, the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) calculates the annual growth rate over the same span. In essence, absolute return showcases the total return, while CAGR illuminates the annualized growth rate.

Advantages of Absolute Return Strategies

Absolute return strategies offer several benefits for investors. They can generate potentially positive returns even in challenging market conditions, which can be especially valuable during market volatility or economic uncertainty.

Absolute return strategies can diversify a portfolio. Incorporating investments with low correlation to traditional asset classes can help spread risk and enhance overall portfolio stability.

Bottom Line: Grasping the Significance of Absolute Returns

A keen understanding of absolute returns is pivotal for investors. It offers a clear snapshot of an investment’s performance, free from comparative metrics and market trends. As such, it is a potent tool for evaluating and managing assets. Providing an unadulterated measure of performance empowers investors to make informed decisions. The next time you encounter this term, you’ll possess a robust understanding of its implications for your investment endeavors.

In a world of ever-evolving financial markets, a grasp of absolute returns can be a beacon of clarity amid the noise. With this knowledge, investors can confidently navigate their financial journeys, knowing they have a solid understanding of their investments’ performance. This understanding empowers investors to make strategic decisions, ensuring their economic well-being and future prosperity.


Written by


Reviewed By



Judith Harvey is a seasoned finance editor with over two decades of experience in the financial journalism industry. Her analytical skills and keen insight into market trends quickly made her a sought-after expert in financial reporting.