Perhaps the most important thing to consider when building an investment portfolio is your level of diversification. When you spread your investments across a broad number of companies, industries, sectors, and asset classes, you may be less heavily impacted by one market event.
Diversification can also help reduce the volatility in your portfolios, allowing you to see steady growth without wild swings in the value of your assets. That's when beta becomes important. Beta is a measure of a stock's sensitivity to changes in the overall market. You can measure the beta in your portfolios with some basic math.
Learn more about how to calculate the volatility, or beta, of your portfolio.
How Do You Calculate the Beta of a Portfolio?
First, it’s important to understand that beta is measured on a scale comparing an individual investment to a benchmark index like the S&P 500. A beta of 1.0 indicates that its volatility is the same as the benchmark. In other words, it moves in tandem with the benchmark.
A number higher than 1.0 indicates more volatility than the benchmark, while a lower number indicates more stability. For example, a stock with a beta of 1.2 is 20% more volatile than the market, which means if the S&P falls 10%, that stock is expected to fall 12%.
You can determine the volatility of your portfolio by examining the beta of each holding and performing a relatively simple calculation. It's simply a matter of adding up the beta for each security and adjusting according to how much of each you own. This is called a "weighted average."
While our example below discusses beta in the context of stocks, beta can be calculated for bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and other investments.
Four Steps for Calculating Beta
Beta for individual stocks is readily available on the websites of most online discount brokerages or reliable investment research publishers. To determine the beta of an entire portfolio of stocks, you can follow these four steps:
- Add up the value (number of shares multiplied by the share price) of each stock you own and your entire portfolio.
- Based on these values, determine how much you have of each stock as a percentage of the overall portfolio.
- Multiply those percentage figures by the appropriate beta for each stock. For example, if Amazon makes up 25% of your portfolio and has a beta of 1.43, it has a weighted beta of 0.3575.
- Add up the weighted beta figures.
Let’s illustrate by calculating the beta on this fictional portfolio of six stocks.
|Stock||Value||Share of Portfolio||Beta||Weighted Beta|
|Procter and Gamble||$18,000||0.18||0.6||0.108|
As you can see, adding up the weighted beta figures in the right column results in a beta of about 1.01. That means this portfolio's volatility is very much in line with the S&P 500.
How to Calculate Beta for Individual Stocks
You may not have much reason to calculate beta for individual stocks, as those figures are readily available. However, there may be times when you find it useful to crunch these numbers yourself.
It’s important to understand that beta can be calculated over various time periods. Stocks can be volatile over the short term, but they are generally stable over many years. For this reason, you may wish to calculate beta yourself to get a more precise answer.
In some situations, you may prefer to calculate beta using a different benchmark. For example, you may believe that a stock with a heavy presence overseas is best judged against an international index instead of the S&P 500.
Calculating beta on your own can also be educational, because it allows you to examine price movements in great detail. Some models for calculating a stock’s beta are very complex, but we’ll use the most straightforward approach here. Follow these basic steps:
- To begin, you’ll likely need a spreadsheet program to assist with calculations. Then you should determine the range of time you intend to measure.
- Using the spreadsheet program, enter the closing share price for your stock on each day of the date range you’ve selected. Then do the same thing for the index you are comparing against. For each date, determine the change in price and the change on a percentage basis.
- Then plug in the formula to determine how the stock and index move together and how the index moves by itself.
- The formula is: (Stock's Daily Change % x Index's Daily % Change) ÷ Index's Daily % Change
Investors can use beta as a way to assess risk for a particular investment. For instance, it can help investors understand what could possibly happen to a stock with a beta lower than the market's beta and the market experiences a drop.