# LO 70.6: Explain how changes in portfolio risk levels can affect the use of the

LO 70.6: Explain how changes in portfolio risk levels can affect the use of the Sharpe ratio to measure performance.
The Sharpe ratio is useful when evaluating the portfolio performance of a passive investment strategy, where risk and return characteristics are relatively constant over time. However, the application of the Sharpe ratio is challenged when assessing the performance of active investment strategies, where risk and return characteristics are more dynamic. Changes in volatility will likely bias the Sharpe ratio, and produce incorrect conclusions when comparing portfolio performance to a benchmark or index.
Take for example a low-risk portfolio with an alpha return of 1 % and a standard deviation of 3%. The manager implements this strategy for one-year, producing quarterly returns of
2%, 4%, 2%, and 4%. The Sharpe ratio for this portfolio is calculated as: 1% / 3% = 0.3333. If the market index has a Sharpe ratio of 0.3, we would conclude that this portfolio has superior risk-adj usted performance. In the following year, the portfolio manager decides to switch to a high-risk strategy. The alpha return and risk correspondingly increase to 5% and 15%, respectively. For the second year, quarterly returns were 10%, 20%, 10%, and 20%. The Sharpe ratio in this case is still 0.3333 (= 5% / 15%), which still indicates superior performance compared to the market index. However, if the Sharpe ratio is evaluated over the two-year time frame, considering both the low-risk and high-risk strategies, the measure will drop to 0.2727 since average excess return over both years was 3% with volatility of 11%. The lower Sharpe ratio now suggests underperformance relative to the market index.
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2018 Kaplan, Inc.
Topic 70 Cross Reference to GARP Assigned Reading – Bodie, Kane, and Marcus, Chapter 24
In this example, the Sharpe ratio was biased downward due to the perceived increase in risk in portfolio returns. In isolation, both the low-risk and high-risk strategies produced higher Sharpe ratios than the market index. However, when analyzed together, the Sharpe ratio suggests that the portfolio excess returns are inferior to the market. Therefore, it is important to consider changes in portfolio composition when using performance measures, as dynamic risk levels can lead to incorrect ranking conclusions.
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