What Is Jensen’s Measure (Alpha)

Jensen’s Alpha, often referred to as Jensen’s measure, is a risk-adjusted performance metric used to evaluate the excess returns generated by a portfolio or investment relative to its expected returns, given its level of risk as measured by the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM).

Michael C. Jensen’s initially introduced the concept of Alpha in his paper titled “The Performance of Mutual Funds in the Period 1945-1964” in the Journal of Finance in 1968.. In this work, he analyzed mutual fund returns to evaluate their performance relative to the overall market.

This metric is often colloquially termed as simply Alpha.

Jensen’s Alpha plays a pivotal role in portfolio management, aiding investors and fund managers in discerning whether a portfolio’s superior returns are a testament to efficacious investment strategies or merely a reflection of additional risk undertaken.

  • Jensen’s measure encapsulates the variance in returns of an individual relative to the overarching market.
  • Commonly referred to as alpha, Jensen’s measure becomes particularly significant when a manager surpasses the market performance corresponding to risk, thereby “delivering alpha” to their clientele.
  • This measure thoughtfully incorporates the risk-free rate of return for the specified time period, ensuring a well-rounded analysis of performance.

Capital Assets Pricing Model (CAPM)

The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) quantifies a security’s value by evaluating the anticipated return in conjunction with the associated risk borne by investors upon investing in that security. The security in question could encompass a variety of investment forms such as a stock, commodity, private equity startup, or mutual fund. Essentially, it applies to any investment entity that has a benchmark for comparative evaluation. In employing CAPM to ascertain a stock’s value, multiply the stock’s volatility, denoted as “beta,” by the supplementary recompense for bearing risk, referred to as the “Market Risk Premium.” Subsequently, append the risk-free rate to this obtained value. The CAPM formula is expressed as follows: \[ R_p = R_f + \beta (R_m – R_f) + \alpha \]  

Unpacking Jensen's Alpha Formula

From the formula of CAPM Model, The formula for Jensen’s Alpha is expressed as follows:

\[ \alpha = R_p – [R_f + \beta * (R_m – R_f)] \]


  • \( \alpha \) is Jensen’s Alpha,
  • \( R_p \) is the actual return of the portfolio,
  • \( R_f \) is the risk-free rate,
  • \( \beta \) is the portfolio’s beta, and
  • \( R_m \) is the return of the market.

The components of the formula are critical to understanding the essence of Jensen’s Alpha:

  • Risk-Free Rate (\( R_f \)): Typically represented by government bond yields, the risk-free rate is the return on an investment devoid of risk.
  • Market Return (\( R_m \)): The returns of a comprehensive market index like the S&P 500, witnessed during the assessment duration.
  • Portfolio Beta (\( \beta \)): This is a measure of the portfolio’s systematic risk in relation to the market. Systematic risk, being the risk inherent to the overall market, remains unaffected by diversification efforts.
  • Portfolio Return (\( R_p \)): The actual returns generated by the portfolio during the evaluation period.

Interpreting Jensen’s Alpha

The concept of alpha represents a notable metric in the assessment of an investment’s performance against a benchmark. The value of alpha, denoting the excess returns, can exhibit a spectrum of states including positive, negative, or zero.

  • Positive Alpha: This condition signifies an outperformance scenario.
  • Negative Alpha: This reflects an underperformance against the benchmark.
  • Zero Alpha: This denotes a neutral performance, indicating that the investment is tracking the benchmark precisely.

The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) is instrumental in evaluating risk-adjusted returns; it calibrates the expected return to account for the risk-free rate, thereby adjusting for the inherent risk.

In an ideal setting, where a security is fairly priced, the expected returns should align with the returns projected by the CAPM (i.e., alpha = 0).

  • However, the narrative changes if the security garners returns exceeding those of the risk-adjusted returns; in such instances, the alpha assumes a positive value.
  • On the flip side, a negative alpha is indicative of a shortfall, where the security or the portfolio fails to meet the required return threshold.

For portfolio managers with a return-centric focus, a higher alpha is invariably the sought-after outcome as it denotes a superior performance vis-a-vis the benchmark. This metric serves as a hallmark of the portfolio manager’s acumen in navigating market dynamics and delivering value to investors.

Practical Implications of Jensen's Alpha

The practical applications of Jensen’s Alpha are extensive, ranging from portfolio evaluation to strategic investment analysis. Here are some key applications:

  • Portfolio Evaluation: It helps to ascertain whether the superior returns of a portfolio result from adept investment strategies or merely from additional risk undertakings.
  • Fund Manager Assessment: It serves as a metric to evaluate the efficiency of fund managers in generating value for investors, thus revealing the skill of portfolio managers.
  • Strategic Investment Analysis: By providing a risk-adjusted performance perspective, Jensen’s Alpha aids in the identification and validation of superior investment strategies.

Calculation Examples

Let’s dive into a few Jensen’s alpha examples to grasp the concept thoroughly.

Example #1

Imagine a bond mutual fund yielded a return of 12% last year. The expected rate of return for this specific fund is 8%. The beta versus the expected rate is 1.2, while the risk-free rate of return is 3%.

One can employ the formula mentioned above to calculate Jensen’s alpha.

\alpha = 12\% – \{3\% + 1.2 \times (8\% – 3\%)\}

or, \( \alpha = 12\% – 0.09 \)

or, \( \alpha = 0.03 \)

Given a beta of 1.2, this fund is expected to be slightly riskier compared to the index. Nonetheless, the positive alpha illustrates that the fund manager garnered enough to compensate for the risk undertaken over the previous year.

Example #2

ICICI Growth Fund showcased a superior performance compared to other funds in its bracket. 

  • Additionally, it exhibits favorable risk ratios in comparison with its counterparts. 
  • The Jensen’s alpha ratio of this fund is 7.45, which towers above the category average of 3.21. 

This denotes that the mutual fund has exceeded the market’s anticipated returns.

Advantages And Disadvantages


Risk-Adjusted Performance Assessment:
Jensen’s alpha facilitates an examination of a portfolio’s performance, taking into account the inherent risk, thereby providing a ground for investors to evaluate varying investments on a similar risk-adjusted basis.

Portfolio Managers’ Efficacy Evaluation:
By segregating the influence of a portfolio manager’s investment choices from market fluctuations, Jensen’s alpha aids in discerning whether a manager is adding value through their investment tactics or merely riding the wave of broader market trends.

Recognition of Superior Investment Approaches:
A positive Jensen’s alpha signifies that an investment approach is regularly yielding above-par returns relative to its risk level, hinting that the strategy might be more proficient than others.


Reliance on Past Data:

The computation of Jensen’s alpha is rooted in historical data, which may not always mirror future performance.

Presumptions of the CAPM:

Jensen’s alpha’s credibility is intertwined with the assumptions that underpin the CAPM, like the presence of a risk-free rate and the linear association between risk and anticipated returns. Should these assumptions falter, the precision of Jensen’s alpha as a performance metric might be jeopardized.

Susceptibility to Market Conditions Alterations:

The responsiveness of Jensen’s alpha to market condition shifts necessitates that investors ponder over how diverse market scenarios may impact their portfolio’s risk-adjusted performance.

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