What is 'Absolute Percentage Growth'

Absolute percentage growth is an increase in the value of an asset or account expressed in percentage terms. Absolute percentage growth implies that the increase in value is displayed on a standalone basis, and not in relation to a benchmark or another asset. The term "absolute percentage growth" can cause some confusion since "absolute" usually refers to total increase or decrease in asset value in dollar terms, while "percentage" refers to the relative change (increase or decrease) over a period of time. Thus, if stock X increases in price from $10 to $15, the absolute increase is $5, while the percentage increase is 50%. The term may, therefore, be more accurately referred to as absolute growth (or absolute return) in percentage terms.

BREAKING DOWN 'Absolute Percentage Growth'

In the investment industry, performance is generally measured on a relative basis, rather than in absolute terms. For example, a small-cap U.S. mutual fund may be up 30% in a given year, which by any yardstick is a good return in absolute terms. But if the small-cap index that it tracks (such as the Russell 2000 index) is up 35%, the fund is considered to have lagged its benchmark by five percentage points. The fund would also be measured against other funds in its category to judge whether it has outperformed or underperformed its peers.

While institutional investors focus on relative returns, retail investors are typically more concerned with absolute returns. While setting out investment objectives, a retail investor may specify to the advisor that the target return for a portfolio should be, say, 5% or 7%; the average investor is usually unlikely to insist that the portfolio should outperform a selected benchmark by x percentage points over a period of time.

The retail investor's performance focus on absolute growth in a portfolio, rather than relative growth, can be an issue in savage bear markets, especially if the investor is fairly risk averse. If such an investor's equity portfolio is down 10% in a year when the benchmark index has declined 20%, the fact that the portfolio has actually outperformed the benchmark by 10 percentage points is likely to offer scant consolation to the investor.

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