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Sterling Ratio

The Sterling Ratio is a risk-adjusted performance measure used in the field of finance to assess the returns generated by an investment relative to its downside volatility. Named after British economist James Sterling, this ratio provides investors with a comprehensive assessment of an investment’s risk and return profile. By considering the downside risk, it offers a more accurate depiction of an investment’s performance compared to traditional measures such as the Sharpe Ratio or the Sortino Ratio.


The Sterling Ratio seeks to capture the ability of an investment strategy to generate returns while minimizing downside risk. It calculates the excess return a portfolio generates above a risk-free rate, divided by the downside deviation of the portfolio returns. The downside deviation measures the volatility of the portfolio’s negative returns, as opposed to standard deviation that considers overall volatility.

To compute the Sterling Ratio, one must follow these steps:

  1. Identify the desired investment portfolio.
  2. Determine the risk-free rate of return. This rate is typically based on a benchmark, such as the yield on Treasury bills or other low-risk investments.
  3. Calculate the excess return of the portfolio by subtracting the risk-free rate from the portfolio’s average return.
  4. Determine the downside deviation of the portfolio. This involves calculating the standard deviation of the negative returns.
  5. Divide the excess return by the downside deviation to obtain the Sterling Ratio.

The resulting Sterling Ratio quantifies the return earned per unit of downside risk. A high ratio indicates that an investment has produced greater returns relative to its downside volatility, suggesting that it may be a favorable investment option. On the other hand, a low ratio implies lower returns relative to downside volatility, indicating higher risk or less efficient portfolio management.

It is worth noting that the Sterling Ratio is most useful when comparing investment strategies within the same asset class or sector. When comparing portfolios across different asset classes, it is essential to consider other factors such as risk appetite, time horizon, and investment objectives.


The Sterling Ratio is widely used by fund managers, portfolio analysts, and investors to evaluate the risk-adjusted performance of investment portfolios. By incorporating downside risk, it provides a more comprehensive picture of an investment’s ability to successfully navigate adverse market conditions. The ratio enables investors to make informed decisions, comparing the performance of various investment strategies while taking into account their risk tolerance.


While the Sterling Ratio provides an insightful analysis of risk and return, it is important to acknowledge its limitations. First, like other risk-adjusted measures, it relies on past performance and may not accurately predict future results. Additionally, the ratio assumes that returns are normally distributed, which may not hold true in all market conditions. Lastly, the Sterling Ratio may not adequately account for extreme market events or black swan events, as it primarily focuses on downside volatility.

In conclusion, the Sterling Ratio is a valuable tool for evaluating the risk-adjusted performance of investment portfolios. By considering downside risk, it offers a more comprehensive assessment of an investment’s return relative to its downside volatility. While it should be used in conjunction with other analysis techniques, the Sterling Ratio provides investors with valuable insights to inform their investment decisions.