What are Alpha and Beta in Mutual Funds?

Alpha measures a fund manager's ability to beat the market; beta indicates fund volatility. Together, they guide investors in assessing mutual fund risk and performance. Read on to learn more!

Investing in mutual funds can be daunting, especially when confronted with many technical terms and metrics. Among these, the concepts of alpha and beta stand out as crucial indicators of a fund’s performance and risk profile. These terms, borrowed from finance theory, offer investors insights into how a mutual fund scheme is likely to perform relative to its benchmark and how it responds to market volatility. Let’s dive deeper into what alpha and beta mean in the context of mutual funds and why they are important for investors.

How Is Risk Measured in Mutual Funds?

Understanding risk in the investment sphere involves grasping how returns can vary from what’s typically expected. A prevalent tool for quantifying this variability is the standard deviation, a statistical measure that captures how spread out returns are around their average. When the standard deviation is wide, it indicates a higher degree of uncertainty or risk.

For instance, the variation in returns (or standard deviation) for an equity mutual fund is generally more substantial than that of a debt fund. In contrast, large-cap funds typically show less fluctuation in returns than mid-cap funds because they comprise larger, often more stable companies.

What Is Alpha in Mutual Funds?

In mutual funds, Alpha is a metric that represents the value a portfolio manager adds to or subtracts from a fund’s return relative to the fund’s benchmark index. Essentially, it measures the active return on investment and indicates the performance of a mutual fund after accounting for the risk it has taken relative to the market.

To understand Alpha, consider the following:

  • Zero Alpha: An alpha of zero suggests that the fund is performing exactly as expected in comparison to its benchmark. This means the fund’s returns after adjusting for risk are precisely in line with the benchmark’s returns.
  • Positive Alpha: A positive alpha indicates that the fund has outperformed its benchmark, providing higher-than-expected returns for the level of risk taken. This is generally seen as a sign of good fund management, as the manager’s investment choices have added value.
  • Negative Alpha: Conversely, a negative alpha means that the fund has underperformed its benchmark, delivering lower returns than expected for the risk taken. This might suggest poor management decisions or an investment strategy that has not paid off as anticipated.

Alpha is crucial for investors who are looking to assess the impact of a fund manager’s investment decisions on the returns of an actively managed fund. It can be a reflection of the manager’s skill and effectiveness at portfolio management. However, alpha is not typically a factor for passively managed index funds, which aim to mirror the performance of their benchmarks rather than beat them.

What Is Beta in Mutual Funds?

Beta in mutual funds is a metric that indicates the volatility of a fund relative to the overall market or a specific benchmark index. It’s a measure of the fund’s sensitivity to market movements:

  • Beta of 1: If a mutual fund has a beta of 1, it implies that the fund’s value is expected to move in lockstep with the market. If the market goes up by a certain percentage, the fund is also expected to go up by roughly the same percentage, and vice versa.
  • Beta Less Than 1: A beta less than 1 suggests that the fund is less volatile than the market. If the market experiences ups and downs, the fund’s value should fluctuate less. These funds are typically perceived as less risky.
  • Beta Greater Than 1: Conversely, a beta greater than 1 indicates that the fund is more volatile than the market. If the market swings, the fund’s value is likely to swing even more. This can mean higher risk but also the potential for higher returns.

Beta is used by investors to gauge a fund’s risk profile and to determine how it might behave under market conditions. A higher beta might attract investors looking for growth opportunities and willing to accept more risk, while a lower beta might be more suitable for conservative investors seeking more stable investments.

Calculation of Alpha and Beta in Mutual Funds

To comprehend the concepts of alpha and beta in mutual funds, one must first be familiar with the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM). This model posits a relationship between the expected return of an investment and its risk as compared to the market. The formula outlined by CAPM is as follows:

Expected Return=Risk-Free Rate+Beta×(Market Return−Risk-Free Rate)

For beta, we can derive the formula from CAPM by isolating beta:

Beta=Fund Return−Risk-Free Rate / Market Return−Risk-Free Rate

It’s crucial to note that beta is generally calculated through statistical methods, specifically by plotting a fund’s returns minus the risk-free rate against the market’s excess returns. The slope of the line that best fits this plot is the beta of the fund.

For investors, although beta is usually provided in a fund’s fact sheet, understanding its computation is beneficial. The beta value indicates how a fund’s returns might fluctuate in response to market movements. For instance, a fund with a beta of 1.5 will theoretically return more than the market in upswings, but also potentially lose more in downturns.

Let’s explore an example: A mutual fund has a beta of 1.5 against the Nifty index as its benchmark. If the Nifty index surges by 10%, CAPM predicts that the fund should generate a return of 13%, assuming a risk-free rate of 4%. This is because the fund’s return will be enhanced by the additional risk it assumes, as indicated by its beta.

Now, concerning alpha, we can add it to the CAPM equation to account for the fund’s actual return compared to its expected return:

Actual Fund Return=Risk-Free Rate+Beta×(Benchmark Return−Risk-Free Rate)+Alpha

In continuation of our example, if the fund’s actual return is 15% while the Nifty index rose by 10%, and the risk-free rate remains at 4%, then the alpha would be calculated as:

Alpha=Actual Fund Return−(Risk-Free Rate+Beta×(Benchmark Return−Risk-Free Rate))

Thus, if the fund indeed returned 15%, the alpha would be 2%. This alpha indicates the additional return the fund manager achieved beyond what was expected based on the fund’s beta value.

Alpha, then, serves as a measure of a fund manager’s ability to generate value over and above the market performance after adjusting for risk. It highlights not just the potential for higher returns in bullish markets but also the capacity to limit losses when markets are bearish.


Alpha and beta are vital tools for assessing mutual fund performance and risk, giving investors a clearer understanding of a fund manager’s proficiency and the fund’s behaviour in different market conditions. Alpha reflects the value added by the fund manager’s investment decisions, and beta indicates the fund’s volatility in comparison to the market. 

Armed with this knowledge, you are better positioned to make investment choices that align with your financial objectives and risk tolerance. To take the next step in your investment journey, open your Demat account with Angel One, where you can apply these insights to build a diversified investment portfolio.


What does a beta of 1.5 mean?

A beta of 1.5 means the fund is 50% more volatile than its benchmark market index, suggesting higher risk and potential for greater returns.

What is alpha fund vs beta fund?

An alpha fund aims to outperform the market benchmark, focusing on active management, whereas a beta fund tracks the market index, emphasising passive management strategies.

Is higher alpha good or bad?

A higher alpha is good; it indicates a fund has outperformed its benchmark after adjusting for risk, reflecting successful fund management.

What role does beta play in portfolio diversification?

Beta’s role in diversification is crucial; it helps investors mix high and low beta funds to manage overall portfolio risk and align with investment goals.

How can alpha influence investment decisions?

Alpha can influence decisions by highlighting a fund’s performance versus the market after risk adjustment, aiding in the selection of superior fund managers and strategies.