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Expected Return: Understanding and Calculating Investment Outcomes

What is Expected Return?

Expected return is the anticipated value of returns an investment can provide over a period. It's a statistical measure, calculated by multiplying potential outcomes by their probabilities, summing these products. This concept is critical in assessing the profitability and risk of investments.

Basics of Probability Distribution

Probability distribution, a key concept in calculating expected return, represents all possible outcomes of an investment and their likelihoods. It can be discrete (specific values) or continuous (any value within a range). Understanding this distribution is essential for accurate expected return calculations.

Calculating Expected Return for a Single Investment

To calculate expected return for a single investment, consider the probability of different outcomes based on historical data. For instance, an investment might have varying probabilities of yielding certain returns or losses. These probabilities are multiplied by their respective outcomes and summed to determine the expected return.

Calculating Expected Return of a Portfolio

The expected return of a portfolio is the weighted average of the expected returns of its individual components. Each component's weight is based on its proportion in the portfolio's total value. This calculation helps in evaluating the portfolio's diversification and overall expected profitability.

Analyzing Investment Risk

Risk analysis is pivotal in investment decisions. It involves assessing the risk characteristics of investment assets, often using standard deviation as a measure. Investments with similar expected returns might carry different risk levels, which should align with an investor's risk tolerance.

The Role of Risk Tolerance and Other Factors

Investors should consider their risk tolerance and other factors like economic conditions when evaluating investments. Expected return calculations, while based on historical data, should be supplemented with insights into current market dynamics and personal investment goals.


While not a guaranteed predictor, the expected return is a valuable tool for forecasting investment returns and assessing risk and diversification. It provides a framework for making informed investment decisions, taking into account both statistical probabilities and individual investment objectives.