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The Jolly Contrarian’s Dictionary
The snippy guide to financial services lingo.™


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Beta /ˈbiːtə/ (n.)
So-so. Ordinary. Unspectacular. Safe. Dull. Meets expectations. Won’t try to rip you off.

Defined in a famous paper by William Sharpe in 1964 — he of the Sharpe ratiobeta is defined as: “a portfolio risk that cannot be diversified away by adding more securities to it.”

Since the whole market has all the securities in it, you can’t add to that, the whole market has a beta of 1.

Therefore, to track beta is to track the whole market’s performance. Therefore watch out for — well, to put not to fine a point on it — bullshit products claiming to yield returns like “intelligent beta”; “smart beta” or “enhanced beta”. Nonsense on stilts.

Good article here.

See also