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How to Calculate the Real Rate of Return

26 Sep 2023

What is the Real Rate of Return?

The real rate of return is the actual gain or loss an investor makes after accounting for inflation. It represents the increase or decrease in purchasing power of an investment over time. It's often expressed as a percentage and is a more accurate measure of an investment's true performance than the nominal rate of return. The real rate of return tells investors how much their money is truly growing in real terms after considering the eroding effect of inflation.

How to calculate the Real Rate of Return?

  • To calculate the real rate of return, use this formula: Real Rate of Return = (1 + Nominal Rate of Return) / (1 + Inflation Rate) - 1.
  • Obtain the nominal rate of return, which is the return on the investment before accounting for inflation.
  • Find the current inflation rate, typically using an inflation index like the Consumer Price Index.
  • Plug these values into the formula to determine the real rate of return.
  • The result will indicate whether the investment is outpacing or underperforming inflation.

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What are the factors that affect the Real Rate of Return?

  1. Inflation Rate: The primary factor affecting the real rate of return is the inflation rate. Higher inflation erodes the real return.
  2. Investment Choice: Different investments (stocks, bonds, real estate) offer varying real rates of return due to their performance and risk.
  3. Time Horizon: The longer an investment is held, the more significant the impact of inflation on the real rate of return.
  4. Government Policies: Monetary policies and tax regulations can influence both inflation and interest rates, affecting the real rate.
  5. Global Economic Conditions: Economic trends and international factors can impact inflation and, consequently, the real rate.
  6. Investment Costs: High fees and expenses associated with an investment can reduce the real rate of return.

Advantages of Assessing the Real Rate of Return

  • Accurate Performance Measurement: The real rate of return accounts for inflation, enabling traders to gauge the true profitability of their trades.
  • Informed Decision-Making: Traders need to know if their gains outpace inflation to make wise investment choices.
  • Risk Management: Understanding the real rate helps traders assess the risk-adjusted returns of various assets and strategies.
  • Preservation of Capital: It's vital for capital preservation, as trading gains that don't exceed inflation result in a loss of real purchasing power.
  • Long-Term Perspective: Traders often have long-term financial goals; the real rate ensures these goals are met despite the erosive effects of inflation.
  • Inflation Hedge: Some trading strategies focus on assets or commodities that historically outperform inflation, serving as a hedge.
  • Economic Environment: Traders need to adapt to changing economic conditions, and the real rate is a key indicator of the economic landscape.


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