Firstly, do not forget to factor in fees such as adviser and management fees and structure costs when looking at returns. I have seen the cost of some investments run as high as 4% p.a. through hidden commissions and explicit charges. These have been disguised by strong market performance over recent years, but are likely to be exposed if we experience leaner years in markets in the future.

Simple benchmarking

A simple and quick method of comparison is looking at interest rates on cash accounts. If your investment returns are generating the same returns as cash on deposit, why are you taking the market risk?

Similarly, take into account inflation. If you generate a 3% return and inflation is 2%, your net return is just 1%; is this what you thought you were achieving?

Lastly, look at what similar passive investments have done. These types of funds simply track a stock market index and are inexpensive. If you are paying a fund manager to outperform and add value by trying to achieve higher returns, have they done this?

More in-depth methods

Market indices

A market index tracks the performance of a group of shares or other investments e.g. the S&P 500 index which tracks the performance of the largest 500 shares in America. They can be a useful barometer for the ‘health’ of an investment market as a whole but it is important to use them appropriately.

For example, you cannot meaningfully compare the performance of the S&P 500 index (100% shares) with a portfolio that consists only 40% of shares. Similarly if you are comparing a euro denominated portfolio with the US market which is denominated in dollars, then again this is not necessarily an appropriate comparison.

The downsides of using indices as a comparison are therefore addressed by the use of:

Peer group

A peer group allows you to compare investments that are similar in nature e.g. a specific class of investments or geographical region, and because you are comparing “like for like” it can be a more meaningful comparison tool.

Morningstar.com is a particularly useful tool in this respect and can guide investors with regard to an appropriate benchmark and peer group.

Quartile rankings

These are used to compare returns of investments in the same category over a period of time. Investments in the top 25% are assigned quartile rank 1, the next 25% quartile 2 etc.

They can be useful in tracking consistency - what is important is not the quartile ranking in any one period, but they allow you to track trends over multiple periods and time frames.

There is no one way, or right way, to compare performance and you will likely need to combine several measures to get a more accurate reflection of performance. Even more importantly, this should be done regularly to ensure you are doing all you can to achieve your financial goals. Finally, you should take into account the risk you are taking to achieve a set level of return, and this will be the focus of a future article.

If you would like to discuss your performance or how best to build your own portfolio of investments, please get in touch.

For further information please visit www.spectrum-ifa.com. Mark Quinn is a Chartered Financial Planner with the Chartered Insurance Institute and Tax Adviser, qualifying with the Association of Tax Technicians. Contact Mark, at: mark.quinn@spectrum-ifa.com