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Tracking Error is a crucial concept in the world of finance and investing. It measures the deviation between the performance of an investment portfolio and its benchmark index. By assessing the consistency of an investment’s returns about its benchmark, tracking error provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of a portfolio manager’s investment strategy. Understanding tracking error is essential for investors, as it helps evaluate the risk associated with a particular investment.

What is a Tracking Error?

Tracking Error is the statistical measure of the deviation between an investment portfolio’s and benchmark index’s returns. It reflects the variability of the portfolio’s performance to the benchmark. Tracking Error quantifies how much a portfolio manager has successfully replicated the benchmark’s performance.

Content Defining What is Tracking Error

Tracking Error refers to the difference in returns between an investment portfolio and its benchmark index. It provides insights into an investment manager’s effectiveness in tracking or replicating the benchmark’s performance. A lower tracking error indicates that the portfolio closely follows the benchmark, while a higher tracking error signifies a more significant deviation from the benchmark. Tracking error is essential as it helps investors assess the risk associated with a particular investment strategy.

Importance of Tracking Error

Understanding the importance of tracking errors is crucial for investors. Here are some key points highlighting its significance:

  • Performance Evaluation: Tracking error enables investors to evaluate a portfolio manager’s performance by comparing the portfolio’s returns to its benchmark. A lower tracking error suggests that the portfolio manager has successfully closely tracked the benchmark’s performance, indicating efficient management.
  • Risk Assessment: Tracking error indicates the risk associated with a particular investment. Higher tracking error implies a more significant deviation from the benchmark, indicating higher volatility and potential risks. Investors can use tracking errors to assess the risk-return trade-off of different investment options.
  • Manager Selection: Investors often compare the tracking error of various investment managers to select the one that aligns with their investment goals and risk tolerance. A manager with a consistent track record of low tracking error may indicate a disciplined and reliable investment approach.
  • Portfolio Diversification: Tracking errors can help investors assess the effectiveness of diversification strategies. By comparing the tracking error of different portfolios, investors can determine which combination of assets provides optimal diversification while closely tracking the benchmark.

How to Calculate Tracking Error?

To calculate tracking error, you need to follow these steps:

  • Gather Data: Collect the historical returns of the investment portfolio and its benchmark index for the desired time period.
  • Calculate Deviations: Calculate the difference between the portfolio and benchmark returns for each corresponding period.
  • Square the Deviations: Square each deviation value to remove the effect of negative and positive deviations.
  • Calculate Variance: Sum up the squared deviations and divide the result by the number of observations.
  • Calculate Tracking Error: Take the square root of the variance to obtain the tracking error.

The formula for Tracking Error

The formula for calculating tracking error is as follows:

Tracking Error = √(Sum of Squared Deviations / Number of Observations)

Example of Tracking Error

Suppose you have an investment portfolio that aims to track the S&P 500 Index. Over a specific period, the portfolio generates an average return of 8%, while the S&P 500 Index returns an average of 9%. Calculating the deviations for each time period, squaring them, and summing them up, you find the variance is 0.0032. Taking the square root of the variance, the tracking error is approximately 0.0567, or 5.67%.

What is a Good Tracking Error?

A good tracking error depends on various factors, including the investment strategy, the nature of the asset class, and the investor’s risk tolerance. Generally, a lower tracking error is desirable, as it indicates higher accuracy in tracking the benchmark. However, it’s important to note that achieving a tracking error of zero is virtually impossible and not necessarily the goal. A small tracking error, typically below 2-3%, is often considered good, especially for passive investment strategies.

Factors Influencing Tracking Error

Several factors can influence tracking errors. Here is a table categorizing some of the critical factors that can impact tracking errors:



Investment Strategy

Passive vs. Active Management

Index Composition

Number of Securities, Sector Concentration

Trading Costs

Commissions, Bid-Ask Spread


Frequency, Timing

Index Methodology

Weighting Scheme, Reconstitution Rules

Fund Expenses

Management Fees, Operating Expenses


Understanding these factors is essential for investors and portfolio managers to manage tracking errors effectively and make informed decisions regarding investment strategies.

Limitations of Tracking Error

While tracking error is a valuable tool, knowing its limitations is essential. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Historical Perspective: Tracking error is based on historical data and may not accurately predict future performance. Market conditions and the investment manager’s approach can change over time.
  • Benchmark Selection: The choice of the benchmark can significantly impact tracking error. Different benchmarks have different compositions and performance characteristics, which can affect the tracking error calculation.
  • Volatile Markets: Tracking error may be higher during periods of high market volatility, as price fluctuations and rapid market movements can lead to deviations between the portfolio and the benchmark.
  • Tracking Methodology: The methodology used to replicate the benchmark can impact tracking errors. Sampling methods, transaction costs, and other implementation decisions can introduce tracking errors.
  • Currency Effects: If the benchmark index and the investment portfolio have exposure to different currencies, currency fluctuations can contribute to tracking errors.

In conclusion, tracking error is vital in evaluating investment performance and risk. It provides valuable insights into a portfolio manager’s ability to replicate a benchmark index. By understanding tracking errors and their calculation, investors can make informed decisions, select suitable investment managers, and assess the risk associated with different investment strategies.


Tracking error is a crucial metric that provides valuable insights into an investment portfolio’s ability to replicate a benchmark index. By understanding tracking errors and their calculation, investors and portfolio managers can assess performance, evaluate risk, and make informed investment decisions. While tracking error has limitations, it remains a valuable tool for measuring the accuracy and consistency of investment strategies. As investors navigate the complexities of the financial markets, tracking error is essential in pursuing optimal investment outcomes.


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