Absolute Returns vs Relative Returns

2019-05-28T11:19:57-07:00 March 31st, 2017|Tags: , , |

Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.

You answer the phone. Your trusted investment advisor says, “I have some good news for you. The value of your portfolio only declined 25% last month while the benchmark index declined a whopping 35%. As a result, you beat the market by ten points!” Feel good? Can you spend the ten point “gain” on groceries? Would you fire your investment advisor on the spot?

The absurdity of the foregoing scenario was a major driver behind the creation of hedge funds, which focus on delivering absolute returns versus relative returns. While we cannot spend a “relative ten point return” (which in the foregoing example was negative), we can spend an “absolute ten point return.”

Isn’t it amazing how people’s desire to make themselves look good can stimulate their creativity? For example, I cannot recall a presentation from an investment banker that did not include the assertion that his or her firm was number one. This claim requires that the banker define a comparative universe within which their boast is validated. Creativity in the arena of universe definition knows no bounds!

Just as relative performance is often used in the marketplace to make a company look good, it is a common feature of our personal lives. Speaking as an amateur psychologist, I think sometimes people perversely enjoy media reports about wrongdoers, since it enables them to think more highly of themselves. “I’m an upstanding citizen. After all, I haven’t robbed a bank or lied on my tax return. On reflection, I think I deserve some kind of public virtue medal!”

Absolute returns are better than relative returns but absolute truths are much better than relative truths.

This kind of relativism permeates our culture. It also permeates our culture’s view regarding how God sees us. To the extent they think about God at all, most marketplace leaders assume God must be pleased with them based upon their exemplary conduct. Unfortunately, this assumption flies in the face of the unequivocal biblical assertion that we all fall far short of His absolute moral standard and that, absent His intervention, we are all lost.

The good news is that God sent His son, Jesus, to rescue us. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Absolute returns are better than relative returns but absolute truths are much better than relative truths. Jesus claimed to be THE absolute truth and ratified this claim by His resurrection from the dead. I finally trusted Jesus with my life in my thirties after many years of paying no attention to Him. How about you?

Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.