Roy's safety-first criterion

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Roy's safety-first criterion is a risk management technique that allows an investor to select one portfolio rather than another based on the criterion that the probability of the portfolio's return falling below a minimum desired threshold is minimized.[1]

For example, suppose there are two available investment strategies—portfolio A and portfolio B, and suppose the investor's threshold return level (the minimum return that the investor is willing to tolerate) is −1%. then the investor would choose the portfolio that would provide the maximum probability of the portfolio return being at least as high as −1%.

Thus, the problem of an investor using Roy's safety criterion can be summarized symbolically as:

where is the probability of (the actual return of asset i) being less than (the minimum acceptable return).

Normally distributed return and SFRatio[edit]

If the portfolios under consideration have normally distributed returns, Roy's safety-first criterion can be reduced to the maximization of the safety-first ratio, defined by:

where is the expected return (the mean return) of the portfolio, is the standard deviation of the portfolio's return and is the minimum acceptable return.


If Portfolio A has an expected return of 10% and standard deviation of 15%, while portfolio B has a mean return of 8% and a standard deviation of 5%, and the investor is willing to invest in a portfolio that maximizes the probability of a return no lower than 0%:

SFRatio(A) = [10 − 0]/15 = 0.67,
SFRatio(B) = [8 − 0]/5 = 1.6

By Roy's safety-first criterion, the investor would choose portfolio B as the correct investment opportunity.

Similarity to Sharpe ratio[edit]

Under normality,

The Sharpe ratio is defined as excess return per unit of risk, or in other words:


The SFRatio has a striking similarity to the Sharpe ratio. Thus for normally distributed returns, Roy's Safety-first criterion—with the minimum acceptable return equal to the risk-free rate—provides the same conclusions about which portfolio to invest in as if we were picking the one with the maximum Sharpe ratio.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roy, Arthur D. (1952). "Safety First and the Holding of Assets". Econometrica. 20 (July): 431–450. doi:10.2307/1907413.