This article will break down the key differences between these investment return calculations and show you when each is most helpful for your financial planning.
3 mins read

Investment strategies often hinge on understanding returns, crucial for planning future investments and evaluating past decisions. This comprehension becomes particularly vital when understanding the metrics used to quantify these returns. XIRR and CAGR are two prominent metrics when it comes to investments, these acronyms that may seem daunting at first glance but are pivotal in investment analysis.
In this article, we delve into the differences between CAGR and XIRR, explain their significance and appropriate applications to empower your financial decision-making.

What is XIRR?

XIRR, or Extended Internal Rate of Return, is a more nuanced metric than its conventional counterpart, IRR. It caters to investments with multiple cash flows at irregular intervals, offering a comprehensive view of an investment's performance.
Particularly useful in real-world scenarios where investments and withdrawals occur at unpredictable times, XIRR provides a yearly rate of return that helps investors gauge the efficiency of their investments over time. Understanding XIRR is paramount for investors dealing with varying cash flows, ensuring they have a reliable metric for their financial analysis.

What is CAGR?

CAGR, or Compound Annual Growth Rate, serves as a key metric when it comes to investments, translating the cumulative returns of an investment into an annualised average. Unlike XIRR, CAGR assumes the investment grows at a steady rate over time, providing a smoothed estimate of return that does not account for fluctuations in capital inflow or outflow.
Ideal for comparing the growth rates of different investments over the same time period, CAGR narrows down the essence of an investment's growth trajectory into a single, comprehensible figure. For investors and analysts, understanding CAGR is crucial to evaluating and comparing the long-term performance of various investment avenues.

Understanding the differences between XIRR and CAGR

While both XIRR and CAGR offer insights into investment returns, their applications differ markedly due to the nature of the cash flows they accommodate. CAGR is best suited for investments with a single initial outlay followed by a period of growth, untouched by further contributions or withdrawals. On the other hand, XIRR steps in when the investment landscape comprises irregular cash flows, providing a nuanced perspective on returns.
The crux of their difference lies in their approach to timing and cash flow. CAGR overlooks the timing of investment movements, offering a broad-brush perspective. Whereas XIRR delves into the specifics, adjusting its calculations to the exact timing of cash flows, thus providing a more detailed view of investment performance.

XIRR vs CAGR: Pros and cons

Particulars XIRR CAGR
Cash Flow Accommodates multiple, irregular flows Assumes a single initial investment
Suitability Varied investment timelines Single, uniform investment period
Precision High, adjusts to specific cash flows Lower; averages out investment growth
Complexity Relatively high, requires detailed cash flow data Simpler; easier to calculate
Application More versatile, suits complex investments Ideal for straightforward, steady growth investments

Formula and numeric example for CAGR

The formula to calculate the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is:

CAGR = (Final Value/Initial Value)^(1/n) - 1
  • ‘Final Value’ represents the ending value of the investment.
  • ‘Initial Value’ is the value of the investment at the start of the period.
  • ‘n’ is the number of years over which the investment is held.

Assuming you invest Rs. 1,00,000 in a stock on January 1, 2020. By January 1, 2025, the value of this investment will grow to Rs. 1,61,051. To calculate the CAGR:

  • CAGR = (Final Value / Initial Value)^(1/n) - 1
  • CAGR = (1,61,051 / 1,00,000)^(1/5) - 1
  • CAGR = (1.61051)^(0.2) - 1
  • CAGR ≈ 0.1 or 10%

This calculation means the investment has grown at an annual rate of 10% over five years, assuming the reinvestment of earnings at the end of each year.

Formula and numeric example for XIRR

XIRR does not have a simple algebraic formula like CAGR since it involves solving an equation iteratively. However, when you are using spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Sheets, you can calculate XIRR using the following function structure:

= XIRR (values, dates, [guess])
  • ‘values’ refers to a series of cash flows that correspond to a schedule of payments (negative values) and incomes (positive values).
  • ‘dates’ is a series of dates corresponding to the cash flow payments
  • [guess] is your guess for what the XIRR might be; it's optional and usually not required because the software has a default.

For XIRR, consider an investment scenario with multiple cash flows. You invest in a mutual fund:

  • On January 1, 2020: You invest Rs. 1,00,000 (a negative cash flow as this is an outlay).
  • On January 1, 2022: You make an additional investment of Rs. 50,000.
  • On December 31, 2024: The total value of your investment is Rs. 1,80,000 (a positive cash flow as this is a return).

To calculate XIRR in Excel, arrange your cash flows and corresponding dates and apply the XIRR function:

Date Amounts (Rs. )
1/1/2020 -Rs. 100,000.00
1/1/2022 -Rs. 50,000.00
12/31/2024 Rs. 180,000.00
XIRR 4.28%

This function will numerically calculate the rate within the spreadsheet. In this case, the XIRR is 4.28%.

CAGR vs XIRR for SIP: Which is the winner?

When it comes to Systematic Investment Plans (SIPs), the debate of CAGR vs XIRR gains prominence due to the periodic nature of investments. XIRR, with its capacity to accommodate varying investment intervals and amounts, emerges as the preferable metric for SIPs. It accurately reflects the return on each instalment, adapting to the investment's inherent dynamism. Conversely, CAGR might simplify the returns to a misleading extent, overlooking the nuances of periodic investments.

Situations where CAGR is the more appropriate method of calculating returns

For single lump-sum investments without additional contributions or withdrawals.
When comparing the growth rates of different sectors or assets over a uniform period.
In cases where investment simplicity and broad overview are prioritised.

Situations where XIRR is the more appropriate method of calculating returns

For investments with non-periodic cash flows, such as real estate or angel investing.
In analysing the return of a portfolio with ongoing contributions or withdrawals.
For evaluating irregular income-generating investments like dividend stocks or bonds.

Final thoughts on XIRR vs CAGR

Understanding the differences between XIRR and CAGR equips investors with the analytical tools necessary for nuanced investment assessment. While CAGR offers a straightforward, averaged-out perspective, XIRR delves into the intricacies of each cash movement, providing a tailored analysis. The choice between XIRR and CAGR depends on the investment's nature and the detail level required, emphasising the need for a context-driven approach in financial analysis.

Frequently asked questions

Why is XIRR used to calculate returns from SIP and not CAGR?
XIRR accommodates the varying amounts and timing of SIP investments, providing a more accurate reflection of returns.
Which is better: CAGR or absolute return?
CAGR provides a more accurate understanding of investment performance over time compared to absolute return, which ignores the time factor.
Are annualised returns and CAGR the same?
They are similar, but CAGR is a specific type of annualised return that assumes compounded growth over periods.
What XIRR is good?
A 'good' XIRR is subjective and depends on the investment context, though typically, it should outperform relevant benchmarks. For example, if you invest in a large-cap equity mutual fund, you will ideally compare its performance to the Nifty 50 index.
Can we convert XIRR to CAGR?
While conceptually distinct, one could approximate the CAGR from XIRR under specific, simplified conditions, though it's not standard practice due to their inherent differences.
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