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Kurtosis Definition and Quiz

Statistical terms sound more scary than they need to, and kurtosis is a perfect example. Just remember, fourth power, and three is normal.
  1. Define - Define and explain kurtosis for Finance.
  2. Context - Use kurtosis in a sentence.
  3. Quiz - Test yourself.
face pic by Paul Alan Davis, CFA
Updated: February 17, 2021
Higher kurtosis means more observations occur in the tails. Learn how this relates to return distributions below.

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Understanding Kurtosis in Finance


Kurtosis is a measure of the weight in the tails of a distribution, often described as how peaked a distribution appears. A standard normal distribution has a kurtosis of 3, so many times kurtosis is reported as excess kurtosis, or the difference from 3. It is often called the fourth moment because it is generated from calculations to the fourth power.

Synonym: excess kurtosis, fourth mathematical moment

For context, in the preliminary analysis of risk measures in the context of distributions in Finance, kurtosis usually ranks behind the mean, standard deviation and skewness. In fact, these also correspond with the mathematical moments we learned about in high school.

As a reminder, these moments mathematically describe the shape of the distribution of a function. And if you've used programming languages to model investments then this is clear to you.

So it stands to reason that the interpretation of kurtosis is less common than others and its calculation is complicated and best left to Excel with the =KURT() function or a statistical programming language like Python, R or MatLab.

The resulting kurtosis figure is typically related to a normal distribution which has a reading of 3.0. So some programs report kurtosis as a raw kurtosis like 3.2, or the equivalent excess kurtosis of 0.2. This represents the difference from 3.0. Excel for example reports excess kurtosis.

To interpret, higher numbers indicate more extreme observations in the tails of the distribution.

In a Sentence

Guy:  The kurtosis for the distribution is 1.15, and I think it's fair to assume that that's excess.
Bud:  It's also fair to assume this whole discussion about kurtosis, to me, is excess.


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Click box for answer.

The kurtosis for stock returns tends to be less than 3. | True or False

False. Stock returns tend to have fatter tails and higher kurtosis.

The kurtosis calculation is the result of cubing. | True or False

False, kurtosis is the result of raising to the fourth power.

Questions or Comments?

Still unclear on Kurtosis? Check out our free Excel financial modeling course called Quant 101.

Related Terms

Our trained humans found other terms in the category statistics for finance you may find helpful.

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