To estimate beta, one needs a list of returns for the asset and returns for the index; these returns can be daily, weekly or any period. Next, a plot should be made, with the index returns on the x-axis and the asset returns on the y-axis, in order to check that there are no serious violations of the linear regression model assumptions. The slope of the fitted line from the linear least-squares calculation is the estimated Beta. The y-intercept is the alpha.
There is an inconsistency between how beta is interpreted and how it is calculated. The usual explanation is that it gives the asset volatility relative to the market volatility. If that were the case it should simply be the ratio of these volatilities. In fact, the standard estimation uses the slope of the least squares regression line—this gives a slope which is less than the volatility ratio. Specifically it gives the volatility ratio multiplied by the correlation of the plotted data. Tofallis (2008) provides a discussion of this, together with a real example involving AT&T. The graph showing monthly returns from AT&T is visibly more volatile than the index and yet the standard estimate of beta for this is less than one.
The relative volatility ratio described above is actually known as Total Beta (at least by appraisers who practice business valuation). Total Beta is equal to the identity: Beta/R or the standard deviation of the stock/standard deviation of the market (note: the relative volatility). Total Beta captures the security's risk as a stand-alone asset (since the correlation coefficient, R, has been removed from Beta), rather than part of a well-diversified portfolio. Since appraisers frequently value closely-held companies as stand-alone assets, Total Beta is gaining acceptance in the business valuation industry. Appraisers can now use Total Beta in the following equation: Total Cost of Equity (TCOE) = risk-free rate + Total Beta*Equity Risk Premium. Once appraisers have a number of TCOE benchmarks, they can compare/contrast the risk factors present in these publicly-traded benchmarks and the risks in their closely-held company to better defend/support their valuations.