That 4-letter word in your portfolio

Rick Welch: Dollars and $ense

That 4-letter word in your portfolio

Now that I have your attention, let’s focus on something that all investment portfolios have – R-I-S-K.  In financial terms, risk is an exposure to loss which is related to the expected return of an investment security (for example, a stock or bond).  It is important to consider risk when adding any security to your portfolio. The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), a theoretical model of the relationship between risk and expected return, suggests that investors demand larger investment returns for taking greater investment risks. Makes sense. 

All stocks and bonds in your portfolio face some form of risk. In the case of stocks, we see two types of risk: systemic and non-systemic.  Systemic or market risk relates to changing conditions in the economy, such as the business cycle, inflation or monetary policy.  Because the market is inherently unpredictable, systemic risk is always present and cannot be reduced through diversification, though it can be hedged against. The only way to completely avoid market risk is not to invest in stocks. Non-systemic risk, which includes sector-specific and firm-specific risk, can be diversified through appropriate asset allocation and stock selection strategies.  

How about if I just invest in bonds, that way I can avoid risk completely?  Sorry, doesn’t work that way.  Fixed income securities, like bonds, have several types of risk, including default risk and interest rate risk. Default risk is the possibility that a borrower (a country, government agency, bank, municipality or company) will default by failing to repay principal and interest in a timely manner. Interest rate risk is the risk of falling bond prices due to a rise in interest rates.

Risk tolerance refers to our investing psyche and ability to remain unaffected by market volatility. It is important to develop a psychological detachment that is present in both bull and bear markets. If you are like me, you probably enjoy checking your stocks during good times and try to avoid the business section during bad ones. History instructs us, however, that good investing opportunities often present themselves in the meanest of bear markets.

What risk profile is most suitable for you and your family? How much risk do you need to accomplish your investing goals? You need some risk in order to increase the probability of higher investment returns, but, not too much that you unwisely damage your chances of retiring on schedule. Do you consider yourself to be a conservative (less than 20% stocks), balanced (50% stocks and 50% bonds) or a more aggressive (over 80% stocks) investor?  To answer this question, we suggest that you consider how your peace of mind is affected by market volatility.  What is your threshold for pain or said another way, when will stock market losses keep you up at night?

A simple rule might be that if you were to subtract your age from 100, your answer would be the percentage of stocks in your portfolio. Thus at age 57, my stock percentage might be 43%. This is overly simplistic, but it demonstrates the point that for most investors, age and stock percentage within our portfolios are inversely related. The shorter our investing time horizon (when we need our money), the less risk we should be willing to take in our portfolios. In determining your risk profile (or asset allocation of stocks and bonds), the goal should be to appropriately balance expected risk and return in a way that aligns strategically with your needs, objectives and investing time horizon.

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