What Is Asset Allocation?

Asset Allocation, Diversification, and Your Portfolio

First Published: ADawnJournal.com March 3, 2010

Asset allocation is an investment strategy which simply entails allocating your assets (your investment portfolio) among different categories of investments, such as stocks, bonds, money market funds, cash etc. Asset allocation helps to minimize risks and maximize gains because it diversifies your portfolio among various types of investment or investment products instead of keeping them in one place.

What Types of Asset Allocation Will Work Best For Me?

Although there are many rules of thumb regarding asset allocation, no one can tell you exactly which one is right or which one is wrong for you – as this is a very personal matter which largely depends on various factors as described below:

·   Time Horizon: Time horizon is how much time you have ahead of you to invest in reaching your financial goals. An investor with a longer time horizon has time on his side and will be able to choose volatile or riskier products for maximum returns – because if markets go down, this investor can wait to ride out the volatility. On the other hand, an investor with shorter time horizon will not be able to afford risky product, as he will not have the luxury to wait for the market to go up if he falls into financial meltdown.

·   Risk Tolerance: Risk tolerance is your ability to take risks for better returns. In the investment world, risk and reward are inextricably entwined. If you are young (like in your 20s or 30s), you may not care that much about losing 35% of your value, as you know you have a long way to go. But when you are in your 40s or 50s, with kids’ education and retirement in mind, a 20% drop in your portfolio may be enough to lose sleep at night.

·   Investing Is An Ongoing Learning Process: In my book Invest Now, I have mentioned that investment is nothing but a discipline, and it has to be orchestrated with great passion and care. Investment is not like going to the shopping mall and buying a few things impulsively – it is a lifelong learning process. Asset allocation or any other investment ideas are not set in stone and these will change as time changes. Always upgrade yourself with financial changes in the broad global perspective and you will have to change your investment strategies to bridge the gap between the present and the future.

·   Individuality Counts: Although you will find there are many rules of thumb or pre-made portfolios when it comes to asset allocation, there is no single allocation or portfolio available that will be right for everyone. Everyone is different and so should be their asset allocation. The onus is on you to find out the best asset allocation that suits your needs.

What Are Some Major Asset Categories?

These days, a wide array of investment products exist to give you a wide range of asset allocation with a broad diversification. However, there are only three major asset categories I will mention here:

·   Equities or Stocks: The word “stock” is interchangeable with “share,” “equity,” “security” and so on. Stocks represent ownership in a company and historically offer the greatest risk and highest returns among other asset groups mentioned here. Stocks should not be used as a short term investment as it can be very volatile to hold for a short period of time.

·   Fixed Income Investments or Bonds: Some other fixed income investment products are government savings bonds, bond mutual funds, etc. These types of products are less volatile than equities and offer modest returns as well. Fixed income products can offer steady flow of income – depending on its objective.

·   Cash Equivalents or Cash: This can be plain cash or products like savings accounts, money market funds, treasury bills, etc. These are considered the safest investments with minimal returns with almost no risks.

Why Asset Allocation Works?

Due to economic and market conditions, no one can predict the best performing assets and it varies year to year. Time has proved that during bad and good economic times, all asset classes do not move in the same direction. By diversifying your assets among various categories, you are minimizing your risks. If one asset class goes down, the other asset class is there to protect you by averaging out. Also, to reach your financial goals, you need to balance your portfolio by keeping both high-return and low-return investment products. If you keep only one type of product in your portfolio, you may never be able to reach your investment objectives – as it will be either too risky or too safe. Asset allocation helps you to diversify and balance your portfolio.

What Are Some Common Asset Allocation Rules of Thumb?

There are so many rules of thumb on this topic that it can be overwhelming. Many consider a neutral asset allocation should be 60% stocks and 40% bonds. Another rule of thumb goes like: subtract your age from 100 and you will get the percentage to hold in stocks. For example, if you are 40, 100-40 = 60% of your portfolio should be in stocks and 40% should be in bonds.

Is Diversification Same As Asset Allocation?

The old saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” was good advice 100 years ago, and it will be good advice forever. Whether you are a first-time or a veteran investor, you always need to spread out your investments to minimize your risks. Diversification refers to the process of spreading investments among various equities. Asset allocation refers to the process of spreading investments beyond multiple equities and over several asset classes such equities, bonds, cash, etc.

Asset Allocation is a diversification strategy that helps you to offset decline in any particular asset classes by gains in other asset classes – thus reducing the fluctuations of performance of a portfolio. It is unlikely that all asset classes will go downhill at the same time.

Do You Have Your Own Asset Allocation Model Portfolio?

Yes, to make investing simple and worry-free, I have invented a model portfolio called “A Dawn Timeless Portfolio” or simply ADTP. You can read more about ADTP here – (I am still working on this project and will add a link once done)

To find many other online asset allocation calculators, do a search by entering these keyword phrases: “asset allocation calculators,” “portfolio asset allocations tools,” etc.

Last Word

Model portfolios and asset allocation tools are to help you understand asset allocation. Do not blindly follow any model portfolios or tools just because it looks cool. You are different than anyone else – make an educated decision based on your time horizon, risk tolerance, financial goals, and your overall financial situation.