In today’s financial marketplace, a well-maintained portfolio is vital to any investor’s success. As an individual investor, you need to know how to determine an asset allocation that best conforms to your personal investment goals and strategies. In other words, your portfolio should meet your future needs for capital and give you peace of mind. Investors can construct portfolios aligned to their goals and investment strategies by following a systematic approach.
Ascertaining your individual financial situation and investment goals is the first task in constructing a portfolio. Important items to consider are age, how much time you have to grow your investments, as well as amount of capital to invest and future capital needs. A single college graduate just beginning his or her career and a 55-year-old married person expecting to help pay for a child’s college education and plans to retire soon will have very different investment strategies.
A second factor to take into account is your personality and risk tolerance. Are you the kind of person who is willing to risk some money for the possibility of greater returns? Everyone would like to reap high returns year after year, but if you are unable to sleep at night when your investments take a short-term drop, chances are the high returns from those kinds of assets are not worth the stress.
As you can see, clarifying your current situation and your future needs for capital, as well as your risk tolerance, will determine how your investments should be allocated among different asset classes. The possibility of greater returns comes at the expense of greater risk of losses (a principle known as the risk/return tradeoff) – you don’t want to eliminate risk so much as optimize it for your unique condition and style. For example, the young person who won’t have to depend on his or her investments for income can afford to take greater risks in the quest for high returns. On the other hand, the person nearing retirement needs to focus on protecting his or her assets and drawing income from these assets in a tax-efficient manner.
Generally, the more risk you can bear, the more aggressive your portfolio will be, devoting a larger portion to equities and less to bonds and other fixed-income securities. Conversely, the less risk that’s appropriate, the more conservative your portfolio will be.
Once you have an established portfolio, you need to analyze and rebalance it periodically because market movements may cause your initial weightings to change. To assess your portfolio’s actual asset allocation, quantitatively categorize the investments and determine their values’ proportion to the whole.
The other factors that are likely to change over time are your current financial situation, future needs and risk tolerance. If these things change, you may need to adjust your portfolio accordingly. If your risk tolerance has dropped, you may need to reduce the amount of equities held. Or perhaps you’re now ready to take on greater risk and your asset allocation requires that a small proportion of your assets be held in riskier small-cap stocks.
Essentially, to rebalance, you need to determine which of your positions are overweighted and underweighted. For example, say you are holding 30% of your current assets in small-cap equities, while your asset allocation suggests you should only have 15% of your assets in that class. Rebalancing involves determining how much of this position you need to reduce and allocate to other classes.
Once you have determined which securities you need to reduce and by how much, decide which underweighted securities you will buy with the proceeds from selling the overweighted securities.
When selling assets to rebalance your portfolio, take a moment to consider the tax implications of readjusting your portfolio. Perhaps your investment in growth funds has appreciated strongly over the past year, but if you were to sell all of your equity positions to rebalance your portfolio, you may incur significant capital gains taxes. In this case, it might be more beneficial to simply not contribute any new funds to that asset class in the future while continuing to contribute to other asset classes. This will reduce your growth stocks’ weighting in your portfolio over time without incurring capital gains taxes.
Throughout the entire portfolio construction process, it is vital that you remember to maintain your diversification above all else. It is not enough simply to own securities from each asset class; you must also diversify within each class. Ensure that your holdings within a given asset class are spread across an array of subclasses and industry sectors.
As we mentioned, investors can achieve excellent diversification by using managed investment funds. These investment vehicles allow individual investors to obtain the economies of scale that large fund managers enjoy, which the average person would not be able to produce with a small amount of money.
Overall, a well-diversified portfolio is your best bet for consistent long-term growth of your investments. It protects your assets from the risks of large declines and structural changes in the economy over time. Monitor the diversification of your portfolio, making adjustments when necessary, and you will greatly increase your chances of long-term financial success.