Let’s talk about asset allocation. What exactly are assets, and what happens when you allocate them?
Big picture, an asset is anything beneficial you have or have coming to you. For our purposes, it is anything of value in your investment portfolio. After bundling your investable assets into asset classes, we allocate, or assign, each asset class a particular role in your portfolio.
To offer an analogy, allocating your portfolio into different asset classes is similar to storing your clothes according to their roles (pants, shirts, shoes, etc.), instead of just leaving them in a big pile in your closet. You may also further sort your wardrobe by style, so you can create ideal ensembles for your various purposes. Likewise, asset allocation helps us tailor your portfolio to best suit you, efficiently tilting your investments toward or away from various levels of market risks and expected returns. Your precise allocations are guided by your particular financial goals.
That is it, really. If you stop reading here, you now understand the basics of asset allocation. Of course, given how much academic brainpower you will find behind these basics, there is a lot more we could cover. For now, let’s take a closer look at those asset classes.
At the broadest level, asset classes typically include domestic, developed international and emerging market versions of the following:
Just as you can further sort your wardrobe by style, each broad asset class (except for cash) can be further subdivided based on a set of factors, or expected sources of return.
We can then mix and match these various factors into a rich, but manageable collection of asset classes, such as international small-cap stocks, intermediate government bonds and so on.
Generally speaking, the riskier the asset class, the higher return you can expect to earn by investing in it over the long haul.
To convert plans into action, we turn to select fund managers with low-cost fund families that track our targeted asset classes as accurately as possible. Sometimes, a fund tracks a popular index that tracks the asset class. Other times, asset classes are tracked more directly. Either way, the approach lets us turn a collection of risk/reward “building blocks” into a tightly constructed portfolio, with asset allocations optimized to reflect your investment plans.
Who decides which asset classes to use, based on which market factors? To be honest, there is no universal consensus on THE correct answer to this complex and ever-evolving equation. As evidence-based practitioners, we turn to ongoing academic inquiry, professional collaboration and our own analyses. Our goal is to identify allocations that seem to best explain how to achieve different outcomes with different portfolios.
As such, we look for robust results that have:
As we learn more, sometimes we can improve on past assumptions, even as the underlying tenets of asset allocation remain our dependable guide. Bottom line, by employing sensible, evidence-based asset allocation to reflect your unique financial goals (including your timelines and risk tolerances), you should be much better positioned to achieve those goals over time.
Asset allocation also offers a disciplined approach for staying on course toward your own goals through ever-volatile markets. This is more important than most people realize. As Dimensional Fund Advisor’s David Booth has observed, “Where people get killed is getting in and out of investments. They get halfway into something, lose confidence, and then try something else. It’s important to have a philosophy.”
So, now that you are more familiar with asset allocation, we hope you will agree with our mode of thinking. Properly tailored, asset allocation is a fitting strategy for any investor seeking to earn long-term market returns.
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This post was prepared and first distributed by Wendy J. Cook.
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