Practical Implications of Asset Allocation

Asset allocation, despite its importance in portfolio management, is perhaps the last thing on the mind of the novice investor. Before regaling the virtues of asset allocation, a layman’s definition of asset allocation is perhaps warranted, so here goes: asset allocation is a process by which an investor aims to enhance the risk-reward ratio of a portfolio of risky assets. It is important to stress upon two things here: (1) asset allocation is not a one-time exercise, it is an ongoing process; and (2) the use of multiple asset classes to convert a portfolio of risky assets into a benign money-making machine.

Equipped with a basic understanding of the theory behind asset allocation what is stopping the novice investor from going ahead and enhancing portfolio returns? The reason is that the effect of asset of allocation rests largely on finding asset classes whose returns are uncorrelated with one another – the lower the correlation, the better. For instance, it is popular belief that gold is a hedge against inflation i.e. gold prices and inflation rates move in tandem. Therefore, what one loses in purchasing power is compensated by an increase in gold prices. This, however, is a long term phenomenon i.e. one may witness large deviations in the short term.

The key to benefiting from asset allocation, therefore, is to periodically tweak the portfolio for changes in correlations between asset classes and include new ones with the overall objective of enhancing the risk-reward ratio of a given portfolio. Although this may seem like too onerous a task, the novice investor need not worry. A certain level of diversification via asset allocation can be achieved by following the below steps:

  1. Ascertain whether you have surplus money to invest – a simple equation of income less expenses. The figure you ascertain will comprise your overall pie available for asset allocation.
  2. Understand your needs as defined by three key parameters viz. risk appetite, return requirements and time constraints. Your needs are a function of your age, marital status, number of dependants etc.
  3. Identify avenues to invest in the broadest categories of asset classes viz. equity, debt, commodities, real estate and alternative asset classes.
  4. Steps 2 and 3 will require a bit of periodic back and forth because the asset class(es) you choose will depend on your needs. E.g. someone with a higher risk appetite may have a higher percentage of equities in the pie than someone with a lower risk appetite. The latter investor may lean towards debt investments.

In summary, the age-old adage of not putting all of one’s eggs in one’s basket applies here. A systematic approach to asset allocation with disciplined and timely execution can ensure that investors, novice and otherwise, hold well-constructed portfolios and therefore benefit from asset allocation.

Vinay Basavaraj

Vinay boasts of a decade of experience working in both large and small organizations. His roles have ranged from sales to operations and even a stint in academia. He currently manages affairs in capital markets in Capital Float.