Asset Allocation is Not Enough for Portfolio Risk Management

Every investor knows that asset allocation is one of the basic fundamental tenets of portfolio management. Financial publications, peer-reviewed literature, and books have observed that asset allocation is the significant contributor to the total return. This contribution factor varies anywhere from 50% to 95% depending upon how the data is analyzed with reference to timescale, markets and asset coverage, dividends, inflation, and what not parameters.

What intrigues me is following two issues:

  1. Look at any successful and well known investors such Buffet, Lynch, Ross, Pickens, etc., and we can observe that none of them followed asset allocation principles. In fact they were highly concentrated in few businesses or companies. E.g. Buffett’s portfolio shows 10 companies represent 85% of the portfolio.
  2. If asset allocation is supposed to reduce risk, in general, why portfolio managers cannot manage it with low risk and incur drastic negative performance during downturns? Shouldn’t asset allocation provide that downside safety net?

As the saying goes, at hindsight everything makes sense. Similarly analyzing the risk data backwards and using those risk models to project forward is a good start (Note: only good start). The biggest risk in those models is that they do not consider the macro economic scenario and its relationship to the total returns. As the macro economic environment changes, those assumptions, models, relationship, returns all change. They are no longer valid.

According to me, asset allocation as a standalone factor does not have any meaning. It will not have any impact on managing investors portfolio risk. I can be properly allocated in different assets but if my “quality of investments” in each asset class is crappy, it is of no help. I believe that “asset allocation” along with the “quality of investments” is what matters the most.

As an example, the number of companies in dividend aristocrats is reducing. At hindsight, the group of companies in dividend aristocrats has had an excellent run with the growth in US economy. The companies which are still able to keep their aristocrat hat (or new ones that are being added) are the ones which are continuously evolving. They are continuously on the lookout for new opportunities (new products, new markets, emerging markets?). Those are the ones that are of good quality. As a dividend investor, in addition to asset allocation, we also need to continuously monitor the quality of these companies.

I believe I should build my dividend portfolio by investing in four to five good quality companies in each industry segment. In addition, I also need to continuously monitor how the quality of company is evolving. Question is how to measure the quality of the company?

The aspects that I use for my dividend portfolio are (not in preferred order):

  1. Maintain diversified asset allocation;
  2. Ability of the stock to meet my buying objective;
  3. Companies’ ability to consistently grow dividends; and
  4. In year 2009, I introduced a risk-to-dividend parameter. The dividends from a single stock should not exceed 5% of the total dividends.

In tomorrow’s upcoming post, I will discuss above four points with reference to my dividend portfolio.

2 Responses to “Asset Allocation is Not Enough for Portfolio Risk Management”

  1. Dividend Tree says:

    JJ:
    My discussion was w.r.t. concentration based on capital allocation (not necessarily number of companies). We need to be little careful in looking at what guru’s have done or can do, because the access to resources, capital availability, vehicles etc… are very different.

    For individual investors based on risk profile, availability of resources, and investing vehicles, I still believe in prudent asset allocation but along with by quality (not as standalone tool). Both go together.

    If investor’s risk profile allows it, then there is nothing wrong in holding only 10 companies at a given time.

  2. Jae Jun says:

    Lynch was known to own thousands of companies lol. He certainly didn’t seem to care about asset allocation because if it looked good and cheap to him, he got it.

    Same thing with all the other guru’s. They aren’t afraid to invest a significant portion of their portfolio on just one stock if they feel the odds are truly in their favor.

    I too invest according to what I believe are my best ideas. I’ve never held more than 10 companies at any one time and it doesn’t bother me one bit.

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