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Beginners to Retirees: Asset Allocation Models by Age

Jimmy Khan

Jun 10, 2022 16:43

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The ratio between various asset kinds in one's investment portfolio is referred to as asset allocation. From young starters to seniors, we'll look at how to construct one's portfolio asset allocation based on age and risk tolerance, including figures and examples.

the Highlights:

The ratio of various asset classes in an investment portfolio is defined by one's investing goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. It is dictated by one's investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance.


Asset allocation, more than securities selection, is critical and accounts for most of a portfolio's returns and volatility.


Bonds are less risky than stocks. When two uncorrelated assets, such as stocks and bonds, are held together, overall portfolio volatility and risk are reduced compared to owning either asset alone.


There are a few easy methods for calculating asset allocation by Age that is suited for everyone from young novices to retirees, as well as numerous risk tolerance levels.


There is no such thing as a "best" asset allocation. What is acceptable to you may not be acceptable to someone else, and only retrospect can reveal the best portfolio.


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What Is Asset Allocation and How Does It Work?

Asset allocation simply refers to a person's investment portfolio's precise mix or distribution of various asset classes depending on their objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon. Goals are things you desire to accomplish or acquire, such as saving for a down payment on a home or retiring at 55. c The term "time horizon" simply refers to the length of time you plan to keep the investment to achieve your objective. This may be ten years for the downpayment on a home and 30 years for retirement.


Most folks I've spoken to are unfamiliar with "asset allocation" until they've learned it. Mix, distribution, and split are all terms used by the inexperienced to describe the same concept, and all of these terms relate to the same item in this context. We're merely discussing a mix of asset types, such as 60/40 stocks/bonds. The three primary asset classes are stocks/equities, fixed income, and cash or cash equivalents. Outside of them, gold/metals and REITs are typically considered separate classes in portfolio diversification. Don't worry if this is all a little unclear right now.

Let's take a closer look at why asset allocation is so crucial.

What Is the Importance of Asset Allocation?

During various market conditions, these various asset types respond differently. Asset correlation is the connection between two asset classes. Stocks and bonds, for example, are often kept together because they are negatively correlated, meaning that when stocks fall, bonds rise, and vice versa. This asset uncorrelation provides a diversification advantage, lowering total portfolio volatility and risk.


The equity risk component becomes more relevant for people with low-risk tolerance and/or those approaching, at, or in retirement. Diversity may be equally as essential as diversification by asset type.


It's commonly believed that asset allocation is more significant than asset selection in the long run.


That is, deciding how much of your portfolio should be invested in stocks and how much should be invested in bonds is more significant – and more consequential – than deciding between an S&P 500 index fund and a whole market index fund, for example. Asset allocation, according to Vanguard, accounts for around 88 percent of a portfolio's volatility and returns. * Consider asset allocation as the broad framework or basis on which your portfolio is built before getting into the details of picking particular assets to invest in. We understand that we will never be able to successfully time the market or choose specific equities. Asset allocation is the one item you can control that has a major influence on the performance of your portfolio, and thus it should be your top priority.


Furthermore, believe that adhering to this structure throughout your investment journey will make it easier to achieve your financial goals and increase the predictability of the projected result (i.e., a decrease in the dispersion of possible outcomes at retirement). You'll be miles ahead of others who tinker and modify their approach, spinning their wheels and leaping to new shiny items depending on what the talking heads on TV are saying that week. It's difficult to sell a newsletter subscription based on the relatively basic and unappealing concept of determining a specific asset allocation, purchasing index funds, rebalancing yearly, and sticking to the plan. When you read stories about market collapses and the historical success of stock choices and sectors, the temptation to deviate from your asset allocation will be strong, but remember that this is merely survivorship bias and recency bias rearing their ugly heads.


Different asset allocations are required for different investment objectives. Asset allocation is the most significant component in accomplishing an investment goal when a certain amount of risk is present.


An investor saving for a down payment on a home in ten years will have a far more cautious asset allocation than an individual preparing for retirement in 40 years. Asset allocation is often written and expressed as a ratio of equities to fixed income, such as 60/40, which means 60% stocks and 40% bonds. Continuing the example, since bonds are less risky than stocks, the first investor with a short time horizon would have a 10/90 stock/bond asset allocation. Still, the second investor might have a 90/10 allocation. We may expand that description to other assets, such as gold, by writing it as 70/20/10 stocks/bonds/gold, which means 70% stocks, 20% bonds, and 10% gold.


So, how does all of this work in practice? From 1926 through 2019, the figure below depicts the practical use, relevance, and variability of returns of distinct asset allocations made up of two assets — stocks and bonds. The greatest and worst 1-year returns are shown by bars.


As you can see, asset allocation has an impact on not just risk and projected return but also result in dependability. The graphic also shows how equities and bonds are predicted to fare in the future.


Stocks provide larger returns at the expense of more volatility (return variability) and risk. On the other hand, bonds tend to have the reverse effect: lower returns but reduced risk. Once again, combining uncorrelated assets helps retain profits while lowering total portfolio volatility and risk. The subsequent proportion of each asset substantially impacts the portfolio's overall behavior and performance.


It's vital to remember that previous performance does not guarantee future outcomes. That is, we will never be able to predict the optimal asset allocation, and only retrospect can reveal the best portfolio.


However, we can conclude with good assurance that, in the long run, investors who take on more systematic risk are typically paid more.


Is this to say that you should take on as much risk as possible to maximize your projected return? Most likely not. Now that you understand why it's so crucial let's look at how risk tolerance influences asset allocation.


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Risk Tolerance and Asset Allocation

In the form of risk tolerance, investor behavior plays a large role in asset allocation. An effective asset allocation plan requires the investor's ability to follow through with it. Modern Portfolio Theory posits that all investors act logically and without emotion; we all know this isn't true.


The investor, not the financial markets, is typically to blame for the failure of their investment strategy.


Plan abandonment is common during collapses or excessive bull markets, as you would expect.


Overestimating one's risk tolerance is one of the most common errors committed. Risk tolerance is the point at which price volatility (swinging movement) or drawdown (depreciation; capital loss) compels you to adjust your behavior. This issue is difficult to analyze for a new investor with no expertise.


For a hypothetical, simplified, reductive example, assume an investor finds that they cannot emotionally take a loss of more than 20% or volatility of more than 10% as defined by standard deviation. Although the chart above uses worst 1-year returns rather than drawdowns, we may conclude that this investor has a low-risk tolerance and should invest in no more aggressive than a 40/60 stocks/bonds portfolio, lest they leave their plan at the worst possible moment. This implies that the predicted return on such an asset allocation would still enable them to satisfy their financial obligations and accomplish their objectives. Please remember that the statistics I used here are fictitious, and the future may not resemble the past.


Bonds are less hazardous than stocks. Investing in stocks is a wager on a company's future profits, and bonds are a contractual commitment to pay the bondholder a fixed amount. Stocks have a higher risk – and consequently a higher potential gain – than bonds since future corporate profits – and what the firm does with those earnings – are out of the investor's control.


So why not simply put your money into bonds? Stocks, once again, have a larger return than bonds. Bonds have hazards, and investing simply in them may not enable an investor to achieve their financial objectives depending on their aim. Remember that risk and reward are generally inversely proportional. Most investors want a higher rate of return than 1-month Treasury Bills (the risk-free asset) alone can provide. In most circumstances, lowering the portfolio's risk necessitates accepting lower projected returns. In the spirit of full transparency, I say "most circumstances" since there are exceptions, such as when it comes to equity risk considerations, particularly when looking at short periods.


Furthermore, unanticipated inflation, for example, might be detrimental to a bond-heavy portfolio. On the other hand, investing primarily in stocks increases volatility and risk, putting you in danger of losing money soon. Holding bonds mitigates the risks associated with stock ownership, and investing in equities mitigates the risks associated with bond holdings. The beauty of variety is this: Keeping two (or more) uncorrelated assets together might result in better returns and lower risk than holding each asset separately, as well as a smoother ride, depending on the time horizon and market behavior.


Behavioral finance and risk tolerance may be the subject of a separate post. It's very personal and entails complicated psychology based on frequently illogical human behavior that we can't dependably forecast. Unfortunately, the stomach is frequently stronger than the head when it comes to investing. I've written a separate piece on investor prejudices, which most people are unaware of.


According to William Bernstein, an investor's risk tolerance may be determined by how they responded to the 2008 global financial crisis:


Sold: a person with low-risk tolerance.


Moderate risk tolerance is maintained.


More items were purchased due to high-risk tolerance.


I bought more and hoped for even more drops: I have a high-risk tolerance.


Choose a level of risk that allows you to sleep at night. Once again, most investors overestimate their risk tolerance, only to discover their genuine risk tolerance after a market downturn when their portfolio value plummets. According to one theory, investors may also be ashamed to disclose that they have a low-risk tolerance to their adviser – or themselves. Don't be that way.


It's critical to have reasonable expectations of the marketplace as well as one's actions. Unfortunately, the behavioral side of investing is quite real and may have serious implications. The human brain is programmed to respond emotionally to one's surroundings — in this example, a financial environment. Will you panic sell if the value of your portfolio declines by 57%, as it did for an S&P 500 index investor in 2008?


Also, remember that when you're having a bad day, stocks tend to perform worse. That is, your human capital suffers simultaneously as your investing capital, so make sure you have an emergency fund in place to prevent being compelled to sell low and lock in losses simply to make ends meet during a downturn. Finally, recognize and account for cognitive biases like loss aversion, the idea that people are more sensitive to losses than gains, implying that we prefer to avoid losses over acquiring profits.


Vanguard provides a website that shows historical returns and risk information for several asset allocation strategies, which may assist you in selecting. Remember that the identical performance you saw on that page may not happen again.


Proper asset allocation helps you remain involved in good and bad times. It's simple to claim you'll remain involved through a severe downturn, but it's far tougher said than done and must be experienced firsthand to properly comprehend. It's also simple to show that a portfolio comprised entirely of stocks has higher expected returns. Still, if you sell during a market crash due to extreme volatility and watch your portfolio plummet, you'd be better off sticking to a more conservative 60/40 allocation the entire time.


It's also worth noting that straying from one's plan doesn't have to mean selling during a market downturn. This may also entail postponing investing fresh money after a market fall because you're afraid of the markets or delaying investments since the market seems to be overvalued. These practices raise risk in the long run by lowering total return and outcome dependability.


"The discipline to stay the course with an asset allocation, more than asset allocation itself, is in all probability the largest predictor of returns in the long run," says Larry Swedroe.


Trust that your risk tolerance, as well as your subsequent adherence to your investment strategy and asset allocation, will be put to the test during a time of market upheaval.


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Questionnaire on Asset Allocation

Vanguard offers a simple asset allocation questionnaire that may be used as a starting point. The time horizon and risk tolerance questions are included in the questionnaire, and you may read about them here. While it's a good exercise, it's still just one part of the issue since it ignores factors such as present mood, market sentiment, and external influences. Keep these factors in mind and try to be as impartial as possible. Suppose you respond to these questions during a bull market. In that case, your attitude will most likely be too optimistic, and your responses will imply a maximum risk tolerance that is greater than your genuine level of risk tolerance. It's pointless to figure out one's maximal risk tolerance under perfect market circumstances. It's usually preferable to fill out these surveys following a market downturn.


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Calculation of Asset Allocation based on Age

There are a few simple, well-known model computations for dynamic asset allocation of a stock and bond portfolio by Age, going more towards bonds as time goes on since they're safer. We'll assume a retirement age of 60 for clarity and uniformity of discussion.


"Age in bonds" is the earliest and most basic adage. Bonds would make up 40% of a 40-year-portfolio. Old's This may be appropriate for a risk-averse investor, but it is much too cautious in my perspective. In reality, this common knowledge, repeated ad nauseam, contradicts all of the leading target date fund managers' asset allocation recommendations. According to this computation, a 20-year-old rookie investor would have 20% bonds straight out of the gate. This would certainly restrict early growth, which is more crucial at the start of the investment horizon.


Another basic rule of thumb is to allocate bonds more aggressively [Age minus 20]. This computation follows professional advice much more closely. This indicates that the 40-year-old has 20% in bonds, while the 20-year-old has 100% stocks and no bonds in his portfolio. This also produces the tried-and-true 60/40 portfolio for a 60-year-old retiree.


[(age-40)*2] might be a more ideal but somewhat more difficult formula. This implies bonds aren't included in the portfolio until beyond age 40, allowing for maximum growth when early accumulation is more critical and then quickly shifting to capital protection as retirement approaches. The glide trajectories of the top target-date funds seem to be most closely followed by this computation.