Keys to Risk-Adjusted Portfolio Management

Keys to Risk-Adjusted Portfolio Management

By David Urovsky

Not every investor has the same tolerance for risk, which is why risk-adjusted portfolio management is so essential in today’s volatile market.

The risk-adjusted investment approach starts with a clear understanding of the client’s risk tolerance and investment goals. Investment recommendations are initially constructed to match the client’s unique risk level and then carefully monitored to help keep the portfolio on track toward meeting the client’s goals.

Monitoring portfolio risk level

Risk tolerance is often directly related to a person’s experience with investments. For example, somebody who experienced the tech crash of 2000 – 2002 or the financial crisis of 2008 – 2009 is going to have a different perspective on investments than somebody who is coming into the market for the first time or who only has a couple of years of experience.

Time horizon is also a factor in a client’s risk tolerance. For example, a 40-year-old saving for retirement can be more growth-oriented than somebody who is nearing retirement and is going to need their portfolio to provide income.

Takeaway: At the most fundamental level, risk-adjusted portfolio management requires continuous monitoring of the portfolio’s risk level in light of market conditions. In 2016, I don’t expect great growth in the economy. I will be looking for investments that pay dividends.

There are times to take risks and times to wait for better opportunities

Looking back to 2015, with savings accounts or money markets paying less than 1 percent, many investors reached for higher yielding investment vehicles such as high-yield bonds, master limited partnerships (MLPs) and real estate trusts (REITs). Unfortunately, these investors ended up losing a fair amount of principal. As a result, in this uncertain economic and growth environment, you have to be careful not to try to force getting higher rates of return. You have to almost take what the market is giving you. There are times to take risks, and there are times to keep the powder dry, so to speak, and wait for better opportunities.

Little movement in asset classes in 2015

Another key factor in risk-adjusted portfolio management is understanding the correlation between investment/asset classes. Every portfolio must include different asset classes so that they don’t all move up or down at the same time. For example, Treasury bonds have a low correlation with the stock market. At the same time, correlation of high yield bonds with the S&P 500 and other stock indexes is much closer.

As it turned out, 2015 was an unusual year in that asset allocation didn’t help very much. Asset allocation is a strategy focused on how to invest among broad asset classes. The purpose of asset allocation is to control risk by reducing volatility or relative fluctuations in a portfolio thereby optimizing total return (investment returns, dividends and income). Asset allocation won’t guarantee a profit or ensure that you won’t have a loss, but may help reduce volatility in your portfolio. At the same time, diversification cannot eliminate the risk of an investment loss.

In 2015, most asset classes lost value or gained very little. Does that mean asset allocation no longer works? Of course not. Asset allocation is geared to long term success, and just because it didn’t work last year is no reason to discard it altogether. Asset allocation succeeds when it is part of a consistent investment approach over a long term, as opposed to chasing what’s hot today.

Takeaway: What is the key takeaway when it comes to risk-adjusted portfolio management? There are many different types of risks that an advisor reviews when putting together an asset allocation and selecting investments for the client. After all, we are trying to make money for the client. In order to do that on a consistent basis, each portfolio must be customized to reflect the balance between risk and return that the client will accept.

An advisor’s definition of success

Ultimately, our goal is to get better rates of return than the level of risk we have taken. From an advisor’s standpoint, that is our definition of success. When it comes to the client, success is invariably defined by the degree to which their portfolio meets their financial goals.

Questions or comments? Send us an email at

David Urovsky is registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer, Member (SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. It is not our position to offer legal or tax advice. Wealth Advisors Group is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp.


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