Financial Concepts: The Risk/Return Tradeoff
  1. Financial Concepts: Introduction
  2. Financial Concepts: The Risk/Return Tradeoff
  3. Financial Concepts: Diversification
  4. Financial Concepts: Dollar Cost Averaging
  5. Financial Concepts: Asset Allocation
  6. Financial Concepts: Random Walk Theory
  7. Financial Concepts: Efficient Market Hypothesis
  8. Financial Concepts: The Optimal Portfolio
  9. Financial Concepts: Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM)
  10. Financial Concepts: Conclusion

Financial Concepts: The Risk/Return Tradeoff

The risk/return tradeoff could easily be called the "ability-to-sleep-at-night test." While some people can handle the equivalent of financial skydiving without batting an eye, others are terrified to climb the financial ladder without a secure harness. Deciding what amount of risk you can take while remaining comfortable with your investments is very important.

In the investing world, the dictionary definition of risk is the chance that an investment's actual return will be different than expected. Technically, this is measured in statistics by standard deviation. Risk means you have the possibility of losing some, or even all, of your original investment.

Low levels of uncertainty (low risk) are associated with low potential returns. High levels of uncertainty (high risk) are associated with high potential returns. The risk/return tradeoff is the balance between the desire for the lowest possible risk and the highest possible return. This is demonstrated graphically in the chart below. A higher standard deviation means a higher risk and higher possible return.

concepts1_riskreturn.gif

A common misconception is that higher risk equals greater return. The risk/return tradeoff tells us that the higher risk gives us the possibility of higher returns. There are no guarantees. Just as risk means higher potential returns, it also means higher potential losses.

On the lower end of the scale, the risk-free rate of return is represented by the return on U.S. Government Securities because their chance of default is next to nothing. If the risk-free rate is currently 6%, this means, with virtually no risk, we can earn 6% per year on our money.

The common question arises: who wants to earn 6% when index funds average 12% per year over the long run? The answer to this is that even the entire market (represented by the index fund) carries risk. The return on index funds is not 12% every year, but rather -5% one year, 25% the next year, and so on. An investor still faces substantially greater risk and volatility to get an overall return that is higher than a predictable government security. We call this additional return the risk premium, which in this case is 6% (12% - 6%).

Determining what risk level is most appropriate for you isn't an easy question to answer. Risk tolerance differs from person to person. Your decision will depend on your goals, income and personal situation, among other factors.

Financial Concepts: Diversification

  1. Financial Concepts: Introduction
  2. Financial Concepts: The Risk/Return Tradeoff
  3. Financial Concepts: Diversification
  4. Financial Concepts: Dollar Cost Averaging
  5. Financial Concepts: Asset Allocation
  6. Financial Concepts: Random Walk Theory
  7. Financial Concepts: Efficient Market Hypothesis
  8. Financial Concepts: The Optimal Portfolio
  9. Financial Concepts: Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM)
  10. Financial Concepts: Conclusion
RELATED TERMS
  1. Tight Monetary Policy

    A course of action undertaken by the Federal Reserve to constrict ...
  2. Laissez Faire

    An economic theory from the 18th century that is strongly opposed ...
  3. Sortino Ratio

    A modification of the Sharpe ratio that differentiates harmful ...
  4. Climate Finance

    Climate finance is a finance channel by which developed economies ...
  5. Financial Modeling

    The process by which a firm constructs a financial representation ...
  6. Warrant

    A derivative that confers the right, but not the obligation, ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is a derivative?

    A derivative is a contract between two or more parties whose value is based on an agreed-upon underlying financial asset, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is finance?

    "Finance" is a broad term that describes two related activities: the study of how money is managed and the actual process ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is after-hours trading? Am I able to trade at this time?

    After-hours trading (AHT) refers to the buying and selling of securities on major exchanges outside of specified regular ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What is the 'Rule of 72'?

    The 'Rule of 72' is a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is a stock split? Why do stocks split?

    All publicly-traded companies have a set number of shares that are outstanding on the stock market. A stock split is a decision ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between positive and normative economics?

    Positive economics is objective and fact based, while normative economics is subjective and value based. Positive economic ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Short Selling

    Short selling is the sale of a security that is not owned by the seller, or that the seller has borrowed. Short selling is ...
  2. Harry Potter Stock Index

    A collection of stocks from companies related to the "Harry Potter" series franchise. Created by StockPickr, this index seeks ...
  3. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  4. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  5. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  6. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
Trading Center