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Let's take a look at the two basic types of risk:

  • Systematic Risk - Systematic risk influences a large number of assets. A significant political event, for example, could affect several of the assets in your portfolio. It is virtually impossible to protect yourself against this type of risk.

  • Unsystematic Risk - Unsystematic risk is sometimes referred to as "specific risk". This kind of risk affects a very small number of assets. An example is news that affects a specific stock such as a sudden strike by employees. Diversification is the only way to protect yourself from unsystematic risk. (We will discuss diversification later in this tutorial).

    Now that we've determined the fundamental types of risk, let's look at more specific types of risk, particularly when we talk about stocks and bonds.

  • Credit or Default Risk - Credit risk is the risk that a company or individual will be unable to pay the contractual interest or principal on its debt obligations. This type of risk is of particular concern to investors who hold bonds in their portfolios. Government bonds, especially those issued by the federal government, have the least amount of default risk and the lowest returns, while corporate bonds tend to have the highest amount of default risk but also higher interest rates. Bonds with a lower chance of default are considered to be investment grade, while bonds with higher chances are considered to be junk bonds. Bond rating services, such as Moody's, allows investors to determine which bonds are investment-grade, and which bonds are junk. (To read more, see Junk Bonds: Everything You Need To Know, What Is A Corporate Credit Rating and Corporate Bonds: An Introduction To Credit Risk.)

  • Country Risk - Country risk refers to the risk that a country won't be able to honor its financial commitments. When a country defaults on its obligations, this can harm the performance of all other financial instruments in that country as well as other countries it has relations with. Country risk applies to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options and futures that are issued within a particular country. This type of risk is most often seen in emerging markets or countries that have a severe deficit. (For related reading, see What Is An Emerging Market Economy?)

  • Foreign-Exchange Risk - When investing in foreign countries you must consider the fact that currency exchange rates can change the price of the asset as well. Foreign-exchange risk applies to all financial instruments that are in a currency other than your domestic currency. As an example, if you are a resident of America and invest in some Canadian stock in Canadian dollars, even if the share value appreciates, you may lose money if the Canadian dollar depreciates in relation to the American dollar.



    Interest Rate Risk - Interest rate risk is the risk that an investment's value will change as a result of a change in interest rates. This risk affects the value of bonds more directly than stocks. (To learn more, read How Interest Rates Affect The Stock Market.)

  • Political Risk - Political risk represents the financial risk that a country's government will suddenly change its policies. This is a major reason why developing countries lack foreign investment.

  • Market Risk - This is the most familiar of all risks. Also referred to as volatility, market risk is the the day-to-day fluctuations in a stock's price. Market risk applies mainly to stocks and options. As a whole, stocks tend to perform well during a bull market and poorly during a bear market - volatility is not so much a cause but an effect of certain market forces. Volatility is a measure of risk because it refers to the behavior, or "temperament", of your investment rather than the reason for this behavior. Because market movement is the reason why people can make money from stocks, volatility is essential for returns, and the more unstable the investment the more chance there is that it will experience a dramatic change in either direction.
As you can see, there are several types of risk that a smart investor should consider and pay careful attention to.

Next: Risk and Diversification: The Risk-Reward Tradeoff »


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