Rebalancing is an essential component of the portfolio management process. Investors who seek the services of a professional typically have a desired level of systematic risk exposure, and thus their portfolio manager has a responsibility to adjust investment holdings to adhere to the clients’ constraints and preferences.
Although portfolio rebalancing strategies incur transaction costs and tax liabilities, there are several distinct advantages to maintaining the desired target allocation.
- Portfolio rebalancing provides protection and discipline for any investment management strategy at the retail and professional levels.
- Rebalancing allows investors to ensure that their portfolio remains aligned with their intended risk profile.
- Strategies include calendar rebalancing, percentage-of-portfolio rebalancing, and constant-proportion portfolio insurance.
Primarily, portfolio rebalancing safeguards the investor from being overly exposed to undesirable risks. It also ensures that the portfolio exposures remain within the manager’s area of expertise.
Assume that a retiree has 75% of their portfolio invested in risk-free assets, with the remainder in equities. If the equity investments triple in value, then 50% of the portfolio is now allocated to risky stocks. An individual portfolio manager who specializes in fixed-income investments would no longer be qualified to manage the portfolio, as the allocation has shifted outside their area of expertise. To avoid these unwanted shifts, the portfolio must be regularly rebalanced.
Also, the growing portfolio proportion allocated to equities increases the overall risk to levels beyond those normally desired by a retiree.
There are several basic rebalancing options that either retail or institutional investors can utilize to create an optimal investment process.
Calendar rebalancing is the most rudimentary rebalancing approach. This strategy simply involves analyzing the investment holdings within the portfolio at predetermined time intervals and adjusting to the original allocation at a desired frequency. Monthly and quarterly assessments are typically preferred, because weekly rebalancing would be overly expensive and a yearly approach would allow for too much intermediate portfolio drift. The ideal frequency of rebalancing must be determined based on time constraints, transaction costs, and allowable drift.
A question that many investors have relates to the ideal time frame for rebalancing their portfolios. A 2019 Vanguard study tracked portfolios with a 60/40 mix of stocks and bonds that were rebalanced monthly, quarterly, annually, and never. The researchers found “little difference” in portfolio performance among the time frames involved.
A major advantage of calendar rebalancing over formulaic rebalancing is that it is significantly less time consuming for the investor, since the latter method is a continuous process.
A preferred yet slightly more intensive approach to implement involves a rebalancing schedule focused on the allowable percentage composition of an asset in a portfolio. Every asset class, or individual security, is given a target weight and a corresponding tolerance range.
For example, an allocation strategy might include the requirement to hold 30% in emerging market equities, 30% in domestic blue chips, and 40% in government bonds with a corridor of +/- 5% for each asset class. Basically, emerging market and domestic blue chip holdings can both fluctuate between 25% and 35%, while 35% to 45% of the portfolio must be allocated to government bonds. When the weight of any one holding jumps outside of the allowable band, the entire portfolio is rebalanced to reflect the initial target composition.
These two rebalancing techniques—the calendar and corridor methods—are known as constant-mix strategies because the weights of the holdings do not change.
Determining the range of the corridors depends on the intrinsic characteristics of individual asset classes, as different securities possess unique properties that influence the decision. Transaction costs, price volatility, and correlation with other portfolio holdings are the three most important variables in determining band sizes. Intuitively, higher transaction costs will require wider allowable ranges to minimize the impact of expensive trading costs.
High volatility, on the other hand, has the opposite impact on the optimal corridor bands—riskier securities should be confined to a narrow range to ensure that they are not overrepresented or underrepresented in the portfolio. Finally, securities or asset classes that are strongly correlated with other held investments can acceptably have broad ranges since their price movements parallel other assets within the portfolio.
Constant Proportion Portfolio Insurance
A third rebalancing approach, the constant proportion portfolio insurance (CPPI) strategy, assumes that as investors’ wealth increases, so does their risk tolerance. The basic premise of this technique stems from having a preference of maintaining a minimum safety reserve held in either cash or risk-free government bonds. When the value of the portfolio increases, more funds are invested in equities, whereas a fall in portfolio worth results in a smaller position toward risky assets. Maintaining the safety reserve, whether it will be used to fund a college expense or put a down payment on a home, is the most important requirement for the investor.
For CPPI strategies, the amount of money invested in stocks can be determined with the formula:
$ Stock Investments=M×(TA−F)where:M=Investment multiplier (More Risk = Higher M)TA=Total portfolio assetsF=Allowable floor (minimum safety reserve)
For example, assume that an individual has an investment portfolio of $300,000, of which $150,000 must be saved to pay for her daughter’s university tuition. The investment multiplier is 1.5.
Initially, the amount of funds invested in stocks is $225,000 [1.5*($300,000-150,000)], with the remainder allocated to risk-free securities. If the market falls by 20%, then the value of the equity holdings will be reduced to $180,000 ($225,000*0.8), while the worth of the fixed-income holdings remain at $75,000, to produce a total portfolio value of $255,000. The portfolio then would have to be rebalanced using the previous formula, and now only $157,500 would be allocated to risky investments [1.5*(255,000-150,0000)].
CPPI rebalancing must be used in tandem with rebalancing and portfolio optimization strategies, as it fails to provide details on the frequency of rebalancing and only indicates how much equity should be held within a portfolio rather than providing a holding breakdown of asset classes along with their ideal corridors. Another source of difficulty with the CPPI approach deals with the ambiguous nature of the aforementioned “M,” which will vary among investors.
Why should you rebalance a portfolio?
There are two main purposes to portfolio rebalancing:
- It minimizes risk by ensuring that investors are not overly exposed to volatile assets in the long run.
- Rebalancing ensures portfolio diversification and that exposures within the portfolio remain in the manager’s area of expertise.
What costs should you consider while rebalancing a portfolio?
The two main costs to consider while rebalancing a portfolio are taxes and transaction fees. Each rebalancing transaction may incur fees, such as those from fund managers. Asset sales also have tax implications in the form of capital gains or losses.
What is a calendar rebalancing strategy?
Calendar rebalancing is a rudimentary rebalancing approach that involves analyzing the investment holdings within the portfolio at predetermined time intervals and adjusting them to their original weightings to minimize risk.
What is a percentage-of-portfolio rebalancing strategy?
A percentage-of-portfolio rebalancing strategy aims to reconstitute asset ratios based on the investor’s risk tolerance as opposed to a predetermined time frame. Thus, it involves a rebalancing schedule focused on the allowable percentage composition of an asset in a portfolio. Once the asset’s price exceeds the allowable percentage composition, it is rebalanced back to its original weighting.
What is a constant proportion portfolio insurance (CPPI) rebalancing strategy?
A constant proportion portfolio insurance (CPPI) strategy involves holding a minimum safety reserve, either in cash or risk-free government bonds, and investing the rest in risky assets, such as stocks. The strategy is mostly used to fund a major life event, such as college expenses, and is more commonly used as an investor’s wealth and risk tolerance increase. An investment multiplier is used to determine the amounts for safety reserves and investment.
The Bottom Line
Portfolio rebalancing provides protection and discipline for any investment management strategy at the retail and professional levels. The ideal strategy will balance out the overall needs of rebalancing with the explicit costs associated with the chosen strategy.