Asset Allocation

What Is Asset Allocation?

Asset allocation is an investment strategy that aims to balance risk and reward by apportioning a portfolio's assets according to an individual's goals, risk tolerance, and investment horizon. The three main asset classesequities, fixed-income, and cash and equivalents—have different levels of risk and return, so each will behave differently over time.

Key Takeaways

  • Asset allocation is an investment strategy that aims to balance risk and reward by apportioning a portfolio's assets according to an individual's goals, risk tolerance, and investment horizon.
  • The three main asset classesequities, fixed-income, and cash and equivalents—have different levels of risk and return, so each will behave differently over time.
  • There is no simple formula that can find the right asset allocation for every individual.

Why Asset Allocation Is Important

There is no simple formula that can find the right asset allocation for every individual. However, the consensus among most financial professionals is that asset allocation is one of the most important decisions that investors make. In other words, the selection of individual securities is secondary to the way that assets are allocated in stocks, bonds, and cash and equivalents, which will be the principal determinants of your investment results.

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Strategic Asset Allocation to Rebalance Portfolios

Investors may use different asset allocations for different objectives. Someone who is saving for a new car in the next year, for example, might invest their car savings fund in a very conservative mix of cash, certificates of deposit (CDs), and short-term bonds. An individual who is saving for retirement that may be decades away typically invests the majority of their individual retirement account (IRA) in stocks, since they have a lot of time to ride out the market's short-term fluctuations. Risk tolerance plays a key factor as well. Someone who is uncomfortable investing in stocks may put their money in a more conservative allocation despite a long-term investment horizon.

Age-Based Asset Allocation

In general, stocks are recommended for holding periods of five years or longer. Cash and money market accounts are appropriate for objectives less than a year away. Bonds fall somewhere in between. In the past, financial advisors have recommended subtracting an investor's age from 100 to determine what percentage should be invested in stocks. For example, a 40-year-old would be 60% invested in stocks. Variations of the rule recommend subtracting age from 110 or 120, given that the average life expectancy continues to grow. As individuals approach retirement age, portfolios should generally move to a more conservative asset allocation to help protect assets.

Achieving Asset Allocation Through Life-Cycle Funds

Asset-allocation mutual funds, also known as life-cycle, or target-date, funds, are an attempt to provide investors with portfolio structures that address an investor's age, risk appetite, and investment objectives with an appropriate apportionment of asset classes. However, critics of this approach point out that arriving at a standardized solution for allocating portfolio assets is problematic because individual investors require individual solutions.

The Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 Fund would be an example of a target-date fund. These funds gradually reduce the risk in their portfolios as they near the target date, cutting riskier stocks and adding safer bonds in order to preserve the nest egg. The Vanguard 2030 fund, set up for people expecting to retire between 2028 and 2032, had a 65% stock/35% bond allocation as of Jan. 31, 2022. As 2030 approaches, the fund will gradually shift to a more conservative mix, reflecting the individual's need for more capital preservation and less risk.

In a Nutshell, What Is Asset Allocation?

Asset allocation is the process of deciding where to put money to work in the market. It aims to balance risk and reward by apportioning a portfolio's assets according to an individual's goals, risk tolerance, and investment horizon. The three main asset classesequities, fixed-income, and cash and equivalents—have different levels of risk and return, so each will behave differently over time.

Why Is Asset Allocation Important?

Asset allocation is a very important part of creating and balancing your investment portfolio. After all, it is one of the main factors that leads to your overall returns—even more than choosing individual stocks. Establishing an appropriate asset mix of stocks, bonds, cash, and real estate in your portfolio is a dynamic process. As such, the asset mix should reflect your goals at any point in time.

What Is an Asset Allocation Fund?

An asset allocation fund is a fund that provides investors with a diversified portfolio of investments across various asset classes. The asset allocation of the fund can be fixed or variable among a mix of asset classes, meaning that it may be held to fixed percentages of asset classes or allowed to go overweight on some depending on market conditions.

Bottom Line

Most financial professionals will tell you that asset allocation is one of the most important decisions that investors make. In other words, the selection of individual securities is secondary to the way that assets are allocated in stocks, bonds, and cash and equivalents, which will be the principal determinants of your investment results.

Article Sources

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  1. Society of Actuaries. "Treating Asset Allocation Like a Roadmap."

  2. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: "Investor Bulletin: Target Date Retirement Funds."

  3. Vanguard (VTHRX). "Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 Fund (VTHRX)."

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