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What is an 'Asset Class'

An asset class is a group of securities that exhibits similar characteristics, behaves similarly in the marketplace and is subject to the same laws and regulations. The three main asset classes are equities, or stocks; fixed income, or bonds; and cash equivalents, or money market instruments. Some investment professionals add real estate and commodities, and possibly other types of investments, to the asset class mix.

BREAKING DOWN 'Asset Class'

Asset classes and asset class categories are often mixed together. Financial advisors view investment vehicles as asset class categories that are used for diversification purposes. Each asset class is expected to reflect different risk and return investment characteristics, and performs differently in any given market environment. Investors interested in maximizing return often do so by reducing portfolio risk through asset class diversification.

Financial advisors focus on asset class as a way to help investors diversify their portfolio. Different asset classes have different cash flows streams and varying degrees of risk. Investing in several different asset classes ensures a certain amount of diversity in investment selections. Diversification reduces risk and increases your probability of making a return.

Asset Class and Investing Strategy

Investors looking for alpha employ investment strategies focused on achieving alpha returns. Investment strategies can be tied to growth, value, income or a variety of other factors that help to identify and categorize investment options according to a specific set of criteria. Some analysts link criteria to performance and/or valuation metrics such as earnings-per-share growth (EPS) or the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio. Other analysts are less concerned with performance and more concerned with the asset type or class. An investment in a particular asset class is an investment in an asset that exhibits a certain set of characteristics. As a result, investments in the same asset class tend to have similar cash flows.

Asset Class Types

Equities, or stocks; bonds, or fixed-income securities; cash, or marketable securities; and commodities are the most liquid asset classes and therefore the most quoted asset classes. There are also alternative asset classes such as real estate, artwork, stamps and other tradable collectibles. Some analysts also refer to an investment in hedge funds, venture capital, crowdsourcing or even bitcoin as examples of alternative investments. The more alternative the investment, in general, the less liquid. That said, an asset's illiquidity does not speak to its return potential; It only means it may take more time to find a buyer to convert the asset to cash.

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