What Is Market Risk?

Market risk is the possibility that an individual or other entity will experience losses due to factors that affect the overall performance of investments in the financial markets.

Key Takeaways

  • Market risk, or systematic risk, affects the performance of the entire market simultaneously.
  • Market risk cannot be eliminated through diversification.
  • Specific risk, or unsystematic risk, involves the performance of a particular security and can be mitigated through diversification. 
  • Market risk may arise due to changes to interest rates, exchange rates, geopolitical events, or recessions.
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Market Risk

Understanding Market Risk

Market risk and specific risk (unsystematic) make up the two major categories of investment risk. Market risk, also called "systematic risk," cannot be eliminated through diversification, though it can be hedged in other ways. Sources of market risk include recessions, political turmoil, changes in interest rates, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. Systematic, or market risk, tends to influence the entire market at the same time.

This can be contrasted with unsystematic risk, which is unique to a specific company or industry. Also known as “nonsystematic risk,” "specific risk," "diversifiable risk" or "residual risk," in the context of an investment portfolio, unsystematic risk can be reduced through diversification.

Market risk exists because of price changes. The standard deviation of changes in the prices of stocks, currencies, or commodities is referred to as price volatility. Volatility is rated in annualized terms and may be expressed as an absolute number, such as $10, or a percentage of the initial value, such as 10%.

Special Considerations

Publicly traded companies in the United States are required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disclose how their productivity and results may be linked to the performance of the financial markets. This requirement is meant to detail a company's exposure to financial risk. For example, a company providing derivative investments or foreign exchange futures may be more exposed to financial risk than companies that do not provide these types of investments. This information helps investors and traders make decisions based on their own risk management rules.

Other Types of Risk

In contrast to the market's overall risk, specific risk or "unsystematic risk" is tied directly to the performance of a particular security and can be protected against through investment diversification. One example of unsystematic risk is a company declaring bankruptcy, thereby making its stock worthless to investors.

The most common types of market risks include interest rate risk, equity risk, currency risk, and commodity risk.

  • Interest rate risk covers the volatility that may accompany interest rate fluctuations due to fundamental factors, such as central bank announcements related to changes in monetary policy. This risk is most relevant to investments in fixed-income securities, such as bonds. 
  • Equity risk is the risk involved in the changing prices of stock investments,
  • Commodity risk covers the changing prices of commodities such as crude oil and corn.
  • Currency risk, or exchange-rate risk, arises from the change in the price of one currency in relation to another. Investors or firms holding assets in another country are subject to currency risk.

Investors can utilize hedging strategies to protect against volatility and market risk. Targeting specific securities, investors can buy put options to protect against a downside move, and investors who want to hedge a large portfolio of stocks can utilize index options.

Measuring Market Risk

To measure market risk, investors and analysts use the value-at-risk (VaR) method. VaR modeling is a statistical risk management method that quantifies a stock or portfolio's potential loss as well as the probability of that potential loss occurring. While well-known and widely utilized, the VaR method requires certain assumptions that limit its precision. For example, it assumes that the makeup and content of the portfolio being measured is unchanged over a specified period. Though this may be acceptable for short-term horizons, it may provide less accurate measurements for long-term investments.

Beta is another relevant risk metric, as it measures the volatility or market risk of a security or portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole. It is used in the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) to calculate the expected return of an asset.

What's the Difference Between Market Risk and Specific Risk?

Market risk and specific risk make up the two major categories of investment risk. Market risk, also called "systematic risk," cannot be eliminated through diversification, though it can be hedged in other ways, and tends to influence the entire market at the same time. Specific risk, in contrast, is unique to a specific company or industry. Specific risk, also known as "unsystematic risk", "diversifiable risk" or "residual risk," can be reduced through diversification.

What Are Some Types of Market Risk?

The most common types of market risk include interest rate risk, equity risk, commodity risk, and currency risk. Interest rate risk covers the volatility that may accompany interest rate fluctuations and is most relevant to fixed-income investments. Equity risk is the risk involved in the changing prices of stock investments, and commodity risk covers the changing prices of commodities such as crude oil and corn. Currency risk, or exchange-rate risk, arises from the change in the price of one currency in relation to another. This may affect investors holding assets in another country.

How Is Market Risk Measured?

A widely used measure of market risk is the value-at-risk (VaR) method. VaR modeling is a statistical risk management method that quantifies a stock or portfolio's potential loss as well as the probability of that potential loss occurring. While well-known, the VaR method requires certain assumptions that limit its precision. Beta is another relevant risk metric, as it measures the volatility or market risk of a security or portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole. It is used in the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) to calculate the expected return of an asset.