What Is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is a grouping of financial assets such as stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies and cash equivalents, as well as their fund counterparts, including mutual, exchange-traded and closed funds. A portfolio can also consist of non-publicly tradable securities, like real estate, art, and private investments. Money market accounts make full use of this concept to function properly.

Portfolios are held directly by investors and/or managed by financial professionals and money managers. Investors should construct an investment portfolio in accordance with their risk tolerance and investing objectives. Investors can also have multiple portfolios for various purposes. It all depends on one's objectives as an investor. 

Both risk tolerance and time horizon should be considered when choosing investments to fill out a portfolio.

Understanding Portfolio

An investment portfolio can be thought of like a pie that is divided into pieces of varying sizes, representing a variety of asset classes and/or types of investments to accomplish an appropriate risk-return portfolio allocation. Many different types of securities can be used to build a diversified portfolio, but stocks, bonds, and cash are generally considered a portfolio's core building blocks. Other potential asset classes include, but aren't limited to, real estate, gold, and currency.

Impact of Risk Tolerance on Portfolio Allocations

While a financial advisor can develop a generic portfolio model for an individual, an investor's risk tolerance should have a significant impact on what a portfolio looks like.

For example, a conservative investor might favor a portfolio with large-cap value stocks, broad-based market index funds, investment-grade bonds, and a position in liquid, high-grade cash equivalents. In contrast, a risk-tolerant investor might add some small-cap growth stocks to an aggressive, large-cap growth stock position, assume some high-yield bond exposure, and look to real estate, international and alternative investment opportunities for his or her portfolio. In general, an investor should minimize exposure to securities or asset classes whose volatility makes them uncomfortable.

Key Takeaways

  • A portfolio is a basket of assets that can include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, cash equivalents, as well as their fund counterparts.
  • Non-publicly tradable securities like real estate, art, and private investments can also be included in a portfolio.
  • Asset allocation, risk tolerance, and the individual's time horizon are all critical factors when assembling and adjusting an investment portfolio.

Impact of Time Horizon on Portfolio Allocations

Similar to risk tolerance, investors should consider how long they have to invest when building a portfolio. Investors should generally be moving to a more conservative asset allocation as the goal date approaches, to protect the portfolio's principal that has been built up to that point.

For example, an investor saving for retirement may be planning to leave the workforce in five years. Despite the investor's comfort level investing in stocks and other risky securities, the investor may want to invest a larger portion of the portfolio's balance in more conservative assets such as bonds and cash, to help protect what has already been saved. Conversely, an individual just entering the workforce may want to invest their entire portfolio in stocks, since they may have decades to invest, and the ability to ride out some of the market's short-term volatility.