November 08, 2010

Time to re-balance your portfolio ?

The Stock market of the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China had a very good run this year. Indian stock market has been the best performing of all.YTD returns of 10%, 30%, and even 60% for some stocks have not been uncommon in 2010.

Money managers and Analyst are predicting a brighter road ahead based on GDP growth (8-10%),rising consumer demand for most of emerging markets, etc. So all this is good news. Most stock analysts are recommending a BUY or a HOLD position for the emerging markets stocks. I am wondering why there is no talk of portfolio re-balancing at this stage?

Portfolio re-balancing is nothing but an adjustment of the weights of different assets in your portfolio to match with your objectives.

Let's take an Example: Ideally every investor should have a target allocation for the equity and debt component in his/her portfolio. This would be based on a variety of factors such as his risk tolerance, investment time horizon, income, age, family needs, etc , etc. e.g. lets assume that out of an investors total asset base of 10 million, he chooses to allocate 7 million to equities(through stocks, mutual funds, etc) and the remaining 3 million to debt (through gov/corporate bonds, bond mutual funds, etc). so he has a 70%-30% mix between equities and debt holdings. Now assume that this investment portfolio was built at start of year 2010. Today, assume he got a return of 40% (after transaction costs) on his equities, then his stock position would be worth 7*1.4 = 9.8 million. Lets assume the bonds in his portfolio gave him 8% return. so his position in debt assets would be worth 3*1.08 = 3.2 million. The investors total assets grew to 9.8+3.2 = 13 million. a gain of 3 million since beginning of 2010. very good news for him ! but his equity-debt mix has now changed to 75% (9.8/13) in equities and 24% (3.2/13) in debt. i.e. increase in equities and decrease in debt component.

we can simply see a 5% deviation from his target allocation of 70%-30%. This means he is overweight in equity and underweight in debt. He should thus sell some of his equity positions and buy into debt positions (or just hold cash) to re-balance his mix to his target of 70%-30%. If the investor falls prey to an analyst stock BUY recommendation or to a new 'attractive' equity mutual fund scheme, his proportion in equities will still get higher; which means the investor is taking on more risk than he can digest. This can be dangerous to his financial well-being should the equities perform badly.

My recommendation is which stock or industry to BUY in is an important decision, but whats more important for the stock market investor is to re-balance his portfolio on a regular basis. To put it simply, if equities do good, sell some of them and buy debt or other risk-free asset or hold cash. If debt market does good, sell some debt and get into equities enough to maintain the right mix for you. This will ensure your total risk exposure remains at target level irrespective of market volatility.