Volatile markets can take your portfolio on a roller-coaster ride. Regular rebalancing can help ease the bumps and reduce the risks.
For just a minute, think of your long-term financial strategy as a cross-country car trip. You know where you want to end up, and you have a pretty good idea of how long it should take to get there. At the same time, you know that here and there you’re going to run into heavy traffic, inclement weather, detours and other obstacles to a safe and timely arrival. And of course, you’re always looking for opportunities to reach your destination in the smartest, easiest way. As an intelligent traveler, you will probably consult a GPS device to look for better routes, check weather reports and traffic updates for potential problems, and maybe visit a local Web site to make sure there’s no roadwork along the way.
These easy steps can make your trip relatively smooth and surprise-free. Similarly, there are moves you can make as an investor that will help you to avoid a number of pitfalls and take advantage of opportunities. One of the most important is regular rebalancing—adjusting your mix of stocks, bonds, cash and, for qualified investors, alternative investments to your original targets so that your investments reflect the strategy you have decided best suits your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. The market volatility of the past couple of years shows pretty clearly why rebalancing your portfolio is a sensible idea. Between October 2007 and March 2009, the value of stocks (as measured by the S&P 500) declined 57%, and many investors cashed out. At the same time, bonds posted gains, and many people increased their fixed-income holdings. As a result, the percentage of stocks in most portfolios shrank markedly over this period, while bond and cash allocations grew in the majority of cases. When the markets reversed course in the ensuing months, investors who hadn’t rebalanced their holdings missed the chance to reap the gains.
When the markets alter the shape of your portfolio in this way, there’s less potential for the long-term growth that markets have historically provided and greater exposure to risk and lost opportunities. Reviewing your portfolio regularly ensures that you—not the markets—manage your assets.
Sell Overperformers. Seek Opportunities.
Start your portfolio review by examining which assets have overperformed and which have underperformed during a set period of time. Leverage your Financial Advisor’s firm’s research insights as you consider shifting funds out of asset classes that exceed your targets—and are thereby growing into a larger percentage of your holdings—and moving them into underrepresented asset classes. With the help of your Financial Advisor, you can define asset-allocation parameters that are appropriate to your goals, your risk profile and your liquidity needs, among other considerations.
How do you determine when you need to add to or subtract from a particular asset class? Most investors can tolerate a short-term fluctuation of 5% from their allocation model pretty well. Much more than that indicates a need for change—or at least to start a dialogue with your Financial Advisor. Rebalancing can help achieve the twin goals of reducing the risk of overexposure and increasing diversification. The most straightforward strategy is to sell some of your best performers and use the proceeds to purchase undervalued assets—either by expanding positions in securities you already hold or by choosing different investments in the same asset class or sector. Alternatively, you may decide to devote the proceeds from your sales to asset classes that are underrepresented or absent in your portfolio to increase diversification.
Rebalancing can also be an opportunity to take advantage of investment options. As you consider which positions to sell and purchase, look at what’s happening in the marketplace. Talk to your Financial Advisor about different sectors, asset classes, geographical regions and market trends that are consistent with your strategy and risk tolerance.
How Often Is “Regularly”?
Active rebalancing is especially important following a prolonged period of market volatility. However, many financial professionals recommend revisiting your portfolio on a regular schedule regardless of market conditions. An annual review is usually adequate. It represents a happy medium between too often and not often enough. It also nicely matches other market assessments, such as year-to-date performance, and any life changes—such as marriage, divorce, education, retirement or inheritance—that may have occurred during the past year to alter your attitude toward risk.
In addition to the annual review, it’s a good idea to make adjustments if your allocation to a given asset class shifts by more than 10 percentage points. Even in unusual conditions, though, you should weigh the need for frequent full-scale overhauls carefully, since the transaction costs may offset the benefits.
While asset allocation, diversification, and rebalancing do not protect you fully against losses in a declining market, establishing a rule of regular recalibration helps you respond to market movements with a well thought-out strategy. This process shouldn’t be viewed as merely an action but as a mind-set and as a partnership between you and your Financial Advisor. It’s a conscious step that will help you approach your portfolio in a disciplined way. And that’s valuable in any market.
Submitted by Jim Walsh – Financial Advisor - Merrill Lynch Wealth Management - residing in Ellington, CT.
Article written By Ash Rajan of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management
Ash Rajan is head of Investment Policy, Investment Management & Guidance for Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management.
For more information, contact Jim Walsh of the Hartford office of Merrill Lynch at (860) 728-3671 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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