The balancing act of the least liked investment activity

A recent Research Affiliates article on rebalancing noted: “Regularly rebalancing a portfolio to its target asset mix is necessary to maintain desired risk exposure over the portfolio’s lifetime. But getting investors to do it is another matter entirely—many would rather sit in rush-hour traffic! “

“A systematic rebalancing approach can be effective in keeping investors on the road of timely rebalancing, headed toward their destination of achieving their financial goals and improving long-term risk-adjusted returns.”

Research Affiliates are referencing a Wells Fargo/ Gallup Survey, based on this survey “31% of investors would opt to spend an hour stuck in traffic rather than spend that time rebalancing their portfolios. Why would we subject ourselves to gridlock instead of performing a simple task such as rebalancing a portfolio?

 

I can’t understand why rebalancing of an investment portfolio is one of least liked investment activity, it adds value to a portfolio overtime, is a simple risk management exercise, and is easy to implement.

It is important to regularly rebalance a Portfolio so that it continues to be invested as intended to be.

 

A recent article in Plansponsor highlighted the importance of rebalancing. This article also noted the reluctance of investors to rebalance their portfolio.

As the article noted, once an appropriate asset allocation (investment strategy) has been determined, based on achieving certain investment goals, the portfolio needs to be regularly rebalanced to remain aligned with these goals.

By not rebalancing, risks within the Portfolio will develop that may not be consistent with achieving desired investment goals. As expressed in the article “Participants need to make sure the risk they want to take is actually the risk they are taking,” …………..“Certain asset classes can become over- or under-weight over time.”

Based on research undertaken by BCA Research and presented in the article “Rebalancing is definitely recommended for all investors, perhaps more so for retirement plan participants than others, as they are more likely to be concerned with capital preservation than capital appreciation.”

The following observation is also made “While a portfolio that is not rebalanced will have a greater allocation to equities during a bull market and, therefore, outperform a rebalanced portfolio, all rebalanced portfolios outperformed an unbalanced portfolio during periods leading up to market corrections and recessions,” Hanafy says, citing a BCA Research study which looked at three main rebalancing scenarios of a simple 60/40 portfolio since 1973.

The potential risks outlined above is very relevant for New Zealand and USA investors currently given the great run in the respective sharemarkets over the last 10 years.

When was last time your investment fiduciary rebalanced your investment portfolio?

 

Rebalancing becomes more important as you get closer to retirement and once in retirement:

“There are two main components to retirement plans: returns and the risk you take,” …… “When you do not rebalance your portfolio, a participant could inadvertently take on too much risk, which would expose them to a market correction. This is important because, statistically, as participants reach age 40 to 45, how much risk they take on is far more important than how much they save. When you are young, the most important thing is how much you save.”

Rebalancing Policy

As the article notes, you can systematically set up a Portfolio rebalancing approach based on time e.g. rebalance the portfolio every Quarter, six-months or yearly intervals.

It is not difficult!

Alternatively, investment ranges could be set up which trigger a rebalancing of the portfolio e.g. +/- 3% of a target portfolio allocation.

Higher level issues to consider when developing a rebalancing policy include:

  • Cost, the more regularly the portfolio is rebalanced the higher the cost on the portfolio and the drag on performance. This especially needs to be considered where less liquid markets are involved;
  • Tax may also be a consideration;
  • The volatility of the asset involved;
  • Rebalancing Policy allows for market momentum. This is about letting the winners run and not buying into falling markets too soon. To be clear this is not about market timing. For example, it could include a mechanism such as not rebalancing all the way back to target when trimming market exposures.

 

My preference is to use rebalancing ranges and develop an approach that takes into consideration the above higher level issues. As with many activities in investing, trade-offs will need to be made, this requires judgement.

 

As noted above, it appears that rebalancing is an un-liked investment activity, if not an over looked and underappreciated investment activity. This seems crazy to me as there is plenty of evidence that a rebalancing policy can add value to a naïve monitoring and “wait and see” approach.

I think the key point is to have a documented Rebalancing Policy and be disciplined in implementing the Policy.

 

This also means that those implementing the Rebalancing Policy have the correct systems in place to efficiently carry out the Portfolio rebalancing so as to minimise transaction costs involved.

Be sure, that those responsible for your investment portfolio can efficiently and easily rebalance your portfolio. Importantly, make sure the rebalancing process is not a big expense on your portfolio e.g. trading commissions and the crossing of market spreads (e.g. difference between buy and sell price), and how close to the “market price” are the trades being undertaken?

These are all hidden costs to the unsuspecting.

 

A couple of last points:

  • It was noted in the recent Kiwi Investor Blog on Behaviour Finance that rebalancing of the portfolio was an import tool in the kit in helping to reduce the negative impact on our decision making from behavioural bias. It is difficult to implement a rebalancing policy when markets are behaving badly, discipline is required.
  • The automatic rebalancing nature of Target Date Funds is an attractive feature of these investment solutions.

 

To conclude, as Research Affiliates sums up:

  1. Systemic rebalancing raises the likelihood of improving longer-term risk-adjusted investment returns
  2. The benefits of rebalancing result from opportunistically capitalising on human behavioural tendencies and long-horizon mean reversion in asset class prices.
  3. Investors who “institutionalise contrarian investment behaviour” by relying on a systematic rebalancing approach increase their odds of reaping the rewards of rebalancing.

 

It is not hard to do.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

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