Why is the Multi-Asset Portfolio so Popular?

The rise of the Multi-Asset Portfolio can be traced back to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, when many investors “grew disenchanted with the long-time investment mantra that equities were the one true way to wealth. That smug bromide rang hollow when the financial crisis slashed many stock portfolios in half”, according to recent Chief Investment Office (CIO) article, How Multi-Asset Investing Became So Popular.

Following the GFC, the mantra became diversify your holdings. As a result, Multi-Asset Portfolios, which combine equities, fixed income, and an array of other assets, gained greater prominence.

Multi-Asset Portfolios grew more popular on promises of greater capital preservation and sometimes the delivery of superior returns.

As CIO note, the increased prominence of the Multi-Asset Portfolio can be attributed to David Swensen, Yale’s investment chief since 1986. Yale has generated an impressive performance record by investing outside of just equities and fixed income. Their portfolio has included high allocations to private equity, real estate, and other non-traditional assets. (For more on the success of the Endowment model and the fee debate please see this Post.)

 

The CIO article also noted that Multi-Asset Portfolios are most prominent among target-date funds (TDFs), which have become the default offering among 401(k) plans (e.g. US superannuation schemes such as KiwiSaver in New Zealand).

“TDFs have grown five-fold since the financial crisis, reaching $1.09 trillion in 2018, a Morningstar report concluded, with an estimated $40 billion added last year.”

 

The Concept: Absolute returns and better risk management

The Multi-Asset Portfolio is based on the concept of absolute returns, where the focus is on generating a more targeted and less volatile investment return outcome. There is a greater focus on risk management relative to that undertaken within a traditional portfolio. The intensity and sophistication of risk management employed depends on the type of absolute return strategy.

The absolute return universe is very broad, ranging from Multi-Asset Portfolios to those with a much greater focus on absolute returns such as the plethora of Hedge Fund strategies, including Risk Parity as discussed in the CIO article.

This contrasts with the traditional balanced fund, which are generally less diversified, portfolio risk is dominated by the equity exposures, and returns are much more subject to the vagaries of investment markets. The management of risk is more focused on relative returns i.e. how performance goes relative to a market benchmark, rather than returns relative to an absolute return outcome.

A Multi-Asset Portfolio generally has more of an absolute return focus than a Traditional Portfolio. It achieves this by having a more truly diversified portfolio, moving beyond the traditional Balanced Portfolio (60% equities and 40% Fixed Income), to incorporate a greater array of different investment strategies and risk management approaches within the portfolio.

As the CIO article comments, “There’s a strong argument for Swensen-like multi-asset funds that range beyond stocks and bonds, adding solid helpings of commodities, real estate and all kinds of other asset classes. With such an array, the thinking goes, you’re best protected when recessions thunder in.”

 

Return Expectations

The CIO article made the following observation, Multi-Assets Portfolios are “expected to return 4.5% annually through 2024, according to Casey Quirk, an arm of Deloitte Consulting. That isn’t a daunting growth rate, but the figure should have a decent chance of holding steady, while public markets lurch around, especially in the next recession.”

To put this into perspective, a recent CFA Institute article estimated that a Balanced Portfolio will return 3.1% over the next 10 years.

It is highly likely we are heading into a “Low Return Environment”.

 

As a result, a different investment approach to that which has been successful over the last 20-30 years is likely needed to invest successfully in what is expected to be a Challenging Investment Environment.

As the CIO article notes, “But multi-asset now goes far beyond the simple stock-bond duality, which seems insufficient to deliver the best diversification. The most salient problem with the basic pairing nowadays is that bonds are paying low interest rates. Their ability to score capital gains is limited because rates don’t have much left to fall before they hit zero. “These don’t work as well as they used to,” observed Deepak Puri, CIO Americas for Deutsche Bank Wealth Management.”

 

I fear the lessons from the GFC and 2000 Tech Bubble are fading from the collective memory, as equity markets reach historical highs and investors chase income from within equity-income sectors of the sharemarket.

In addition, more advanced portfolio management approaches have been developed over the last 20 – 30 years.

It would seem crazy that these learnings are not reflected in modern day investment portfolios. In a previous Post: A Short History of Portfolio Diversification, it is not hard to see how the Multi-Asset Portfolio has developed over time and is preferred by many large institutional investors.

Meanwhile, this Post: What Portfolio Diversification looks like, compares a range of investment portfolios, including the KiwiSaver universe, to emphasis what a Multi-Asset Portfolio does look like.

 

Growth in Multi-Asset Portfolios to continue

Increasingly the Multi-Asset Portfolios are taking market share from traditional portfolios.

Institutional investors are increasingly adopting a more absolute return investing approach. This has witnessed an increased allocation, and growth in Funds Under Management, in underlying strategies, “such as private equity, hedge funds, real estate, natural resources, and other strategies whose assets aren’t publicly traded.”

 

An underlying theme of the CIO article is the Death of the Balance Portfolio, which I covered in a previous Post.

Personally, I think the death of 60/40 Portfolio is occurring for more fundamental reasons. The construction of portfolios has evolved, as noted above, more advanced approaches can be implemented. For those interested I covered this in more detail in a recent Post: Evolution within the Wealth Management Industry, the death of the Policy Portfolio. (The Policy Portfolio is the 60/40 Portfolio).

 

Concluding Remarks

The current market environment, of low expected returns, might quicken the evolution in portfolio construction toward greater adoption of Multi-Asset Portfolios and a more absolute return focus.

Therefore, the value is in implementation, identifying the suitable underlying investment strategies to construct a truly diversified portfolio, within an appropriate fee budget.

Wealth management practices need to be suitably aligned with this value adding activity.

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s