Posts tagged ‘time horizon’

Markowitz’s Five Dimensions of Risk

Eighty-two year old Harry Markowitz, 1990 Nobel Prize winner, is best known for his creation of Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) in the 1950s. MPT elegantly combines mathematical variables such that investors can theoretically maximize returns while minimizing risk with the aid of diversification. Markowitz’s Efficient Frontier research eventually led to the future breakthrough of the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM).

The Different Faces of Risk

Before we dive further into Markowitz’s dimensions of risk, let’s explore the definitions of the word “risk.” Just like the word “love” is interpreted differently by different people, so too does risk. To some, risk is defined as the probability of loss. To mathematicians, risk often means the historical volatility in returns as measured by standard deviation or Beta. For many individual investors, risk is frequently mischaracterized by emotions – risk is believed to be high after market collapse and low after extended market rallies (see also Wobbling Risk Tolerances article).

The Five Dimensions of Risk

With the procedural definitions of risk behind us, we can take a deeper look at risk from the eyes of Markowitz. Beyond the complex mathematical equations, Markowitz also understands risk from the practical investor’s standpoint.  In a recent Financial Advisor magazine article Markowitz reviews the five dimensions of risk exposure:

1)      Time Horizon

2)      Liquidity Needs

3)      Net Income

4)      Net Worth

5)      Investing Knowledge/Attitudes on Risk

 Rather than pay attention to these practical dimensions of individual risk tolerance, countless investors adjust their risk exposure (equity allocation) by speculating on the direction of the stock market, which usually means buying high and selling low at inopportune times.  Although it can be entertaining to guess the direction of the market, we all know market timing is a loser’s game in the long-run (see also Market Timing Treadmill article). Markowitz’s first four risk exposures are fairly straightforward, measurable factors, however the fifth exposure (“knowledge and attitude”) is much more difficult to measure. Determining risk attitude can be an arduous process if risk tolerance constantly wavers through the winds of market volatility.

The Double Whammy

Rather than becoming a nervous Nelly, constantly chomping on your finger nails, your investment focus should be on action, and the things you can control. The number one goal is simple….SAVE. How does one save? All one needs to do is spend less than they take in. Like dieting, saving is easy to understand, but difficult to execute. You can either make more money, spend less, or better yet… do both.

The Baby Boomers are not completely out of the woods, but the next generations (X, Y, Z, etc.) is even worse off because they face the “Double Whammy.” Not only are life expectancies continually increasing but the Social Security safety net is becoming bankrupt. Consider the average life expectancy was roughly 30 years old in 1900 and in developed countries today we stand at about 78 years. Some actuarial tables are peaking out at 120 years now (see also Brutal Reality to Aging Demographics). So when considering Markowitz’s risk exposure #1 (time horizon), it behooves you to calibrate your risk tolerance to match a realistic life expectancy (with some built-in cushion if modern medicine does a better job).

Taming the Wild Beast

Every investor’s risk profile is multi-dimensional and constantly evolving due to changes in Markowitz’s five risk exposures (time horizon, liquidity needs, net income, net worth, and knowledge/attitude).  Risk can be a wild animal difficult to tame, but if you can create a disciplined, systematic investment plan, you too can reach your financial goals without getting bitten by the numerous retirement hazards.

Read the complete Financial Advisor article on Harry Markowitz

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing had no direct positions in any security mentioned in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

March 25, 2010 at 11:10 pm 1 comment

Running with the Bulls

Guest Contributing Writer: Bruce Wimberly

No matter where you turn some “expert” is espousing his or her view on the direction of the market. The reality is none of them know. My advice to anyone is avoid the fallacy of experts. Those that purport to know, donʼt. It is a mere exercise in futility to justify charging higher fees. Letʼs be honest if anyone knew the future direction of asset prices they would be beyond rich (Iʼm talking John Paulson – Trade of the Century rich!). Nice job John who would have thought you could make that much money betting against mortgages.

As investors our best bet is to accept that fact that market timing is a losing strategy. Timing the market is similar to a coin flip. Pure and simple, the cost of getting it wrong wipes out the occasional gain of getting it right. Remember, every time you listen to the perma-bears and try to time the market, there is big time investment professional on the other side of that trade who is by definition taking the opposite view.

Good investors expand their timeframes. They do not get sucked into the news of the day. Let the perma-bears worry about Dubai, currency devaluation, or whatever else is todayʼs fear. Keep in mind there is always something to worry about. For long term investors the greatest fear is not being in the market. For example, if inflation were to average 3% and you are sitting in cash earning nothing your money will be cut in half by 2033. Grandmaʼs mattress is not an option for most people.

Now back to the question of bulls versus bears and the direction of the markets. Who is right? The simplest way to think about this comes from Oracle of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett. Buffett thinks of the market as a reflection of total market cap relative to US GNP (gross national product). After all, in the long run the market should approximate some measure of overall corporate profitability or in this case overall economic growth. If you accept Buffettʼs argument then the market is neither overly expensive or cheap. As of yesterday the total market index is at $11,296.2 billion which is about 79% of the last reported GDP. (I know the perma-bulls will find some reason to bash the reported GDP number). Nevertheless, this simple formula provides a good long term context on which to gage the relative attractiveness of the overall market. To put todayʼs number in context (79%) at the peak of the market bubble in 1999, the ratio of total market cap/GDP was 150% or almost double todayʼs reading. Yes, the market has made a major move from depressed levels earlier in the year but that is irrelevant. Donʼt anchor on that number or you will never get off the sidelines.

 My advice is simple, ignore the perma-bears and avoid market timing like the plague for it is a suckers bet (see also article on passive vs. active investing). If the market does pull back (and it will at some point) this is great news for the long term investor. Anytime you can buy a stock on sale – this is a good thing! So enjoy the Christmas holidays, donʼt believe the hyped up bears and as always:

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and equity securities in client and personal portfolios at the time of publishing, but had no direct position in BRKA/B. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 18, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

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