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Monday, May 01, 2017

Asset Allocation - Why Portfolio Rebalancing is Essential ?

By on Monday, May 01, 2017

Asset Allocation - Why Portfolio Rebalancing is Essential ?

by JOYDEEP SEN, Sen & Apte Consulting Services LLP

It has been proven that portfolio allocation leads to long-term optimum results on investments. Awareness among investors is gradually increasing on the imperative of allocation. Another aspect of portfolio management, which is equally important but not widely followed, is portfolio rebalancing.

A classical argument of the investing community against the fund management community is that hardly anybody gives the exit call at market peak and the argument from fund managers is that it is difficult to call the peak as the market is by definition uncertain. The other side of the coin is, hardly any investor buys at market bottom, though fund managers give the ‘buy’ call.

A partial solution to the issue is portfolio rebalancing when the market seems to be peaking or bottoming. This is not about calling the exact top or bottom, but following a discipline when the market is running ahead. Let us take an example; our investor in this example follows an allocation ratio of 60:40 i.e. 60% in equity and 40% in fixed income.

 When the market crashed in March 2009 with Sensex touching 8160 after forming a peak of 20376 in December 2007, his equity allocation must have been significantly lesser than 60% due to erosion in market value, depending on time of entry. If he did a portfolio rebalancing by purchasing equity stocks, he would have purchased cheap.

This is not about calling the bottom of the market; even if it was done when the market was on the way down towards 8160, he would have benefitted.

Similarly, when the market peaked in January 2011 with Sensex at 20,561, it was time to rebalance the portfolio by booking profits in equity. If he did it sometime towards end of 2010, it would have been good for him.

Now let’s come to the present day context. Let’s say the investor with a 60:40 equity: debt allocation, constructed his portfolio sometime in August 2013 when the Sensex was at approximately 18,000.

Given the current Sensex level of around 30,000, his allocation of 60 to equity has now become 30000 / 18000 X 60 = 100.

Assuming a return of 8.5% in fixed income, his allocation of 40 to debt has now become approximately 54. On the total portfolio value of 100 + 54 = 154, the allocation to equity has now become `100/154 = just under 65%.
Hence on an intended allocation of 60:40, the current allocation is not very skewed. However, there is a case for periodic review, to revisit the risk appetite and horizon of the investor.

If the equity component is a dedicated long-term investment, then it may be left as it is, unless the market runs up significantly in the near to medium term.
Otherwise, depending on the risk appetite and horizon of the investor, if the market runs up fast in the near to medium term, partial profit booking and rebalancing in favour of 40% in debt may be considered.

Rebalancing faces a psychological hurdle: 

shifting from a high return avenue (this is giving me 15% return!) to a low return avenue (expectation from debt is only 7.5%!).

On the other side, when the market is bottoming, one tends to hold on (it will become even cheaper after a few days, I will buy then). This is where you have to separate your emotions from your financial investments.

The other question in rebalancing is, identifying the next best avenue. There is an expectation that it should have a similar return. To be noted, the next avenue should have a negative correlation with the existing one, i.e., expected to move in opposite direction in similar market conditions. That is where you are diversifying your portfolio.

In the current context, if you are booking profits in equity and coming to fixed income, do not take the risk of a long bond fund as the interest rate cycle is likely to be stable for the time being, with the rate cut cycle having come to an end. 

Rather be in conventional short term bond funds and wait for the next significant change in market fundamentals.

About the author

The writer JOYDEEP SEN is managing partner, Sen & Apte Consulting Services LLP.

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