As I started to write this post, I decided not to rant about the Corona Virus and its effects anymore. The last two posts were dedicated to the topic and frankly it is becoming a little bit weary to add to all the deluge of information and opinions on it.
Let’s look at the current situation as nothing unexpected, at least financially. Being a financial blog, let us generalize this to another black swan event, and not worry about the statistics of no. of confirmed cases vs. deaths etc.
What is a Black Swan event?
A quick Google search yields the following:
An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict. This term was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.”
Lets leave it to that and consider we are in the midst of one such situation.
The keyword in the above definition is “would be extremely difficult to predict”.
No matter what financial experts say about the markets, about investments, using sophisticated algorithms to trade stocks, the fact remains that such events are not predictable by even the multi-PhDs of Finance.
In the beginning of 2020, most of us did not know that a black swan event is so much closer, although experts have been predicting recessionary clouds for last 2 years or more.
The effect of such an event is the havoc it can do to your savings and investments. Yes savings too, as we don’t know which banks or financial institutions will go under the water, and whether government stimulus can rescue them.
It may be a rare event so far, or some rescued in 2008 but we cannot guarantee with every black swan event. Just in Feb 2020 (when it was still normal business), a very large private bank in India went bust taking with it hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of deposits of very normal people. Ironically the bank was named “Yes” bank.
Similarly by end of March 2020, the stock and mutual fund portfolios are down 20%-50% depending on how much risky the portfolio was to begin with.
The only respite from all of this is to maintain a good asset allocation as each investment avenue has its own risks. Some of the typical risks are:
- Cash – Banks going down and Government struggling to insure the deposits.
- Stocks – Markets tumbling for an extended period of time due to economic fears.
- Bonds – Risk of default as even good companies’ bonds can turn into junk debt very quickly. Lot of mutual funds in India were invested into Yes Bank bonds. Long term bonds can also run into interest rate risk.
- Real Estate – Somewhat resilient but affected by vacancy, interest rates, unemployment.
If your finances are severely affected by this storm, how do you achieve a good asset allocation once the clouds are gone and the sun is shining again on the stock market?
KISS – Keep it simple, stupid
Its not overly complicated although some financial experts make it so. Let’s say I want to hold 25% each of the 4 asset classes and distribute my assets accordingly.
Here is a step by step method on how to achieve this. It is better done in an Excel sheet as the calculations can be automated and even graphs can be plotted, although equal allocation is easy to visualize anyway.
- List down all your assets into one column which comprises your Net worth including your home and any other property you own.
- Now in a second column, list the value corresponding to the asset. Be conservative, do not add any speculative value.
- For your home, just take the equity value that you have.
- For stocks or mutual funds, take the present value.
- For any bond investment, take the invested value or the expected maturity value (if the term is not too long).
- Now add 4 columns for the asset classes.
- The chart should start to look like this. Here is a simple example of a $100,000 Net worth.
- Now based on the asset class for each, fill the right side columns in the right proportions. For example the mutual funds may consist of equity funds, bond funds and REIT funds in equal proportions. For each mutual fund, a look at the fund report will reveal the proportions of these asset classes that it invests in.
- Fundrise is just an example of a private REIT that is considered real estate asset class but in paper form. It is only for illustration and I am not an affiliate of the investment fund.
- Once you allocate the numbers to the 4 asset classes and add up each column, it will become visible how your asset allocation is skewed.
- A visual inspection of the numbers reveals that this portfolio is heavily skewed towards Real Estate due to the largest investment in the Home. This is true for most people, as their largest investment is their home.
- A more vivid depiction of this can be drawn using the Excel chart.
- How to balance it? There is no ideal asset allocation as it depends entirely on the person’s situation, age, risk appetite, goals and many other factors. It is only after this simple analysis that one should approach a financial coach or investment adviser.
- For example, if the person (who’s portfolio we have just analyzed) is not happy with the Real Estate skew, he can allocate future investments more towards Equity or Bonds (or even Cash), than buying more real estate or paying down his mortgage aggressively.
- Being overweight in Home Equity can mean house poor and the person will find it difficult to raise funds or access cash in times of emergency or other life goals.
The beauty of this asset allocation method is that in a simple exercise which takes less than 10 mins and one sheet of Excel, you can look at your entire financial picture.
- It gives you a quick overview of your Net worth.
- It gives you the current asset allocation you have.
- It tells you where your financial situation is vulnerable to market, liquidity or economic risks.
- It tells you what action you need to take (whether to sell some or boost up another) regarding the various asset classes.
- It directs how your future investments should be structured.
The value of this exercise is immense and a good asset allocation can let you sleep in peace when the entire world is savaged by another Black Swan event.