The all weather portfolio is often said to be the best diversified portfolio mix for every season, in every economic cycle. But is it suitable for you?
The recent weak economic data from China and Germany, flattening of the US treasury yield curve and escalating trade rhetoric by President Trump saw a sharp selloff in global equities. Investors were placed on a risk-off mode as gold and long-term US treasuries saw their prices heading up while global equities have traded range-bound for the past year.
Usually in times of gloom and worsening outlook investors take the opportunity to review their asset allocation, risk appetite and portfolios to ensure that they can withstand economic shocks. Remember – a 50% portfolio decline requires a 100% increase in value to return to its original value – highlighting the importance of mitigating large portfolio drawdowns.
In this article, we will explore the all-weather portfolio recommended by Ray Dalio – a buy-and-hold strategy with periodic re-balancing to maintain the weights of its constituent assets.
The All Weather portfolio
The All Weather Portfolio is a diversified portfolio introduced by Ray Dalio from Bridgewater Associates, one of the biggest hedge fund managers in the world. It is expected to perform well in any economic conditions – both favourable and unfavourable – hence the name ‘all weather’. You basically just set it and forget it until you retire.
The strategy invests in a diversified portfolio of assets illustrated below, which maximises diversification and minimises volatility.
- 30% stocks
- 40% long term bonds
- 15% intermediate term bonds
- 7.5% gold
- 7.5% commodities
The asset allocation is highly skewed towards bonds compared to traditional portfolios which tend to allocate more towards equities as they are historically the best driver of long-term returns. The negative correlation between long-term bonds and other assets in the portfolio versus stocks helps to stabilise the portfolio.
Why traditional correlation approaches don’t work
To understand this allocation a little better, we first explore the correlations of stocks and bonds. This part is a little advanced.
The prices of both assets – stocks and bonds – are discounted based on the value of future cash flows (stocks: future earnings, bonds: future coupon payments). Both asset classes react similarly to inflation surprises, meaning, the value of future cash flows on both stocks and bonds decreases when inflation is higher than expected, and the prices of both assets correspondingly decrease, ceteris paribus.
On the other hand, both asset classes react differently to growth and interest rate surprises. When growth is unexpectedly stronger than expected, stocks are worth more due to higher claim on future earnings, while bonds are worth less as they discount a fixed stream of coupon payments.
Hence, both growth and inflation outlook are important to determine the correlation of stocks and bonds. But without knowing the future economic environment, a portfolio with a fixed stocks vs bonds component cannot be expected to do well in all scenarios.
Let us look at BlackRock’s analysis on the correlation between the US stock market returns and 10-year treasury returns (a form of government issued bond).
In the chart above, you can see that since the early part of 2010, the correlations of daily returns between the two asset classes have trended upwards (i.e. less negative). This trend in correlation between stocks and bonds might not bode well for investors who want bonds to stabilise part of their portfolios when equities sell off during a recession. That’s because both stocks and bonds – because of their increased correlations – will sell off together and neither will offset the other in returns.
The balanced approach
The Bridgewater solution to the above problem is a balanced portfolio based on the concept of risk parity.
Risk parity is a methodology that allocates capital across several asset classes by equalising their risk levels – so that equities alone do not become the primary driver of returns.
In traditional asset allocation methodology, investors are expected to tolerate higher short term risk in exchange for higher long term returns. This is because a majority of investors’ portfolio (up to 90%) are allocated towards stocks. The issue with this approach is that every asset class has the potential to poor performance for many years caused by a sustained shift in the economic environment, and the concentration risk in equities can derail many long-term portfolio returns.
The all-weather approach achieves a balanced portfolio based on the relationships of the assets to their economic environment, rather than their correlation with each other. By structuring a portfolio of assets with offsetting environment sensitivities, the risk premium of the asset is the remaining dominant driver of portfolio returns. The use of leverage is then deployed to scale the allocation to provide for that desired level of risk, achieving a higher Sharpe Ratio and be more resilient to recessions than traditional portfolios.
How do they hold up?
The concept of risk parity seemed noble and intuitive, especially to its believers. However, critics remain sceptical about its high bond allocation, the use of leverage which may be difficult to access, and poor performance during strong equity markets like in the past decade.
With that said, I ran a backtest with an initial capital of $10,000 starting from 2007 against a Bogleheads 3 fund portfolio (50% US, 30% ex-US, 20% US bonds). The results were clear that a risk parity portfolio had significantly better sharpe ratios (0.84 vs 0.47) and lower volatility (standard deviation of 6.81% vs 12.53%) compared to the Bogleheads portfolio.
In times of severe distress like the 2008 financial crisis, investors who have a traditional 60/40 portfolio might face far worse drawdowns and hence longer time to recovery compared to those with more risk-adverse portfolios like the all weather portfolio.
However, history can only serve as a guide, and looking back it is always 20/20. Given that easy monetary policy and negative interest rates are unprecedented in modern history, no one knows for sure how markets will trend in the future.
Source: All Weather Story by Bridgewater Associates