Milliman’s Kamilla Svajgl recently participated in a Pensions & Investments’ roundtable discussion focusing on the current climate of investment risks and behavior.
Here’s an excerpt:
P&I: What kind of strategies would work to help pre-retirees manage risk in this new world of higher volatility and lower returns — and help to keep them invested?
Kamilla Svajgl: Let’s start with the way people define asset allocation and risk. It used to be that “risk” was defined by an investor’s level of equity allocation. For example, 60% equity/40% bond portfolio was used as a proxy for “moderate risk.” There is a fundamental problem with that — a 60/40 portfolio would have experienced mere 7% volatility in the fourth quarter of 2006, but 67% volatility in the fourth quarter of 2008. I don’t think anyone is a moderate risk investor when they’re experiencing 67% realized volatility. These kinds of large swings in portfolio risk are not only highly correlated with sharp declines in the market, but also expose investors to significant behavioral risk of selling when asset values are deeply depressed.
A better way to define risk is by portfolio volatility. For a moderate investor, that might mean an overall portfolio volatility of 12%, for example. So the first step is to stabilize volatility. And the good news is that volatility lends itself very well to short-term predictive modeling. Therefore, while I will not be able to tell you if the market will go up or down tomorrow, I can be very accurate in assessing whether it will be calm or volatile.
The second step of the strategy is to add some additional downside protection for extra cushion. We achieve it by synthetically replicating a long-dated put option within the portfolio. This further reduces losses during periods of significant and sustained market decline. This approach has been used by large life insurance companies during 2008 to successfully hedge their balance sheets.
Combining volatility management and capital protection allows investors to stay invested in equity during calm market conditions, and at the same time protects them during times of crisis.
For a transcript of the entire roundtable discussion, click here.