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Are We Over-Optimizing Portfolio Asset Classes?

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Too Many Other Asset Classes?

[By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™]Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA

Some financial analysts believe that the focus on asset classes may have gone too far as physicians and other investors have sought to “over optimize” their portfolios.

In fact, colleague David Loeper, CEO of Wealthcare Capital Management, explained this concept as follows:

“Where things have really got off track has been the insistence on breaking asset classes into sub-classes by style, market capitalization, etc. The unpredictability of all the inputs into our optimizers, even over long periods of time, has been ignored. We have attempted to take efficient portfolios of stocks, bonds and cash and make them even more efficient by breaking the unpredictable asset classes into even less predictable sub-classes. This has all been done into the pursuit of “efficiency” as the proposal was validated by the Brinson & Beebower study, which purports to find that over 90% of the investment return variance is explained by asset allocation. The risk that you produce inefficient portfolios INCREASES if you increase the number of “asset classes” for which you must forecast not only the risk and returns but also each asset class’ correlation to the others.”


If true, and I think it is a valid point, the results of the optimizer and your resulting portfolio’s efficiency is based on the accuracy of the inputs and NOT THE NUMBER OF THE INPUTS.


Or, is this like the TNTC situation in cell cultures and microbiology [Too Numerous To Count].Certified Medical Planner  Conclusion

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3 Responses

  1. More On Over-Allocation

    The creation of “new” asset classes and sub classes by Academics and Wholesalers (product purveyors) seems to be driven not by solid research as this article suggests but rather by other motivations.

    Academics searching for the next Nobel prize in Economic Science are inspired by the recent awards to Fama, Hansen and Shiller (2013 – empirical analysis of asset prices) and Roth/Shapley (2012 – theory of stable allocations). Wholesalers have always existed to convince financial analysts and advisors that they have the one negatively correlated asset class that is missing in our portfolios that we must have to achieve maximum Alpha (excess risk-adjusted return). The “asset classes” of alternative investments and packaged real estate products come to mind.

    Recent studies by credible market academics such as Roger Ibbotson cast doubt on the Brinson, Hood and Beebower article from 1986 that as much as 90% of the variation in returns is caused by the specific asset allocation mix.

    Nonetheless, in my experience there is no doubt that MOST of the variation in return is caused by the simple allocation mix of stocks vs. bonds/cash in the portfolio.

    David K. Luke MS-PFP MIM CMP™
    [Physician Financial Planner – Fee Only]


  2. Over-Allocation?

    Damn right. What would FAs do, and charge for, if not for all this crap? Hokum.



    [Valuing the Quintessential Alternative Financial Investment]

    Bud – As we have seen in earlier chapters of my book; as well as this ME-P, the investment industry and Modern Portfolio Theory [MPT] strives to make optimal ‘allocations’ into different ‘asset classes’; according to some defined risk tolerance level or efficient frontier.

    Equities, fixed income, property, private equity, emerging markets and so, are all ‘asset classes’, into which physician investors and mutual fund or portfolio managers will make an allocation of their total funds under management. It is quite proper for them to do this as they seek to balance the risk and potential returns for their own; ME, Inc., or other clients’ money. By creating a “new” asset class, this concept opens the door to significant capital flows; advisory and management fees.

    Hence; the unrelenting innovation of Wall Street, and its’ commission driven and fee-seeking mavens, is unending.

    This concept may be illustrated using Social Security as an example. So, Wall Street opines, if you’re not counting on Social Security benefits as a part of an overall asset allocation strategy, you may be missing out on bigger gains in a retirement portfolio. Those of this ilk say that retirement investors should consider the value of their Social Security as a portion of their fixed-income investments. Others believe it may be too risky.

    But, what about Valuing the Quintessential Alternative Financial Investment for private practice physicians – their medical practice? And, since a medical practice can be bought or sold, the definitional decision is left up to the informed reader, modern physician or enlightened financial advisor. And, importantly, how is the practice valuated?

    The answer is in my new book. It is well worth the read, to those so inclined.

    David Edward Marcinko MBA


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