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Part Two — Get the balance right

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Can we simplify asset allocation?

Yes, we can.

Watch out for rebalancing fever

It’s possible to get rebalancing fever. Be careful. Like all manias, there are dangers. If you start rebalancing your portfolio every time there’s a slight move, you may find you have no more time for anything else – not to mention creating potential tax liabilities.

In “Let’s think about assets” I also discussed rebalancing. A five per cent portfolio drift is a good measure of when you need to act. The time frame for a five per cent change in your stock or bond allocation depends on markets and economic conditions, investor sentiment and the ever-changing universe of moving parts and multiple players in a global economy. It’s a fluid investing universe.

Automatic for the people

The key with asset allocation is to make it automatic. The sun will rise. The sun will set. Investors rebalance their portfolios.

Eliminating emotion from your rebalancing philosophy makes it more effective. When you rid yourself of the “noise”, you can gain focus, discipline and the ability to implement.

Check your portfolio at least once a year. If you do, you should be able to catch when your portfolio needs rebalancing. When your allocation has strayed enough, rebalance. During times of great volatility, like this past August, have a peek to see if your allocation has moved enough.

Do your emotions get the best of you? Stick to looking at the percentages of your different allocations rather than the dollar values of investments. Market corrections and severe volatility have a way of making investors, especially novice investors, weak in the knees.

Discipline

There is one overarching rule to rebalancing:

•             Stick with your plan

Once you have decided on a plan of action, abandoning your strategy makes it useless. So why do so many investors flee their plans when the going gets tough? Because they’re allowing emotion to eat into their strategy. Often, the cause is assessing yourself as a more aggressive investor than you really are.

Everyone is superhuman when there’s no kryptonite around.

What’s an investor to do?

Use market corrections to re-evaluate your risk tolerance. Corrections are opportunities. Not only do they show who you really are as an investor, but they reveal inevitable bargains.

Remember, assessing yourself openly and honestly as an investor is very important. After all, this is a conversation with yourself (and your advisor, if you use one).

In the end, every investor has to take a certain amount of responsibility for their investment decisions. We should expect good counsel, transparency and best practices, but we are the best evaluators of ourselves – especially during market volatility. The financial crisis and the resulting market drop clearly demonstrated that many investors couldn’t take the heat. That’s okay.

Know thyself. Then move forward from there.

When it all comes down to it, remember, if you’ve been sitting in GICs for the last few years, you have missed out. (See “Bonds: Why you should love the unloved investment”)

Invest in You Inc.

The thing some investors miss when they rebalance their portfolios is that rebalancing really is taking stock of you. When the media becomes shrill and volatility is very high, this is a strong signal to look in the investment mirror and ask:

•             Who am I?

•             What’s going on?

•             Where are the opportunities?

All we are is all we are

No one ever knows exactly what the markets are going to do. Rarely are great opportunities uncovered by knee-jerk reactions to our most basic fears. We are who we are. But we can all step back from ourselves, think, and reflect:

Fear is a great motivator, but so is stepping outside of fear and looking out at opportunity. Opportunity is like a good neighbour. Often, the potential for good fortune knocks at the door in an unusual form. It’s up to us to recognize it.

Meanwhile, there may be shrill voices on the street and much gnashing of teeth.

Part One is here.

Find out more: Asset Allocation can be easy as A, B, C

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