Even the Romans knew a thing or two about risk because as the Latin adage goes, fortune favors the bold. But life was arguably a lot simpler back then. It’s a lot harder to calculate risk and reward today, specifically when it comes to investing. 

The historical way to view risk has tended to side toward market risk, looking at the volatility of assets in consideration of an uncertain market environment. But in the modern world of investments, market risk is only one element of all the risks that currently exist. Just over the past few years, risk has evolved past some previously held preconceptions.

Much of that has been driven by quantitative easing (QE), fiscal attempts by global governments to help stabilize their economies. It began in the U.S. and continued to trend across international markets, with Europe and Japan implementing their own QE programs. Under QE, central banks pump significant volumes of capital into their economies as a way to boost growth.

What exactly is the significance of this when it comes to risk? For starters, the side effect of these QE initiatives is that they fundamentally alter the valuations of various assets. Second, many investors and asset managers are still working to fully understand the implications of QE. Mix these two and you are left with a market that may be feeling nervous about a new risk they have to adapt to – on top of all the other risks there are to grasp.

How does one even first begin to understand risk? There are many facets to risk, and not all risk is created equal. In short, risk is defined as the possibility of losing something of value. But the value that something holds, and the potential associated loss, can vary dramatically depending on the individual. What is risky to one may not necessarily be risky to another.

The real challenge with risk is assessing it, especially when it comes to constructing an investment portfolio. If defining risk is how to get to understanding risk, then assessing it is how to get to that definition.

Risk is a multi-dimensional concept, so when investors are sorting among the various risks to assess which are more or less important to them, they can use various tools. And they can look at risk from multiple perspectives to give themselves a higher level of insight into how one category of risk can affect multiple asset classes or how one asset class can be impacted differently by varying risks.

As an example, imagine investors want to invest in foreign securities. Is currency risk more important than market risk? Is market risk more important than political risk? And what about specific geographies – is China more or less risky than other economies?

There is no magic formula to measuring or assessing risk. So sometimes it can be more beneficial to go back to basics. When investing in equities, for example, risk can take the form of buying a bad company at an unfavorable valuation. This is a risk of investing in companies without strong fundamentals, which can often occur if investors fail to step back and see the long-term, big picture.

Risk is complex because there is no straightforward answer. And as much as it is quantitative, it can be subjective with its varying definitions from investor to investor. So investors may be left asking themselves how to diversify accordingly and maximize rewards, making sure that the risk they are taking is in fact, “bold”.

Whatever the case, one thing is true: there is no reward without risk, and the Romans knew it well.

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IMPORTANT INFORMATION

PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT AN INDICATION OF FUTURE RESULTS.

Foreign securities are more volatile, harder to price and less liquid than U.S. securities. They are subject to different accounting and regulatory standards, and political and economic risks. These risks are enhanced in emerging markets countries.

Fixed income securities are subject to certain risks including, but not limited to: interest rate (changes in interest rates may cause a decline in the market value of an investment), credit (changes in the financial condition of the issuer, borrower, counterparty, or underlying collateral), prepayment (debt issuers may repay or refinance their loans or obligations earlier than anticipated), call (some bonds allow the issuer to call a bond for redemption before it matures), and extension (principal repayments may not occur as quickly as anticipated, causing the expected maturity of a security to increase).

The above is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as an offer, or solicitation, to deal in any of the investments mentioned herein. Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) does not warrant the accuracy, adequacy or completeness of the information and materials contained in this document and expressly disclaims liability for errors or omissions in such information and materials.

Some of the information in this document may contain projections or other forward looking statements regarding future events or future financial performance of countries, markets or companies. These statements are only predictions and actual events or results may differ materially. The reader must make his/her own assessment of the relevance, accuracy and adequacy of the information contained in this document, and make such independent investigations, as he/she may consider necessary or appropriate for the purpose of such assessment.

Any opinion or estimate contained in this document is made on a general basis and is not to be relied on by the reader as advice. Neither AAM nor any of its agents have given any consideration to nor have they made any investigation of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular need of the reader, any specific person or for any loss arising whether directly or indirectly as a result of the reader, any person or group of persons acting on any information, opinion or estimate contained in this document.

AAM reserves the right to make changes and corrections to its opinions expressed in this document at any time, without notice.

In the United States, AAM is the marketing name for the following affiliated, registered investment advisers: Aberdeen Asset Management Inc., Aberdeen Asset Managers Ltd, Aberdeen Asset Management Ltd and Aberdeen Asset Management Asia Ltd, each of which is wholly owned by Aberdeen Asset Management PLC. “Aberdeen” is a U.S. registered service mark of Aberdeen Asset Management PLC.