For many Americans, Wall Street is perceived as a confusing and mysterious world of fluctuating stock prices, complicated fiscal equations and, most importantly, incredibly high risk.
And why shouldn’t this be so?
After all, portfolio management is not something taught in mainstream scholastic curriculum, and the topic of money and financial matters are often shied away from in the home. After years of working towards a comfortable retirement, many pre-retirees would prefer to avoid investing altogether out of fear of losing their hard-earned retirement dollars. In fact, many Americans have a mutually exclusive view of risk: Either it’s invested and risky or in cash and safe. There are, however, many varying scenarios, and a properly diversified portfolio can focus on mitigating risk and increasing return.
When evaluating whether to invest or avoid the markets, most people — and the markets themselves — are subconsciously driven primarily by two emotions: fear and greed. When investors compete to buy a possibly scarce resource such as a specific market commodity, prices rise sharply with greed in control. On the other hand, when fear is the dominant force due to uncertainty over future outcomes, people cash out in haste or stop investing altogether, which causes markets to dive and crash. This all-or-nothing attitude almost makes Wall Street feel like a giant gambling casino, where one can win big or lose big, without any possibilities in between. But what about winning small? Or medium? With a much broader spectrum of winning and losing, every investor would do well to focus instead on developing a portfolio where the potential volatility is within an accepted comfort range. This minimizes the chance — through any market cycle — of becoming anxious and going to cash, which over the long-term reduces the probability of meeting retirement goals.
For a financial advisor, evaluating the client’s tolerance for risk is one of the first hurdles to clear when strategizing a financial plan for any portfolio. Higher risks yield higher returns but carry the weight of potential high losses, while low-risk investing offers less return but invariably more peace of mind. The volatility of a portfolio can be measured using standard deviation, or the measure of dispersion of a set of data points from its mean. For example, a volatile small cap stock may have a high standard deviation, while the deviation of a stable large company stock is generally lower.