Partner Insight: Beyond 60/40

clock • 5 min read

Investing is a challenging endeavour, but there have been periods, notably from the 1980s to the early 2020s, where success seemed more attainable. This era, often dubbed the golden age of investing, saw the prominence of the classic "60/40" portfolio.

However, with today's world undergoing seismic shifts, this once-reliable strategy faces challenges. This article explores why the 60/40 portfolio thrived in the past and why it may struggle in today's environment, while also presenting alternative approaches to portfolio construction and asset allocation better suited to current challenges.

The 60/40 portfolio, with its 60% allocation to equities and 40% to bonds, was a staple investment strategy during the golden age. In over four decades from 1980 to 2023, it delivered positive performance in 36 of 43 years, with only major shocks disrupting its success. This approach, static in its allocation, capitalised on favourable market conditions characterised by strong equity performance and a robust bond market.

Recent geopolitical and economic events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions, have ushered in a new era marked by uncertainty. Factors like higher inflation and interest rates have led to increased correlation between equities and bonds, challenging the diversification benefits of the 60/40 portfolio. Moreover, bonds, once considered safe havens, have shown vulnerability to market volatility, undermining their role in mitigating downside risk.

The bigger picture

One possible response to what might be seen as a 60/40 portfolio's loss of balance would be to markedly adjust the ratio of equities to bonds. If the latter are not offering enough downside mitigation, for instance, why not move to a 70/30 or even an 80/20 allocation?

In reality, of course, this is easier said than done, as a client's risk tolerances might not permit such a shift. We therefore need to utilise other approaches to asset allocation.

This means we need to think creatively. We need to construct multi-asset portfolios in ways that embed flexibility and can better enable us to navigate uncertain times. In short: we need to consider the bigger picture. Below are some key examples of this thinking.

Geographic diversification

Just as they can benefit from diversifying across asset classes, investors can benefit from diversifying across regions. It may now be especially useful to pay attention to how different regions are valued versus both their own history and other regions. Home bias - the tendency to invest the majority of a portfolio in domestic assets - is still widespread⁵, even though such an approach ignores geographic diversification's potential to help maximise opportunity and minimise risk.

Smaller companies

While many investors' view of the equities universe is limited to large-cap businesses, the small-cap space is home to some of the most promising opportunities to be found anywhere on the market-cap spectrum. Small-caps are often under-researched and under-owned, and they routinely outperform their large-cap counterparts over time - even though they are likely to be more volatile over the short term.

Superior sources of income

Looking further afield and digging deeper can help address the issue of income, too. This is because income can also vary across regions and sectors. This point also applies to fixed income, where assets such as high-yield bonds are gaining more attention - although risk considerations must obviously be taken into account.

Alternative asset classes

We should not forget the investment universe extends beyond equities and bonds. Alternative asset classes include real estate, commodities, hedge funds and private equity. While not every investment is suitable for every investor, it is vital to understand markets are non-homogenous and a healthy blend can therefore help a multi-asset portfolio perform consistently, not least during periods of uncertainty and volatility.

Active management

A traditional 60/40 portfolio is invested passively. Going forward, with greater volatility expected, the role of active managers in attempting to identify likely winners - and, perhaps even more importantly, avoid likely losers - could become more significant. Active management can be particularly helpful when the differential between best-performing and worst-performing sectors becomes unusually stretched, as is the case at present.

Why diversification matters

The chart below may appear daunting, but its message is simple: markets are non-homogenous. The same asset classes rarely lead the way in performance year after year, even when the geo-economic and geopolitical environment is relatively benign. This underscores the value of looking further afield and digging deeper when constructing a multi-asset portfolio.

Past performance is not a guide to future returns. Source: Bloomberg, as at 31 December 2023. Total returns in GBP. Indices used: MSCI USA (US Equity), MSCI UK (UK Equity), MSCI Europe ex UK (European Equity), MSCI Japan (Japan Equity), MSCI Emerging Markets (EM Equity), Bloomberg Global Treasury Total Return (Global Treasury), Bloomberg Global Aggregate Credit Total Return (IG Credit), Bloomberg Global High Yield Total Return (HY Credit), Bloomberg EM USD Aggregate Total Return (EM Credit), S&P Global REIT (S&P REITs), HFRX Global Hedge Fund (Hedge Funds), Bloomberg Commodity (Commodities).

Find out more

Invesco's heritage in managing multi asset investments for our UK clients goes back over 25 years. Explore our range of discretionary and advisory model portfolio services, which consider the topics discussed in this article, and turn our expertise into your edge.

 

Investment risks

The value of investments and any income will fluctuate (this may partly be the result of exchange rate fluctuations) and investors may not get back the full amount invested.

Important information

This article is for Professional Clients in the UK and is not for consumer use.

Views and opinions are based on current market conditions and are subject to change.

This is marketing material and not financial advice. It is not intended as a recommendation to buy or sell any particular asset class, security or strategy. Regulatory requirements that require impartiality of investment/investment strategy recommendations are therefore not applicable nor are any prohibitions to trade before publication.

Invesco Asset Management Limited, Perpetual Park, Perpetual Park Drive, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 1HH, UK. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

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