Diversifying with alternatives

When you hear the word "alternatives," you may immediately think of high-risk, limited investments. What you may not know is that alternative assets and strategies can actually help reduce the volatility in your portfolio and help protect against downside risk when incorporated into a diversified portfolio.

Let’s look at how alternative assets and strategies can help you achieve more sophisticated diversification than a traditional 60/40 strategy.

Correlation of returns

Over the last 15 years, correlations in the traditional asset classes of stocks and bonds have increased — these asset classes are now more likely to go up or down in value in the same direction at the same time.

The chart below shows how adding alternative strategies and assets to several hypothetical portfolios would have simultaneously reduced risk and increased returns.

Front of chart

Chart: Alternative strategies and assets tend to have lower correlations

As the chart shows:

Bullet one

Correlations in equities and fixed income have tended to be higher (indicated by the purple and teal boxes). This means it has become increasingly more difficult to diversify your portfolio and provide downside protection if you’re investing only in stocks and bonds.

Bullet two

On the other hand, alternative strategies such as market neutral and managed futures have provided lower correlations over the past 15 years. You, like many investors, may assume these asset classes are inherently riskier, but they may actually reduce the overall risk of your portfolio due to lower correlations.

Bullet three

Similarly, alternative asset classes such as currency and commodities have low or negative correlations, which can help you reduce risk and increase return


Back of chart

Chart: Alternative strategies and assets can expand the efficient frontier

As the chart shows:

Bullet four

In this hypothetical, you start with a traditional 60/40 portfolio and reallocate 15% of your portfolio to alternative assets (e.g., investments in things other than stocks and bonds, such as commodities and currency).Within the 35% that remains in fixed income, you reallocate 5% to alternative fixed income strategies (e.g., investments in bonds that use a strategy other than buy and hold). Finally, within the 50% that remains in equities, you reallocate 5% to alternative equities strategies.

Bullet five

The result is a significant change in the “efficient frontier,” simultaneously reducing your risk and increasing your returns.


Points for professionals

  • Analyze the investment strategies of your clients' accounts.
  • Help them understand that long/short strategies may also provide higher total return and downside protection.
  • Suggest an appropriate investment strategy for their situation.
  • Consider BlackRock product solutions.
  • Contact your BlackRock representative.

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