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What’s the Right Portfolio Asset Allocation for Young Investors?

If you are young, earning and looking for some thoughts on investing, then this post will interest you.

Being young, it is assumed that you would have a reasonably long investment horizon. Around 20 to 30 years before you will be needing that money.

With that assumption, your portfolio’s emphasis should obviously be on equities.

That was simple. Isn’t it? But that’s not all that is to be said.

So how much should be in equities and how much in debt?

Right Asset Allocation – How much Equity & how much Debt?

Now I cannot really offer specific advice here as it may not be applicable to all the readers.

Even if I could, you need to understand that there are no right or wrong answers here. It’s not just about the age but also about how much risk one is comfortable taking when investing.

But broadly speaking, if you are beginning to invest and are still not very confident about equity, then you should take it easy.

Start with 30% Equity and 70% Debt kind of strategy.

As you understand, get a feel of the real nature of equities and more importantly, get comfortable with it, move towards 70% Equity 30% Debt kind of mix.

Young Investor Portfolio Asset Allocation

Exact percentages can differ from one case to other. But broadly speaking, being equity heavy is the way to go forward.

But isn’t something wrong here?

If we already know very well that equity gives much better return than debt or any other asset class, then why not have a 100% equity portfolio?

Mathematically speaking, young people may not even need a debt portfolio if they don’t need to touch their investments for decades. But a portfolio asset allocation of 100%, 95% or 90% in equities makes sense for only those who have full idea about what they’re getting themselves into.

If you have not witnessed the 2008-2009 meltdown, then it’s worth reminding that equity portfolios saw drops of 50% in a matter of months. That is not common but that is what equity is capable of.

It’s easier to say that you can stay sane with a 50% drop in the value of your equity investments and a different thing altogether to experience it.

Most people are horribly unprepared to deal with such losses if and when they happen to their equity heavy portfolio.

Many people have the wrong notions about how equity returns are generated. They confuse average returns to something like ‘having-a-birth-right’ kind of returns. 🙂 Sooner or later, the gods of markets bash them up.

So debt is necessary, not only from diversification perspective but also from the perspective of you-not-losing-mind-when-equity-does-poorly.

But having said that, as a young investor once you are doing 70-30 kind of investing, you should be consciously praying for a fall in markets. Market falls and crashes allow you to buy equity at 20-30% kind of discounts. It augurs well for long-term returns – like a boost for the portfolio.

You shouldn’t be afraid of crashes. They can be your greatest allies in wealth creation if you embrace them and can stay invested for long.

Note – The asset allocation being discussed is suitable for long-term investments only. If you need money before 5 years, you are better off not chasing high returns with all your investments. Keep large part of your required amount in safe investments.

Action Plan – What to Do?

  • If just starting out, ensure you regularly invest 30% in equity and 70% in debt.
  • For equity, pick 2-3 good equity funds with proven track records.
  • Next year, do 50% in equity and 50% in debt.
  • After another year or two, start doing 70% in equity and 30% in debt.
  • Do not increase the number of funds to more than 4-5. Keep it simple.
  • For debt, if you are already contributing to EPF and that makes up for the required percentage that should be put in debt, then well and good. Else, contribute the required amount to debt via VPF or PPF.
  • In few years, you would have got the basic understanding of what can happen in equity markets (both on the rise and the fall).
  • With time, portfolio level asset allocation will change. You will then need to think about strategically rebalancing your portfolio periodically. Maybe once a year.
  • If equity has done well and portfolio has become 80-20 or 85-15 (Equity-Debt %), shift gains from equity into debt. After the rebalance, it should be roughly around 70/75 equity and 20/25 debt again.
  • If equity does poorly and portfolio has become 60-40 or 55-45 (Equity-Debt %), you need to shift gains from debt to equity. But that might not possible if you have been investing only in EPF / PPF for debt, which have their own lock-ins and you can’t withdraw from them.
  • Now that is not a very big problem. But to handle it partially, you can increase your regular equity investments and reduce debt ones to the bare minimum. This approach is obviously not perfect but will help do rebalancing to an extent and will work for smaller portfolios.
  • As you move forward in your journey, you should consider adding debt funds to your portfolio to handle the above handicap (of not being able to move money from PPF+EPF debt portfolio to equity due to lock-ins).

That’s how you can simply manage your long term portfolio.

Since generally, a goal that is 20-30 years away is retirement, this is how you can consider investing for your retirement too.

But should you start saving so early for Retirement?

This is fairly common question that young people have. I don’t want to bore you with ‘time in the market is what matters’ kind of gyan.

You can read the following 2 detailed case studies and you will have the proof you need:

  1. When investing for 10 years pays more than investing for 30 years
  2. How a 10-Year delay can Destroy your ‘Get-Rich’ Plan?

But really, starting early can work wonders. And given the huge costs involved (as can be seen in 2 case studies above), I would not delay investing even by a day if that was possible.

And as Joshua Brown of The Reformed Broker tells young investors:

You can be the most boring investor on earth and, with enough time spread out before you, outperform virtually anyone….You have something better than all of the investing acumen in the world – you have the time to compound.

But…

As simple as all this sounds, it is also true that most people are unable to properly implement such simple plans.

The approach that I discussed here is a simple implementation of the asset allocation strategies that I sometimes advise my clients on.

But for most young investors, the biggest obstacle is not creating the asset allocation based investment plan itself, but forcing themselves to stick to the plan that they finally choose.

So…

Think what is right for you. Start working on it. And then stick to it. Maybe, this is the best investment advice you never got. 🙂

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14 comments

  1. Thanks Dev, a very good one for the young investors on asset allocation. We should take to shift from debt to equity, when equity does poor. But unfortunately most of us not thinking about the term.

  2. Thanks Dev for the awesome guide.

    I do have a couple of questions.
    1.I am using a DEMAT account for SIP , i have read there are commissions charged if i do not buy directly from the fund website and these may cost a lot in the long run. How do i know if i am being charged a fee because the unit statements i receive clearly indicate the amount i spent is directly converted to fund units and added to my account.
    2. My second question is regarding fund switching. Say a fund ‘x’ performs well for 3 years then it does not do well in the next two years. Another fund ‘y’ performs well for all 5 years do i need to switch my units in fund ‘x’ to fund ‘y’. How do i decide ? And how much do i gain or lose if i sell a fund and buy another fund ?

    Forgive me if these have been answered before. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Vignesh 🙂

      As for your questions, here are my brief responses:

      1 – The fee being charged (in regular plans) is already accounted for in the expense ratio of the funds. So a fund’s regular and direct plan will have different expense ratios. Hope this clarifies (else mail me and we can take this discussion offline)

      2 – In this scenario, its possible that fund x is positioning its portfolio for the coming growth in future. Hence, the picks that it has in its portfolio may not have performed in said 2years but might do well in future. Entirely possible that after the 5-year period, the fund X starts outperforming fund Y as its portfolio was better positioned for growth that would come after 5 years. Its a subjective assessment. But generally, if a fund hasn’t done well for atleast a couple of years and in your view, the future potential of its portfolio doesn’t look great, its better to switch out.

      Thanks

      1. Hi Vignesh,
        When buying funds through Demat, the broker generally charges a brokarage (commission) over the amont used to buy the mutual fund. This is not reflected in the fund statement but if you go through the account statement of your broker ( like ICICI securities or HDFC … i.e the platform through which you are accessing the Demat) you will notice the commission charged in your order book. This is similar to the brokarage on the purchase and sale of stocks, though the brokarage for mutual funds might be a bit lower. hope this clarifies your doubt.

  3. Hi Dev,

    This is a very important line which has actually woken me up!

    “For debt, if you are already contributing to EPF and that makes up for the required percentage that should be put in debt, then well and good. Else, contribute the required amount to debt via VPF or PPF.”

    Before reading this article, I used to proudly say my portfolio for my long term goals is majorly equity and should start looking at some debt instruments too. I started earing some 2 years ago and my current contribution in equity MF is 9000 pm for long term goals. After reading your article, I included PF (employee + employer) into my portfolio as debt components. It made my 6 lakh portfolio 70% equity and 30% debt. Interesting part is that ratio for my per month contribution is 57% equity 43% debt!

    Actually it is difficult to get to 80% equity I guess if I go at this rate.

  4. Love your blog and equity analysis reports. In the ‘Finally’ section, waiting to see when you will add 1% bitcoin and virtual currencies. I guess a coffee session would be needed to convince you first :). – Sandeep Goenka, co-founder Zebpay.

  5. Pingback: Life after LTCG Tax & You - the Long Term Equity Investor - Forex Brokers India
  6. Hi Dev,

    This is such an insightful post on investment for young investors. Missteps are common when learning something new, but when dealing with money, there can be severe consequences. That’s why learning to maintain the portfolio in a younger age is crucial. But you had broke the points and made it look like baby steps (one at a time). I am a beginner and i am just exploring options to invest in equity shares. Your blog was really helpful and I am so glad that I stumbled on your blog post. Bookmarking it. Thanks a ton.

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