Home > Articles > Business & Management > Finance & Investing

Understanding Asset Allocation: In Search of the Upside

It is striking how little most people understood about risk as recently as three decades ago. Risk, of course, is that piece of information all investors need to know—and should desire to keep as low as possible in relation to the returns they expect to see on their investments. Fortunately, developments in modern portfolio theory provide a framework for addressing the ways risk can affect expected returns. The developments have been nothing short of dramatic. This chapter covers those developments in detail.
This chapter is from the book

It is striking how little most people understood about risk as recently as three decades ago. Risk, of course, is that piece of information all investors need to know—and should desire to keep as low as possible in relation to the returns they expect to see on their investments. Fortunately, developments in modern portfolio theory provide a framework for addressing the ways risk can affect expected returns.1 The developments have been nothing short of dramatic.

The Measurement of Risk

We now have the Sharpe ratio at our disposal, a well-known formula useful for evaluating alternative investments and determining when to add additional assets to a portfolio.2

The Sharpe ratio summarizes two measures—mean return and variance—within a single measure. Mean return can be considered the average return an investment or investment class is expected to deliver over time, while variance can be considered the average range of asset performance around the mean return. To calculate the Sharpe ratio, subtract the risk-free rate returns (that is, Treasury bill [T-bill] returns) from the asset returns in question and divide that result by the standard deviation of the return of the asset class in question less that of the risk-free rate. In this manner, risk is pinpointed. One way to think of this is to consider a person who borrows money to invest. After doing so, that person’s net gain is the difference between the return of the investment and the funds borrowed; the greater the difference (on the positive side), the greater the reward. Similarly, the higher the Sharpe ratio, the lower the risk in relation to the reward. The Sharpe ratio is calculated using the mean and standard deviation of an excess return. That is the net of the asset class return and the risk free rate (that is, three months’ T-bill yields). A related measure is obtained when the ratio is calculated based on the mean and return of a single investment. This ratio is also known as the information ratio.

Then, there’s the capital asset pricing model (CAPM), which similarly looks at the relationship between an investment’s risk and its expected market return—or, more specifically, the ways investment risk should affect its expected return.3 One major insight of the CAPM is that not all risks should affect asset prices. As would be the case if two assets moved in the same direction, the volatility of the portfolio consisting of the two assets would remain the same as the individual assets. In contrast, if the two assets move in the opposite direction, the volatil-ity of a portfolio consisting of the two assets would be much lower than that of each of the assets by themselves. The latter represents an example of a risk that can be diversified away by combining it with other assets in a portfolio, which should not be considered a risk. Hence, when considering adding asset to a portfolio, one needs to take into account whether the asset moves with the portfolio and whether the addition of the asset will reduce or increase the volatility of the portfolio. If the asset does not add to the volatility of the portfolio, it should not be priced for risk, or more plainly, investors would not demand an additional return or premium over and above the current expected return. The only risk that should be priced is the risk that cannot be diversified away, the residual risk or systematic risk. The CAPM is firm on this point. What should matter to the investor, therefore, is the incremental impact on the overall portfolio volatility—not the individual investment volatility. With this in mind, an investor can effectively apply the Sharpe ratio: When adding an asset to a portfolio improves the Sharpe ratio, the asset adds to the return of a portfolio over and above the increased volatility of the new overall portfolio.

Investing suddenly seems very simple. Indeed, in the days of the Sharpe ratio and the CAPM, the market portfolio—a portfolio that has bought the market (given that the overall market is in equilibrium)—has become the efficient portfolio. An efficient portfolio is a portfolio that contains returns that have been maximized in relation to the risk level that individual investors desire. In a market that is in equilibrium, where the number of winners and losers must balance out, adding one additional asset class or stock does not increase the portfolio’s risk return ratio. This means the portfolio containing risky assets with the highest Sharpe ratio must be the market portfolio.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020