Welcome to March! A review of global asset allocation and global markets

In the first two months of 2019 global asset allocation has gained 4% to 8.6%. I use the iShares Core Global Allocation ETFs as a proxy instead of indexes since the ETFs are real world performance including costs. The four different allocations below represent different exposure to global stocks vs. bonds.

global asset allocation ETF ETFs asymmetric risk reward .jpg

I’m not advising anyone to buy or sell these ETFs, but instead using them as an example for what a broadly diversified global asset allocation portfolio looks like. Most financial advisors build some type of global asset allocation for their clients and try to match it with their risk tolerance. The more aggressive clients get more stocks and the most conservative clients get more bonds. Of course, this is just asset allocation, so the allocations are mostly fixed and do not change based on market risk/reward. This is very different than what I do, which is focus on asymmetric risk/reward by increasing and decreasing exposure to risk/reward based on my calculations of risk levels and the potential for reward. So, my system is global, but it’s tactical rotation rather than fixed allocation.

The iShares Core Allocation Funds track the S&P Target Risk Indexes. So, BlackRock is the portfolio manager managing the ETF and they are tracking S&P Target Risk Indexes. Here is their description:

S&P Dow Jones Indices’ Target Risk series comprises multi-asset class indices that correspond to a particular risk level. Each index is fully investable, with varying levels of exposure to equities and fixed income and are intended to represent stock and bond allocations across a risk spectrum from conservative to aggressive.

In other words, they each provide varying allocations to bonds and stocks. The Conservative model is more bonds, the Aggressive model is more stocks.

S&P Target Risk Conservative Index. The index seeks to emphasize exposure to fixed income, in order to produce a current income stream and avoid excessive volatility of returns. Equities are included to protect long-term purchasing power.

S&P Target Risk Moderate Index. The index seeks to provide significant exposure to fixed income, while also providing increased opportunity for capital growth through equities.

S&P Target Risk Growth Index. The index seeks to provide increased exposure to equities, while also using some fixed income exposure to dampen risk.

S&P Target Risk Aggressive Index. The index seeks to emphasize exposure to equities, maximizing opportunities for long-term capital accumulation. It may include small allocations in fixed income to enhance portfolio efficiency.

Below is an example of the S&P Target Risk Index allocations and the underlying ETFs they invest in. Notice their differences is 10% to 20% allocation between stocks and bonds.

Global Allocation Index Construction

These ETFs offer low-cost exposure to global asset allocation with varying levels of “risk,” which really means varying levels of allocations to bonds. I say they are “low-cost” because these ETFs only charge 0.25% including the ETFs they are invested in. Most financial advisors probably charge 1% for similar global asset allocation, not including trade commissions and the ETF or fund fees they invest in. Even the lowest fee advisors charge at least 0.25% plus the trade commissions and the fund fees they invest in. With these ETFs, investors who want long-only exposure all the time to global stock and bond market risk/return, they can get it in one low-cost ETF. However, they do come with the risks of being fully invested, all the time. These ETFs do not provide any absolute risk management.

As an unconstrained, go-anywhere, absolute return manager who does apply active risk management, I’m unconstrained from a fixed benchmark, so I don’t intend to track or “beat” a benchmark. I operate with the limitations of a fixed benchmark. My objective is to create as much total return I can within a given amount of downside risk so investors don’t tap out trying to achieve it. It doesn’t matter how much the return is if inveestors tap out during drawdowns before it’s achieved. However, I consider global asset allocation that “base rate.” If I didn’t think I could create better asymmetric risk/reward than these ETFs I wouldn’t bother doing what I do. I would just be passive and take the beatings in bear markets. If we can’t tolerate the beatings, we would invest in the more conservative ETF. I intend to create ASYMMETRY® and win by not losing, and that necessarily requires robust risk management systems and tactics.

Now that we know what they are, below are their total returns including dividends looking back over time. (To see the full history in the prospectus click: iShares)

In the chart below, we see the global asset allocation ETFs are attempting to get back to their September 2018 high. While the S&P 500 stock index is still down about -4% from its September 2018 high, the bonds in these ETFs helped reduce their drawdowns, so they have also recovered their losses better.

global tactical asset allocation asymmetric risk reward

To be sure, below are the drawdowns. The iShares Core Conservative ETF is only 30% stocks and 70% bonds, so it had a smaller drawdown and has recovered from it already. I added the S&P 500 in this chart with is 100% stocks to show how during this correction, the exposure to bonds helped offset losses in stocks. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. Sometimes diversification and even the broadest global asset allocation fails like it did in 2008.


We can look inside the ETF to see their exposures. Below we see the iShares Core Moderate ETF which is 60% stocks and 40% bonds largest holding is the iShares Core Total USD Bond Market ETF (IUSB) at 50% of the fund.

iShares Core Moderate Allocation ETF

Below is the 1-year total return chart including dividends for its largest holding. It has gained a total return of 2.9% the past year. All of the gains were this year.

iShares Core Total USD Bond Market ETF (IUSB)

Next, I added the other two largest holdings iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) and iShares Core MSCI International Developed Markets ETF (IDEV). The weakness was worse in international stocks. 


No total return chart is complete without also looking at its drawdowns. The combination of the total return chart and the drawdown is what I call the ASYMMETRY® Ratio. The ASYMMETRY® Ratio is the total return divided by the risk it took to achieve it. I prefer more total return, less downside drawdown.

global tactical asset allocation drawdown risk management

The point is, global stocks and bonds have recovered much of the losses. As we would expect so has global asset allocation. The only issue now is the short term risk has become elevated by my measures, so we’ll see how the next few weeks unfold.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

Mike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor and provides investment advice and portfolio management exclusively to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and are not specific advice, research, or buy or sell recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information provided is deemed reliable, but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s