Keeping Your Investment in Balance, Part 2

In my last post on the subject, I introduced the idea of monitoring and maintaining a portfolio’s asset allocation.

Determining when and how to effectively rebalance your portfolio requires careful monitoring of not only portfolio performance, but awareness of your tax status, cash flow, financial goals, and tolerance for risk.  The act of portfolio rebalancing results in transaction fees and has the potential to incur capital gains in taxable accounts. Thus, while there may be good reasons to rebalance, the benefits must outweigh the costs.

Given these challenges, a practical approach to rebalancing takes into consideration the occurrence of “triggering” points, yet provides enough flexibility that costs are effectively managed and minimized.

When to Rebalance

Defining triggering points helps us decide when to rebalance. Most experts recommend rebalancing when asset group weightings move outside a specified range of their target allocations.  This may be widely defined according to either a stock-bond mix or to a percentage drift away from target weightings for categories like small cap stocks, international stocks, and the like.

How to Rebalance

While rebalancing costs are unavoidable, several strategies can help minimize the impact:

  • Rebalance with new cash. Rather than selling over-weighted assets that have appreciated, use new cash to buy more under-weighted assets; this reduces transaction costs and the tax consequences of selling assets.
  • Whenever possible, rebalance in the tax-deferred or tax-exempt accounts where capital gains are not realized.
  • Incorporate tax management within taxable accounts, such as strategic loss harvesting, dividend management, and gain/loss matching.
  • Implement an integrated portfolio strategy. In other words, rather than maintaining rigid barriers between component asset classes and accounts, manage the portfolio as a whole.

Conclusion

While there are good reasons to adjust portfolio risk by rebalancing, it does incur real costs that can detract from returns. A good strategy includes determining which investment components can acceptably drift, and adopting tax-saving and cost-saving strategies during rebalancing. In helping our clients rebalance, we strive to develop a structured plan that remains flexible to each individual’s unique blend of goals, risk tolerances, cash flow, and tax status.

No one knows where the capital markets will go—and that’s the point. In an uncertain world, investors should have a well-defined, globally diversified strategy and manage their portfolio to implement it over time. Rebalancing is a crucial tool in this effort.

Moreover, if and when your overall financial goals or risk tolerance change, you have a foundation for making adjustments. In the absence of a plan, adjustments are a matter of guesswork.

About the author

Roger Streit, CFP®

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