Category: Superannuation

Portfolio Construction – Part 1

Now that we’ve reviewed all the different asset classes, it’s time to put all that learning together and construct your investment portfolio.

Now that we’ve reviewed all the different asset classes, it’s time to put all that learning together and construct your investment portfolio.  We’ve broken it down, step by step.

Step 1:    How much cash will you need?

The first step in constructing your portfolio is determining how much money you will need to hold in cash.  You should hold in cash:

  • Any money that you will need to access in the next 3 years
  • Sufficient cash to pay any costs associated with your investment portfolio

If you have retired, the amount you need in cash would be your next 3 years living expenses.  The reason for this is that you don’t want to be in a situation where you have to sell your assets in a down market to cover your  expenses.

Step 2:  What is your investment time frame?

Determining your investment time frame will help determine which assets to invest in.  The time frame is how long you expect the assets to be invested for, i.e. how long before you’ll need the money you’ve invested.

In terms of appropriate asset classes by time frame, broadly speaking:

Time Frame Asset Class
0-3 years Cash
3-5 years Bonds
5+ years Property / Shares

Step 3:  How much risk are you prepared to take?

As we mentioned in earlier posts, your goal in constructing a portfolio is to maximise your return and minimise risk.  It is not possible to earn a high return with low risk, so when you consider your target return, you will also need to consider how much risk you are prepared to take.  Below we have set-out historic returns by asset class, and an indication of risk:

Asset Class Asset Type Risk Average Return p.a. over 20 years*
Cash Defensive Low 3.40%
Australian Bonds Defensive Low-Medium 6.80%
Residential Property Growth Medium-High 10.50%
Australian Shares Growth High 8.70%
International Shares (hedged) Growth Highest 7.60%

* 20 years to Dec 2015.  Source: 2016 Long-Term Investing Report, Russell Investments

Theoretically, the higher risk products should have the highest return, however this won’t hold true over every time period.

ASIC also has some useful information on their website about the expected risk of different portfolio types, which we have summarised here:

Portfolio Purpose Defensive Assets Growth Assets Risk Expect a loss Expected Return Value of $10,000 after 5 years
Growth 15% 85% High 4-5 years in 20 6.20% $13,500
Balanced 30% 70% Medium 4 years in 20 5.70% $13,200
Income / Conservative 70% 30% Low 0 years in 20 4.20% $12,300


Everyone wants to maximise their return, so it is easiest first to focus on risk.  How much money are you prepared to lose? As set out in the table above, would you be prepared to invest in a growth portfolio and take on the risk of losing money every 4-5 years out of 20? Or would you rather take a lower 4.20% return and preserve your capital?

Generally speaking, the younger you are the higher your ability to take on risk.  If you 25 and investing for retirement, then a high growth portfolio may be appropriate because losing money every 4/5 years isn’t an issue, given that you won’t be accessing the money for 40 years.  However, if you are 25 and saving for a home deposit, then you may not be comfortable at the thought of losing your hard earned savings, meaning that you would instead consider a conservative portfolio.

These are decisions that only you can make, and it will depend on your stage of life and what you are using your investment savings for.

Once you’ve completed the steps above, you are ready to choose your investments.  We’ll cover that next week.

The information in this blog is of a general nature only and may contain advice that is not based on your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Accordingly you should consider how appropriate the advice (if any) is to those objectives, financial situation and needs before acting on the advice.

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