The Risk Contribution of Stocks: Parts One & Two

Most investors tend to believe that stocks are a good—perhaps even the best—investment in the long run. However, the reason for expecting good performance from stocks is perhaps not always clearly articulated: Quite simply, it is because they are risky.

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Part One

For an investor in the US, US Government debt is generally viewed as being risk-free, if we ignore inflation risk. This investor would rank investment grade senior corporate debt as slightly more risky than Treasury bonds (with AAA-rated debt viewed as less risky than AA, followed by A, and so on). Next in the hierarchy would come subordinated debt, preferred stock, and common stock would bring up the rear. The reason stocks are the riskiest investment is that they are at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of their claim on the company’s profit or cash flow. But the reason they can also be the most rewarding is that they are entitled to all residual profits, after paying off the other more senior claims in the corporate capital structure.

Generally, investments with higher risk are expected to yield higher returns as an incentive to investors. Here, we do not address the issue of return. We simply focus on the risk of various stock-bond portfolios, and examine how much of this risk comes from their components, and, in particular, from stocks.

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