From the desk of Alex Duffy: A comment on portfolio construction

Turning over many stones and ‘stock picking’ within the investment universe is the bread and butter of most active managers. However, while this is a critical part of the investment process, it’s only one part of the process. Cobbling those stones together and ensuring that they receive a weighting in the end portfolio commensurate with the risk-reward payoff requires an altogether different skillset.

Portfolio construction all too often appears as an after-thought for many active managers yet it is ultimately critical in determining the investment returns and volatility of returns for investor in the underlying portfolio.  

The greatest risk which we as investors face is the permanent loss of capital - if we put $100 into a business and don’t get $100 back. In my opinion, portfolio construction should manage this risk, therefore the amount of capital we are willing to put at risk on a particular stock should reflect the maximum amount of capital we are willing to lose if we are wrong versus the probability of that negative outcome occurring.

Over the last decade or so the fixation on tracking error, active money and other ‘risk’ management measures (which are implicitly determined by the nature and construction of the respective indices against which portfolios are often judged), has led investment managers to neglect the ‘real’ risk which their clients are attempting to mitigate.

In my view such a response too often leads to final investment outcomes and portfolio structures which are not aligned with original objectives. This results in stocks being allocated capital not in accordance to conviction or the balance of the risk/reward which the stock offers but rather to how large the stock is within the index or in order to mitigate some other perceived risk presented by the fund being over or under weight a given sector, geography or investment theme.

Determining how much capital we should put at risk in a stock starts with a thorough understanding of what the downside could be should we be wrong. Using this as a starting point enables me to draw an approximate line in the sand for a particular stock. Once this has been achieved I set about understanding the range of payoffs to the upside should our investment thesis prove correct. My focus is very much on the sustainability and duration of returns, the range of possible outcomes for the return profile of a business and the probability of our analysis proving correct on any one of those outcomes. 
Every position within my portfolio is there on the merits of a thorough analysis; the strengths and weaknesses of the business model, the return profile of the business, the reinvestment opportunity which the business is faced with and the starting valuation at which we are able to acquire that particular future cash flow stream. 

The final position size of an individual stock ultimately reflects our conviction on a given outcome and critically places greater weight on those stocks which have a high probability of consistently meeting and potentially beating our hurdle rate than those which on the toss of a coin may handsomely beat yet equally may significantly under-perform it.

While this may result in a portfolio which looks different from the standard MSCI Emerging Market Index, against which the performance of the portfolio is judged, it is a portfolio which we feel better encapsulates the real risks which our clients face.

An additional layer of the portfolio construction process then considers and seeks to mitigate the overall real endogenous and exogenous risk factors which the portfolio is exposed to.

More specifically, once a company has passed the scrutiny of our stock level analysis we then turn to the role it plays in the overall makeup of the portfolio - emphasis being given to the correlation of the cash flow drivers of that particular company with the cash flow drivers of other stocks already held. This focus on intra fund correlation is an additional layer of absolute risk mitigation which implicitly leads to a moderation of the portfolio’s relative risk versus its index or universe.

These factors combined provide a portfolio which is constructed in an absolute fashion, with stocks being allocated capital on their own individual merits, irrespective of their relevance to a particular index yet with an overall construction process which helps to ensure against excessive risk.

As the portfolio manager, I can truly stand by every investment decision and position size within the portfolio. As a client invested in the fund, I know I’m in a fund which is actively managed, appropriately considers the real risks which I am faced with and still provides the exposure I’m seeking when investing in Emerging Market equities as an asset class. 

This document is issued by FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009, AFSL No. 409340 (“Fidelity Australia”).  Fidelity Australia is a member of the FIL Limited group of companies commonly known as Fidelity International.

Investments in overseas markets can be affected by currency exchange and this may affect the value of your investment. Investments in small and emerging markets can be more volatile than investments in developed markets.

This document is intended for use by advisers and wholesale investors. Retail investors should not rely on any information in this document without first seeking advice from their financial adviser. This document has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider these matters before acting on the information.  You should also consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statements (“PDS”) for any Fidelity Australia product mentioned in this document before making any decision about whether to acquire the product. The PDS can be obtained by contacting Fidelity Australia on 1800 119 270 or by downloading it from our website at This document may include general commentary on market activity, sector trends or other broad-based economic or political conditions that should not be taken as investment advice. Information stated herein about specific securities is subject to change. Any reference to specific securities should not be taken as a recommendation to buy, sell or hold these securities. While the information contained in this document has been prepared with reasonable care, no responsibility or liability is accepted for any errors or omissions or misstatements however caused. This document is intended as general information only. The document may not be reproduced or transmitted without prior written permission of Fidelity Australia. The issuer of Fidelity’s managed investment schemes is FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009. Reference to ($) are in Australian dollars unless stated otherwise. 

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