An Abney Associates Ameriprise Financial Advisor: Understanding risk

  • Few terms in personal finance are as important, or used as frequently, as “risk.” Nevertheless, few terms are as imprecisely defined. Generally, when [B]financialadvisors [/B]or the media talk about [B]investment risk[/B], their focus is on the historical price volatility of the asset or investment under discussion.

    Advisors label as aggressive or risky an investment that has been prone to wild price gyrations in the past. The presumed uncertainty and unpredictability of this investment’s future performance is perceived as risk. Assets characterized by prices that historically have moved within a narrower range of peaks and valleys are considered more conservative. Unfortunately, this explanation is seldom offered, so it is often not clear that the volatility yardstick is being used to measure risk.

    Before exploring risk in more formal terms, a few observations are worthwhile. On a practical level, we can say that risk is the chance that your investment will provide lower returns than expected or even a loss of your entire investment. You probably also are concerned about the chance of not meeting your investment goals. After all, you are investing now so you can do something later (for example, pay for college or retire comfortably). Every investment carries some degree of risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful. That’s why it makes sense to understand the kinds of risk as well as the extent of risk that you choose to take, and to learn ways to manage it.

    Even though you might never have thought about the subject, you’re probably already familiar with many kinds of risk from life experiences. For example, it makes sense that a scandal or lawsuit that involves a particular company will likely cause a drop in the price of that company’s stock, at least temporarily. If one car company hits a home run with a new model, that might be bad news for competing automakers. In contrast, an overall economic slowdown and stock market decline might hurt most companies and their stock prices, not just in one industry.

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