The Conservative Barbell Strategy
We recently reviewed a book written by Nassim Taleb called “The Black Swan”. In it, the author suggests an approach for investing called the Barbell Strategy. The approach is based on the concern that unexpected market events can happen with devastating impact to our portfolios. The Black Swan is about such events that are generally unknown, unpredictable, and cannot be planned against to mitigate losses. Because they are unpredictable they cannot be avoided, we need a way to protect assets as best we can against these unforeseen events.
The Barbell strategy uses the two extremes: Ultra conservative positions at one end and highly leveraged, speculative positions at the other end of the risk range. The strategy advocates having most assets in very safe securities like treasury bills and a small portion in high risk – high reward securities like options. The Barbell image is used to show assets at the two ends of the conservative / speculative spectrum. But the Barbell is unbalanced with 90% ultra conservative and 10% speculative. The concept is to invest 90% of the portfolio in treasury bills, therefore, the portfolio is fairly insulated from unplanned events like a Black Swan. In the event of some catastrophic event only 10% of the portfolio, which is invested in the high risk-high reward investments, is exposed to a loss. The high risk-high reward portion of the portfolio provides most of the returns under normal market conditions. Continue reading