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Mitigating estimation risk in asset allocation: Diagonal models versus 1/N diversification

Financial Review. July 15, 2016

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Recent literature suggests that optimal asset‐allocation models struggle to consistently outperform the 1/N naïve diversification strategy, which highlights estimation‐risk concerns. We propose a dichotomous classification of asset‐allocation models based on which elements of the inverse covariance matrix that a model uses: diagonal only versus full matrix. We argue that parsimonious diagonal‐only strategies, which use limited information such as volatility or idiosyncratic volatility, are likely to offer a good tradeoff between incorporating limited information while mitigating estimation risk. Evaluating five sets of portfolios over 1926–2012, we find that 1/N is generally not optimal when compared with these diagonal strategies.