Diversifying Through Crypto – How Digital Assets Could Change Your Retirement Plan

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Sticking with the theme of cryptocurrency this week, I came across this fascinating research paper  on the role that digital assets can play in asset allocation. While I recommend you read the report yourself, I appreciate that not everyone is enraptured by talk of efficient frontiers and Sharpe ratios, so I will attempt to summarise the main points of the paper into something more easily digestible.

First of all, here’s a post I wrote previously about asset allocation, which may be a good refresher. As noted there, modern portfolio theory is about diversification, specifically, blending various asset classes to produce good returns with the lowest possible risk. Over the long term it is possible to estimate the future behaviour of various asset classes and blend them to together to create an efficient frontier portfolio, whereby the return is optimized to the level of risk.

Efficient frontier
https://grayscale.co/a-new-frontier-research-paper/

What makes the development of a new digital asset class so interesting is the opportunity to add it into the mix and create an allocation that is more diversified than traditional portfolios. A well diversified portfolio contains a blend of assets which are not strongly correlated to each other. So the key to success is not necessarily finding better performing assets, but properly combining uncorrelated assets. In short, to widen the net and capture a better return without greatly increasing the risk.

The graphic below shows a simple simulation of how this could work. It takes a typical portfolio that is 60% global stocks and 40% global bonds, (Global 60/40) and shows how the performance and risk characteristics change by simply adding an allocation to bitcoin:

Figure 5
https://grayscale.co/a-new-frontier-research-paper/

As you can see, a 1% allocation to Bitcoin increases the return over the time period without greatly affecting the level of risk. A 5% allocation to bitcoin moves the risk needle a little more, but the cumulative return is almost double that of the Global 60/40.

This can then be taken a step further by adding a blend of digital assets rather than just bitcoin:

grayscale_fig8
https://grayscale.co/a-new-frontier-research-paper/

It seems that the extra diversification achieved through a range of digital assets has a significant positive impact on the risk/return profile of this portfolio. This can be attributed to the fact that although digital assets appear to go up and down together, they are not perfectly correlated.

I’m not going to get into Sharpe ratios in this post but you can get a definition here. From a financial planning perspective I do think it is worth a look at Figure 12 and Figure 13 in the paper, which give an interesting simulation of how someone saving for retirement could benefit from an allocation to digital assets over time:

grayscale_fig12
https://grayscale.co/a-new-frontier-research-paper/

Assuming $100,000 in starting capital and an annual contribution of $18,500, this gives us an idea of how adding a 5% allocation to a blend of digital assets to the Global 60/40 can affect risk/return results over time. Although the increase in annualised return is only 0.3% for a similar level of risk, the effect of compound interest over the years turns this into a meaningful dollar figure at the end:

grayscale_fig13
https://grayscale.co/a-new-frontier-research-paper/

Now this is, of course, a simulation and there is no guarantee of achieving these returns over time, but it certainly makes for a compelling argument for allocating a small portion of long term investments to digital assets. Having said that, we are still some way from being able to click a button and add a 5% allocation to crypto to a retirement plan, which means investors currently have to figure out how to buy and store these assets safely themselves. However, there is already talk of bitcoin ETFs, and crypto funds that are accessible to retail investors are starting to appear. It looks like making an allocation to digital assets as part of your long term investment strategy is about to get easier.

Disclaimer: This should go without saying, but the information contained in this blog is not investment advice, or an incentive to invest, and should not be considered as such. This is for information only.

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