What Is the Efficient Frontier?

What Is the Efficient Frontier?

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

The Efficient Frontier is a concept in modern portfolio theory that’s used to understand the portfolios that will give the highest expected return for a specific level of risk. Put simply, it’s a set of optimal portfolios that offer the highest expected return for a defined level of risk or the lowest risk for a given level of expected return. These portfolios lie along a curve, known as the efficient frontier on a graph. The graph uses expected returns as the Y-axis and standard deviation (a measurement of risk) as the X-axis. Portfolios that cluster on this curve offer the best balance of risk and return.

Related Questions

1. How is the Efficient Frontier used in investing?

The Efficient Frontier provides investors with a guide to maximizing their returns for the level of risk they are comfortable taking. It helps in making informed decisions on how to balance a portfolio. More generally, investors use the Efficient Frontier tool to identify the best possible investment portfolios, each with varying levels of risk and return.

2. What does it mean if a portfolio is on the Efficient Frontier?

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If a portfolio lands on the Efficient Frontier, it indicates that it is optimized: it either offers maximum expected returns for a given level of risk or the lowest level of risk for expected returns. Essentially, such a portfolio has the best possible risk-to-return ratio, given the assets included in the portfolio.

3. Can I invest in an Efficient Frontier portfolio?

Yes, you can, but keep in mind that the Efficient Frontier is a theoretical concept. While it can guide investment decisions, finding a portfolio that precisely matches the Efficient Frontier may not be possible due to changing market conditions and the inherent unpredictability of the financial markets. A financial advisor can help you construct a portfolio that comes close to the Efficient Frontier considering your risk tolerance and investment goals.

4. What happens if a portfolio is below the Efficient Frontier?

A portfolio that lies below the Efficient Frontier is considered sub-optimal. In this case, the portfolio carries a higher level of risk for the expected return. In other words, an investor can either find portfolios with the same risk level but higher returns, or portfolios with the same returns but lower risk on the Efficient Frontier.

5. How does the Efficient Frontier relate to diversification?

The concept of the Efficient Frontier is strongly linked with diversification. Diversification involves spreading investments across various assets or asset types to reduce risk. A diversified portfolio often comes closer to the Efficient Frontier as it combines various assets to balance risk and returns. The mix of assets should complement one another, assisting in maximizing returns while minimizing risk.