Portfolio Optimization

Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byPallabi Banerjee
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Portfolio Optimization?

Portfolio optimization is nothing but a process where an investor receives the right guidance concerning the selection of assets from the range of other options, and in this theory, projects/programs are not valued on an individual basis; rather, the same is valued as a part of a particular portfolio.


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Portfolio Optimization is good for those investors who want to maximize the risk-return trade-off since this process is targeted at maximizing the return for every additional unit of risk taken in the portfolio. The managers combine a combination of risky assets with risk-free assets to manage this trade-off. The ratio of risky assets to risk-free assets depends on the risk the investor wants to take. The optimal portfolio does not give a portfolio that would generate the highest possible return from the combination. It just maximizes the return per unit of risk taken. The Sharpe ratio of this portfolio is the highest.

Key Takeaways

  • Portfolio optimization receives guidance as an investor to choose the most suitable assets from various options. The theory values projects/programs as part of a specific portfolio rather than individually.
  • Asset allocation for an optimal portfolio is a two-part process: selecting asset classes and choosing assets within the category.
  • Portfolio optimization balances risk and return by combining risky and safe investments in a ratio that matches the investor’s risk tolerance. The most optimal portfolio has the highest Sharpe ratio, maximizing profit relative to the risk taken.

Portfolio Optimization Explained

The process of portfolio optimization involves selection of such a set of asset and designing a portfolio for investment purpose that it meets the basic return objective, expected within the time period by incurring minimum cost and risk. It is a basic skill that every investor or any financial advisor, who is entrusted with the job of managing a portfolio on behalf of their client, should possess.

Portfolio optimization theory requires a lot of analysis, reviews and continuous tracking of the financial market in order to understand the performance of the asset classes, which helps in designing a strategy and make necessary adjustments that will optimize returns. It is a process of optimising the asset allocation to get the highest possible return that will be within the tolerable risk level. This ensures a balanced portfolio through proper diversification.

An optimal portfolio is said to have the highest Sharpe ratioSharpe RatioSharpe Ratio, also known as Sharpe Measure, is a financial metric used to describe the investors’ excess return for the additional volatility experienced to hold a risky asset. You can calculate it by, Sharpe Ratio = {(Average Investment Rate of Return – Risk-Free Rate)/Standard Deviation of Investment Return} read more, which measures the excess return generated for every unit of risk taken.

There are a variety of assets that are traded in the financial market and each have separate risk and return levels which include risky as well as fixed income portfolio optimization. The factors influencing them are also different. It is necessary for investors to understand the assets well to ensure optimization of the portfolio

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Asset AllocationAsset AllocationAsset Allocation is the process of investing your money in various asset classes such as debt, equity, mutual funds, and real estate, depending on your return expectations and risk tolerance. This makes it easier to achieve your long-term financial goals.read more for an optimal portfolio is essentially a two-part process:

  1. Selecting Asset ClassesPortfolio managersPortfolio ManagersA portfolio manager is a financial market expert who strategically designs investment portfolios.read more first choose the asset classes they want to allocate funds to, then decide the weight of every asset class included. Common asset classesAsset ClassesAssets are classified into various classes based on their type, purpose, or the basis of return or markets. Fixed assets, equity (equity investments, equity-linked savings schemes), real estate, commodities (gold, silver, bronze), cash and cash equivalents, derivatives (equity, bonds, debt), and alternative investments such as hedge funds and bitcoins are examples.read more include Equities, Bonds, Gold, and Real Estate.
  2. Selecting Assets within Class – After deciding the asset classes, the manager decides how much of a particular stock or a bond she wants to include in the portfolio. The Efficient Frontier represents the risk-return relationship of an efficient portfolio on a graph. Each point on this curve represents an efficient portfolio.


There are a number of methods or portfolio optimization models used by analysts to establish a balance between the assets of a portfoilio and earn maximum return. Here are some of them.

  • Mean- Variance – This is a part of the above theory, where the optimization process focus on getting the bst possible return but minimizing and variation or deviation from the variance of the portfolio. The best asset allocation can be picked by making a trade-off between risk and return.
  • Monte-Carlo Simulation – This is a method of simulating different types of portfolios and assessing their outcomes. Different types of inputs are used like the assets, their correlation and fluctuation in prices. This helps in identifying the possibility or level of risk and return that can be expected.
  • Risk Parity – In this method of or portfolio optimization models, the aim is to achieve the risk level that is equal for all the asset class or security. Here the assets are allocated after evaluating their risk levels not their return levels. It leads to a creation of a more stable asset portfolio.
  • Black-Litterman Model – It is a very useful method. It first takes into consideration the investor’s expectation of the return levels and then use that view to design a portfolio which will give the best return. Investors who understand different asset classes well and can form strong opinions, find this process very useful.

Thus, the above are some widely used methods for optimization of portfolio for investors. However, all of them have their own pros and cons, which should be carefully studied before application.


Let’s see some practical examples of enhanced portfolio optimization to understand it better.

Example #1

If we take an example of Apple and Microsoft based on their monthly returns for the year 2018, the following graph shows the Efficient Frontier for a portfolio consisting only of these two stocks:

Portfolio Optimization Example 1

The X-axis is the standard deviation, and the y-axis is the portfolio return for the level of risk. If we combine this portfolio with a risk-free asset, the point on this graph where the Sharpe ratio is maximized represents the optimal portfolio. It is the point at which the capital allocation lineCapital Allocation LineThe capital allocation line, which also refers to the capital market line, is a graph used to measure the risk related to securities and defines the relationship (the combination of) between risky and risk-free assets, and the line on the graph represents it. It is also known as a reward to variability ratio.read more is tangential to the efficient frontier. The reason behind this is that at that point, the Sharpe ratio (which measures the increase in expected returnExpected ReturnThe Expected Return formula is determined by applying all the Investments portfolio weights with their respective returns and doing the total of results. Expected return = (p1 * r1) + (p2 * r2) + ………… + (pn * rn), where, pi = Probability of each return and ri = Rate of return with probability. read more for every additional unit of risk taken) is the highest.

Example #2

Suppose we want to combine a risky portfolio having only BestBuy and AT&T stocks and a risk-free asset with a return of 1%. We will plot the Efficient Frontier based on the return data for these stocks and then take a line that starts at 1.5 on the Y-axis and is tangential to this Efficient Frontier.

Portfolio Optimization Example 2

The X-axis represents the Standard Deviation, and Y-axis represents the return of the portfolio Of The PortfolioThe portfolio return formula calculates the return of the total portfolio consisting of the different individual assets. The formula is computed by calculating the return on investment on individual asset multiplied with respective weight class in the total portfolio and adding all the resultants together. Rp = ∑ni=1 wi riread more. An investor who wishes to take on less risk can move to the left of this point, and high risk-taking investors can move to the right. An investor who does not wish to take any risk at all would invest all the money in the risk-free asset but, simultaneously, limit their portfolio return to 1%. An extra return will be earned by taking the risk.


Below mentioned are some of the major advantages of portfolio optimization:


Below mentioned are some of the major limitations of portfolio optimization:

Thus, the above are some important advantages and limitation of the concept enhanced portfolio optimization. Investors should understand them so as to use the concept in an effective manner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is mean-variance portfolio optimization?

Data-based investing relies heavily on mean-variance optimization, which evaluates an asset’s risk compared to its potential return before making investment decisions.

What is product portfolio optimization?

. Product portfolio optimization research aims to help businesses make informed decisions about their product lines. The study focuses on maximizing a company’s reach, revenues, and profits by choosing the most effective product combination.

What is the role of diversification in portfolio optimization? 

Diversification is a crucial principle in portfolio optimization. It involves spreading investments across different asset classes, industries, regions, or other relevant factors to reduce risk. By diversifying, investors can benefit from the non-correlation or low correlation between foreign assets, as losses in some investments may be offset by gains in others. Diversification aims to achieve a more stable and balanced portfolio.

What are some typical constraints in portfolio optimization? Restrictions in portfolio optimization are imposed to meet specific requirements or limitations. Some common conditions include:
a Asset allocation limits: Setting upper and lower bounds on the percentage of the portfolio allocated to each asset.
b Budget constraint: Restricting the total investment amount available for portfolio construction.
c Risk tolerance: Limiting the overall risk level of the portfolio, such as maximum acceptable volatility or drawdown.

Recommended Articles

This has been a guide to what is Portfolio Optimization. We explain the methods, with examples, process, advantages and limitations. You can learn more about portfolio management from the following articles –

Reader Interactions


  1. Angella lele says

    This article help much in solving financial mathematics

  2. Angella lele says

    This helps much.

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