The rate of return on an investment asset is the income and capital appreciation over a measurement period divided by the cost of acquisition, expressed as a percentage. Assets include stocks, bonds, real estate and mutual funds. The rates of return depend on several factors, such as the portfolio composition and macroeconomic conditions, and determine the extent to which investors can meet their financial objectives.
The asset mix of an investment portfolio determines its overall return. There is a risk-return tradeoff with every asset -- the higher the risk, the higher the volatility and return potential. For example, stocks are generally riskier and more volatile than bonds, but the rates of return on stocks have exceeded those of bonds over the long term. An investment portfolio fully invested in stocks is likely to suffer in a down economy and during periods of high market volatility. On the other hand, a conservative portfolio invested mainly in high-quality bonds is likely to have lower but more predictable and stable returns.
The strategic and operational fundamentals of the underlying businesses affect investment returns. Strategy involves positioning a company to take advantage of opportunities and responding effectively to competitive threats. Operational execution involves managing costs, expanding into new markets and continually innovating to stay ahead of the competition. Companies that consistently meet sales and profit expectations generally see their stock prices outperform market averages. Conversely, companies that lose market share and miss earnings expectations underperform the market.
Macroeconomic conditions affect investment rates of return. A growing economy means that more people have jobs, which means they spend more. For businesses, this leads to increases in sales, profits and investments in new employees and equipment. However, rapid economic growth can lead to higher interest rates. This makes credit more expensive, thus dampening consumer spending and business investments. Economic slowdowns lead to low employment, which usually means lower profits and stock prices. The resulting weakness in the stock markets could improve bond prices as investors move funds to the relative safety of bonds.
Fiscal policy, regulations and political stability also affect investment rates of return. Large fiscal deficits reduce government flexibility and may result in higher borrowing costs for businesses. An arduous regulatory approval process can hamper business investments in the resource and energy sectors. Political stability creates investor and business confidence because there is more visibility into possible investment returns. Investors tend to avoid countries that change governments frequently or have civil strife.
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