Financial risk

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Financial risk is any of various types of risk associated with financing, including financial transactions that include company loans in risk of default.[1][2] Often it is understood to include only downside risk, meaning the potential for financial loss and uncertainty about its extent.[3][4]

A science has evolved around managing market and financial risk under the general title of modern portfolio theory initiated by Dr. Harry Markowitz in 1952 with his article, "Portfolio Selection".[5] In modern portfolio theory, the variance (or standard deviation) of a portfolio is used as the definition of risk.


Asset-backed risk

Asset-backed risk is the risk that changes in one or more assets that support an asset-backed security will significantly impact the value of the supported security. Risks include interest rate, term modification, and prepayment risk.

Credit risk

Credit risk, also called default risk, is the risk associated with a borrower going into default (not making payments as promised). Investor losses include lost principal and interest, decreased cash flow, and increased collection costs. An investor can also assume credit risk through direct or indirect use of leverage. For example, an investor may purchase an investment using margin. Or an investment may directly or indirectly use or rely on repo, forward commitment, or derivative instruments.

Foreign investment risk

Foreign investment risk is the risk of rapid and extreme changes in value due to: smaller markets; differing accounting, reporting, or auditing standards; nationalization, expropriation or confiscatory taxation; economic conflict; or political or diplomatic changes. Valuation, liquidity, and regulatory issues may also add to foreign investment risk.

Liquidity risk

This is the risk that a given security or asset cannot be traded quickly enough in the market to prevent a loss (or make the required profit). There are two types of liquidity risk:

  • Asset liquidity – An asset cannot be sold due to lack of liquidity in the market – essentially a sub-set of market risk. This can be accounted for by:
    • Widening bid-offer spread
    • Making explicit liquidity reserves
    • Lengthening holding period for VaR calculations
  • Funding liquidity – Risk that liabilities:
    • Cannot be met when they fall due
    • Can only be met at an uneconomic price
    • Can be name-specific or systemic

Market risk

The four standard market risk factors are equity risk, interest rate risk, currency risk, and commodity risk:

Operational risk

Operational risk means the risk that a company or individual has to face due their own operation and decisions made for the investment

Other risks

Model risk


Financial risk, market risk, and even inflation risk can at least partially be moderated by forms of diversification.

The returns from different assets are highly unlikely to be perfectly correlated and the correlation may sometimes be negative. For instance, an increase in the price of oil will often favour a company that produces it,[6] but negatively impact the business of a firm such an airline whose variable costs are heavily based upon fuel.[7] However, share prices are driven by many factors, such as the general health of the economy which will increase the correlation and reduce the benefit of diversification. If one constructs a portfolio by including a wide variety of equities, it will tend to exhibit the same risk and return characteristics as the market as a whole, which many investors see as an attractive prospect, so that index funds have been developed that invest in equities in proportion to the weighting they have in some well-known index such as the FTSE.

However, history shows that even over substantial periods of time there is a wide range of returns that an index fund may experience; so an index fund by itself is not "fully diversified". Greater diversification can be obtained by diversifying across asset classes; for instance a portfolio of many bonds and many equities can be constructed in order to further narrow the dispersion of possible portfolio outcomes.

A key issue in diversification is the correlation between assets, the benefits increasing with lower correlation. However this is not an observable quantity, since the future return on any asset can never be known with complete certainty. This was a serious issue in the late-2000s recession when assets that had previously had small or even negative correlations[8] suddenly starting moving in the same direction causing severe financial stress to market participants who had believed that their diversification would protect them against any plausible market conditions, including funds that had been explicitly set up to avoid being affected in this way.[9]

Diversification has costs. Correlations must be identified and understood, and since they are not constant it may be necessary to rebalance the portfolio which incurs transaction costs due to buying and selling assets. There is also the risk that as an investor or fund manager diversifies, their ability to monitor and understand the assets may decline leading to the possibility of losses due to poor decisions or unforeseen correlations.


Hedging is a method for reducing risk where a combination of assets are selected to offset the movements of each other. For instance, when investing in a stock it is possible to buy an option to sell that stock at a defined price at some point in the future. The combined portfolio of stock and option is now much less likely to move below a given value. As in diversification there is a cost, this time in buying the option for which there is a premium. Derivatives are used extensively to mitigate many types of risk.[10]

Financial / credit risk related acronyms

ACPM - Active credit portfolio management

EAD - Exposure at default

EL - Expected loss

LGD - Loss given default

PD - Probability of default

KMV - quantitative credit analysis solution developed by credit rating agency Moody's

VaR - Value at Risk, a common methodology for measuring risk due to market movements

See also


  1. ^ "Financial Risk: Definition". Investopedia. 2018-03-22. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  2. ^ "In Wall Street Words". Credo Reference. 2003. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  3. ^ McNeil, Alexander J.; Frey, Rüdiger; Embrechts, Paul (2005). Quantitative risk management: concepts, techniques and tools. Princeton University Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-691-12255-7.
  4. ^ Horcher, Karen A. (2005). Essentials of financial risk management. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-0-471-70616-8.
  5. ^ Markowitz, H.M. (March 1952). "Portfolio Selection". The Journal of Finance. 7 (1): 77–91. doi:10.2307/2975974. JSTOR 2975974.
  6. ^ "Another record profit for Exxon". BBC News. 31 July 2008.
  7. ^ Crawley, John (16 May 2011). "U.S. airline shares up as oil price slides". Reuters.
  8. ^ Hsiu-Jung Tsai; Ming-Chi Chen (2010). "The Impacts of Extreme Events of Dynamic Interactions on Interest Rate, Real House Price and Stock Markets" (PDF). International Research Journal of Finance & Economics (35): 187. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-30.
  9. ^ Amir E. Khandani; Andrew W. Lo (2007). "What Happened To The Quants In August 2007?∗" (PDF).
  10. ^ "Understanding Derivatives: Markets and Infrastructure - Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago".

External links

  • Bartram, Söhnke M.; Brown, Gregory W.; Waller, William (August 2013). "How Important is Financial Risk?". Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis. forthcoming. SSRN 2307939.
  • "Financial Risk Management News & Analysis
  • MacroRisk Analytics “Patented and proprietary macro risk measurements and tools for investors since 1999”.
  • Elements of Financial Risk Management, 2nd Edition
  • Quantitative Risk Management: A Practical Guide to Financial Risk
  • Understanding Derivatives: Markets and Infrastructure Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Financial Markets Group
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