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section header ETF fundamentals

subsection header Strategies

Core allocation

Decades of research at Vanguard and elsewhere have shown that asset allocation—how you divide assets across broad asset classes—is the primary driver of a portfolio's risk and return.

One of the most famous of these studies—"Determinants of Portfolio Performance" (1986) by Brinson, Hood and Beebower in the Financial Analysts Journal—found that asset allocation accounts for 94% of the variation in returns in a portfolio, with market-timing and security selection accounting for only 6% (Figure 1). Vanguard research by Wallick et al. (2012), Philips et al. (2014) and Scott et al. supported these findings. It showed that, over time, the asset allocation decision was responsible for between 81% and 91% of the return patterns of balanced funds available to investors in five global markets: the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and Japan.1


Figure 1. Investment outcomes are largely determined by asset allocation

Source: Vanguard illustration, based on data from "Determinants of Portfolio Performance" (1986) by Brinson, Hood and Beebower.


A portfolio composed of broadly diversified ETFs can help ensure that performance and risk exposure are based primarily on your asset allocation decisions. In fact, holding even a small number of broad-market ETFs can provide a convenient and low-cost way to diversify across asset classes for long-term investors (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Investors can diversify across asset classes with a small number of ETFs

Source: Vanguard. Hypothetical portfolios are shown for illustrative purposes only and shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial instrument, or an offer or recommendation to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy.


Over time, the varying returns of different asset classes will cause nearly every asset allocation to change, resulting in a change to the portfolio's risk and return characteristics. That's why we believe periodic portfolio rebalancing is important. ETFs' trading flexibility and ease of access make them ideal tools for rebalancing a portfolio back to its strategic asset allocation.


Points to consider

  • In a diversified portfolio, gains from some investments may help offset losses from others. However, diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.
  • An all-index portfolio removes the potential for market outperformance that can result from active management or individual security selection.
  • All ETFs are subject to market risk. Global ETFs involve additional risks, including currency fluctuations and the potential for adverse developments in specific countries or regions. Fixed income ETFs are subject to interest rate, credit and inflation risk.


1 Percentages represent the median observation from the distribution of percentage of return variation explained by asset allocation for balanced funds. The results by country were as follows: U.S. 91%; Canada 86%; U.K. 81%; Australia 89%; and Japan 88%.



Learn the basics of ETFs, including their history, how they compare to mutual funds, what types are available and more.


Learn about the different types of exchange-traded products, how index and active ETFs are managed and more.


Learn about ETF trading, common order types, premiums and discounts, liquidity considerations and more.

Commissions, management fees, and expenses all may be associated with investment funds. Investment objectives, risks, fees, expenses, and other important information are contained in the prospectus; please read it before investing. Investment funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently, and past performance may not be repeated. Vanguard funds are managed by Vanguard Investments Canada Inc. and are available across Canada through registered dealers.

This material is for informational purposes only. This material is not intended to be relied upon as research, investment, or tax advice and is not an implied or express recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any security or to adopt any particular investment or portfolio strategy. Any views and opinions expressed do not take into account the particular investment objectives, needs, restrictions and circumstances of a specific investor and, thus, should not be used as the basis of any specific investment recommendation. Investors should consult a financial and/or tax advisor for financial and/or tax information applicable to their specific situation.

All investment funds, including those that seek to track an index are subject to risk, including the possible loss of principal. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. While the Vanguard ETFs are designed to be as diversified as the original indices they seek to track and can provide greater diversification than an individual investor may achieve independently, any given ETF may not be a diversified investment.

All monetary figures are expressed in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted.