What Is Market Risk?

Market Risk Explained

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Investing involves taking risks. Market risk refers to any investment risk that you cannot eliminate through diversification. Market risk is non-diversifiable because it affects all financial securities in a given market.

This article will explain what market risk is, its sources, and how it differs from diversifiable risk.

Definition and Examples of Market Risk

When you invest in financial securities such as stocks and bonds, you are taking on risk. Generally, investment risk is the uncertainty surrounding your return. In other words, the return you actually receive could differ from the return you expect to receive. 

Many sources of risk bring this uncertainty, and they can be divided into two broad types: 

  • Market risk, also known as systematic, economic, or undiversifiable risk. Market risk affects all securities in a market, and cannot be eliminated through diversification.
  • Company-specific risk, which is diversifiable or unsystematic risk. This type of risk does not affect all securities and can be reduced through diversification.

Types of Market Risk

Market risk is also called systematic risk because it is not unique to a particular investment. These risks affect an entire market or class of investments. Some examples of systematic risks are:

Interest-Rate Risk

Interest rates fluctuate over time due to the business cycle and changes in monetary policy. When interest rates change, the prices of financial securities usually are affected. When interest rates rise, bond prices and sometimes stocks tend to fall; when interest rates fall, stock and bond prices tend to rise. 

Reinvestment Rate Risk

Some investments provide the investor with periodic cash flow, or yield. Some stocks provide cash flow in the form of dividends, and bondholders receive regular interest payments. An investor may decide to spend these cash receipts or reinvest them.

An investor who chooses to reinvest the cash receipts may not be able to earn the same rate of return as they did on the original investment. For example, if an investor holds a bond that makes a 6% coupon payment, but interest rates have fallen since that bond was issued, that investor may only be able to buy a similar bond with a 5% coupon.

Inflation Risk

Inflation risk, or purchasing power risk, is the chance that inflation will reduce the real purchasing power of an investment and the cash flows it provides. Because of purchasing power risk, investors hope to earn a rate of return that exceeds inflation over time.

Exchange-Rate Risk

Foreign investments expose an investor to currency risk, or the risk that changes in the exchange rate between currencies in different countries will occur. Exchange-rate risk refers to the uncertainty of the exchange rate when an investor ultimately converts an investment in another country back to their own currency. 

Political Risk

Political risk, also known as sovereign risk, is the risk that a country's legal environment will negatively affect an investment in a foreign country. For example, if you invest in foreign-government (or “sovereign”) bonds, investors face the risk that the government could default. There is also the threat that a foreign government may seize control of privately owned businesses that you have invested in.

Systematic risk cannot be eliminated through diversification. Owning more stocks in the same market doesn’t reduce your interest-rate risk, for example, because all your holdings are affected by the interest rate.

Market risk can be managed by your choice of asset allocation. For example, exchange-rate risk can be mitigated by reducing the percentage of your portfolio made up of foreign investments.

Alternatives to Market Risk

In addition to market risk, there are also unsystematic risks that only affect a specific company. Because these risks are only relevant for an individual firm, they can be reduced through diversification. In fact, you can eliminate unsystematic risk entirely by holding a large variety of different financial securities.

Business Risk

Business risk, also called operational risk, is any risk that arises due to the natural changes of business that potentially can reduce a company’s profits.

Financial Risk

Financial risk is the risk a business faces due to its dependence on and sources of financing, namely debt and the use of leverage. This exposes the company to risk in the form of an obligation to repay principal and interest.

Market Risk vs. Company-Specific Risk

Market Risk Company-Specific Risk
Affects all investments in a market Does not affect all investments in a market
Cannot be eliminated through diversification Can be reduced through diversification

What It Means for Individual Investors

Investors should consider their investment risk in terms of their total portfolio. Investing involves both market risks and company-specific risks. 

When an investor holds a properly diversified portfolio, their exposure will be limited just to market risk.

Company-specific risks can be completely eliminated through diversification by holding many securities from different issuers. 

Key Takeaways

  • Market risk, also called systematic risk, affects all securities.
  • Market risk cannot be overcome through portfolio diversification.
  • Company-specific risks can be eliminated by holding many different securities.
  • Investors should consider the total risk of their portfolio as a whole.