Exploring Absolute Return Theory: An Alternative Approach to Investing

Understanding the concept of absolute return and its potential benefits for investors

When it comes to investing, most people are familiar with the concept of low-cost index funds and the idea of relative returns. However, there is another investment strategy that many may not be aware of – absolute return theory. This alternative approach to investing focuses on making money regardless of market conditions. While it may not be suitable for everyone, understanding the principles of absolute return theory can provide investors with a different perspective on their investment strategies.

The Basics of Absolute Return Theory

Absolute return theory aims to generate positive returns over a specific period of time, irrespective of market conditions. It is important to note that absolute return does not guarantee positive returns, and like relative returns, it can also produce negative results. The key difference lies in the intention behind the investment strategy – absolute return theory seeks to generate profits regardless of market fluctuations.

Implementing Absolute Return Theory

1. Quality over quantity: Instead of diversifying across a wide range of stocks, investors can focus on selecting a smaller number of high-quality companies that they understand and believe will perform well in the long run. This approach, advocated by renowned investor Charlie Munger, emphasizes deliberate decision-making over excessive diversification.

2. Trend-following models: Trend-following algorithms can help investors identify momentum within a specific market. These models use various indicators, such as moving averages and trade volume, to determine when to buy, sell, or even short a particular stock or fund. Unlike traditional mutual funds and ETFs, trend-following models can provide signals to move to cash during unfavorable market conditions.

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3. Multimarket diversification: Investing in alternative assets, such as real estate and private equity, can provide diversification beyond the stock and bond markets. Studies have shown that allocating a portion of a portfolio to alternative investments can increase returns and decrease volatility. However, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the risks associated with these investments before committing capital.

Accessibility of Absolute Return Theory

While absolute return theory is often associated with hedge funds and endowments, it is not limited to the ultra-wealthy. Average investors can implement elements of absolute return theory in their portfolios by focusing on quality stocks, utilizing trend-following models, and exploring alternative investments. However, it is important to note that absolute return strategies involve unique risks that should be carefully evaluated before investing.


While relative return strategies, such as investing in low-cost index funds, have proven to be effective for many investors, it is essential to consider alternative approaches like absolute return theory. By focusing on quality over quantity, utilizing trend-following models, and diversifying into alternative assets, investors can potentially enhance their long-term investment goals. However, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the risks associated with these strategies and seek professional advice when necessary. Ultimately, making informed decisions based on individual circumstances and goals is key to successful investing.