Unsystematic Risk


Unsystematic risk, also known as company-specific risk or diversifiable risk, is unique to a particular company or industry. This risk can stem from various sources, such as regulatory changes, management decisions, or unexpected events. Unlike systematic risk, which affects the entire market, unsystematic risk can be mitigated through diversification. In this comprehensive article, we explore the nuances of unsystematic risk, its types, measurement, and how it compares to systematic risk.

Understanding unsystematic risk

Unsystematic risk, often referred to as company-specific risk or diversifiable risk, is a type of risk associated with a specific investment. It is unique to a particular company or industry and is not related to broader market factors. In the context of an investment portfolio, unsystematic risk can be reduced through diversification, a strategy that involves spreading investments across different assets to minimize risk.

Examples of unsystematic risk

Unsystematic risk can stem from various sources:

  • Competitive threats: The emergence of a new competitor with the potential to capture significant market share can pose a threat to a company’s profitability.
  • Regulatory changes: Changes in government regulations can impact a company’s operations, sales, and profitability. For instance, new laws might impose restrictions or compliance costs.
  • Management changes: Shifts in leadership or management decisions can influence a company’s strategic direction, which may affect its financial performance.
  • Product recalls: Recall of products due to safety concerns or defects can lead to financial losses and damage a company’s reputation.

It’s important to note that while some sources of unsystematic risk can be anticipated, others may be unforeseen or difficult to predict entirely.

Types of unsystematic risk

Unsystematic risk can be categorized into several types:

  • Business risk: This risk includes both internal and external factors that affect a company’s operations. For instance, failure to protect a new product with a patent (internal) or a government ban on a specific product (external) can impact a company’s performance.
  • Financial risk: Financial risk is related to a company’s capital structure. An inappropriate mix of debt and equity can lead to inconsistent earnings and cash flow, affecting the company’s ability to operate effectively.
  • Operational risk: Operational risks result from unforeseen events or negligence, such as supply chain disruptions, security breaches, or manufacturing errors.
  • Strategic risk: This risk occurs when a company lacks a solid plan for evolving its offerings or enters flawed partnerships that hinder future growth.
  • Legal and regulatory risk: Legal or regulatory changes can increase operational costs or introduce legal hurdles, potentially disrupting a business’s operations.

Unsystematic risk vs. systematic risk

Total risk in investments is the combination of unsystematic risk and systematic risk. While unsystematic risk is specific to individual companies or industries, systematic risk is associated with broader market factors that affect the entire investment portfolio.

Systematic risk factors can include changes in interest rates, economic recessions, or inflation. It is often quantified using beta, a measure of a stock or portfolio’s volatility relative to the overall market. In contrast, assessing company-specific risk is more complex.

Risk management strategies can help mitigate both systematic and unsystematic risks. Asset allocation can reduce systematic risk, while diversification is effective in limiting unsystematic risk.

Example of unsystematic risk

To illustrate unsystematic risk, consider an investor who holds a portfolio consisting solely of airline stocks. In this scenario, the investor is highly exposed to unsystematic risk because any disruption in the airline industry, such as a labor strike, could significantly impact their portfolio’s value.

However, by diversifying their portfolio with stocks from various industries and asset classes, such as U.S. Treasury bonds, the investor can spread out industry-specific concerns. Diversification allows them to reduce unsystematic risk and minimize the impact of single events on their portfolio.

It’s essential to note that even a well-diversified portfolio cannot eliminate all risk, as systematic risk, associated with broader market dynamics, remains a factor.

Examples of unsystematic risk

Difference between systematic and unsystematic risk

The primary distinction between systematic and unsystematic risk lies in their diversifiability:

  • Systematic risk: This risk is non-diversifiable, meaning it cannot be eliminated through diversification. It affects the entire market and includes factors like changes in interest rates and economic recessions.
  • Unsystematic risk: Conversely, unsystematic risk can generally be mitigated through diversification. It is specific to individual companies or industries and includes risks such as management inefficiency or regulatory changes.

How is unsystematic risk measured?

When measuring unsystematic risk in stock investments, analysts often use unsystematic variance. This metric is calculated by subtracting systematic variance from total variance. While systematic risk can be quantified using beta, assessing unsystematic risk is more challenging due to its company-specific nature.

The bottom line

In investing, unsystematic risk is diversifiable, meaning it can be reduced by building a well-diversified portfolio. This strategy involves investing in various companies across different industries and asset classes to spread out risks associated with specific companies or industries.

On the other hand, systematic risk is non-diversifiable and relates to overall market risk, driven by factors beyond individual companies’ control, such as economic, political, or social influences. Understanding and managing both systematic and unsystematic risks is crucial for building a resilient investment portfolio.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between systematic and unsystematic risk?

The primary distinction lies in their diversifiability. Systematic risk, often referred to as market risk, affects the entire market and cannot be eliminated through diversification. In contrast, unsystematic risk, also known as company-specific risk, can typically be mitigated by spreading investments across different assets and industries.

How is systematic risk quantified?

Systematic risk is often quantified using a measure called beta. Beta reflects the volatility of a stock or portfolio relative to the overall market. A beta greater than 1 indicates that the investment is more volatile than the market, while a beta less than 1 suggests lower volatility.

Can you provide examples of systematic risk factors?

Systematic risk factors include changes in interest rates, economic recessions, inflation, geopolitical events, and overall market sentiment. These factors affect the entire market and impact a wide range of investments simultaneously.

What are some common sources of unsystematic risk?

Unsystematic risk can stem from various sources specific to individual companies or industries. Some common sources include competitive threats, regulatory changes, management decisions, product recalls, business inefficiencies, financial instability, operational disruptions, strategic missteps, and legal or regulatory issues.

Can diversification completely eliminate unsystematic risk?

No, diversification cannot completely eliminate unsystematic risk. While diversification helps spread out and reduce the impact of unsystematic risk, it cannot eliminate it entirely. This is because some company-specific events or factors may still affect a diversified portfolio, albeit to a lesser extent.

Are there investment strategies that specifically target systematic or unsystematic risk?

Yes, there are strategies aimed at managing both types of risk. Asset allocation is a strategy used to reduce systematic risk by diversifying investments across different asset classes like stocks, bonds, and real estate. On the other hand, diversification is a strategy to limit unsystematic risk by investing in a variety of companies and industries within a portfolio.

Is it possible to predict or forecast unsystematic risk events?

While some sources of unsystematic risk can be anticipated, such as regulatory changes that are publicly announced, many unsystematic risk events are difficult to predict accurately. Factors like management decisions, competitive threats, and product recalls can be challenging to forecast with certainty, making it important for investors to manage and diversify their portfolios effectively.

Why is it crucial for investors to understand both systematic and unsystematic risk?

Understanding these types of risk is essential for building a well-balanced and resilient investment portfolio. Investors need to assess their risk tolerance, diversify their holdings, and employ risk management strategies to achieve their financial goals while minimizing exposure to market and company-specific uncertainties.

Key takeaways

  • Unsystematic risk is unique to a specific company or industry and can be reduced through diversification.
  • Types of unsystematic risk include business, financial, operational, strategic, and legal/regulatory risk.
  • Systematic risk affects the entire market and is non-diversifiable, while unsystematic risk can generally be mitigated through diversification.
  • Measuring unsystematic risk often involves calculating unsystematic variance.
View Article Sources
  1. Money Moves: Diversifying Your Portfolio – Forbes
  2. Systematic Risk vs Unsystematic Risk | Top 7 Differences – WallStreetMojo
  3. Systematic Risk vs. Unsystematic Risk -SmartAsset