Understanding Asymmetric Return Investing

Asymmetric return investing has gained attention for its potential to deliver substantial returns while mitigating downside risks. This approach focuses on identifying opportunities where the potential upside significantly outweighs the potential downside, thereby creating a favourable risk-reward scenario.



As George Soros famously said, "It’s not whether you’re right or wrong, but how much money you make when you’re right and how much you lose when you’re wrong."

Asymmetric return investing has gained attention for its potential to deliver substantial returns while mitigating downside risks. This approach focuses on identifying opportunities where the potential upside significantly outweighs the potential downside, thereby creating a favourable risk-reward scenario.

The Concept of Asymmetric Returns

Traditional investments often exhibit a more balanced risk-reward profile, meaning the potential for gain is roughly equivalent to the potential for loss. Asymmetric returns refer to investment outcomes where the potential gains are disproportionately higher than the potential losses. In other words, asymmetric return investing seeks to capitalise on situations where the risk is relatively low compared to the potential reward. As Warren Buffet once said, “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget Rule No. 1."

Identifying Asymmetric Opportunities

Asymmetric return investing requires a keen understanding of market dynamics, thorough research, and disciplined decision-making. Investors must look for opportunities where the market has not fully appreciated the potential for upside or where risks are perceived to be higher than they actually are. Several scenarios can create asymmetric opportunities:

Private Credit

An emerging area where asymmetric returns can be achieved is private credit. This involves lending to private borrowers, often with terms that offer equity-like returns, while maintaining the security of senior or stretch senior debt. These loans typically have higher interest rates and asset collateral, providing a layer of protection while offering substantial upside potential. As a result, investors can achieve significant returns with relatively lower risk, leveraging the senior position in the capital structure.

Structured Private Equity

Structured private equity involves the use of hybrid equity instruments, such as convertible notes or preferred equity with preferential returns to ordinary equity. These instruments provide a combination of debt and equity features, offering downside protection while still allowing for significant upside potential. Convertible notes can be converted into equity at a later stage, benefiting from the company's growth, while preferred equity often provides fixed dividends and priority over common equity in the event of liquidation. This structured approach can provide the investor the opportunity to achieve attractive returns with a mitigated risk profile, aligning well with the principles of asymmetric return investing.

Special Situations and Distressed Investing

Events such as mergers, acquisitions, regulatory changes, and corporate restructurings can create asymmetric opportunities. Additionally, distressed investing, which involves buying the securities of companies experiencing financial or operational difficulties, can offer significant upside potential. By purchasing these securities at deeply discounted prices, investors can profit if the company's situation improves or if the assets are liquidated for more than the purchase price. This approach requires a deep understanding of the underlying issues and potential recovery scenarios but can yield substantial returns if executed correctly.

Undervalued Assets

Investing in assets that are undervalued by the market can provide substantial upside potential. These assets might be overlooked due to temporary issues or market inefficiencies. Once the market corrects its perception, these assets can appreciate significantly. As Benjamin Graham noted, "The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists."

Options and Derivatives

Using options and other derivatives can be an effective way to achieve asymmetric returns or hedge certain risks. These instruments allow investors to control larger positions with relatively small investments, thereby magnifying potential gains while limiting losses to the initial premium paid.

Famous Investors Focused on Asymmetric Investing

Several renowned investors have built their reputations and fortunes through the practice of asymmetric return investing:

Warren Buffett: Known for his value investing approach, Buffett focuses on finding undervalued companies with strong fundamentals and growth potential. His investment in Coca-Cola in the late 1980s, when the company was undervalued, is a prime example of his asymmetric investing strategy.

George Soros: Soros is famous for his bold and profitable asymmetric bets, such as his short position against the British pound in 1992, which earned him over $1 billion in profit. This trade, known as "Black Wednesday," exemplifies his ability to identify opportunities with significant upside and limited downside.

Seth Klarman: Klarman, the founder of Baupost Group, is a renowned value investor known for his cautious and disciplined approach. He has successfully employed asymmetric investing principles, particularly through distressed investing. Klarman often seeks out undervalued or distressed assets that offer significant upside potential with limited downside risk, following his philosophy of achieving "margin of safety" in his investments.

Risk Management

While the potential for high returns is appealing, managing risk is a critical aspect of asymmetric return investing. Here are some key strategies used to mitigate risks in asymmetric investing:

  1. Diversification: Spreading investments across various assets and sectors can help reduce the impact of any single investment's failure. Diversification ensures that the overall portfolio is not overly reliant on a few high-risk investments.
  2. Position Sizing: Allocating a smaller portion of the portfolio to high-risk, high-reward investments can protect the portfolio from significant losses. Investors should only risk what they can afford to lose in pursuit of asymmetric returns.
  3. Back Testing and Scenario Analysis: Back testing involves evaluating investment strategies using historical data to determine how they would have performed in the past. This helps investors understand potential weaknesses and strengths in their strategies under different market conditions. Scenario analysis, on the other hand, involves simulating various future market scenarios, including extreme events, to assess how an investment might perform under different conditions.
  4. Hedging: Hedging involves taking offsetting positions in related securities to reduce potential losses. For example, an investor might use options, futures, or other derivatives to hedge against market downturns or sector-specific risks. By strategically using hedges, investors can protect their portfolios from significant losses while still maintaining exposure to potential upside.
  5. Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation: Keeping a close eye on investments and being ready to adjust the strategy based on changing market conditions is crucial. Flexibility and agility in decision-making can help mitigate risks and capitalise on emerging opportunities.


At Aura Group, many of our strategies employ asymmetric investing principles. Asymmetric return investing offers a compelling approach for investors seeking to maximise their returns while minimising downside risk. By focusing on opportunities where the potential gains significantly outweigh the potential losses, investors can create a favourable risk-reward profile. However, this strategy requires careful research, disciplined decision-making, and effective risk management. When executed correctly, asymmetric return investing can be a powerful tool for achieving superior investment performance.

Until next month,

Calvin Ng

Managing Director



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