Yale's portfolio is structured using a combination of academic theory and informed market judgment. The theoretical framework relies on mean-variance analysis, an approach developed by Nobel laureates James Tobin and Harry Markowitz, both of whom conducted work on this important portfolio management tool at Yale’s Cowles Foundation. Using statistical techniques to combine expected returns, variances, and covariances of investment assets, Yale employs mean-variance analysis to estimate expected risk and return profiles of various asset allocation alternatives and to test sensitivity of results to changes in input assumptions.

Because investment management involves as much art as science, qualitative considerations play an extremely important role in portfolio decisions. The definition of an asset class is quite subjective, requiring precise distinctions where none exist. Returns and correlations are difficult to forecast. Historical data provide a guide, but must be modified to recognize structural changes and compensate for anomalous periods. Quantitative measures have difficulty incorporating factors such as market liquidity or the influence of significant, low-probability events. In spite of the operational challenges, the rigor required in conducting mean-variance analysis brings an important element of discipline to the asset allocation process.