There’s an old adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. I think about this every time I speak to a client about their portfolio. Often people wish to put their money into something familiar, like property. I remember in the early days of my career, I sat down with a property developer who had everything he had in his property portfolio of over a dozen properties, and all of his properties were in the same area of London. When I suggested that he needed to diversify because he was over exposed to the property market, he said that he had; that all the properties were not on the same road. When I checked the property addresses later, I realised that he was right, they weren’t. However, they were within ten minutes of each other!
This client had embarked upon a risky investment strategy as he was familiar with the asset class. Whilst he was having success with the returns, a sharp decline in the property market, particularly in the London area (which is what happened not too long after we spoke), would mean he would run into major financial difficulties. Enter, diversification.
Diversification is an investment strategy that reduces the risk that an investor is exposed to by allocating their funds into different financial instruments, industries, geographical areas and other categories. It aims to maximise returns by investing in different areas that would each react differently to the same occurrence.
Although it does not guarantee against investment loss, diversification is an important part of reaching long financial goals whilst minimising risk.
WHY SHOULD YOU DIVERSIFY
Let’s say, for example, that you are invested entirely in pharmaceuticals. It is announced one day that there will be a heavy levy against the pricing of drugs, which affects the costs that pharmaceuticals can spend on research and development. This would negatively affect the pharmaceutical industry, prices would fall and there would be a noticeable drop in the value of your portfolio.
However, suppose you have some of your portfolio invested in, say, technology. Strong performance in this industry, such as developments in cloud storage, could see the performance counteract the negative effects of the pharmaceutical industry on your portfolio. Even this small amount of diversification could protect the performance of your portfolio and ensure that all your eggs are not in one basket.
It therefore stands to reason that you would want to diversify as much as is feasible, while respecting your risk profile; across different industries, across different companies, across different asset classes. This will greatly reduce your portfolio’s sensitivity to market swings.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
It pays to go global. As you can see in the table below, having funds spread across different locations can give you access to the best performing asset classes each and every year. One asset class can be the best one year, but is not necessarily top again the following year.