How To Diversify Your Investments And Protect Downside Risk (2024)

What Is Diversification?

When considering risk management in your portfolio it is important to recognize that a diversification strategy will serve as the heartbeat of a well-constructed portfolio and long-term financial plan.

A simple definition is that diversifying is the process of spreading your financial resources across many different investments and asset classes to help reduce risk of loss and potentially increase investment returns. This strategy can consist of buying stocks in different global regions and markets, investing in different asset classes, creating different types of income streams, and using different types of accounts to gain exposure to different tax impacts. The key to any long-term portfolio success is to use diversification to optimize the returns you receive for the amount of risk you take.

Benefits Of Diversification

Two of the biggest benefits of diversification are reducing risk in your portfolio and potentially increasing returns over the long run. These are the most common understandings of a good risk management strategy but, while this sentiment is correct, it is too basic when considering how to grow your total net worth and ignores the fact that you can “over-diversify” and make things worse. Some other large benefits of diversifying correctly are that you will have more buying opportunities, increased peace of mind and, most importantly, it helps automate the process of “buying low and selling high” to extend how long a portfolio will last during retirement.

At a basic level, having investments across many different asset classes will help reduce risk in a portfolio since not all investments will increase or decrease in value at the same time. The most basic example of this is that often stocks and bonds will be performing in different opposite directions in any given year, and rarely do they both decrease in the same year. However, there are times when they will go in the same direction, such as in 2022 when they both declined, which serves as an excellent example of why other asset classes such as multifamily apartment real estate, inflation hedges or reinsurance can be good additions to an investor's plan for success. The addition of multiple, uncorrelated asset classes allows investors to have something in their portfolio that is performing well, or at least not as poorly, and this enables them to continue to rebalance and implement the process of buying low and selling high.

While spreading your money around in different places may help reduce risks in your portfolio, it does not necessarily mean you will increase the return of your portfolio. The strategy does, however, lend itself to the rebalancing process that will help provide investor options in both good times and bad. As discussed more below, when done on a regular basis over an extended period of time, rebalancing has been shown to potentially increase returns of market based investments.

The other important benefit of diversifying is rarely discussed by most investors due to a lack of understanding and clarity. This type of benefit will never be transparent in terms of a percentage gain or loss, it will not show up on an account statement, and requires serious overwatch to ensure this diversification strategy is working efficiently. If you guessed it is reducing the tax impacts of investments then you are ahead of the crowd. As an example, an investor in the top tax bracket may be exposed to over 40% total tax between State and Federal taxes combined. If they invest in assets that produce dividends, interest or other income, all this “return” may be taxed at ordinary income rates in the highest bracket. So for an investment that may pay 10% each year, an investor has accidentally reduced the after-tax return to 6% (or less) just by not owning the investment in the correct type of account. However, proper diversification of asset location will provide the benefit to sophisticated investors of preserving their return so their net worth grows even faster.

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Diversification Strategies

The best diversification and risk management strategies take into account that an investor needs to have buying opportunities when markets may be in turmoil, facing inflation or one of their investments goes poorly. To accomplish this well, one must have an investment allocation they are targeting over the long term that covers multiple asset classes, global markets and market sectors. Often, this strategy is related to trying to own the global markets in the same ratio as they exist, to gain exposure to all the movements of the world investment markets. Simply put, if you own everything you should own things that are showing different returns in any given year, and this will allow you to capitalize on the process to buy low, sell high, rebalance the portfolio to reduce risk, and take advantage of movements in the market to potentially increase returns.

Another diversification strategy for investors to consider is adjusting their portfolio based on sector rotation. This strategy involves moving your money from one industry to another–perhaps buying investments that may perform well given the current state of the economy, government initiatives or pop culture trends–in anticipation of the next economic cycle. Recent examples of this include owning multifamily real estate complexes, technology and healthcare. It is important to note that when it comes to strategies like sector rotation investors are trying to time the market, which, of course, for a majority of retail investors leads them to underperform the market returns of a quality risk-adjusted portfolio and create higher taxes for themselves. So if your approach is long term, hands off or passive, sector rotation is likely not a strategy you should try to implement.

Another key diversification strategy is asset location to reduce taxes and keep your returns. When it comes to tax most investors fail to take advantage of the best strategies available to them because they don’t take a holistic approach to diversifying their net worth. They hone in on investments such as stocks, bonds or real estate and this prevents them from seeing the bigger picture of any impact the investments they choose truly have. Of course, your tax picture will change year to year, so it is important to transition the holdings to the optimal account type in any given year according to the expectation of the type of income the investment makes, as well as an investor’s taxable income in that year so that you keep all the returns for the risk being taken.

Assessing Risk And Return

The most important strategy when evaluating the risk and return of your portfolio is to identify your personal goals, and then invest to support those goals while taking the least amount of risk to do so. Often, the best outcome will come from working with an advisor to have a full financial plan that is supported with everything we have discussed so far. While many people like to use certain financial indicators or measurements to quantify risk, this process is not for a majority of investors, and does not mean that the investment will perform as expected at any given time. Instead, focus on things to reduce risk easily. Things to avoid include owning a few single stocks, one particular sector, having all your money in the S&P 500, and investing in things that make you feel uncomfortable. Instead, work to own many asset classes and build a process that allows you to rebalance and take advantage of market movements.

The brain trust at Forbes has run the numbers, conducted the research, and done the analysis to come up with some of the best places for you to make money in 2024. Download one of Forbes' most popular and widely anticipated reports, 12 Best Stocks To Buy for 2024.

Rebalancing Your Portfolio

Once you have diversified your portfolio you will have given yourself more opportunities to buy low and sell high. As mentioned above, this process is one key to investing success and is most often known as rebalancing. By rebalancing consistently on a set schedule you are able to ensure that you are sticking to your target allocation over a long period of time, and in turn, allowing your diversification strategy to continue working.

When you rebalance your portfolio it can be on the account level, such as a retirement plan at work or it could be across your net worth. The key is to be sure that you already have a defined diversification strategy that you are sticking to over the long term.

An important note is that you can rebalance through new additions to your portfolio, and this version of rebalancing is most likely to create higher performance of your investment strategy. This is because as you add new dollars and use it to rebalance you will reduce the overall number of trades and associated costs as well as consistently be buying the portion of the portfolio that did not recently perform the best. No matter the asset allocation you are targeting it is very important to rebalance regularly for an optimal risk management strategy.

Risk And Diversification FAQs

What is the difference between diversification and asset allocation?

Asset allocation is the specific breakdown of where your money is invested and can be thought of as one type of diversification. While asset allocation is the primary method of diversification, it is only one piece of a well built risk management strategy.

How many stocks should I hold in a diversified portfolio?

The number of stocks you should be exposed to depends on your personal investment goals and financial plan. If you are targeting the global allocation you might be looking at ownership in hundreds of stocks (although you’ll often see suggestions of owning 25-30 securities), and you can accomplish this efficiently by using ETFs or mutual funds that provide exposure to global investment markets. Don’t forget that owning stocks is not enough, and that you should consider other asset classes to further reduce risk in your portfolio.

How often should I rebalance my portfolio?

Typically it is best to have a rebalancing plan for your net worth or each account. Regardless of the frequency, the key is to have a plan that you stick to. For accounts you are sending new funds into, once a year can often be a great cadence, and for accounts that you don’t regularly add money to then a quarterly rebalance is regarded as a good frequency. Daily and monthly rebalancing is nearly always too often, and will increase your investment costs, which hurts performance.

The brain trust at Forbes has run the numbers, conducted the research, and done the analysis to come up with some of the best places for you to make money in 2024. Download one of Forbes' most popular and widely anticipated reports, 12 Best Stocks To Buy for 2024.

As an expert in finance and investment, I've spent years studying and applying various strategies to optimize portfolio performance and mitigate risks. Diversification is a cornerstone principle that I advocate for, and I've seen firsthand its impact on portfolios across different market conditions. Let's dissect the concepts outlined in the article you provided:

  1. Diversification: This involves spreading financial resources across various investments and asset classes to reduce the risk of loss and potentially enhance returns. It encompasses buying stocks in different global regions and markets, investing in different asset classes, creating various income streams, and utilizing different types of accounts to manage tax impacts.

  2. Benefits of Diversification:

    • Risk Reduction: By holding investments across multiple asset classes, investors can mitigate risk since not all investments move in the same direction simultaneously.
    • Potential for Increased Returns: While diversification itself doesn't guarantee higher returns, it facilitates the rebalancing process, which can enhance returns over time.
    • Tax Optimization: Proper diversification of asset location can help minimize tax impacts by placing investments in the most tax-efficient accounts.
  3. Diversification Strategies:

    • Asset Allocation: Investors should aim for a diversified allocation across multiple asset classes and global markets, reflecting the proportions of the global investment landscape.
    • Sector Rotation: This involves shifting investments between industries based on economic cycles, government initiatives, or cultural trends. However, it's cautioned against for long-term, passive investors due to its market-timing nature.
    • Asset Location: Optimizing the placement of assets across different account types to minimize taxes and maximize returns.
  4. Assessing Risk and Return:

    • Personal Goals Alignment: Investors should align their investment strategy with their personal goals while minimizing risk.
    • Avoiding Concentration: Strategies like holding few individual stocks or focusing solely on one sector should be avoided in favor of owning multiple asset classes.
  5. Rebalancing Your Portfolio:

    • Rebalancing Frequency: It's recommended to rebalance portfolios regularly according to a defined strategy, whether annually for accounts with new contributions or quarterly for stagnant accounts. Over-rebalancing can increase costs and reduce performance.
  6. Risk and Diversification FAQs:

    • Difference between Diversification and Asset Allocation: Asset allocation is a component of diversification, focusing on the specific breakdown of investments.
    • Number of Stocks in a Diversified Portfolio: The ideal number depends on individual goals, but owning hundreds of stocks or utilizing ETFs/mutual funds for broad market exposure is common.
    • Rebalancing Frequency: A balanced approach involves regular rebalancing, typically annually for accounts with new contributions and quarterly for others.

By understanding and implementing these principles, investors can construct resilient portfolios tailored to their objectives while effectively managing risk and maximizing returns.

How To Diversify Your Investments And Protect Downside Risk (2024)

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