Investing

Investment Diversification: Going Beyond the Basics

Diversification is more than just how much you hold in stocks and bonds.

by Teri Cettina - May 14, 2018

When many investors hear the term “diversification,” they assume it simply means spreading out their investments into different asset classes, such as having 70% of their investments in stocks and 30% in bonds.

This is the most basic type of investment diversification, but there are a number of ways to diversify that investors should consider.

Below are answers to common questions about diversification that help explain why diversification is important, and how you can to help ensure your portfolio is appropriately diverse.

What is investment diversification?

Diversification essentially means avoiding the potential mistake of putting all your financial eggs in one basket. Tracie McMillion, CFA®, Head of Global Asset Allocation for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, explains that rather than putting all of your money in a very limited number of investments, you spread your money over a number of different stocks, bonds, cash, and other asset types.

What kinds of investment types should I include in a diversified portfolio?

The primary classes over which you may want to consider allocating your investments include equities (stocks), real assets (such as real estate and commodities), fixed income (bonds, money market funds, etc.) and, if you’re a qualified investor, alternative investments (hedge funds, private equity, and private debt investments).

However, just allocating your investments over different asset classes isn’t quite enough.

What additional types of diversification are there?

The major types of diversification to consider include:

  • Geographic diversity: You can invest in both U.S.-based and international companies or funds. Your international component could be further separated into well-established (or developed) markets and lesser-developed countries (emerging markets).
  • Company-size diversity: Companies are grouped into sizes as large-, mid-, and small-cap (for capitalization) stocks. Large-cap companies have a higher total market value (over $12.5 billion); mid-cap companies have moderate total market capitalizations; and small-cap companies have capitalizations on the lower end. A healthy investment mix would have a variety of large-, mid-, and small-cap stocks or funds that have allocations to each type of stock.
  • Sector diversity: Knowledgeable investors generally put their money into different “sectors.” A sector is a segment of the economy that includes companies providing the same type of products or services. These can include technology, health care, energy, finance, real estate, and so on. Diversifying your portfolio this way can help ensure that you don’t suffer significant financial losses if one industry is in trouble, since another market sector may do well at the same time.
  • Investment-strategy diversity: Different investment managers may focus on different areas of the market. For instance, one manager might focus on value investing (buying undervalued stocks) while another manager might invest in companies with a strong record of earnings growth. Including managers with different investment styles, such as growth and value, in your portfolio can give you an added level of diversification.

How can I tell whether my investments include these extra diversification layers?

If you own mutual funds, the fund prospectus discloses what assets are eligible for inclusion in the fund. Many mutual funds have names that suggest they focus their investments in particular investments, industries, or countries: One fund might be called the XYZ Emerging Market Stock Fund, while another will be the XYZ Large-Cap Stock Fund. It may be easier to determine what types of funds these are.

However, it can be very challenging to fully evaluate diversification levels on your own. Your financial advisor may be able to provide you with reports on the many types of diversification represented in your portfolio.

If I’m investing in a mutual fund, isn’t it automatically diversified?

It could be, as many mutual funds invest in a wide range of different companies and even different asset classes, or in other mutual funds, such as target date funds. But while most mutual funds include a variety of investments, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re well diversified. “You could invest in a fund that is made up of the same kinds of companies, perhaps a single sector of the U.S. market,” explains McMillion. “That’s not true diversification.”

Is it possible for my investments to be over-diversified?

It’s far more likely that you could add assets to your portfolio — in order to be “more diversified” — that really won’t make much difference to your risk or return expectations. “For instance, if you already hold a well-diversified bond fund, and you buy three or four similar funds, you’re not changing your portfolio in any meaningful way,” explains McMillion.

Plus, you could be adding unnecessary complexity to your life, particularly if you’re buying similar funds on your own from several different fund companies, McMillion notes.

To learn more about diversification, talk to your financial advisor, who can show you the many different layers of diversification in your current portfolio and explain whether changes would make sense for your investment plan.

Teri Cettina is a personal finance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and a frequent contributor to Lifescapes.

Image created from iStock

Additional Resources

Are you prepared in the event of a personal financial crisis? This checklist can help.

What are the risks investors face, and what’s the right strategy to minimize risk in today’s market? See the insights from Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Risks:

All investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.  There is no assurance any investment strategy will be successful or that a fund will meet its investment objectives.

Diversification cannot eliminate the risk of fluctuating prices and uncertain returns.

Different investments offer different levels of potential return and market risk. The level of risk associated with a particular investment or asset class generally correlates with the level of return the investment or asset class might achieve. Stock markets, especially foreign markets, are volatile.  Stock values may fluctuate in response to general economic and market conditions, the prospects of individual companies, and industry sectors.  Foreign investing has additional risks including those associated with currency fluctuation, political and economic instability, and different accounting standards. These risks are heightened in emerging markets. Small- and mid-cap stocks are generally more volatile, subject to greater risks and are less liquid than large company stocks. Bonds are subject to market, interest rate, price, credit/default, liquidity, inflation and other risks. Prices tend to be inversely affected by changes in interest rates. The commodities markets are considered speculative, carry substantial risks, and have experienced periods of extreme volatility.  Investing in a volatile and uncertain commodities market may cause a portfolio to rapidly increase or decrease in value which may result in greater share price volatility. Real estate has special risks including the possible illiquidity of underlying properties, credit risk, interest rate fluctuations and the impact of varied economic conditions.

Alternative investments carry specific investor qualifications which can include high income and net-worth requirements as well as relatively high investment minimums.  They are complex investment vehicles which generally have high costs and substantial risks.  The high expenses often associated with these investments must be offset by trading profits and other income.  They tend to be more volatile than other types of investments and present an increased risk of investment loss.  There may also be a lack of transparency as to the underlying assets.  Other risks may apply as well, depending on the specific investment product.

Wells Fargo Investment Institute, Inc. (WFII) is a registered investment adviser and wholly owned subsidiary of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., a bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.

Opinions represent WFII’s’ opinion as of the date of this report and are for general information purposes only and are not intended to predict or guarantee the future performance of any individual security, market sector or the markets generally. WFII does not undertake to advise you of any change in its opinions or the information contained in this report. Wells Fargo & Company affiliates may issue reports or have opinions that are inconsistent with, and reach different conclusions from, this report.

The information contained herein constitutes general information and is not directed to, designed for, or individually tailored to, any particular investor or potential investor. This report is not intended to be a client-specific suitability analysis or recommendation, an offer to participate in any investment, or a recommendation to buy, hold or sell securities. Do not use this report as the sole basis for investment decisions. Do not select an asset class or investment product based on performance alone. Consider all relevant information, including your existing portfolio, investment objectives, risk tolerance, liquidity needs and investment time horizon.