Dec 11, 2022 | 5 min

The American baseball catcher, Yogi Berra, once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” This is why good investors do not depend upon predictions but build a portfolio capable of surviving the unpredictable.

The American baseball catcher, Yogi Berra, once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” This is why good investors do not depend upon predictions but build a portfolio capable of surviving the unpredictable.

Diversification is among the most effective tools to future-proof your investments. This article summarizes how it works and why it is important.

What is diversification?

A diversified portfolio consists of a range of “uncorrelated” assets that do not all behave the same way.

We purchase securities because we are reasonably confident that the underlying company or government is stable or likely to grow. But specific circumstances or events may cause the value of a given security to decline. With a diversified portfolio, other assets that are unaffected by the same circumstances offset their effect, or at least diminishes it.

For example, during the pandemic, airline and hospitality stocks suffered while the technology and pharmaceutical sectors were resilient and certain sub-sectors grew strongly (e.g. remote working tools, medical devices, etc.).

How does diversification work?

Without dwelling on mathematical concepts, the principles of diversification are based on two premises:

  • The greater the number of assets there are, the more diversified the portfolio.

  • The less correlated a group of assets are, the greater the effect of diversification.

The rule of risk and return still applies: the greater the expected return for a given security, the greater the risk. But a diversified portfolio of assets protects returns and reduces risk.

Diversification is not about sacrificing potential gains to limit potential losses, it is about increasing risk-adjusted returns.

How to diversify a portfolio?

A common example of diversification is a portfolio of stocks and bonds. The two asset classes have fundamentally different profiles. Stocks flourish in a strong economy with stable inflation, whereas highly-rated bonds (e.g. prime corporate and government bonds) perform relatively well during recessions or deflationary environments.

Similarly, high inflation benefits certain assets and diminishes others. For example, floating rate asset-backed loans benefit as interest income rises while their risk is reduced by the growing value of the underlying collateral assets. Technology companies, on the other hand, may suffer lower revenues as inflation-strapped consumers and advertisers reduce non-essential spending. Regardless of the situation, investors must be ready to take advantage of attractively-priced securities (e.g. during a stock market crash or a credit squeeze).

 Diversification can also be made by industry (e.g. Financial vs Technology), geography (e.g. emerging markets vs developed markets), company size (large cap vs small cap) and company stage (value vs growth).

Diversification is a complex process that must be customized to each investor’s situation. Investors whose wealth is heavily concentrated in their home country or a specific asset class (like real estate) should seek diversification internationally or in other asset classes whose performance is less correlated.

Limits of diversification

Diversification does not eliminate all risk. “Systematic” risk, for example, cannot be diversified away. These risks are inherent to the entire market and arise from a mix of factors including economic, socio-political and market-related events, such as war, recession, and natural disasters.

The aim of diversification is to lessen the impact of non-systematic risks related to specific businesses or sectors. These may include the departure of a CEO, changing regulations, disruptive competition, etc.

What you can do

There is no single rule book on how to diversify. Diversification is partly art and partly science. Over-diversification, for example, may lead to excessive transaction costs. But the most important aspect is judging the true level of correlation between assets and build a portfolio accordingly.

The financial plan you develop with a financial advisor should include the construction of a diversified portfolio that delivers the required return at an optimal level of risk. Your advisor will also help to update the asset allocation as your situation changes and market events emerge.

About David M. Darst, CFA

Since January 2017, David M. Darst, CFA has served as Senior Advisor and Investment Strategist of The Family Office in New York and Bahrain. In this role, he has significantly contributed to the formulation, communication, execution, and monitoring of the company’s asset allocation, investment strategy, and wealth management activities in the Gulf region, North America, Europe, and Asia.

Following a 25-year career with Goldman Sachs in Zurich and New York, David served for 17 years as a Managing Director and Chief Investment Strategist of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. David was the founding President of the Morgan Stanley Investment Group, and has served for three years as CEO of Petiole Asset Management AG, the Zurich-based asset management arm of The Family Office.

David is the author of sixteen books, including The Complete Bond Book (McGraw-Hill), The Handbook of the Bond and Money Markets (McGraw-Hill), The Art of Asset Allocation, Second Edition (McGraw-Hill) and The Little Book that Saves Your Assets (John Wiley & Sons), which has been ranked on the bestseller lists of The New York Times and Bloomberg Business Week.


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All information, figures, calculations, graphs and other numerical representations appearing in this presentation have not been audited and may be subject to change over time. Furthermore, certain valuations (including valuations of investments) appearing in this presentation are subject to change as they may be based on either estimates or historical figures that do not reflect the latest valuation. Although all information and opinions expressed in this presentation were obtained from sources believed to be reliable and in good faith, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to their accuracy or completeness. The information contained herein is not a substitute for a thorough due diligence investigation. Past performance is not indicative of and does not guarantee future performance. Exit timelines, prices and related projections are estimates only, and exits could happen sooner or later than expected, or at a higher or lower valuation than expected, and are conditional, among other things, on certain assumptions and future performance relating to the financial and operational health of each business and macroeconomic conditions.

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