October 20, 2021

How Diversifying Your Portfolio Can Mitigate Risk

By Bart Zandbergen CFP

Risk is an inherent part of investing. After all, no one can control the losses or gains of a particular asset, sector, or the market as a whole. But you can take steps to manage your risk by diversifying your portfolio. Here’s a look at what diversification is, why it matters, and how to do it. 

What is diversification?

Diversification is a technique that reduces risk and volatility in your investment portfolio. The idea is to invest across various asset classes, industries, and categories in an effort to reduce losses if a particular investment does poorly. 

Imagine you held just a single stock. If that stock price plunges, so does the value of your entire portfolio. However, if you held 100 different stocks, when one stock’s value decreases, other stocks in the portfolio may hold their value or even increase in value, mitigating the loss. Holding several different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate, further distributes your risk.

Diversifying across asset classes

Different types of assets come with varying levels of risk. For example, stocks have high growth potential and are relatively volatile, while bonds tend to offer less growth but are generally less risky. 

Additionally, different asset classes may not respond to market conditions in the same way. In other words, they may not be correlated. For instance, an event that sends stocks plunging may have little effect on the bond market and vice versa. 

You can also strengthen your approach by diversifying within asset classes. You may want to buy stock in companies across sectors, such as technology, industrials, or consumer staples. You may also consider buying companies of different sizes and across geographies. For example, large-cap companies may offer more stable returns than their small-cap counterparts, but small-cap stocks may offer more growth potential. Additionally, when domestic stocks are doing poorly, foreign stocks may be doing better. 

When diversifying within bonds, consider that high-yield bonds don’t correlate perfectly with investment-grade bonds. You might also want to consider buying across different regions as well.   

Diversification does not eliminate risks or prevent investment losses entirely, but it does offer some protection against potential downturns by allocating to investments that are non-correlated.  The further your portfolio sinks during a downturn, the longer it takes to recover.  Diversification can be an important factor in reducing the severity of potential declines,  allowing you to stay invested through a recovery period. 

Sources: 

https://www.investor.gov/additional-resources/general-resources/publications-research/info-sheets/beginners-guide-asset

https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/investment-products/mutual-funds-and-exchange-traded-1

https://www.sec.gov/reportspubs/investor-publications/investorpubsinwsmfhtm.html

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