The idea of diversification is very old and can be, in some cases, useful for survival. How many times in life have we heard “Don’t put your eggs all in one basket?” In investment terms, market crashes like the one we witnessed in March 2020 can happen. Losses such as these can be bad for your financial and mental health as well as your ability to meet your financial plan or retire. Diverse investment strategies and assets can behave differently in various crashes, and this differentiation of responses increases the chance your portfolio will survive a market crash. Here’s why a diversification strategy is important:
Diversification in terms of investing became more popular in the early 1990s and really took off in the early 2000s. Whether it is emerging market bonds, wind parks, real estate, etc., the diversification argument became more obvious after the DotCom Crash of 2000. At its core, diversification forces you to “buy low and sell high,” an adage that is arguably commonplace and easily mocked. But it really works. Just look at March 2020’s market returns.
In March 2020, COVID-19 appeared to impact most asset classes. As a result of our investment strategy and process, we became worried about the asset valuations in early to mid-2019. This led us to diversify away from an over-concentration in stocks and into a more varied portfolio of assets. Consequently, we were better prepared for March 2020 and had exposure to longer-dated Treasury bonds and gold, which were some of the only major asset classes up last month.
In 2019, prudence and diversification came under fire. With the S&P 500 Index up a massive 31%[i], investors with diversified portfolios felt like they left money on the table. In 2020, diversification came roaring back as investors realized the above-mentioned benefits of having parts of their portfolio perform when risky assets struggle. What a difference a few weeks and months can make! March 2020’s crash was the quickest decline in stock market history[ii]. During market crashes, diversification not only helps to potentially shore up returns, but also provides a source of money for rebalancing. With a 20% decline in equities in just under a couple of weeks, buying low and selling high is paramount for investment success over the long term.
In March 2020, the Federal Reserve balance sheet has increased +$1.1 trillion and the European Central Bank’s balance sheet has increased +$400 billion[iii]. Another $2 trillion fiscal stimulus bill is being considered in the U.S.[iv] So, we may yet again be lulled into believing that a period of elevated U.S. stock market valuations and low market volatility could persist throughout this decade. In that case, diversification may return to its regret-maximizing ways, where there will often be an underperforming asset (in this case, bonds or cash) in your portfolio that you wish you had sold, just like there will often be the asset (usually, equities) you wish you owned more of because its price went up the most. That said, when market volatility inevitably returns, you realize that staying diversified is worth it in the long run.
At CIG Capital Advisors, we attempt to pursue diversified portfolios for clients by employing the following thought processes. First, we invest only in investment choices we understand. Second, we determine investment and asset allocations based on collecting as much data as possible, employing common sense constraints, doing fundamental research, and rebalancing portfolios regularly. Lastly, we adapt to change, try to learn continuously, seek new sources of returns, and re-evaluate allocations regularly. We tend to shy away from an investment with an effortlessly smooth return history. These might or might not be safe as many of these strategies are the equivalent of picking up pennies in front of a steamroller.
While there are many known unknowns related to COVID-19, we anticipate continued volatility in the near term as the economic fallout from the pandemic is realized. As always, we maintain diversified, risk-balanced portfolios for clients to help ride out potential market selloffs, and to evaluate, and sometimes capture, the opportunities that present themselves. We conclude with a famous quote from Benjamin Graham, the British-born American investor known as the “father of value of investing,” “the essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns.”[v] Thus, diversify!
This report was prepared by CIG Asset Management and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security.
[i] Yahoo Finance
[ii] Bloomberg, Goldmoney Research
[iv] Source: “How big could the Fed’s balance sheet get?” Financial Times, April 5, 2020 citing a report from Bank of America