Diversification: A Potential Cure for Emotional Investor Behavior?

The concept of diversification is nothing new for investors. The adage “don’t put your eggs in one basket” simply states why diversification is vital. There are several potential benefits of a diversified multi-asset investment portfolio, and one of the most important is to reduce concentration risk. This is done in a number of ways, but primarily by investing in a variety of asset classes, industries and geographies. Additionally, diversification may help smooth out returns in volatile times, it may provide for higher returns over longer time periods and it may help investors avoid the pitfalls of emotionally based investment decisions.

Concentration risk

Concentration risk is essentially the risk from investing in a single asset class or single region. A diversified multi-asset portfolio typically has exposure to a variety of asset classes as well as regions.History has demonstrated that all asset classes have market cycles where they perform well and cycles where they trail.Additionally, history has shown some asset classes are going to do well when others are lagging.For instance, commodities tend to be an asset class with a lower correlation to U.S. equities.Since it is nearly impossible to predict which asset classes are going to lead or trail in any given year, and we have seen that asset classes can go from leaders to trailers suddenly and with little to no warning, we believe it is important to stay diversified and stay invested over the long-term.

Market leadership rotation

Most recently investors have questioned the value of owning anything other than U.S. stocks. Looking at the chart below, we see U.S. equities have outperformed non-U.S. equities for the last 37 quarters! However, a couple of things that are evident in this chart are the abrupt shift that occurs when leadership rotates, and that leadership does indeed rotate.

Click image to enlarge

Chart showing how different regions lead the stock market over time

Index returns represent past performance, are not a guarantee of future performance, and are not indicative of any specific investment. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly.

Source: Morningstar Direct; US Equities: S&P 500 Index, Non-US Equities: MSCI World ex USA.

May help smooth out returns in volatile times

In addition to the idea that diversification may help protect a portfolio’s return when asset class leadership rotates, it also may help smooth out a portfolio’s return when market volatility increases.A properly diversified portfolio may have lower drawdowns and reduce risk over the long-term.That said, a balanced return may be less than the best performing asset class and better than the worst.

In the chart below, we can see a visual representation of this. At the end of Q4 2018, we saw a significant market correction that saw U.S. stocks, represented by the S&P 500, end the year down -13.5%. However, for the same period a balanced portfolio comprised of U.S., international, emerging markets, real estate, commodities and fixed income was only down -6.9% for the same period. As markets rebounded in Q1/Q2 2019, we saw U.S. stocks jump +18.5% and we saw the balanced portfolio return +12.2%. In both instances, the balanced portfolio exhibited less volatility compared to U.S. stocks, but at the end of the two periods it provided a positive total return of +3.8%—outperforming U.S. stocks, which finished up +2.5%. Remember, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Click image to enlarge

Graph showing benefits of diversification

Sources: U.S. Stocks: S&P 500 Index. Balanced Index Portfolio: 30% Russell 3000® Index; 35% Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index; 20% MSCI EAFE Index; 5% MSCI Emerging Markets Index; 5% FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Developed Index; 5% Bloomberg Commodity Index. Index returns represent past performance, are not a guarantee of future performance, and are not indicative of any specific investment. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly.

Bottom line

Diversification provides the opportunity to smooth out returns in volatile times and helps mitigate risk in a portfolio.It is about being flexible, balanced and focused on a long-term goal. Investors diversify because the future is uncertain, and no one can predict with certainty which asset class will win or lose over the upcoming cycles.


Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index: An index, with income reinvested, generally representative of intermediate-term government bonds, investment grade corporate debt securities, and mortgage-backed securities. (specifically: Barclays Government/Corporate Bond Index, the Asset-Backed Securities Index, and the Mortgage-Backed Securities Index).

Bloomberg Commodity Index Total Return: Composed of futures contracts on physical commodities. Unlike equities, which typically entitle the holder to a continuing stake in a corporation, commodity futures contracts normally specify a certain date for the delivery of the underlying physical commodity. In order to avoid the delivery process and maintain a long futures position, nearby contracts must be sold and contracts that have not yet reached the delivery period must be purchased. This process is known as "rolling" a futures position.

FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Developed Index: A global market capitalization weighted index composed of listed real estate securities in the North American, European and Asian real estate markets.

MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index: A free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the U.S. and Canada.

MSCI Emerging Markets Index: A float-adjusted market capitalization index that consists of indices in 24 emerging economies.

MSCI World Index: A broad global equity index that represents large and mid-cap equity performance across 23 developed markets countries.

The Russell 3000® Index measures the performance of the largest 3000 U.S. companies representing approximately 98% of the investable U.S. equity market.

The S&P 500® Index: A free-float capitalization-weighted index published since 1957 of the prices of 500 large-cap common stocks actively traded in the United States. The stocks included in the S&P 500® are those of large publicly held companies that trade on either of the two largest American stock market exchanges: the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ.

Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly. Returns represent past performance, are not a guarantee of future performance, and are not indicative of any specific investment.

Diversification does not assure a profit and does not protect against loss in declining markets.

Past performance does not guarantee future performance.

These views are subject to change at any time based upon market or other conditions and are current as of the date at the top of the page. The information, analysis, and opinions expressed herein are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or entity.

This material is not an offer, solicitation or recommendation to purchase any security.

Forecasting represents predictions of market prices and/or volume patterns utilizing varying analytical data. It is not representative of a projection of the stock market, or of any specific investment.

Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment. The general information contained in this publication should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax and investment advice from a licensed professional.

Please remember that all investments carry some level of risk, including the potential loss of principal invested. They do not typically grow at an even rate of return and may experience negative growth. As with any type of portfolio structuring, attempting to reduce risk and increase return could, at certain times, unintentionally reduce returns.

The information, analysis and opinions expressed herein are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual entity.

Russell Investments’ ownership is composed of a majority stake held by funds managed by TA Associates with minority stakes held by funds managed by Reverence Capital Partners and Russell Investments’ management.

Frank Russell Company is the owner of the Russell trademarks contained in this material and all trademark rights related to the Russell trademarks, which the members of the Russell Investments group of companies are permitted to use under license from Frank Russell Company. The members of the Russell Investments group of companies are not affiliated in any manner with Frank Russell Company or any entity operating under the “FTSE RUSSELL” brand.

The Russell logo is a trademark and service mark of Russell Investments.

Copyright © 2019. Russell Investments Group, LLC. All rights reserved. This material is proprietary and may not be reproduced, transferred, or distributed in any form without prior written permission from Russell Investments. It is delivered on an “as is” basis without warranty.

Russell Investments Financial Services, LLC, member FINRA (www.finra.org), part of Russell Investments.

RIFIS: 21828

© Russell Investments

More Factor-Based Investing Topics >