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How to build a diversified portfolio

A diversified portfolio is a collection of different assets with the aim of reducing overall risk. Here are 5 signs your money is diversified.

Many investors are aware of the importance of having a diversified portfolio but may be confused as to whether their money is in fact diversified or not.

This guide will teach you what a diversified portfolio is and the benefits of having one. It also offers an easy 5-point checklist to assess whether your money is diversified. If it’s not, don’t worry, we also provide some advice on how to ensure it's diversified.

4 tips to building a diversified portfolio

  1. Spread your money out. Make sure it's in at least 15 different stocks across a variety of asset classes.
  2. Put a portion of your money into fixed assets such as a savings account, bonds or even gold.
  3. Keep building your portfolio. By taking advantage of strategies including dollar-cost averaging, you can successfully build a diversified portfolio.
  4. Have a portion of your money in international financial products including shares or ETFs. A recession or financial downturn could hit Australia, but not the rest of the world.

What is a diversified portfolio?

A diversified portfolio has a range of different assets, rather than investing in a single asset type.

For example, if you have all your money sitting in a savings account, you don't have a diversified portfolio. Similarly, a property investor who owns numerous investment properties but doesn't have any other investments, doesn’t have a diversified investment portfolio. This is because they are only investing in a single asset class (property).

But, a property investor may have a diversified property portfolio if they invest in a range of different property types such as houses, apartments and land.

Finder survey: Do Australians of different ages have an investment plan?

Source: Finder survey by Pure Profile of 1145 Australians, December 2023

The benefits of a diversified portfolio

The main benefit is that it minimises risk. Like the common phrase "don't put all your eggs in one basket", the same applies to investing. This is because in the unfortunate event that something were to happen to that basket, all your eggs – or money – would be gone.

If an investment class performs poorly over a certain period you will only lose money on your investments in that asset, rather than across your whole portfolio. Let's say you only invested in shares in Australian companies. Each time the market fluctuates your entire investment portfolio would be affected. But, if only one-quarter of your portfolio was in shares then only one-quarter of your portfolio would be affected.

It's also of benefit to diversify your portfolio within particular asset classes. For example, if you’re investing in shares, investing in a range of different sectors and industries will further help minimise risk to your investment portfolio as a whole.

What is the 60/40 portfolio?

While it has been out of fashion for a while, the 60/40 portfolio could be one way to diversify.

With a 60/40 portfolio investors put 60% of their money into stocks and 40% into fixed assets including bonds. The point of this is to have both growth and income. It is generally considered a safe way to grow your portfolio. This is because stocks give investors the growth portion of their portfolio while the bonds offer a safer secure growth portion. While theoretically true, keep in mind in 2022 both shares and bonds fell.

5 signs your money is diversified

1. You aren’t concerned by short-term performance

If your money is properly diversified, you generally aren’t concerned about what the market does on any particular day. If small market fluctuations are keeping you up at night, this could be a sign that you have too much money invested in a particular asset class.

2. You’re in it for the long term

Investors with diversified portfolios are generally in it for the long term and are investing to create future wealth. Non-diverse investors tend to invest a large pool of money into an asset for a short amount of time. If you’re investing with the intention to sit tight for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, you will likely have a diversified portfolio.

3. You ignore trends and market hype

Investors who don’t have a properly diversified portfolio are likely to get caught up chasing the next big investment opportunity. They might keep an eye out for shares that are underpriced with the intention to buy and sell and make a quick buck. Diversified investors are usually more confident because they have a stable, well planned, long-term strategy.

4. Your money is invested in a variety of the traditional asset classes

The more asset classes you’re invested in, the more diversified your portfolio is, meaning it's also lower risk. If you have money invested in 2 or more of these asset classes, you have a diversified portfolio:

  • Cash. This includes term deposits, savings accounts and cheque accounts.
  • Australian shares. Also referred to as equities, share trading is the partial ownership of a publicly listed Australian company, such as one of the major banks. These are traded on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and you can earn a portion of the company’s profits in the form of dividends.
  • Global shares. This is the partial ownership of a publicly listed international company.
  • Property. This includes direct ownership of residential or commercial property. It can also include partial ownership of property through a managed fund such as Brickx.
  • Commodities. This includes natural resources such as coal, copper and iron ore and precious metals such as gold and silver.
  • Bonds. Bonds are a form of tradable loan that can be bought and sold in a similar way as shares. Bonds are loans made to a government entity with investors earning money out of the interest payments on the loan.

5. You invest in exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

An ETF is a type of managed fund that is traded on the ASX like shares. The fund owns a range of assets including local and global shares, bonds, foreign currencies and commodities. The investor doesn't own these underlying assets but instead owns a portion of the entire ETF. So even if you only invest in ETFs, you automatically have a diversified portfolio.

How to identify gaps in your portfolio

For many investors, it could be tempting to put your money into 1 or 2 assets, especially if they are continuing to gain market share.

But if the price of that asset falls so does your overall wealth. Especially if they are in the same asset class.

Take for example owning shares in 2 of Australia's Big Four banks.

While an investor might say they own 2 different assets, they are likely to be impacted in the same way.

To diversify, an investor could put their money in a number of different stocks in a variety of asset classes.

In order to find out if your share portfolio is diversified you could look at whether or not your holdings are all in the same asset class.

There are 11 ASX categories: energy, materials, industrials, consumer discretionary, consumer staples, health care, financials, information technology, communication services, utilities and real estate.

If an investor wants to make sure they are diversified through shares they don't necessarily need to have assets in all of these categories but being in more than 1 or 2 can help.

The second option for investors is to put their money into other asset classes or even international shares. This can help offset potential issues in the Australian share market.

If your money isn’t already diversified, what could you do?

A simple way to ensure your money is diversified is to invest in ETFs. Rather than learning the intricate details of each individual asset class and trying to asses which to invest in, an ETF will do the hard work for you. This is a great option for new investors who are just dipping their toes in the water.

If you do have experience investing in Australian shares but don't meet the the checklist above, a simple way to diversify your portfolio is to invest in some international companies. This a good way to diversify your portfolio without adding too much additional risk. In the event that the Australian economy crashed and the share price for all ASX-listed companies dropped your international shares would be largely unaffected.

Can you over-diversify your portfolio?

Yes it's theoretically possible for you to over-diversify, which will limit your upside.

Basically, if adding a new investment in your portfolio increases your portfolio's overall risk or lowers expected returns without the benefit of lowering risks, then it does not really serve your overall financial goals.

This over-diversification usually happens when investors buy too many assets that are closely correlated.

Let's take the example of owning the Big Four banks. If you own 3 of them, in a portfolio of say 20 stocks and other financial assets, adding the fourth does not help you from a diversification point of view. It adds to your risk (all 4 banks are exposed to property, for example, so will move together) and could lower your overall return. As such, you might be better off diversifying into other stocks.

Bottom line

Investing should be an exciting way to help you build your wealth and set yourself up for financial freedom.

While diversification doesn't completely protect your portfolio from downturns, having a disciplined approach to investing by diversifying your portfolio can offset some of the short-term pain.

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To make sure you get accurate and helpful information, this guide has been edited by Jason Loewenthal as part of our fact-checking process.
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Alison Banney is the money editorial manager at Finder. She covers all areas of personal finance, and her areas of expertise are superannuation, banking and saving. She has written about finance for 10 years, having previously worked at Westpac and written for several other major banks and super funds. See full bio

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Cameron Micallef was a utilities writer for Finder. He previously worked on titles including Smart Property Investment, nestegg and Investor Daily, reporting across superannuation, property and investments. Cameron has a Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies/ Commerce from the University of Wollongong. Outside of work Cameron is passionate about all things sports and travel. See full bio

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