Contributed by: Robert Ingram
(Repurpose of the 2014 blog: ‘Why I Didn’t Like My Diversified Portfolio’)
As our team finished 2018 and began reviewing the 2019 investment landscape, I couldn’t help but to think of a Money Centered blog written by our Managing Partner, Tim Wyman. As Tim shared:
“I was reminded of the power of headlines recently as I was reviewing my personal financial planning; reflecting on the progress I have made toward goals such as retirement, estate, tax, life insurance, and investments. And, after reviewing my personal 401k plan, and witnessing single digit growth, my immediate reaction was probably similar to many other investors that utilize a prudent asset allocation strategy (40% fixed income and 60% equities). I’d be less than candid if I didn’t share that my immediate thought was, “I dislike my diversified portfolio”.
The headlines suggest it should have been a better year. However, knowing that the substance is below the headlines, and 140 characters can’t convey the whole story, my diversified portfolio performed just as it is supposed to in 20xx.”
This may have been a familiar thought throughout 2018. Interestingly though, Tim’s blog post was actually from 2015. He was describing 2014.
THE FINANCIAL HEADLINES – Same Old, Same Old?
The financial news about investment markets today still focuses primarily on three major market indices: the DJIA, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ. All three are measures for large company stocks in the United States; they provide no relevance for other assets in a diversified portfolio, such as international stocks, small and medium size stocks, and bonds of all types. As in 2014, the large U.S. stock indices were at or near all-time highs throughout much of 2018. Also in that year, many other major asset classes gained no ground or were even negative for the year. These included core intermediate bonds, high yield junk bonds, small cap stocks, commodities, international stocks, and emerging markets.
Looking Beyond the Headlines
Here at The Center, our team continues to apply a variety of resources in developing our economic outlook and asset allocation strategies. We take into account research from well-respected firms such as Russell Investments, J.P.Morgan Asset Management, and Raymond James. Review the “Asset Class Returns” graphic below, which shows how a variety of asset classes have performed since 2003.
This chart shows the historical performance of different asset classes through November of 2018, as well as an asset allocation portfolio (35% fixed and 65% diversified equities). The asset allocation portfolio incorporates the various asset classes shown in the chart.
If you “see” a pattern in asset class returns over time, please look again. There is no determinable pattern. Because asset class returns are cyclical, it’s difficult to predict which asset class will outperform in any given year. A portfolio with a mix of asset classes, on average, should smooth the ride by lowering risks that any one asset class presents over a full market and cycle. If there is any pattern to see, it would be that a diversified portfolio should provide a less volatile investment experience than any single asset class. A diversified portfolio is unlikely to be worse than the lowest performing asset class in any given year. And on the flip side, it is unlikely to be better than the best performing asset class. Just what you would expect!
STAYING FOCUSED & DISCIPLINED
As during other times when we have experienced strong U.S. stock markets and periods of accelerated market volatility, some folks may be willing to abandon discipline because of increased greed or increased fear. As important as it is to not panic out of an asset class after a large decline, it remains equally important to not panic into an asset class. In the case of the S&P 500’s outperformance of many other asset classes, for example, many have wondered why they should invest in anything else. That’s an understandable question. If you find yourself in that position, you might consider the following:
As in the five years leading up to 2015, the S&P 500 Index (even with the recent pullback in stock prices) has had tremendous performance over the last five years. However, it’s difficult to predict which asset class will outperform from year to year. A portfolio with a mix of asset classes, on average, should smooth the ride by lowering risk over a full market cycle.
Fundamentally, prices of U.S. companies relative to their expected earnings are hovering around the long-term average. International equities, particularly the emerging markets, are still well below their normal estimates and may have considerable room for improvement. This point was particularly relevant in 2018 and continues to be as we begin 2019.
Through 2018, U.S. large caps, as defined by the S&P 500 Index, have outperformed international equities (MSCI EAFE) in six of the last eight years. The last time the S&P outperformed for a significant time, 1996-2001, the MSCI outperformed in the subsequent six years.
What’s the potential impact on a portfolio concentrated in a particular asset class, if that asset class experiences a period of loss? Remember, an investment that experienced a loss requires an even greater percentage return to get back to its original value. For example, an investment worth $100,000 that loses 50% (down to $50,000) would actually require a 100% return from $50,000 to get back to $100,000.
Benjamin Graham, known as the “father of value investing,” dedicated much of his book, The Intelligent Investor, to risk. In one of his many timeless quotes, he says, “The essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns.” This statement may seem counterintuitive to many investors. Rather than raising an alarm, risk may provide a healthy dose of reality in all investment environments. That’s important in how we meet financial goals. Diversification is about avoiding the big setbacks along the way. It doesn’t protect against losses – it helps manage risk.
Often, during times of more volatile financial markets like those we have experienced during the last couple of months, the benefits of diversification become apparent. If you have felt the way Tim did back in 2015 about your portfolio, we hope that after review and reflection, you might also change your perspective from “I dislike my diversified portfolio” to “My diversified portfolio – just what I would expect.”
As always, if you’d like to schedule some time to review anything contained in this writing, or your personal circumstances, please let me know. Lastly, our investment committee has been hard at work for several weeks and will be sharing 2019 comments in the near future. Make it a great 2019!
Robert Ingram is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®
Any opinions are those of Bob Ingram, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected, including diversification and asset allocation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), commonly known as “The Dow” is an index representing 30 stock of companies maintained and reviewed by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. The MSCI is an index of stocks compiled by Morgan Stanley Capital International. The index consists of more than 1,000 companies in 22 developed markets. Investments can not be made directly in an index.