Diversifying a stock portfolio for Canadian investors

We’ve all heard the advice about not keeping all your eggs in one basket. This is the principle that stock diversification is based on: for example, not putting all of your money in one sector, such as financial services. If that sector were to crash, you could lose a lot of your money.

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Having a well-diversified portfolio means owning a wide variety of assets, so as to reduce your overall portfolio risk. Having stocks in just a handful of companies would leave you open to the potential for substantial losses.

Stock diversification involves investing in a variety of economic market sectors, asset classes and locations. The idea is to smooth out risk by having the positive performance from some investments offset the negative performance of others.

For this to be successful, you need to hold assets that are not highly correlated: in other words, assets that won’t move in the same direction, at the same time, as each other.

Why stock diversification is essential for Canadian investors

Many Canadian investors believe they can achieve adequate stock diversification by simply buying an index mutual fund or index exchange-traded fund (ETF). These are effectively baskets of shares of many different companies that represent an index, such as the S&P/TSX Index (which contains around 250 of the 1,500-plus companies that are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange).

Relying on an S&P/TSX Index fund is problematical, however: two-thirds of the index is focused on just three sectors: financial services, energy and materials. Whenever there is a slowdown in global economic activity, energy and commodities tend to be negatively impacted. This in turn weighs down financial firms, which rely on those struggling resource companies for a large chunk of their business.

Given how these highly correlated sectors dominate the S&P/TSX Index, it’s difficult to offset losses by buying less-correlated Canadian sectors, such as health care, because they are so much smaller. Truly diversifying a stock portfolio for Canadian investors therefore requires looking beyond not only Canada’s borders, but also these dominant sectors and even traditional equities.

Ways of diversifying a Canadian stock portfolio

Moving your portfolio away from its natural “home bias” (where too many of the stocks are Canadian) is a good starting point for greater stock diversification. These are examples of some of the other areas that Canadians can consider, so that they have far more diversified portfolios:

  • Geography:
    o U.S.
    o Europe
    o Developed ex-North America
    o Emerging markets 
    o China
    o Global

  • Sectors:
    o IT
    o Industrials
    o Consumer discretionary
    o Telecommunications
    o Consumer staples
    o Health care

  • Fixed income investments:
    o Government bonds
    o Corporate bonds
    o Municipal bonds

  • Company size
    o Large cap
    o Mid cap
    o Small cap

  • Stock type
    o Value stocks
    o Growth stocks

One of the most efficient ways of diversifying a stock portfolio is through mutual funds and ETFs. For example, you could buy an emerging markets mutual fund, a U.S. large cap ETF and a global sustainable investing mutual fund. Each fund could contain dozens, or even hundreds, of companies.

A greater choice of asset allocation possibilities than ever before

There are now almost 1,200 ETFs and over 5,000 mutual funds available to Canadian investors. You can get far more specific about the geographical area you want to invest in, the sector and the size of companies you’re interested in, and you can add diversification by investing in sustainable investment funds.

Increasingly, financial experts are recommending an allocation to alternative investments when diversifying a stock portfolio. These were previously reserved for institutional investors but have recently become available to individual investors, in the form of liquid alternative funds and ETFs.

Many of these alternative investments have little to zero correlation with conventional equities and bonds, so they offer a great way of diversifying a stock portfolio. Some alternative funds include:

  • Real estate investment trusts (pools of properties that deliver rental income)
  • Alternative strategies, such as leveraging,* using derivatives and short-selling
  • Private equity (investing in companies not listed on stock exchanges)
  • Private debt (lending to privately owned companies)

Counteracting volatility

From year to year and day to day, markets do go up and down. That roller-coaster ride of volatility can make some investors want to shy away from participating in the markets. However, there is room for even the most risk-averse investors to benefit from the markets. Holding equities in well-diversified portfolios is essential if you want to grow your portfolio more quickly, and investing in low-volatility equity products can also help to smooth out the ride.

Low-volatility equity funds are appealing if you want returns that are similar to the stock market but with potentially greater stability through market ups and downs. These funds can reduce losses during market dips, which can in turn help to preserve your assets and contribute to your retirement income stream now and in the future.

How an IG advisor can help

We’ve seen how truly diversifying a stock portfolio is particularly important in Canada. However, achieving effective stock diversification is not as simple as buying an emerging markets mutual fund and an S&P 500 Index ETF; it’s not easy to build truly diversified portfolios by yourself. This is where an IG advisor comes in.

An IG advisor will take into account your risk preference, personal circumstances and financial goals before recommending the right mix of equities, bonds, industries, geographical locations, company sizes and alternative assets and strategies that will build a truly diversified portfolio.

Talk to your IG advisor today about diversifying your stock portfolio. If you don’t have one, you can find an IG advisor here

* Borrowing to invest involves risk and may not be suitable in all situations. Speak to an IG Wealth Management Consultant to see if this strategy is suitable for you.

Written and published by IG Wealth Management as a general source of information only. Not intended as a solicitation to buy or sell specific investments, or to provide tax, legal or investment advice. Seek advice on your specific circumstances from an IG Wealth Management Consultant. Borrowing to invest involves risk and may not be suitable in all situations. Speak to an IG Wealth Management Consultant to see if this strategy is suitable for you.