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The S&P 500 has tacked on a remarkable 25.16% so far this year, yet many investors are acting as if the "other" shoe is going to drop just like it did last year right around this time.
Honestly, that's a fair concern.
The markets have been a one-way train higher since January 2019. The S&P 500, for example, has put in over 15 new record highs over the past 12 months.
The known risks – political instability, Chinese trade, regulatory changes, signs of a global slowdown – are all well understood. It's the unknown that'll get you every time.
Wall Street would have you believe the most effective way to hedge against unknown market risk is to diversify your portfolio.
The theory is pretty elegant – or at least it's supposed to be.
Spread your money around, it says, and, in doing so, you'll reduce your risk because "everything can't possibly go down at once."
Problem is… that's a load of self-serving hooey.
Today's markets are more correlated than they've ever been, thanks to a witches' brew of computerized trading, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and leverage.
You've got to do something different if you want to get ahead.
Many folks find that hard to believe.
The correlation part, I mean.
Wall Street spends billions on advertising, highlighting the virtues of diversification. There are countless books on the subject. Academia considers it a cornerstone of investing education. So, alas, it must be true.
Legions of investors want to believe that, but…
Here's a shot of the Dow, the S&P 500, the Nasdaq, and Russell 2000, all plotted together since late 1998. Even the most hardened critic can see that the major indices are moving in near lock step.
Especially on big down days.
What's more, you can see that – aside from one big bump ahead of the Internet Bubble in 2000 – all of the indices get even more "alike" after 2003 and 2009 as correlations are generally increasing over time.
Still, Wall Street peddles its wares to the unassuming.
"Buy the indexes," it says.
"You can't beat the markets," it charges. So why even try, is the implication.
Yeah, and I've got a bridge to sell you.
Warren Buffett – yes, THAT Warren Buffett who's worth an estimated $87 billion – says diversification "is protection against ignorance." Moreover, he observes that [diversification] "makes very little sense for those who know what they're doing."
Spread yourself and your money too thin, and you will never, ever beat the markets. Worse, you WILL compromise your results.
Buffett, incidentally, is not alone any more than we are.
Other great investors go to great lengths to concentrate their investments. Names like George Soros, Jim Rogers, and Doug Kass all come to mind.
William O'Neil even went so far as to say that the winning investor's "objective should be to have one or two big winners rather than dozens of very small profits."
My favorite take, though, comes from money manager James Oelschlager – founder of Oak Associates, a more than $1.1 billion investment management firm. He wryly observed that "no hospital wings or college dormitories have ever been named by an indexer."
Critics, of course, will scream bloody murder when they read this. "International markets are different," they'll challenge. "Diversify by sector," they'll counter.
Good luck with that.
Recent changes in the fiduciary laws make it all but impossible for financial advisors or money managers to set up a concentrated portfolio because they're legally obligated to spread your money around by "acting in your best interest."
And – you guessed it – that's officially a diversified portfolio because a concentrated portfolio runs contrary to commonly accepted wisdom.
Which brings me back to where we started.
About the Author
Keith is a seasoned market analyst and professional trader with more than 37 years of global experience. He is one of very few experts to correctly see both the dot.bomb crisis and the ongoing financial crisis coming ahead of time - and one of even fewer to help millions of investors around the world successfully navigate them both. Forbes hailed him as a "Market Visionary." He is a regular on FOX Business News and Yahoo! Finance, and his observations have been featured in Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, WIRED, and MarketWatch. Keith previously led The Money Map Report, Money Map's flagship newsletter, as Chief Investment Strategist, from 20007 to 2020. Keith holds a BS in management and finance from Skidmore College and an MS in international finance (with a focus on Japanese business science) from Chaminade University. He regularly travels the world in search of investment opportunities others don't yet see or understand.