Warren Buffett on Portfolio Diversification

 
By Amy Calistri

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Why Diversification is Like Drinking From a Fire Hose

Why You Should Shrink Your Portfolio Holdings

What I'm Doing With $100,000

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Working for StreetAuthority, I do a lot of different things.

In the course of a day, I may be writing an article … editing a newsletter … discussing potential picks with our staff … researching the next investing hotspot … even going over article ideas with Bob Bogda, our managing editor.

And with so much going on, I actually find myself a little frazzled as the day goes on.

To combat this, I've started getting to work about an hour earlier than the rest of the staff. I don't do this to show off, but found I can do more in that one hour (when I can simply focus on one task without distraction) than I could in two hours when the rest of the staff has the office buzzing.

Turning off the background noise allowed me to simplify things—and get better results.

What does this have to do with investing? A ton.

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Sometimes the investing waters are as clear as mud to retail investors. After all, there are literally thousands of potential plays out there.

You could try to play a rebound in the automakers. You could day-trade the banks. You could stick with index funds and ride out any storm. You could even try to find companies that are simply undervalued and will rebound once the market notices.

But the problem is that there are too many options—it's like trying to drink from a fire hose. Too many choices make it hard to nail down the one investment that will make your portfolio a winner.

Instead, like I do every morning by getting an early start, I think successful investors need to turn off the distractions and focus their attention to a small group of the best ideas … drink from a glass, instead of a fire hose.

By shrinking your portfolio, you'll find:

It's easier to stay on top of your investments. If you have a portfolio of 50 stocks, how well can you pay attention to each one?

Even if you read up on each one just an hour each week, you'd have a full-time job (plus 10 hours of overtime) just to give each its due.

And with this market, it's more important than ever to watch your holdings. Instead, a portfolio of just 10-12 of your best picks would need significantly less time to track each week and you'll likely sleep better at night knowing you've done your homework.

Better portfolio performance. Which do you think would average higher on a test: an entire class full of students, or a handful of the smartest students as picked by the teacher?

The answer is obvious … and it's the same with your portfolio.

Look through your holdings. If you have upwards of 30, 40, even 50 holdings or more, I bet you'll find some that you think are simply “OK.” Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if you have some you don't even like but simply haven't sold yet.

Instead, what if you culled down your portfolio to just your favorite picks? Wouldn't your portfolio be in much better shape going forward? You'd have the cream of the crop, instead of the entire field. Remember, it's hard to outperform the market if your portfolio is the market.

That you're not alone in trimming down your portfolio. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holds just 37 positions. That's a lot for an individual investor, but for a company with billions at its disposal, it's surprisingly few. On top of that, over the past 25 years Berkshire's top five holdings have made up an average of 73% of its portfolio.

Buffett is simply a proponent for positioning a portfolio to take advantage of the best picks. He's even gone as far as saying:

"If it's your game, diversification doesn't make sense. It's crazy to put money into your 20th choice rather than your 1st choice. It's the 'LeBron James' analogy. If you have LeBron James on your team, don't take him out of the game just to make room for someone else."

If the world's greatest investor is following this approach, shouldn't other investors?

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Warren Buffett's school of thought is one of the main tenets of my Stock of the Month newsletter, and its $100,000 real-money portfolio. Think about it—our economy and the markets still continue to run hot and cold. Investors are still skittish about unemployment, interest rates, housing … the list goes on.

But no matter what's happening, there are always some stocks doing well. And if you focus on a select group of your best picks, you can profit.

Companies that cater to tougher economic times have done well. Ross Stores (ROST) is up 121% since 2008 and Dollar Tree (DLTR) is up 182%. Auto-parts stores (critical, as drivers are keeping cars longer) are the same story. Advance Auto Parts (AAP) is up 57% and AutoZone (AZO) is up 90%

One of the best performers in my newsletter, Olin (NYSE: OLN) gained 58% in about a year before I closed the position. Sally Beauty Supply (SBH) had the same return. Liquor distributor Diageo (DEO) gained 34%. And these returns have been during what can at best be described as a "rocky" environment.

[I'm very open with my closed Stock of the Month positions. You can view them all here.]

I understand that years of conditioning has led millions of investors to think diversification is crucial to success. And it is, if you want to simply match the market. But that's not what I—or Warren Buffett—want to do. I doubt you do either.

Good Investing!

Amy Calistri
Chief Investment Strategist
Stock of the Month, The Daily Paycheck

P.S. As a rule, I can only have 12 ideas in my Stock of the Month portfolio at any time. If I want to add a new idea, I have to sell an older holding. So far the strategy is working like a charm—I'm up 26.7% since starting in April 2009. To learn how to profit alongside me, and receive my November Stock of the Month, please visit this link.

Stock Picks

Tesla Motors

If Tesla ever begins to cut back on development and innovation costs, earnings will soar.

Alibaba

China seems to be raising up its very own version of Amazon in Alibaba (BABA.

Facebook

Roy Ward uses the PEG ratio to determine if the stock is undervalued or overvalued.

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