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Diversification: The boring winner

April 14, 2022
clock 3 MIN READ

In a world where the best- and worst-performing asset classes tend to dominate the headlines, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a diversified investment portfolio is generally the most reliable approach for meeting long-term investment objectives. Diversification is a time-tested component of portfolio construction, especially through the lens of risk-adjusted returns in terms of Sharpe ratios. Historically, the result is a less volatile portfolio that tends to produce something close to middle-of-the-road performance year in and year out. This is in contrast to the best- and worst-performing asset classes, which often generate significant media attention despite volatility in returns and market leadership—hence the sentiment that diversification is rather boring.

Diversification rarely wins in any given year…

By design, diversified portfolios hold a mix of asset classes, some of which outperform and some of which underperform in a given year. As a result, diversified portfolios will never beat the top-performing asset class in any given year. However, it’s notoriously difficult for investors to consistently pick top-performing asset classes. Nevertheless, to some investors, more-stable diversified strategies lack the appeal of flavor-of-the-month champions like the high-flying technology stocks or rapidly rising emerging markets. This point of view arises from some well-known cognitive and emotional biases, which we have covered at length in our series of Behavioral Finance papers.

To counter these biases, we developed a framework based on our analysis of three highly simplified investment strategy types (described below)—which has demonstrated the power of diversification.

Trend-Following Strategy: Invests in the top-performing asset class of the prior year

Contrarian Strategy: Invests in the worst-performing asset class of the prior year

Diversified Strategy: Invests equally in all available asset classes

We found that over the last 10 years, the Contrarian strategy beat the other two strategies 50% of the time. The Trend Following approach won in three of those years. And the diversified strategy only came out on top in only one of those 10 years.

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Important information

This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific point in time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events, or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding the Funds or any stock in particular, nor should it be construed as a recommendation to purchase or sell a security, including futures contracts. There is no assurance as of the date of this material that the securities mentioned remain in or out of SEI Funds.

There are risks involved with investing, including loss of principal. Current and future portfolio holdings are subject to risks as well. International investments may involve risk of capital loss from unfavorable fluctuation in currency values, from differences in generally accepted accounting principles or from economic or political instability in other nations. Narrowly focused investments and smaller companies typically exhibit higher volatility. Bonds and bond funds will decrease in value as interest rates rise. High-yield bonds involve greater risks of default or downgrade and are more volatile than investment-grade securities, due to the speculative nature of their investments.

Diversification may not protect against market risk. There is no assurance the objectives discussed will be met. Past performance 
does not guarantee future results Index returns are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent actual portfolio 
performance. Index returns do not reflect any management fees, transaction costs or expenses. One cannot invest directly in an 
index. 

Information provided by SEI Investments Management Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of SEI Investments Company. Neither SEI nor its subsidiaries is affiliated with your financial advisor.

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