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How best to diversify your portfolio
Sanjay Matai,
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August 21, 2006 09:28 IST

The benefits of diversifying one's portfolio are, of course, known to all. It helps align our investment portfolio with our financial-cum-risk profile. It protects us from any downside in one particular asset class.

As each one of has a unique financial-cum-risk profile, each one of us must

Build a suitable mix of investment across various assets classes viz. debt, equity, real-estate, gold etc.

Even among the broad asset class like debt or equity, there are sub-classes. One must diversify suitably across these sub-classes too. For example in debt one must invest suitably in Bank FD, NSC/KVP and PPF etc. Or in equity one has to diversify across large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap, sector-specific.

Going further, even within particular sub-class say large-cap equity, one has to choose a mix of individual stocks.

The overall approach is a top-down one i.e. starting from the broad allocation across asset classes, you move down to choosing individual investment options. (Also read - How to build your MF portfolio?)

We could invest separately in each of the individual option as per our desired allocation strategy. This approach gives us the total flexibility to choose what we want. We have full control over our financial decisions. But this approach

Mutual Funds offer some simplification and tax-efficiency, but this so far is limited to equity and debt. We may, however, shortly see real estate and gold funds too. Even within say debt all instruments are not included such as PPF, where we would still have to invest separately.

Further, Mutual Funds also offer different routes to achieving the desired diversification. (Also read - How to reduce risk while investing?)

The choice of route usually does not affect the overall returns, which is more a result of the ultimate choice of funds that we make under a particular route.

The fund-of-funds route

A fund-of-fund is a single scheme, which enables us to invest across different mutual fund schemes of different types.

Say we want to have 60:40 equity-debt asset allocation. Then there could be a fund-of-fund scheme, which would invest 60 per cent corpus in say 4-5 diversified equity funds, 20 per cent in 2-3 long-term debt funds and say 20 per cent in 2-3 short-term debt funds. Moreover, these funds could either be from the same fund house or across different fund houses.

Thus, here with investment in just one fund, we can get the desired asset allocation. Also, this fund-of-fund route is highly tax-efficient at the time of portfolio rebalancing. (Also read - 7 investment tips to improve your returns)

Though easy to understand, tax-efficient and simple to operate, it is not a very flexible approach and also the costs may be slightly higher. Second, as on date there aren't too many fund-of-fund schemes, which invest across various fund houses. Most of them invest in their own schemes. So we don't get the fund-house diversification.

The mixed MFs route

To make the portfolio more suited to our needs and invest across fund houses, we could go in mixed schemes such as MIP or Balanced mutual funds.

Herein the corpus gets invested in individual stocks and bonds based on the allocation percentage. You could, for example, invest in a balanced fund where 60-65% of the corpus gets invested in individual stocks and the balance 35-40% in different bonds.

Under this approach, we have more flexibility than a single fund-of-funds. Also the overall expenses will usually be lower. But, depending on the exact mix, it may not be as tax efficient as a fund-of-funds. Moreover, we would have to separately choose and manage a mix of such MIP & Balanced funds.

The dedicated MFs route

In a step further to the previous route, we choose different dedicated equity and debt funds, instead of mixed funds.

The benefit of course is higher degree of flexibility to construct a portfolio more in line with our needs. By choosing different funds covering different sectors in the market, we can achieve a high level of diversification across entire market - both debt & equity. (Also read - How to handle volatile markets?)

But the drawback is a further increase in the number of individual funds we need to invest in and manage. Also, at the time of portfolio rebalancing, we could end-up with a higher tax-outgo vis-�-vis the aforesaid first two routes.

Given these various routes available, we can choose the one, which suits us the most from the perspective of time, knowledge and efforts that we can devote to managing one's finances.

The author is an investment advisor and can be reached at

For more on mutual funds, click here

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