Diversify, but don’t overdo it

Benj Gallander and Ben Stadelmann
Friday, November 3, 2006

Those television ads promoting investment products for RRSP season have already appeared, even though the commercials for crooners singing Christmas carols are still noticeably absent. Don’t these two species have a symbiotic relationship?

In all likelihood, many of these spots will stress the importance of diversification. We see diversification as being important — to a degree. The third rule in The Contrarian Investor’s 13: How to Earn Superior Returns in the Stock Market is “diversify, but beware the devil of over-diversification.”

Managing an overextended portfolio becomes a burden in terms of both time and expense, and returns normally suffer as a result. In addition, investments can contradict each other, as people who are simultaneously investing in oil companies and American car manufacturers might be realizing.

Of course, covering all the bases isn’t a goal unique to a contrarian strategy; it is the basis of a sound investing plan. It’s critical to lowering the risk of, say, a portfolio heavily invested in TSX-listed trust units. Expect the unexpected.

At Contra the Heard, we invest in publicly traded stocks and seek above-average returns by employing a contrarian strategy that includes diversity in sectors and geography.

We recognize, though, that the path to diversification doesn’t end at the oak-panelled walls on Bay Street and Wall Street. Other investments may not appear to be as sophisticated, but can still preserve one’s assets, and even offer the possibility of above-average returns.

Some categories include artwork, antiques, coins and stamps, jewellery, memorabilia and scripophily (the collecting of old stock and bond certificates), to name a few. The markets for each of these areas are vast and complex, so analysis and experience play just as important a role as with financial instruments.

Contrarian strategy in these areas still involves going against popular opinion and seeking out investments that are overlooked, undervalued or beaten down. At different points in time, each of these investment possibilities is either hot, or not. Quite simply, in that regard, they are not so different from stocks.

In addition to the diversification and possible wealth-creation of owning some of the above, owners can receive tangible pleasures.

Scripophily appeals to some as they admire their Bre-X share certificates; others gaze at the artwork on the wall; while some head to a party in that chic necklace or trade their Eric Lindros rookie card for a Denis Dupere and a Larry Jeffrey.

In a best-case scenario, these other areas can evoke passion, something that tingles on the quality of life scale. That is much more exciting than buying a few shares of Air Canada.