Diversification is key on rocky road of investment

Diversification is key on rocky road of investment

An acquaintance of mine was recently contacted by his bank.

A sizeable sum of cash has been in his deposit account for years as a buffer against adverse circumstances. His bank is now requiring a payment of interest to keep this cash in that account.

This era of negative interest rates is a direct consequence of central bank activity that began in the wake of the global financial crisis back in 2008.

As these institutions fought to combat a deep recession every monetary weapon in the book was thrown at the problem.

Low interest rates acted as a powerful sidewinder to tackle the effects of huge volumes of debt. It also helped encourage investors to borrow money at low cost to invest in projects that could revitalise the economy.

To their credit this strategy has worked and ensured the global economy grew well during the past decade, bringing employment levels up with GDP.

Currently we live at a time of low inflation, record low interest rates and relatively high levels of employment.

For those seeking work or borrowing money these are good circumstances.

For those, however, who are intent on creating enough wealth to either retire, change work-life balance or offset declining incomes the task before them is very challenging.

Risk assets, especially equities, are near all-time highs.

So, too, are bond markets. When any market is at an all-time low or high the probability of a reversal in trend is elevated.

Interest rates are not just low but have turned negative.

This implies the most conservative form of wealth – cash – is costing an investor money to keep at a time when inflation is in positive territory.

This is corrosive for any plan designed to grow an investment portfolio.

A shrewd investor cannot simply shrug his or her shoulders and ignore these developments.

Investing is like a long trek through mountainous countryside. Parts of it include thorny brambles and upward long climbs.

At other times the ground is flat and less onerous. Another stage can involve a gentle decline through clear meadows.

To manage it the right equipment, an appetite for managed risk and clear objectives are needed. The same applies for anyone plotting investments or a pension.

My friend with the deposit has to decide what to do with his cash. Leave it alone and it contracts while inflation eats into it even further.

He can take it out but has to decide what alternative asset to choose for its deployment.

My core advice is to diversify. Cash should always be part of a portfolio because the rainy day is forever possible but tuning down the percentage allocated to cash could be prudent.

Money freed up should head in a number of directions.

Equities need foraging because indices are at very high levels. Individual companies with well-covered dividends exist, particularly in the UK where sterling is at historically weak levels.

Property, bonds, commodities and currencies are all avenues worth considering.

These should be approached with care but the ultimate aim is to have balance that protects against sudden shocks in any individual class.

Those who had their wealth tied up in Irish property before 2008 can teach a lesson in that.

Amid all this turmoil it is worth reminding yourself what is the overall hurdle to be achieved.

Annual returns that beat inflation and long bond yields are needed to enhance your wealth.

That suggests a return above 2% beats that hurdle presently.

Maintain regular payments while doing this and - if possible - choose tax efficient mechanisms to invest.

Such a package of measures can help you grind out positive returns while these unusual monetary conditions continue.

As those change prepare to flex your portfolio in response.

Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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