Most financial advisors recommend a diversified portfolio of stock and bond investments for their clients to help manage risk. Why? Because when a portfolio holds many different kinds of securities, a decline in the price of one security may be offset the rising value of another.
But sometimes market forces or other events can cause a portfolio to hold a larger portion of certain securities or asset classes than specified in the investor’s target asset allocation. When this happens, it can raise the overall risk level of the portfolio and move it out of alignment with the investor’s investment plan.
As a common example, many investors have an asset allocation target weighting of 60% stocks and 40% bonds. But if stock prices rise relative to bond prices, the actual weightings may be closer to 65% stocks and 35% bonds. To restore the target weighting, many advisors use tax-efficient rebalancing strategies to sell shares of some of the stocks and invest the proceeds into bonds.
But there are other kinds of “overweighting risk” that can occur that may require more than a quick rebalance to resolve.
This is a common problem with 401(k) plans that offer company stock as an investment option or stock options as bonuses for employees.
While owning shares of company stock gives you a personal stake in your employer’s success, it also carries certain risks.
If a significant portion of your 401(k) plan assets is invested in company stock, and your company hits hard times, a large drop in the stock price could dramatically reduce the value of your retirement nest egg. If you’re about to retire, this might require you to rethink the way you’ll be able to live during your golden years.
Don’t believe this is likely to happen? Think about some of the big-name companies of the past that went bankrupt, like Eastern Airlines, Blockbuster, Enron, Lehman Brothers, and, more recently, Sears and Payless ShoeSource. Unlucky employees who were still holding on to shares when these companies went under saw them tumble to a fraction of their peak value.
Most advisors recommend that investors have no more than 10%-15% of their 401(k) plan assets invested in company stock. If your allocation is above this amount, consider selling some shares and investing the proceeds in other funds.
If you have vested stock options, you may want to exercise and sell some of them and use the proceeds to diversify your portfolio. However, before you liquidate any stock options, it’s important to be aware of any rules, restrictions, and timeframes and consider any possible tax consequences. A financial advisor or tax professional can help you better understand these issues.
The five largest U.S. companies in terms of market capitalization are Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (better known as Google), and Facebook. These five companies—known collectively as “FAGMA stocks”—account for nearly 20% of the entire S&P 500® and around 40% of the NASDAQ Composite Index.
Of course, most of these stocks have had a spectacular rise over the past two decades—the main reason why they’ve grown so large. But if any one of them hits a rough patch, a big drop in their share price could put a major crimp in the performance of the funds that invest in them.
Most passively managed index funds are required to allocate assets to reflect the capitalizations of the stocks in their associated indexes. Which means that 20% or more of an S&P 500 index fund or ETF could be invested in these five companies. If you invested all of your money in one of these funds, your portfolio would be overweighted in these five companies.
And you can’t necessarily avoid this problem by investing only in actively managed funds, either. Why? Because many large cap stock funds have 20% of their assets invested in these stocks as well.
You can reduce FAGMA overweighting by including a greater variety of asset classes in your portfolio. For example, consider adding small cap and mid cap stock funds, which generally don’t invest in these stocks. Or add global exposure by investing in one or more international funds.
Ideally, your portfolio should have exposure to a wide range of industry sectors, from banks and financial services companies to retailers, healthcare companies, energy producers, construction companies and manufacturers. That way, if any one industry hits a rough patch—as has happened to fossil fuel producers since the start of the COVID-19 crisis—a downturn in one sector may be offset by stability in other sectors.
The problem is that when certain industries are outperforming other industries, sector overweighting can result.
Again, we can look at the FAGMA stocks as an example. Since all of these companies are technology stocks, they alone can overweight your exposure to the technology sector. Investing in several different stock funds doesn’t necessarily reduce this exposure, either, since many of these funds also have significant holdings in these technology companies.
One option is to add one or more sector-specific funds that offer more exposure to certain industries that are under-represented in mainstream funds.
Must you always shed overweight?
Not necessarily. If you’re decades away from retiring, you may not have an urgent need to sell your company shares or exercise stock options, particularly if your company appears to be poised for growth for the foreseeable future.
You may also not want to reduce FAGMA or sector overweighting by selling off highly appreciated stocks or funds if doing so will result in significant capital gains taxes.
And while overweighting represents one kind of investment risk, there are other kinds of risk that could affect the performance of your portfolio as a whole. That’s why it’s important to consider how any potential adjustment to your portfolio could impact your overall investment strategy. If you don’t have the confidence to figure this out on your own, a financial advisor can work with you to make sure any move you wish to make will keep your investment plan on track.
This article was authored by Dan Flanagan and Jeff Briskin. Dan is a financial advisor and Partner located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or email@example.com. Jeff Briskin is Director of Marketing at Canby Financial Advisors.
Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. Investments are subject to risk, including the loss of principal. Because investment return and principal value fluctuate, shares may be worth more or less than their original value. Some investments are not suitable for all investors, and there is no guarantee that any investing goal will be met. The S&P 500 is a market-capitalization-weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies. The NASDAQ Composite Index measures all NASDAQ domestic and international based common type stocks listed on The NASDAQ Stock Market.
©2020 Canby Financial Advisors.