Warren Buffett on Diversification

by: Michael K. Dawson

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a talking head on CNBC talking about a well diversified portfolio. Diversification must be a required course in money management school. Here is a commonly accepted definition from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s web site,

One of way of diversifying your investments within an asset category is to identify and invest in a wide range of companies and industry sectors. But the stock portion of your investment portfolio won’t be diversified, for example, if you only invest in only four or five individual stocks. You’ll need at least a dozen carefully selected individual stocks to be truly diversified.

I have never been a big fan of diversification. Most people end up di-worse-si-fying their portfolios by adding stocks in unfamiliar sectors for the sake of diversification. It is a little easier with the advent of ETFs. Now, one can simply choose an ETF for additional exposure as opposed to trying to become a good stock picker in many different sectors.

Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investors of our time. It shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t follow conventional wisdom. However, I was surprised when I found out that diversification isn’t his cup of tea.

A couple of professors just completed a study of Buffett’s trades over the past 25 years – take a gander here. There are many good take aways from the paper. One that really caught my attention is that over the past 25 years, his top 5 holdings, on average, have comprised 73% of his portfolio. So much for diversification.

Another interesting characteristic is that on average his portfolio is composed of only 33 stocks. If Warren Buffett only has 33 stocks in his multi-billion dollar portfolio - how many should the average investor hold?

My mantra has been concentrate to get rich – diversify to stay rich. I may need to reconsider the last part.