The anatomy of a portfolio’s returns

One of the nice things about blogging about financial investing is that it make me think more carefully about my investing activity.  Being an analytical sort of person, I decided to take a good hard look at my returns in detail, and see what lessons I could draw from them.

For this post I’ve taken the portion of my portfolio which is readily trackable.  This isn’t my entire investment portfolio but it is the majority of it, and it performs in line with the overall portfolio.  This portion has been tracked in detail for many years, so it gives me an analytical data set that makes it very useful.

I’ve taken the investments which I had three years ago – on 1 July 2012 to be precise.  I have 114 investments in this dataset, ranging from tiny individual shareholdings of under £1000 to a hefty ETF exposure into IUKD (iShares’ yield-orientated FTSE-350 ETF).  By the end of the three year period, I had sold about half of these holdings. It is worth noting that my strategy and thinking has evolved significantly in the last three years; these days I would see less churn in the portfolio (and fewer small holdings).

I’ve then looked at what the average annual return that each investment obtained, over three years (from 1 July 2012 to 1 July 2015).  Returns include the gain in value as well as any dividend income.  This is a money-weighted calculation; if I tripled my exposure in 2014, then the 2014 returns will carry 3x the weight of the 2013 returns; if I sold the position on 1 Jan 2013 then the returns will be the six month returns (from 1 July ’12 to 1 Jan ’13), annualised. The actual calculation is done for me by my tracking software.

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What is the ideal number of holdings? Diversification (200+) vs concentration (<20)

As I set out when explaining my Investment Policy Statement, I am a big believer in diversification.  But I also know that you should only invest in what you know, and you can’t know everything; as Warren Buffet put it, “Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing.“.  How to strike a balance between having enough skin in the game when I have conviction, and having enough diversification to allow me to sleep at night?

An investment here, an investment there, and pretty soon you’re talking a lot of holdings

My own investment portfolio, which is a mixture of ETFs and direct holdings, and which covers a range of countries, contains more than 200 underlying holdings (see graph below). (Note: I say underlying holdings because I hold some securities in multiple accounts.  I consolidate my overall picture every month into one spreadsheet which aggregates by underlying holding).

Cumulative % of portfolio vs. number of holdings
Cumulative % of portfolio vs. number of holdings

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