Definition of Diversification

Diversification is defined as a technique of allocating portfolio resources or capital to a mix of a wide variety of investments. It is a risk management strategy used to diversify a portfolio in an attempt to limit exposure to any single asset or risk.

The rationale and ultimate goal behind this technique is to reduce the volatility of the portfolio by offsetting losses in one asset class with gains in another class.

As they say, “Do not put all your eggs in one basket”. This just means, “Diversify”.

Having eggs in multiple baskets mitigates risk because if one basket breaks, not all eggs are lost.

Understanding Diversification and Unsystematic Risk

Diversification is primarily used to smooth out or eliminate unsystematic risk.

Unsystematic risk is a firm-specific risk that affects only one company or a small group of companies.

Therefore, when a portfolio is well-diversified, the positive performance of some investments compensates for the negative performance of others. This holds true only if the securities in the portfolio are not perfectly correlated –that is, they respond differently, often inversely, to market influences.

Based on studies and mathematical models, maintaining a well-diversified portfolio of 25 to 30 securities yields the most cost-effective level of risk reduction. Investing in more securities generates further diversification benefits, although at a significantly smaller rate.

On the other hand, diversification does not usually affect the inherent or systematic, risk that applies to the financial markets as a whole.

Systematic risk is associated with every company. This type of risk is not specific to a particular company or industry. It affects the market in its entirety.

Portfolio Diversification

The strategy for diversification requires balancing various investments that have only a slight positive correlation with each other – or better yet, an actual negative correlation. Having a low correlation means that the prices of the securities are unlikely to move in the same direction.

A diversified portfolio is one with capital spread across different asset classes. These should include a mix of growth and defensive assets.

Growth and Defensive Assets

Growth assets include investments such as shares or property and generally provide longer term capital gains, but typically have a higher level of risk than defensive assets.

Defensive assets include investments such as cash or fixed interest and generally provide a lower return over the long term, but also generally a lower level of volatility and risk than growth assets.

In other words, a portfolio is diversified by spreading its risk by investing across different asset classes (i.e. cash, fixed assets, etc.), within asset classes (i.e. purchasing shares across different industry sectors), and across different fund managers if investing in managed funds.

Generally, particular investments will perform better than others over a specific period depending on a range of factors such as interest rates, currency markets, current market conditions, etc.

Therefore, an investor should consider the following specifications in diversifying a portfolio:

  • Types of investments. Different asset classes, such as cash, stocks, bonds, ETFs, options, etc. For example, learn about sustainable investing.
  • Risk levels. Investments with dissimilar levels of risk allow the smoothing of gains and losses.
  • Industries. The stock of companies operating in different industries tends to show a lower correlation with each other.
  • Foreign markets. Investments should not be limited to domestic markets. There is a high probability that financial products traded in foreign markets are less correlated with products traded in the domestic market.

Diversification by Asset Class

Fund managers and investors often diversify their investments across asset classes and determine what percentages of the portfolio to allocate to each. Classes can include:

  • Stocks. Stocks are shares or equity in a publicly traded company. It represents ownership of a fraction of a corporation.
  • Bonds. Bonds are government and corporate fixed-income debt instruments. It is an instrument of indebtedness of the bond to the holders.
  • Real estate. It refers to land, buildings, natural resources, agriculture, livestock, and water and mineral deposits.
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs). ETFs are marketable baskets of securities that follow an index, commodity, or sector.
  • Commodities. Commodity is a basic good necessary for the production of other products or services.
  • Cash and short-term cash-equivalents (CCE). This includes treasury bills, certificate of deposit (CD), money market vehicles, and other short-term, low-risk investments

They will then diversify among investments within the assets classes, such as by selecting stocks from various sectors that tend to have low return correlation, or by choosing stocks with different market capitalizations.

In the case of bonds, investors or fund managers can choose from investment-grade corporate bonds, U.S. Treasuries, state and municipal bonds, high-yield bonds, and others. 

Advantages of Diversification

The main importance of using this technique is to maximize returns by allocating investments among various financial instruments, industries, and other categories. While many investment professionals agree that, although it does not guarantee against loss, it is a key component in achieving long-term financial goals with a minimum risk.

The following are three key advantages of diversification:

  • Minimizes overall portfolio risk
  • Capital preservation
  • Offers higher returns long-term
  • Increases exposure/opportunity
  • Hedges against market volatility

The benefit of diversification is to mitigate the risk of an unforeseen bad event taking out your entire portfolio. When you put all your capital into a single investment, you risk losing everything if that investment performs poorly.

Disadvantages of Diversification

While there are many benefits to diversification, there may be some drawbacks as well.

If you have multiple holdings and investments, it may appear burdensome to manage a diverse portfolio. Secondly, since not all investment vehicles cost the same, buying and selling may be costly—from transaction fees to brokerage commissions. More fundamentally, since higher risk comes with higher rewards, you may end up limiting what you come out with.

The following are the disadvantages of diversification:

  • Burdensome and time-consuming to manage
  • Incurs additional costs/fees/commissions
  • Limits short-term gains

In understanding the advantages and disadvantages of diversification, we’ll see the types of diversification strategies.

Types of Diversification

The following are the four types of diversification and their pros and cons:

Horizontal Diversification

It happens when a company adds or develops a new product or service that appeals to the firm’s customer base. For example, a dairy company that offers cheese to its customers, adds a variety of cheese to its product line.


  • Helps businesses overcome touch competitive challenges
  • Helps companies expand marketing reach
  • Creating economies of scale and economies of scope


  • Increased scrutiny from regulatory bodies
  • Risk of failure
  • Too much growth too fast can deplete resources

Vertical Diversification

It takes place when a company goes back to the previous or next stage of its production cycle. It may be a forward integration or backward integration.

Forward integration is when a business finds advantages closer to the integration when a company is at the end of the supply chain. For example, an iron mining company seeking to purchase steel factories.

Backward integration is when the business at the end of the supply chain looks to find growth opportunities upstream. For example, the media behemoth Netflix branching out into creating its movies.


  • Eliminate reliance on suppliers
  • Benefits from economies of scale
  • Competitive advantage (possibly) of controlling the supply chain


  • High initial expenditure and operating costs
  • Takes the focus off the core business
  • Not guaranteed cultural fit with the current team

Concentric Diversification

It happens when an entity introduces new products with an aim to fully utilize the potential of the prevailing technologies and marketing system. For example, a pizza company branching out to sell calzones.


  • Taps into and optimizes current infrastructure
  • Can increase market share with less investment than other options
  • Allows for business synergies


  • Can demand skills outside the wheelhouse of current staff
  • Too much, too soon can lead to insufficient resources and a lack of attention
  • Reduce ability to adapt and be flexible to market changes

Conglomerate Diversification

It is a type of growth strategy where an entity adds or launches new products or services that have no relation to the current products or distribution channels. Adoption of this strategy is viable for an all-new group of customers.

A popular example of this is Virgin, which started in the music industry, then diversified into transportation, and later into cellular services among other areas.


  • Creates a unique, independent revenue stream, if successful
  • Can reinvigorate a legacy brand and create new interest
  • Can attract new audiences to the brand


  • Can dilute the existing brand
  • Perceived strength of the brand may not be enough to make the crossover
  • Cost of entry can deplete profits for existing product line



1. What do we mean by diversification?

Diversification is the process of spreading business risk by investing in and developing additional and different types of products and markets.

In other words, it is a strategy that involves adding new products to an already established range of products. By providing a variety of goods and services, you can safeguard your company from uncertainty in the market

2. What is an example of diversification?

A good example is Walmart, which has expanded to provide services that include low-cost financial products and cell phone plans in addition to retail goods.

Another example is Kraft which diversified into the grocery sector to create its current brand of grocery products

3. What are the different strategies for diversification?

Horizontal, concentric, conglomerate, and vertical diversification are the different strategies for diversification.

Horizontal is where a company goes into new products that are related to its existing range of products. For example, Pepsi started selling different types of drinks such as carbonated beverages and fruit juices under the same brand name.

Concentric is where a business enters into related fields utilizing the latest technology by performing backward or forward integration. For example, Starbucks has entered into the ice cream business by purchasing the chain, Tazo.

Conglomerate diversification involves a company entering into unrelated businesses that do not affect its existing product portfolio. In this type of diversification, it is possible for an entity to carry different types of businesses under one name. For example, Virgin Group has several brands with each being involved in a different business.

Vertical diversification, on the other hand, involves venturing into related products at different levels of production and distribution. For example, retail stores will not be able to compete with online retailers unless they too have an online store

4. Why do companies diversify?

Companies diversify for various reasons such as product development, corporate restructuring, and business acquisitions.

There may be a need to enter into new products to retaliate against changing market demands. A good example is when gas prices go up and people start buying electric cars or when there is a sudden increase in fashion trends that require fashion companies to produce products that meet the demand.

Companies also diversify following a business acquisition to make use of synergies and economies of scale or when corporate restructuring is needed to cut costs, reduce debt, and increase shareholder value

5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of diversification?

There are several advantages and disadvantages of diversification, which should be carefully considered before the strategy is implemented.

The first advantage of diversification is that it may give your business financial protection, especially in times when sales are low due to economic downturns or other externalities.

A second advantage is that diversification reduces company risk because different products act as a cushion to absorb the impact of unforeseen circumstances.

Finally, diversification allows a company to increase its equity and profitability because it has a variety of products in different markets to support the company's bottom line.

The disadvantages, on the other hand, include increased financial risk due to investments being spread out over multiple product lines which may not be in line with the company's business strategy.

There is also an increased risk in terms of management resources because diversification entails multiple managers overseeing various product lines. Another disadvantage is that diversification may be detrimental in times when there are rapid changes in market conditions

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