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Quiz!

Which is the best diversifier for US tech stocks?

  1. Cash
  2. Bonds
  3. US Value Stocks
  4. Emerging Markets Stocks
  5. Emerging Markets Value Stocks
  6. Bitcoin

A Great Diversifier to Hi-Tech

If you work in hi-tech, your financial position could be greatly influenced by the hi-tech cycle. Your income comes from hi-tech. In addition, If you have any stock options, stock grants or actual stocks of your company, they all depend on hi-tech. Even if you do not work in hi-tech, but most of your clients do, you are very dependent on this sector. When constructing your investment portfolio, it is worth being aware of this. It may be tough to diversify, if you believe that the strong run of hi-tech in recent years will never stop. To understand how a reversal is possible, note that valuations (price/book) of tech stocks surged in the past 10 years. This means that people are paying substantially more (price) for company values (book). This is in contrast to company values (book values) improving as much as the price gains, leading the price/book to stay flat over these years.

You may be discouraged by the fact that interest rates are low and expected to go up, and inflation has spiked. Commonly discussed candidates for moderating the risk of expensive tech stocks, including bonds and cash, can get hurt by rising interest rates and inflation.

There is a solution that doesn’t require accepting the typical low returns of bonds and cash, and without giving up the liquidity of stocks. This solution is especially helpful when interest rates and inflation go up. The solution is Value stocks, especially in other countries. When US tech stocks declined for over 10 years starting in 2000, Emerging Markets Value stocks grew substantially. This occurred at a time of extreme valuations for tech stocks, just like we are experiencing today. So, while any investor should be cautious of a concentration in high-tech stocks today, if your income is tied to hi-tech, you have a good diversifier available now.

Note that diversified Emerging Markets Value funds already have an allocation to high-tech stocks (while emphasizing lower valuations than typical), so they don’t require a separate allocation to high-tech.

Quiz Answer:

Which is the best diversifier for US tech stocks?

  1. Cash
  2. Bonds
  3. US Value Stocks
  4. Emerging Markets Stocks
  5. Emerging Markets Value Stocks [Correct Answer]
  6. Bitcoin

Explanations:

  1. Cash offers zero volatility, and seems perfectly safe. The issue is that it loses money to inflation. With a modest 3% inflation rate, you lose 50% every 24 years.
  2. Bonds offer low volatility, at a price of low returns. While they may seem compelling, they can decline when interest rates go up, and they can lose value relative to inflation.
  3. US Value Stocks are a good diversifier given that they are helped by rising interest rates and inflation, while tech stocks tend to get hurt by those. They are still subject to US-specific country risks, so are not the best.
  4. Emerging Markets Stocks diversify the US-specific country risk, but there is still better!
  5. Emerging Markets Value Stocks diversify the US-specific country risk, and are also typically helped by rising interest rates and inflation, while tech stocks tend to get hurt by those.
  6. Bitcoin is a currency, with no expected positive returns. But, it is far worse than cash, because it is extremely volatile. In addition, people were drawn to it in recent years given the high past returns, similar to tech-stocks. As seen recently, they can experience declines together with tech stocks. This is opposite of what some speculated, thinking that it may be a good inflation hedge.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

You may know that diversifying your investments outside the US can significantly reduce your risks, while increasing the potential returns. This is true because the different stock markets don’t go up and down at the exact same time, allowing a globally diversified portfolio to have shorter and shallower declines than a portfolio that is concentrated in the US stock market.

Global diversification into thousands of stocks in many countries and continents limits to an acceptable level the various risks, including: country risk, political risk, regulation risk and liquidity risk.

There is one risk that should be addressed separately: currency risk. This article will offer a separate discussion for short-term and long-term currency risks.

What is the short-term currency risk of international investments?

It is the risk of a significant strengthening of the local currency (US Dollar for Americans) compared to other currencies, whether temporary or long-term.

Can this happen?

Currencies tend to be less volatile than stocks, and are not correlated with the price of stocks. As a result, they are not expected to increase the risks of a globally diversified portfolio.

In addition, by holding a portfolio that is denominated in different currencies, short-term fluctuations are diversified. Note that whenever people use more of one currency compared to another one, this currency increases in value while the other declines. By holding a globally diversified portfolio, when some of the currencies you hold go down, others should go up.

All historic measures of returns include the currency impact. Historically, the international diversification of stocks proved to be very valuable, even when considering the currency impact.

What is the long-term currency risk of international investments?

It is the risk of a significant and irreversible strengthening of the local currency (US Dollar for Americans) compared to most other currencies.

Can this happen?

Let’s try to imagine such a situation. As the dollar strengthens, goods become more expensive in the US relative to other countries. At that point, Americans and others would start buying goods in other countries. The influx of dollars into other countries would make them more widely available, weakening the dollar and breaking the long-term strengthening-streak of the dollar. Academically, this is called “Purchasing Power Parity”.

As mentioned in the section about the short-term currency risk, historic evidence shows the contained long-term risk of currencies when combined with stock investments.

To Summarize

All of the risks that are specific to any individual country, including currency risk, are reduced to acceptable levels within the context of a globally diversified portfolio. Diversifying a portfolio globally reduces the risks specific to the home country (e.g. US), without introducing other bigger risks. This is both logical and has withstood the test of time.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data