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I want to invest 90% of my savings into stock market and split between 4-6 stocks. How risky is this and is it a bad idea. I feel like the stock market goes up over time so unless something like 2008 depression happens again there is actually not that much risk?

Note that I'm trying to turn this into a form of income and not simply getting decent returns for retirement etc. I am okay with reasonable risk so I can work less hopefully.

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    An event like the 2010 flash crash, the 2008 crash, the 2000 dot com crash, the 1998 mini crash, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 1990 recession etc. (I only went back as far as 1990 and only picked the biggest ones) happen quite frequently, about once a decade realistically. So apart from losing your money once every 10 years I guess there isn't much risk... – MD-Tech Jun 1 '18 at 12:02
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    "so unless something like 2008 depression happens again" is kind of like saying, there's no danger of getting into a car accident unless I hit something or someone hits me. Well...yeah, that's kind of the point. Of course there's no risk if you discount the risk. – Seth R Jun 1 '18 at 17:46
  • @MD-Tech But don't the stocks usually return to their old values after 1 or 2 years? I know some companies fail after a big crash but don't most quality companies survive and get even higher stock prices precrash couple years later? – bakalolo Jun 4 '18 at 23:02
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    @bakalolo how will you know a quality company until it fails? Remember that only a few short years before bankruptcy Enron, Lehman brothers, etc. were seen as high quality blue chip stocks. No matter what you say about any company you choose you can't say for certain that it is high quality and that there is no one inside committing fraud. I realise that's a sad state of affairs... – MD-Tech Jun 5 '18 at 7:40

10 Answers 10

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Investing in only four to six separate stocks is immensely risky. Depending on how you pick those stocks, there's a very real chance you'll lose the majority of your investment. Of course, if you pick the right stocks, you may do very well for yourself. But it's very risky.

What's much more common is to invest in an ETF or a low-cost passive mutual fund that tracks an entire stock market. Then, your investment is spread across perhaps hundreds of different stocks. If you want to lower your risk further, you may want to split your investment between stock ETFs (or mutual funds) and bond ETFs (or mutual funds). A conservative split might be 40% bonds, 60% stocks. A more aggressive split, with higher expected returns in the long term, would be 20% bonds, 80% stocks.

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    Diversification reduces company/sector specific "unsystematic risk" and lowers volatility. Its disadvantage is that it can make it more difficult to beat the market. 'Do you feel lucky?' ~ Clint Eastwood – Bob Baerker Jun 1 '18 at 13:47
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    @BobBaerker The good news is that if you are investing your savings, you are not interested in beating the market, just inflation. – IllusiveBrian Jun 1 '18 at 17:41
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    It depends on where you are in your life cycle. I've amassed my nest egg so keeping it is far more important to me than making it. Anything to the upside is gravy but riding the market down 50+ pct as most did in 2000 and 2008 is not my cup of tea. – Bob Baerker Jun 1 '18 at 18:31
  • Am I mistaken or did you not mean to say "mutual funds" twice? – Kai Jun 1 '18 at 23:04
  • @Kai: You are mistaken. What he said was "stock mutual funds" once and "bond mutual funds" once, and I'm pretty sure he meant it both times. – Ben Voigt Jun 2 '18 at 2:19
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How risky is this and is it a bad idea.

It is very risky; whether it's a bad idea is more subjective.

I feel like the stock market goes up over time

This is true, but it's true for the stock market in general, not as true for given individual stocks. Amazon has massively outperformed the market over the last ten years, but Snapchat has lost half of its value in the last year.

Many people are fond of cherry picking the best stories ("If you invested in Apple in 1980, it would have increased 44,200%"), but ignore plenty of others ("If you invested in Commodore[1] in 1980, you would've lost all your money"). Looking backwards is easy. Looking forwards is much more difficult.

This is why diversified index funds are recommended so much. You're not going to outperform the market...but you're not going to underperform it either.

like 2008 depression happens again there is actually not that much risk?

It is guaranteed that something like 2008 will happen again. The last ten years of stock market growth have really been anomalous, and compared to historical trends, we're overdue for a correction (but have been overdue for a correction for awhile, and in the meantime have been receiving good returns, so...)

[1] A PC maker who was a competitor to Apple at the time.

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    You're really showing your age when you have to remind people who Commodore were ;) – trashpanda Jun 1 '18 at 14:52
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    That's a blast from the past. The Commodore 64 was my first computer. And Commodore Int'l was the first stock that I bought call options on. CI immediately went into an upswing and I pyramided two calls several times into higher and higher strikes. I didn't know squat about the rate of time decay near expiration or how IV contraction mangled option value, and nothing about money management. A quick $2k was nearly gone in a couple of weeks while I was the deer in the headlights. Some lessons are learned the hard way. – Bob Baerker Jun 1 '18 at 18:40
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    As Niels Bohr once said, "Prediction is difficult. Especially about the future." People are always saying, "If you had invested in X 30 years ago ..." That's amusing, but mostly a so what. If you can tell me what the big winner for the NEXT 10 or 20 or 30 years ago is, I'm interested. Anybody can "predict" the past. – Jay Jun 1 '18 at 20:02
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As others have noted, investing all your money in a small number of stock is risky. If you don't have enough money to invest in a broad range of stocks -- and I'm sure experts would argue over how many, but say at least 20 companies in different industries -- then you're better to invest in a mutual fund or something similar.

Personally, I have a relatively modest amount of money, about 10% of assets, invested in individual stocks. Mostly this is just a play pen to see how well I do at picking stocks.

I have another 5% invested in a couple of very conservative mutual funds. I think of this as my "savings account". I picked funds that don't go up all that much in good times, but don't lose much in bad times. Basically in good years it goes up maybe 5% and in bad years it loses 1%. I ran this account down getting my daughter through college. Now I'm building it back up again.

And then the bulk of my money is in two retirement funds, which are higher risk but higher return. I'm willing to tolerate short and intermediate term losses here because I have a few years to go until retirement. The biggest account, the fund manager automatically shifts to safer investments as I get older.

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Seeking Alpha says that the four most profitable S&P subindices in 2007-2016 were:

  • S&P 500 Consumer Discretionary Index
  • S&P 500 Consumer Staples Index
  • S&P 500 Health Care Index
  • S&P 500 Information Technology Index

So let's say that you somehow figured that out in 2006 and bought stocks in each of those sectors. You might choose

  • Sears (SHLD) as consumer discretionary at 117.69, currently 2.28.
  • Estee Lauder (EL) as consumer staples, a 2% return per year.
  • Unigene Laboratories (UGNEQ) as health care at 2.53, currently 0.
  • Blackberry (BB) as IT at 126.95, currently 11.64.

All of those individual stocks lost money except Estee Lauder, which had a return about as good as bank certificates of deposit.

And what if you did not pick the four most profitable sectors? The same article identifies the two worst sectors as financial and energy. What if you had picked

  • Lehman Brothers (LEH).
  • ATP Oil & Gas (ATPAQ).

Or for a more famous example from a different time period, what about Enron?

There are ten or eleven sectors in the stock market. The general advice is to pick at least two or three stocks from each. That way, if one happens to flounder, the rest can pick up the slack.

As a general rule, we recommend picking mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs). With these, you put only a small amount of money in any one company. This reduces your risk, as the market as a whole goes up most of the time over a sufficiently long period. You can further reduce your risk by having some of your money in bonds or real estate. However, remember that your house is real estate, so when calculating exposure, you should include your house.

The point of investing in individual stocks is not to get a guaranteed return but to try to beat the market. Most people won't. Individual stocks are riskier than broad-based funds. So be careful with that. Don't invest money in individual stocks that you can't afford to lose.

TL;DR: four (or even six) stocks is not enough diversity to guarantee a positive return.

  • I get what you are saying not saying I'm smart or anything but I would never pick something like sears or blackberry when it's very obvious that they have no future plan to be profitable. – bakalolo Jun 1 '18 at 23:51
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    @bakalolo, this answer is suggesting stocks you might have picked in 2006. 2006 was before the iPhone and looking back would have actually been a great year to buy Blackberry when it ranged between $20-$40. It was a major player and expected to remain so. The next two years showed explosive growth in value (peaked at about $140). It was only the company's inability to respond to the changing smartphone market that lead to the current situation. Did you know something in 2006 the rest of the world did not? – Mr.Mindor Jun 2 '18 at 0:52
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There are a lot of issues to consider in your overall financial picture before considering what you do with 90% of your savings.

Do you have an emergency fund to cover 6 months of living expenses?
Are you funding a retirement account?
Is your income steady and reliable?
Are your expenses manageable and stable?
Do you have any large expenses planned (e.g., buying a house)?
Have you paid down any high interest debt?
Do you have adequate insurance coverage (car, house, health, life)?

If your answer is "No" to all of these, then putting 90% of your savings in individual stocks is incredibly risky. You might need that savings at any time, and you risk having to pull it out when the market is down. In fact, you'll almost certainly need it when the market is down, because that's when bad things happen (you need cash), and it's also when the best buying opportunities exist (you want cash).

On the other hand, if you have an emergency fund, a well-funded retirement account with maximum contributions, a steady job, low living expenses, a mostly paid-off house, no debt, and good insurance, then the risk is manageable. You have enough stability with the rest of your finances that you can probably ride out the ups and downs.

However, keep in mind that even if you are in a position to invest 90% of your savings in stocks, it's still probably better to go with a low cost index fund than individual stocks. If you enjoy the volatility and mental effort of picking and managing your stocks you might enjoy the individual stocks as kind of a hobby, but it's hard to beat a low-cost index fund.

  • I live at home with my parents so I don't think there is any chance of me being homeless at least if the stocks do crash. and I would say yes to all except the retirement account thing. – bakalolo Jun 1 '18 at 23:54
  • If you're looking to invest long-term, I'd suggest maxing out your retirement options first (e.g., Roth IRA, company 401k, etc.). Then maybe take some of what's left and pick some individual stocks, and invest the rest in a low-cost index fund. Although picking stocks is generally not a great investment strategy (bad risk/return trade-off), it can be a good learning experience, as long as you're using money you can afford to lose. – juhraffe Jun 4 '18 at 13:48
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Putting 90 % of your savings into less than 10 stocks is extremely risky.

If you don't know much about how markets work and stock picking strategies, go with mutual funds / index funds. You may not beat the market but you will be ahead of inflation.

If you are confident in picking stocks and want to invest in individual stocks, invest in at least 15 to 20 stocks, across different sectors. This will diversify your risks enough, without diluting your returns too much.

This is what my portfolio looks like:

  • 40% in safe instruments (bank fixed deposits,etc.)
  • 10% in mutual funds/index funds (SIPs to take advantage to dollar cost averaging)
  • 50% in individual stocks (over 30 stocks across different market sectors)

With this, I am certain that if tomorrow market crashes (you never know), all of my savings won't disappear.

This is still quite concentrated though, considering that 60% of my money is in stocks. Ideally, you should diversify across market instruments as well.

I feel like the stock market goes up over time so unless something like 2008 depression happens again there is actually not that much risk

You are right in that over a 30 year time period, market will go up. But that's for the entire market, not every individual stock. You are also wrong in thinking that another crash like 2008 won't happen again. Historically, major crashes like that of 2008 have happened roughly once in every 10-15 years (we are due for one now). But minor crashes (10% drop) happen once every 1-2 years. No one, not even Warren Buffet, knows with 100% certainty what the market is going to do tomorrow. What do us, mere mortals, know ;).

The real question is, can you hold on onto your stocks (do you have enough confidence in your stock picking), even when they are down 50% because of any arbitrary factor?

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You seriously need to define what you mean with Risky here. And I am not joking - different people have different types of appetite for risk. For example, for me Futures are not risky - Risk management is something I live in, so I can control the volatility. I also am around 40% invested in strategies with a volatility that would likely make 90% of the people here vomit every night from fear, and I have done ridiculously well with them in the past.

This may sound like a non answer, but look at it like this:

  • You could have invested in Microsoft some years ago. At that time Microsoft was BORING AS HELL - but noone would have called that risky. Tremendous history of growth, lots of cash generating enterprises. Definitely as low risk as it goes in terms of stock - obviously you need to look at them.
  • You could have bought AMD a year ago. Overdebt, but a great product announcement coming. Middle risk - there was a LOW chance the products would not be well received. Heck, even now likely a good buy.
  • You could choose some startup with a high income potential and high failure potential.

Which of those is more risky? Which is more risky for 4-5 different investments?

Risk is VERY relative.

Also, who are you - and where are you in your life? 5000EUR is... not a lot for me, a year savings for others. You may be 60 with this being a part of your free cash, or 23 with this being your first savings - which you CAN lose without long term effect. Heck, if you are young in a decent profession, ignoring the stock market and going all in on cryptocurrencies may be a low risk approach. Yes, you may lose it all, but if you are 19, software developer with a 60k EUR income you can risk it without a high risk for your personal wealth.

The question really can not be answered like that - it is way too vague.

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All the answers so far are saying that investing in "4-6 stocks" is risky. That's not necessarily true. It depends on the stocks.

Stocks with low beta are less volatile and essentially track (or theoretically inversely track) the market.

Also, it depends on how correlated the individual stocks are. Stocks are less correlated when they the companies do business in different countries, different sectors, or are traded in different currencies.

Some ETFs and indexes do not give you diversification so much as the illusion of diversification. A lot of indexes are heavily weighted towards one sector. Large cap growth ETFs are heavily invested in technology stocks for example.

That said, if you're worried about risk, you should probably not be buying 4–6 individual stocks. You should be buying a broad ETF or a managed fund.

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I did that when starting investing. I had only 5000 EUR to invest and divided it between 4 stocks, 1250 EUR each, to avoid high commission fees. The poor negative return was so depressing that I avoided buying more stocks for a year or so, meaning I probably lost some of the time value of money. I was somewhat lucky because the maximum amount of losses was only 30%, meaning there was still 70% of value left. And this wasn't loss due to market index: the market index went up, the value of my portfolio went down.

Now I switched to a different broker that has a 1% cap on the commission, meaning I can purchase even 100-400 EUR of a single stock, with 1-4 EUR commission. Much better now.

If you decide to purchase only 4-6 stocks, I recommend buying stocks of companies whose products you purchase. Do you use electricity? Purchase some hydropower stocks. Have a car? Purchase some stocks of oil companies, or stocks of the automaker who will be making your next car. Or maybe purchase some stocks of a tire manufacturing company.

The reason buying stocks of companies whose products you purchase is less risky for you. If the popularity of the products increases, allowing the company to jack up prices, you lose, but the company wins, and you win an equal amount you lost if you have calculated the appropriate share of ownership correctly.

Now my only large investments are in a hydropower and nuclear power company (I need electricity), oil company (I need gasoline for my car) and bank (I need their services like a mortgage). The rest are typically well below 1000 EUR per company.

  • Whow. Nuclear - nice. I love it - sadly there is no research and if you read up on their legal probllems you likely sell it all yesterday. Same with banks - financial crisis, hello. Sorry, those arguments seriously make little sense Like "logical" they make zero sense. – TomTom Jul 20 '18 at 10:03
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A friend of mine always says, it's not about return on your money, it's return OF your money.

Others have done a good job of pointing out that staple companies do fall and fail. GE is a great example of a 100 year old staple of the american economy. It's a high quality highly diversified long term dividend paying always recommended never going anywhere blue chip that has lost ~50% of its value in the last 12 months. It's very plausible for you to have chosen GE as one of your four to six companies.

With that in mind, using 90% of your wealth to buy four or six companies specific companies from the S&P 500 probably isn't significantly more risky than buying an index ETF like SPY or VOO; but it is a terrible idea. You're probably not much more likely to lose your principle investment than you are in a market index. The issue is you are substantially more likely to underperform the market. The S&P 500 is roughly the average performance of the 500 largest companies in the US. The odds of you choosing the six of those 500 companies that will out perform is low over a long period. It's simple math. If the market experiences a down turn, the index will post a loss and your four or six companies will probably also experience a loss. In an index you'll experience the average loss, not GE's -50% specific loss. I happen to have some GE, at it's current price I still haven't experienced a loss (though it's close), I still have all my original capital, but I did watch it fall from it's recent high and subsequently have lost what would have been a gain if I'd just bought SPY with that money.

Do you really want to have 15% (1/6 * 0.9) of your wealth attached to the performance of Netflix common stock? That's a terrible idea, if for no other reason than you are likely to under perform the index over the next 10 years.

If you have sufficient stable savings and emergency funds, and you want to pick individual companies, and you want to watch the market, and you can sleep on down days, then I'd say take 5% - 10% of this money and earmark it for some individual companies, but put the lions share in to a low cost index fund. Take the market average for a low cost with the bulk of this money.

  • Depends. Small investors that underperform market should definitely invest in funds or something. But seriously, there are people that get a knack and make a LOT more than the market. Trick here is: small investors that can move in and out at will, contrary to large funds that need to move slow. But then you go into trading - which may well be a nice career ;) That said, the number of people that made it... ah, let's say they are sparse. – TomTom Jul 20 '18 at 19:03
  • @TomTom, I agree and am in no way wholesale disavowing individual stock picking entirely. The issue is the volume of this person's savings that are at play. 15% of your savings allocated in to 6 positions is a bad idea. 78% of your savings in to a market index and 2% of your savings in to 6 positions is a much better solution to "i want to play the market." I've outperformed the market over the life of my brokerage account but it would be easy to argue that I spend way too much time reading financial statements for a hobby. You can't set and forget something like this. – quid Jul 20 '18 at 19:08
  • Maybe, maybe not. He may be a young person just starting out in a good job who CAN risk it all. Sometimes the risks seriously do pay off and the risk may be not really relevant (as in: total loss does not matter if you start earning good). – TomTom Jul 20 '18 at 19:14
  • I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. I largely agree that there are more facts and circumstances to consider but stand by my assertion that this isn't about the risk of capital loss it's about the likelihood of underperformance over time. But if this person (or anyone else) wants to do some individual picking, I'm generally encourage that. – quid Jul 20 '18 at 19:27

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