12 Jan 2024

A cluttered portfolio is not a problem—it’s a symptom

Let’s say you have bought a ticket for a 4pm movie show. When you arrive at the movie theatre, you notice that there is a 7:30pm show of a more interesting movie. If you had known about this screening earlier, you wouldn’t even have bought tickets to the 4pm movie—the 7:30pm movie is just better.

What do you do after your 4pm movie is over? Do you stay at the theatre and watch the 7:30pm show too? While some may do that, most people don’t. Despite the 7:30pm movie being good, most people don’t have an uncontrollable urge to watch it. Why? Because people know that it’s just another movie. Yes, every movie is unique, but that doesn’t mean you have to watch every movie out there to be entertained. You can afford to miss even really good movies.

Now replace movies with mutual funds. You have been investing in a flexi-cap fund for a few months. You see a media report that praises a certain mid-cap fund for its stellar performance. You fear you’re missing out, so you invest some money in that mid-cap fund. A few months later, maybe you invest in a thematic fund because the theme sounds so wonderful. Later you invest in a contra fund. If this goes on, you’ll soon be holding a dozen or more mutual funds in your portfolio.

Why does this happen? Why is it so easy to say No to a movie, but so very difficult to say No to a mutual fund? Not just mutual funds—accumulating clutter is true with pretty much any investment asset. People who invest in equity want to add gold to their portfolio. Then some REITs. Then some global equity. Then some InvITs. Then something fancy, say invoice discounting. When it comes to investment assets, many of us have a hard time saying No. Why?

I think I have an explanation.

We know that we don’t miss much by not watching a movie. We are able to control or ignore our desires and urges. Most of the time, it’s not even an issue because we know beyond doubt that it’s just a movie.

But we are not able to say No to investment assets because we lack that confidence. We have no confidence in our ability to make the right decisions. This lack of confidence makes us nervous every time we come across something new. Diversifying into different assets gives us a sense of safety. We hope that at least some assets will bring in profits. This lack of confidence inevitably leads to a messy and cluttered portfolio.

A cluttered portfolio is not a problem in itself, but it’s a symptom that tells us that the investor lacks confidence. The investor has no confidence in their ability to pick the right investment asstes. Nor do they have confidence in the assets they currently hold. They readily make room for new assets because they don’t know if their current assets are sufficient or whether they need the new asset. They err on the side of caution.

Conversely, a confident investor will have a simple, uncluttered portfolio. They are comfortable not having every interesting asset in their portfolio because they are confident about the prospects of the few assets they already hold. They don’t get FOMO (fear of missing out) because they know that it’s just another asset.

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