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According to Investopedia, “Geographical Diversification” is the practice of diversifying an investment portfolio across different geographic regions so as to reduce the overall risk and improve returns on the portfolio.

As with diversification in general, geographical diversification is based on the premise that financial markets in different parts of the world may not be highly correlated with one another. For example, if the US and European stock markets are declining because their economies are in a recession, an investor may choose to allocate part of his portfolio to emerging economies with higher growth rates such as China, Brazil and India.

There are two major advantages in diversifying one’s investment portfolio based on geography:

  • Taking Advantage of Opportunities in other Strong Economies:

A significant benefit to a geographic diversification of assets has to do with the way it allows you to mitigate risk by taking advantage of stable economies elsewhere in the world. It’s no secret that some economies are struggling to recover from the trying economic times of the last few years. Other countries, however, have seen higher growth rates due to a variety of factors. International portfolios have been shown, in general, to outperform domestic ones, this is because when there are so many markets to choose from, it is unlikely that the same country will ever repeatedly achieve the highest level of growth. With improved access to international markets and investment instruments such as mutual funds bringing down the costs, an additional option to further diversify has been to buy in international markets.

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(Source: Bloomberg, Kotak MF. As of 31st Jan, 2018)

The above returns data chart clearly shows that while the Indian Equity Markets have performed significantly in the last year, there were opportunities elsewhere which proved even better. Diversification into such economies can therefore result in better yielding portfolios.

  • Balancing out the risks:

While chasing better returns might definitely be one aspect of any investment portfolio, it is also crucial to understand how any strategy helps in mitigating the associated risks that are part of every investment decision. Geographic diversification provides a much needed balance that all investors strive for. If one of your assets is located in a part of the world that is or could be vulnerable, the investments in other geographies could compensate or buffer any unexpected losses. This is because despite the impact of globalisation, geographies and economies can still have limited correlation between them, and over time international markets could perform very differently to domestic markets. Following is a chart that shows how various sectors form part of some regions around the world, in % of total market capitalization:

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(Source: credit suisse global investment returns yearbook 2015)

As you may notice, different regions give different weightages to every sector. Thus by accessing these regions, you can in essence, reduce investment risks in individual sectors and therefore your entire portfolio as a whole.

Since the cycles that drive business and investment are experienced at different times in different countries, foreign markets seldom move in perfect tandem with each other. Losses in one market may be offset by gains in another. Geographical diversification significantly reduces the overall level of volatility and exposure to external factors. For an investor, theoretically this would mean that the more diversified your assets, the safer is your money. However it is true that a significant black swan event, such as the financial crisis of 2008, will likely deplete any such benefits, especially in the short term immediately after such an event. What is rather important to keep in perspective is (a) your investment horizon and (b) your risk taking capability to diversify into foreign markets.

 

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