One of the common questions that every stock investor faces is “ How many stocks to own in the portfolio?” How many stocks are too few and how many stocks become too many?
Too few stocks expose the investor to high risk that under-performance by a single stock would significantly bring down the value of the entire portfolio. Too many stocks would spread the portfolio very thin and stellar performance by any stock would have only minimal impact on the overall portfolio. Therefore, every investor faces the question of how many stocks to own in the portfolio.
Many investors follow different approaches for it. Some investors believe in linking the number of stocks to the size of the portfolio. Others link it to the number of investment opportunities available. Still, others link it to the age of the investor. There is no consensus on any way of determining the ideal number of stocks in a portfolio.
This article aims to help the investor through this riddle and arrive at the ideal number of stocks in her portfolio.
Ideal Number of Stocks to own in the Portfolio
It is well known that increasing the number of stocks in the portfolio increases the diversification, which effectively reduces the risk in the portfolio. Diversification means that different stocks of the portfolio respond to different factors and all of the stocks do not go down in value at the same time; thereby reducing the probability of severe losses during bear phases. However, there are certain established rules of diversification, which act as guidelines to solve the puzzle of the ideal number of stocks in the portfolio:
Guideline No. 1: The minimum number of stocks to own in the portfolio: Two (2)
Two stocks from different industries are the minimum number of stocks that any investor should have in her portfolio, to get any diversification benefit to reduce risk.
It is believed that the more the number of stocks in the portfolio, the higher is the diversification benefit or lower is the risk. However, the rules of diversification limit further benefit after reaching a certain number of stocks in the portfolio, which becomes the maximum number of stocks in the portfolio.
Guideline No. 2: The maximum number of stocks to own in the portfolio: Thirty (30)
Different researchers have proved that the additional diversification benefit, which increases with the addition of new stock in the portfolio, becomes minimal after 20-30 stocks.
The above graph from the Financial Analysts Journal indicates that if an investor adds more stocks in the portfolio beyond 30 stocks, it would not reduce any further risk in the portfolio. On the contrary, it would make the portfolio unnecessarily large and the good performance of any one stock would not be able to produce a meaning impact on the total portfolio performance. Therefore, increasing the number of stocks beyond 30 might prove counterproductive for the investor.
It is, therefore, recommended that an investor should keep the number of stocks in her portfolio within these two boundaries of 2 and 30.
However, another very important factor limits the number of stocks an investor should have in her portfolio:
Guideline No. 3: How many stocks to own in the portfolio: Effort & time spent in monitoring:
Reading the above article would help an investor develop her monitoring framework and estimate the amount of effort it would take to monitor each stock in her portfolio. Monitoring every stock would entail the detailed reading of at least four quarterly statements and one annual report every year, in addition to regular reading to news and updates about the company (e.g. Google alerts).
The investor should have only as many stocks that she can monitor effectively given the time & effort, which she can spare for her portfolio. Inability to monitor and staying updated about her stocks regularly might present her with surprise developments related to her portfolio stocks and increase the risk.
Guideline No. 4: Have the minimum possible number of stocks:
The above guidelines suggest that an investor should try to own as few stocks between 2 and 30, as possible. Having a minimum possible number of stocks, if monitored effectively, would provide a healthy mix of diversification benefit without spreading the portfolio too thin and without putting a huge demand on investor’s time.
The legendary investor, Warren Buffett also believes in having a minimum number of stocks in the portfolio. He advised investor to have concentrated holdings in his 1978 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders:
“Our policy is to concentrate holdings. We try to avoid buying a little of this or that when we are only lukewarm about the business or its price. When we are convinced as to attractiveness, we believe in buying worthwhile amounts.”
Additionally, during times of crisis/recessions, diversification seems to have failed to provide any real benefit. Investors would remember that during the market decline of 2008, almost all the stocks irrespective of the industry they belonged to, fell in tandem. This hard lesson was learnt earlier in 1998, during Russia, Brazil and East Asia Crisis, when a prominent hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management, witnessed its more than 6,500 investment making losses simultaneously. The fund had to be bailed out by others.
Therefore, the attempt of an investor should be to own the minimum possible number of stocks, as per her convenience, comfort and availability of spare time.
We suggest that the investor should diversify the portfolio as much that she should not lose her peace of mind by being overly concerned about it. If owning 100 stocks makes her feel comfortable, then she should have it. However, this article is aimed at conveying the message that the diversification benefit of 30 or 100 stocks is almost the same. On the contrary, a larger number of stocks would hurt portfolio performance, as any good performing stock would be able to have only a small impact on the overall portfolio returns.
Steps for building a portfolio with ideal number of stocks
An investor should take the following steps to build the personalized portfolio ideal for an investor:
Step 1: Always, first look for opportunities in the existing stocks in the portfolio.
It is assumed that the investor has bought her existing stocks after doing detailed research and has monitored the performance of these companies over the years. Therefore, she knows these stocks more than other stocks in the market. If any of the stocks in the portfolio provides a good investment opportunity, then the investor should prefer investing in it rather than searching for a new stock every time she has surplus money.
However, if an investor realizes that she has bought her stocks based on recommendations of others and has not done her own research, then she should scrutinize her portfolio stocks on the steps mentioned in following articles to decide whether her portfolio stocks pass the test of being investment worthy:
“Company Analysis” section of our website contains a live analysis of more than hundred stocks. Reading these articles would be of great help for an investor to analyse her own stocks.
Step 2: Sell those stocks of the portfolio, which do not pass the test:
An investor should sell the stocks, which are showing deteriorating operating performance for at least two consecutive years. Selling these stocks would purge the portfolio of undesired stocks and lead to a neat & clean portfolio with fundamentally good stocks.
She may follow the guidelines mentioned in the following article to find out stocks to sell from her portfolio so that she is left with good stocks:
Read: When to sell a stock?
Step 3: Add any new stock only when not able to find any investable stock in the existing portfolio:
When the investor realizes that all the stocks in her portfolio are fundamentally sound and have crossed the threshold of putting additional money, then she should start the search of finding a new stock to be added to her portfolio. She should always keep in mind that the addition of every new stock is going to add to the time & effort required to monitor the portfolio effectively. Therefore, she should always try to keep the number of stocks in the portfolio to the minimum possible.
How many stocks to own in the portfolio would vary from one investor to another. We can see that the major factors, which would determine the number of stocks, are:
- The number of stocks should be between 2 to 30. Portfolios having any number of stocks more than 30, do not offer any additional benefit in terms of risk reduction than the portfolio with 30 stocks.
- The number of stocks would depend upon the time & effort the investor can spend on effectively monitoring the stocks in the portfolio. A full-time investor can afford to have more stocks in her portfolio than the investor having another full-time day job.
- An experienced investor can afford to have more stocks in her portfolio as she can monitor her stocks effectively by spending less time than a new investor. It is assumed that a new investor would need more time to understand the quarterly & annual reports and thus might not effectively monitor a large portfolio until she gains the required expertise.
Once the new investor feels comfortable with her monitoring framework, then she can enlarge her portfolio without diluting the monitoring quality.
How many stocks to own in the portfolio of a new investor
The argument above might go against the common perception that new investors should have a large portfolio, as they might err while selecting portfolio stocks and a large portfolio would minimize the impacts of their errors. Followers of this argument believe that a large portfolio would have a greater chance of hitting a jackpot. However, we do not recommend that a new investor should have a large portfolio of stocks.
A new investor should spend more & more time honing her skills in stock selection and monitoring. Therefore, she should focus on a few stocks at a time. If she has more surplus money, then she should invest it in equity mutual funds temporarily, which would shield her portfolio from her stock selection mistakes in the initial phase. Once she believes that she has learned the art of stock selection & monitoring, and then she can shift her savings from mutual funds to her carefully selected stocks.
Therefore, new investors should try to keep their portfolio size small so that they can focus more on the learning aspect of stock investing and learn the higher levels of this skill.
Therefore, we can see that it is good for any investor to have the minimum number of stocks between 2 to 30 in her portfolio. The number of stocks in the portfolio is a fine balance between the peace of mind from a sudden decrease in portfolio value due to any stock doing poor and the time & effort needed to monitor the portfolio effectively.
Therefore, how many stocks to own in the portfolio is an outcome of the investor’s risk appetite, her investing expertise and the time availability with her.
Let us now have further clarification about how many stocks to own in the portfolio by answering the common queries asked by investors:
Readers’ Queries on How Many Stocks to Own in the Portfolio
How many stocks to own in my portfolio?
Thanks, Vijay for this wonderful analysis. One thing I want to understand is how many companies an investor should have in her portfolio. I have around 30 scrips, out of which 70% large-cap, 25% midcap & 5% in small-cap.
Your advice, please.
Thanks for your feedback! We are happy that you liked the article.
How many stocks to own in the portfolio depends on the size of the portfolio, investor’s comfort and availability of time with her to monitor the stocks in the portfolio.
We feel comfortable having 6-7 stocks as we can keep track of them well. We currently feel that if we increase the number further than portfolio monitoring would require time more than we are willing to provide. However, in future, we might add more stocks. You may decide whether you are able to monitor all the developments with respect to all of your 30 stocks. Read this article about how to monitor your stocks:
If after reading this article, you feel that you are not doing all the activities required for monitoring then probably you should reduce the number of stocks.
Regarding the maximum number of stocks to own in the portfolio:
When we read statistics, then we learnt that as the number of stocks in the portfolio increases beyond 30, the benefit of diversification from every additional stock is very minimal. So ideally, the maximum number of stocks should be around 30.
However, there are investors like Peter Lynch who owned more than 1000 stocks in his mutual fund portfolio at one point in time. But his reason for owning these many stocks was that it helped him in keeping track of these stocks. He in effect kept his watchlist stocks also within his portfolio by investing a minimal amount in them.
We do not select stocks based on market cap. We prefer investing in fundamentally good stocks at low P/E. We find most of these stocks in the small-cap segment. We invest in these small-cap stocks and do not sell them when they grow and become mid-caps.
All the large-cap stocks at some point of time in the past were small/mid-caps. Therefore, we simply focus on buying good stocks available at cheap prices without bothering a lot about the market cap.
Hope it helps clarify your query.
Should one sell good performing stocks for rebalancing
I know in the article How Many Stocks to Own in the Portfolio, you have recommended a concentrated stocks portfolio. Can you share what is your views on stock portfolio rebalancing?
I am having 5 stocks for the past 5 years.
Thanks for writing to me!
We do not advise selling stocks for re-balancing of portfolio unless the particular stock shows signs of weakness. Selling decision should be based solely on the assessment of the stock itself. Any good performing stock becoming a large part of the portfolio is not a reason for selling it. Instead, the investor should hold it and reap the benefits until the company is performing well.
To balance their portfolio, we believe that whenever investors are buying stocks with additional money, then investors may buy fundamentally good stocks, which are currently in a lower percentage of the portfolio so that their portfolio composition gets balanced.
We believe that selling good performing stocks should be the last resort to balance the portfolio.
You may read more about the guidelines for selling stocks in the following article:
How to reduce the number of stocks in the portfolio
Hello Vijay ji,
I need your help to reduce the number of stocks in my portfolio. At the moment there are more than 30 stocks. How I can reduce to 15 or 20?
Thanks for writing to me!
You should study the following article to understand when you should sell any stock in the portfolio.
Once, you have identified the stocks that you wish to sell, then you may reinvest the money thus received into the remaining stocks in the portfolio, which we assume would be the ones with good fundamentals.
In addition, we believe that whenever an investor has surplus money to invest in stocks, then she should always look for investment opportunities in her existing stocks so that the number of stocks in the portfolio remains limited.
Investing in existing stocks has an added advantage of increasing the margin of safety in investing as the existing stocks in the portfolio are within the circle of competence of the investor.
Only when an investor is not able to find any stock in the existing portfolio where she may add more money, then she should search for new stock to add to the portfolio.
The investor may follow the following guidelines to find fundamentally sound stocks:
If you follow the different parameters highlighted for deciding about selling stocks from the portfolio, then you would be able to arrive at/zero in the stocks that you should exit so that you may remain with the desired number of stocks in your portfolio.
Hope it helps!
Hedging by careful stock selection while creating a portfolio
Respected Vijay Sir,
I have a hypothetical question for you. In case, if I own two different businesses shares in which one supplies an important chemical which is used in Tyre manufacturing industry and the other one is in retreading business which is a substitute for the Tyre industry. Then, in such a case there is “conflict of interest” which means one business is actually supporting Tyre industry growth and another one is not supporting the growth of the Tyre industry.
In such a case, can I own both the businesses which are mutually contradicting one other?
Thanks for writing to me!
Such a scenario leads to two situations:
- In case one of the companies does not do well, it is expected that the other company would do well. This is called hedging/risk management.
- It can be a win-lose situation if the overall market size if constant and one company can benefit only at the cost of another company. However, if the market size is increasing, then it might be a win-win situation as both the companies would be able to grow their business without eating into each other’s markets.
Hope it clarifies your queries!
All the best for your investing journey!
A Reader’s views on Diversification
As usual, a fantastic post, Doc.
The returns in the stock market depend on 3 factors:
- Amount invested (p)
- Holding period (t)
- Rate of return (r)
Diversification influences ‘p’ of the above three factors. An Investor does all the good work by identifying the right stock but might not get the benefit of upward movement if ‘p’ is small. Therefore, an investor should invest a significant portion in the stock if she is convinced about the story.
Typically retail investors have a small capital to invest. Diversification will further reduce ‘p’. An investor gains by identifying a company which provides him high ‘r’ by holding for significant period ‘t’ till the time story is good.
Thanks, Vikrant, for your valuable inputs!
These are helpful for the readers as well as the author.
Further query by another reader:
Amount invested will of course determine the number of stocks. However, the holding period may not be easily adhered to. Quite a few stocks go up by 5-12% in the short time of 5-15 days and retract too similarly and one finds it convenient to catch the see-saw movement. Dividend alone is not the criteria as one can, even in short term trading, get much more.
Of course, this is for a full-time observer and not one who is engaged in some employment/business full time.
Determining ‘r’ is not easy. A few shares give more returns if traded comfortably in short term investment buy and sell even in small quantity than the annual dividend dished out.
Thanks for sharing your inputs.
I followed technical analysis as a trader for 2 years before I found that fundamental analysis is more suited to investors like me. I left short term trading after I learnt fundamental investing.
You may read about my views on technical analysis vs fundamental analysis in the following article: Why I Left Technical Analysis And Never Returned To It!
Dr Vijay Malik
Clarifications about how many stocks to have in the portfolio
Good read. It is mentioned that owning more than 30 stocks wouldn’t benefit the diversification as all the stocks fall equally during a crisis. By this aren’t we suggesting that stock performance is bad due to ‘external factors’ (the entire economy doing badly)
Also, it is proposed that we should concentrate our portfolio so that we could benefit from the good. But doesn’t that suggest that when a stock rises, it is due to ‘internal factor’ (great management, business etc.)
Thanks for writing to me! I am happy that you found the article useful.
I would want to clarify that the article mentions that
“The above graph from Financial Analysts Journal, indicates that if an investor adds more stocks in the portfolio beyond 30 stocks, it would not reduce any further risk in the portfolio.”
This is because with each addition of new stock the diversification benefit reduces as shown in the graph. It is not due to the reason that all stocks would equally.
A concentrated portfolio is more manageable and easily trackable. Continuous tracking would protect the investor from negative surprises in her portfolio as she would be able to spend more time studying each stock in her portfolio.
Hope it clarifies your queries!
All the best for your investing journey!
Currently (May 24, 2015), we have six stocks in our portfolio and feel comfortable about investing additional amounts in the existing stocks until the time we are able to spot investing opportunities within the portfolio. It would be great to have your feedback on the following aspects of your portfolio:
- How many stocks do you have in your portfolio?
- Do you feel comfortable and feel the peace of mind from a sudden drop in their value, with the existing number of stocks in the portfolio?
- How has the number of stocks in your portfolio changed, as you became a more matured investor? Has the number of stocks increased or decreased?
- How have your views changed about how many stocks to own in the portfolio over time?
You may provide your inputs about how many stocks to own in the portfolio in the comments below.
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