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Three easy steps to build a growth portfolio

For those looking to outperform the market, Under the Radar Report outlines the foundations of a growth portfolio.

Investing in shares requires courage. In this article I discuss ways you can build a portfolio so that you get the benefits of investing in high growth small caps plus the long-term benefit of investing in the broad stock market.


Step 1: in one simple trade, establish a “core” for diversification

To start you invest some money in something like a Vanguard fund or exchange traded fund (ETF) that tracks the performance of the index, giving you what the boffins call “beta”. The market is represented by indexes. In Australia’s case, the benchmark is most often the S&P/ASX 200 Index. An example of this “core” approach is investing in some 60 stocks, but the transaction costs would lampoon your returns. Achieving diversification is important, but not at any cost!

The best strategy is to invest in an index linked ETF or a Vanguard fund which replicates the index. Doing this achieves diversification at a low cost.

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Step 2: the hunt for growth – how many stocks should you own?

The average return of the S&P/ASX 200 Index is close to 10% a year over the long-term, which you have covered in Step One with your ETF. Now you can consider owning some stocks for “alpha” or returns higher than the benchmark. Investors can use small caps to get this type of growth. I’m talking about ASX listed companies with market caps of less than $500 million. It’s much easier for a small cap to double or triple in size than a blue chip to achieve consistent double-digit growth. Of course,  the risks are higher.

So how many small cap stocks should you own?

The benefits of diversification ratchet up when you go from one to 10 ASX small cap stocks. After this the advantages diminish. Holding between seven to 10 ASX small cap stocks can be a reasonable starting point.

The advantages of owning small caps are clear. The “core” or “market” (in this case the S&P/ASX 200 Index) does not include these companies, so their returns are less correlated to the index. If the market down, some of these small caps could well go up, which lowers your overall stock market risk.

Also, because they are small, they have much more operating leverage, which is a big source of the above market growth they can achieve.

In terms of exposure to small caps in your portfolio, there is no one right answer for everyone because every investor has a different tolerance for risk. If you are risk averse you would put a greater portion of your funds in the core portfolio, for example. If you are able to embrace more risk, you may consider putting a bit less in the core and a bit more in your small cap portfolio.


Step 3: How to choose small cap stocks

Here is a quick checklist of what we look for in small companies at Under the Radar Report.

1. Cash is King

  • How much cash/debt does the company have compared to last year?
  • What are the changes to its working capital?
  • How much money does the company plan to invest?
  • What is the company doing with its excess cash?

2. Sales growth

  • Is the company growing sales?
  • Why are those sales growing – volume or price rises?
  • If it isn’t, what is driving earnings growth?

3. Margins matter

  • How have costs changed over the period?
  • What are the company’s input costs?
  • What is the proportion of fixed costs to overall costs?

4. Be wary of what’s “underlying”

  • What are the headline profits versus the so-called underlying?
  • What has the company declared to be exceptional or one off in prior periods versus in the current period?

5. Outlook comments

  • What is the tone of the latest outlook comments?
  • Is the company looking to make acquisitions?
  • Does the company have a track record of underestimating or overestimating future profit growth?

I hope this article gives you an idea on how to build an ASX growth portfolio. As your experience increases, you can consider incorporating other asset classes like international shares and bonds.

Look out for more investment ideas on and remember that as important as it is to make a considered and informed decision when buying an individual stock, it’s equally as important as knowing when to sell.


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