Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alternative Investments

The market volatility of 2008 & 2009 have investors questioning their asset allocation. What should go into my retirement plan to enhance long-term returns and yet reduce volatility?

Traditional investments are generally considered to be cash, bonds & stocks. By definition then, Alternative investments are everything else. This would include; real estate, commodities (gold, oil, copper, etc.), hedge funds, private equity, wine, art, etc. However, as time evolves, several of these alternative products are now becoming more common.

There was a time when 401k, 403b and 457 plans would never offer a real estate option. Several plans now offer real estate choices in the form of mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETF). In addition, I'm hearing of more corporations offering commodity investments as well. Considering these same companies cut or eliminated pensions plans, I guess offering you, the valued employee, good choices for your retirement is the LEAST they could do!

Many investors weave Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" into literal meaning. Going off the beaten path is their road to riches. This may be true in some cases. But, it takes a LOT of work. Let me repeat that last part.... a LOT of work!

The simple fact remains: Mutual funds, or ETF's, represent managed money. For a small fee, you pay a Portfolio Manager to watch your investments and report to you on a quarterly basis. His full-time job is to manage a collective pool of money! If we assume a typical investment charges 1.5% for operating expenses, a $50,000 investment would dictate a $500 annual fee. You could certainly manage your own portfolio of wines, gold bullion, forest land, real estate, etc., but you are going to do a LOT of work to stay on top of your investments.

Your time and energy alone will probably require more than a $500 expense on your part. How you value your time... $$$... is another consideration. But, the shear expense of researching, attending meetings, legal expenses, etc. will probably surpass $500 each year.

Lastly, liquidity should be a vital concern. Everyone has emergencies from time-to-time and has to access money beyond their rainy day account. Cash/bonds/stocks can be liquidated the turned into cash often the same day. This cannot be said for real estate, wine, fine art, etc. Months are often required to buy & sell these assets and you have little control over the time frame. In the last couple of years, real estate is a prime example. How many of us know friends who sold a home and waited 9 months or more to complete the sale?

Alternative investments have a place in everybody's portfolio. How they get into the asset mix is your choice.

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