Unlocking Real Value Blog

What Is An Alternative Investment?

Hardly a day goes by that another firm doesn’t either enter into the retail alternative investment space, or expand their offerings; Fidelity and Schwab just announced major initiatives. Becoming more common as well, however, are firms closing retail alternative investment products; two firms recently shuttered their alternative (long/short) investment ETF offerings.

As investors seek higher yield in today’s low return environment, they naturally are turning to alternative investments and the hope and promise of higher and often uncorrelated returns. This trend scares me – almost a ┬ámuch as today’s stock market, which is fueled by the Fed’s free money policy more so than by economic fundamentals. The complexity of many alternative investments have necessitated that they have historically been for institutional or very high net worth investors only – has anything really changed to fuel today’s growth in the retail marketplace?

I caution advisors to tread carefully if they are exploring or increasing their clients’ exposure to alternative investments. At least make the commitment to educate your clients fully on the inherent risks of these types of investments. You don’t want to be one of the last to jump on the bandwagon just before …

Back to my question: What Is An Alternative Investment? The answer is quite complicated, because the category spans everything from private equity to mutual funds to ETFs – from liquid types of investments to illiquid types of investments – from those that require investors be qualified (meeting certain income and net worth requirements) to those that don’t. In fact, investing in timber is considered by many to be an alternative investment.

My point? Advisors need to be extra careful in ensuring that before clients venture into any alternative investments that the investment is appropriate for their investment profile and asset allocation and that they fully understand the risks involved as well as any liquidity restraints. Is the additional risk being taken worth it?

I am not opposed to alternative investments – when and where they fit. I just fear that they are becoming the latest bubble in the industry, and that clients who are still struggling from the losses incurred since 2008 are about to make another mistake. Advisors – it’s your job to help your clients avoid such mistakes as opposed to helping them chase return.

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