Unlocking Real Value Blog

Retail Alternative Investments – The Good, Bad And Ugly

Recent studies by two research firms confirm that the growth trend in retail investment alternatives is poised to continue:

  • Cerulli Associates predicts that alternative mutual funds will represent 14% of the industry’s assets in the next 10 years, up from the current 2%; and
  • Strategic Insights expects liquid alternatives to reach $490 billion by 2018, up from $237 billion at the end of August.

Those surveyed include managers, investors, advisors and industry executives. Cerulli also found that 25% of advisors they spoke to plan to increase their allocation to alternatives. What the implications of this growth?

The Good – investors will have more of a variety of funds from which to choose. Presumably, as the growth in retail alternative investments continues, so will the education process, of both advisors and investors, as will transparency. But I have commented before that I am worried about the growth of alternative investments in the retail space, because many investors have no idea what they are actually investing in. Advisors are also at risk if they don’t take the time to truly explain how hedges fit into a portfolio.

The Bad – while assets are forecast to increase significantly over time, up until now the proliferation of new funds has outpaced this growth. In 2012, for example, 101 alternative mutual funds were launched. While this number has abated this far, to around 30, I fear that this could be an example of the industry creating the demand – rather than the demand leading to product development. Some industry executives already see an alternatives fatigue setting in.

The Ugly – this trend proves to be the next bubble and further deteriorates investor confidence in advisors and the industry as a whole. The ugly word “derivatives” comes to mind – is the product development world getting ahead of itself again in creating innovate products that investors (and advisors) don’t really understand and may not truly need? Will investors balk when their hedged portfolios underperform in years such as 2013 and they fire their advisors, without ever giving their portfolios the opportunity to outperform in down markets?

My hope is that the many mistakes of the past will not be repeated, and that I am being overcautious. My fear is that I am right.

What do you think?

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