Out of the Box Investing

Contributed by: Angela Palacios, CFP® Angela Palacios

With volatility creeping back into stock and bond markets after a long reprieve since 2008, investors are wondering where they can find returns again that aren’t tied to traditional markets, or have very low correlations.  While there are even more investment options out there than there are stuffed animals on my daughter’s bed, not all are worth your time. Here at the Center we sift through thousands of different investment options and distill them down into options that are potentially worth your time.

Alternative investments, investments other than traditional, long-only assets like stocks, bonds or cash, take many different shapes and sizes for us.  Over the past 5 or 6 years most alternatives have been a difficult place to make money as any diversification away from the largest companies in the U.S. have produced challenging comparative returns. However, over longer periods of time diversification can pay off. 

Global Macro Tactical Managers

These types of managers can “go anywhere” in the world and buy whatever and wherever they find value.  They can go up and down the capital spectrum of a company buying the debt they issue or use their common stock. These managers can also hold other assets such as cash or gold when they see trouble on the horizon. 

Long/Short Strategies

These types of strategies are similar to “hedge funds” that garner a lot of headlines. They seek to purchase some company stock and own them for their potential upside return but then they can also sell another company’s stock short; selling stock you don’t own, to potentially make money if that stock price goes down. These types of strategies can do well (or poorly) in both up and down markets. Some managers are more aggressive and try to make bets on overall market directions while others try to take a market neutral strategy and provide more bond-like returns and risk.

Real Assets

Physical or tangible assets like commodities, metals, real estate, wine, art, coins, or baseball cards can fall in this category.  Be careful as to not confuse a hobby with investments.  The two can merge but specific knowledge and a lack of emotional attachment must be had by the investor.

Private Equity

Investing in promising private companies can be a source of excellent investor returns. An investor commits a certain amount of money (usually at least $250,000) to a manager for investing in private companies. The money is generally tied up, or illiquid, for 5-8 years. In the end the invested capital and returns are usually paid out after those private companies invested in are taken public or sold off to other private equity investors.  Private equity is generally only available to accredited investors, which the SEC defines as earned income that exceeds $200,000 per year ($300,000 for married couples) for the past 2 years; accredited investors are also expected to earn that same amount of money for the current year or have at least $1,000,000 net worth, exclusive of primary residence. Often private equity firms place even more stringent guidelines on their accredited investors requiring a net worth of $5,000,000 in order to buy in to a strategy.

There are many concerns in the alternative space that must be addressed.  So what makes an alternative investment viable to us and our clients?


First and foremost an investment option must be affordable.  Costs can erode much of an investment return especially once inflation is factored in so affordability is of utmost importance. Leverage, using borrowed money to advance returns, can lead to higher costs. For example, coin collecting; a hobby many often try to pass off as investing, is actually very difficult to make money for the masses.  There is a large markup when purchasing coins from a dealer that it is rare to be able to turn around and sell these coins for a profit within reasonable amount of time. 


If you can’t get to your money when you need it, what’s the point?  Think about owning hard assets like real estate.  There can be many complications when trying to sell real estate, ranging from a lack of qualified buyers in an area or a property not meeting inspection requirements etc.  If you are trying to close up a deceased loved one’s estate and most of the assets are tied up in illiquid real estate but the government wants their estate tax payment, this can be a real concern!


Often alternative strategies we run into are so difficult to understand how the manager is actually making money or applying an investment concept that it is un-investible to us.  Lack of transparency can also lead to a lack of understanding. Often these managers won’t want to give away their intellectual capital by disclosing what they own. If we cannot understand an investment, when it will do well and when it could underperform, we may risk losing conviction and selling at the wrong time.

Alternative investments should not take the place of all of your traditional investments but rather should be used to diversify your portfolio if appropriate. It’s important to keep in mind that many of these alternative investment strategies are quite young and have bloomed during a market environment that has not been kind to them. To determine which strategies are right for you please speak to your Financial Planner!

Angela Palacios, CFP® is the Portfolio Manager at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Angela specializes in Investment and Macro economic research. She is a frequent contributor to Money Centered as well as investment updates at The Center.

http://www.sec.gov/investor/alerts/ib_accreditedinvestors.pdf This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Angela Palacios and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. Investing involves risk and investors may incur a profit or a loss regardless of strategy selected. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Diversification and asset allocation do not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.