Sir John Templeton — respected investor, banker, and fund manager — was on the right track when he said, “Diversify.  In stocks and bonds, as in much else, there is safety in numbers.”  From companies diversifying a product line to investors diversifying a portfolio, there is not only safety, but a much greater likelihood of growth when you have your money, assets, products — whatever — strategically allocated among different pieces of the pie.

Do your investments look like different slices of the same pizza?  They might need some work.

Diversification is probably the most important aspect of a healthy investment portfolio, regardless of the type of investment.  If one segment of your portfolio lags or even fails, diversification will protect it from a clean sweep during a bad economic downturn.  But this simple concept has tripped up even the smartest investors, costing them thousands of dollars.

Here’s the problem.  Too many people believe they are diversified through traditional investments in the stock market because they own multiple stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and the like.  But that is simply diversification within the stock market, not within other assets or industries.  The only way to truly be diversified is by owning assets that are not correlated to each other within the economy.  (The correlation of investments refers to the direction of price movement.  If investments are non-correlated, it means that the price movement of one will not affect the price movement of the other.)

Being invested in various sectors of the stock market is a good start.  But a truly diversified portfolio would mean expanding your investment dollars to include non-traditional markets such as real estate, gold, venture capital, oil, and gas, or maybe different lending opportunities.  Why?  Because most of these investment types are not correlated to the stock market or to each other.

Plus, the very nature of a non-traditional investment will give a portfolio a more favorable risk/return profile.  Now, if the economy took a bad downturn, some of these industries might be similarly affected (their price or value would move in the same general direction as the economy), but they’re diverse enough that they wouldn’t all be affected at once, and certainly not to the same degree.

Do you have any non-traditional investments in your portfolio, and are you invested in enough of them to be sufficiently diversified?  If you don’t have your investing dollars allocated across multiple non-correlated assets, you’re putting your potential earnings, and even your principal, at risk!

As with anything, though, there’s always an upside and a downside.  As fully committed as I am to non-traditional investments, there are a few things you should know before you choose your next venture.  Let’s look at some of the pros and cons associated with non-traditional investments.

The “Cons”

Buying or selling in the stock market is instantaneous, which makes it very liquid.  In other words, you can pretty much access your money whenever you want it.  One of the cons of non-traditional investments is that, compared with traditional investments, they are much more illiquid.  For example, you can’t just pull your money out of our Buy and Hold Fund the instant you want it because it is usually tied up in assets.  We don’t have a lockup period (a period of time that you cannot take your money out), and we work to get your money to you as soon as possible once you request it (and most of the time, we can get it out pretty quickly).  Still, the Buy and Hold Fund is considered an illiquid fund because we try to have all of our capital deployed into investments at all times.  (Otherwise, it dilutes our investors’ returns!)  Another thing to be aware of (though this is not the case for the Buy and Hold Fund) is that some types of non-traditional investments could need to make capital calls due to its illiquid nature.

My business partner, Steve, and I have learned that while non-traditional investments may come with more challenges and are certainly the road less traveled, the rewards can be worth the extra work.

Another con with some non-traditional investments is that the wrong ones can come with great risk.  This would be very true when investing in venture capital-type deals.  Many could drop to zero in value while others could become home runs.  Venture capitalism is definitely a high risk, (possibly) high reward investment.

And what about the fees associated with non-traditional investing?  This could be considered another con, since, many times, non-traditionals have larger fees than traditional investments.  In my experience, the fees are usually a reflection of what it takes to find, initiate, and manage the investments.  Since they are not as easy to come by or as easy to manage as traditional investments, non-traditionals usually involve a lot more work for the manager or sponsor and require a larger support team for its successful execution.

I never worry as much about the fees as I do the net return, though.  Done properly, what it takes to get there is not nearly as important as the final result.

The “Pros”

Now, let’s get to the pros.  Although illiquidity can be perceived as a negative, it can actually work to an investor’s favor.  For instance, what happens when the economy begins to melt down?  Our impulse is to sell!  Well, it is easy to sell those liquid assets.  However, that may be the wrong thing to do at the time.  Not being able to make the irrational, impulsive decision to sell at a down moment can work to an investor’s benefit.

To truly diversify, your assets must be non-correlated so that when one changes, you have other assets that do not move in the same direction.

Another pro is that non-traditional investments can compete better in their space.  What do I mean by that?  When investing in the stock market, it is almost impossible to get a leg up, especially as an average investor who doesn’t do it for a living.  If the market goes up, so do your stocks, and if it goes down, you are stuck in the same sinking boat unless you jump ship.  With non-traditional investments, many times, the manager or sponsor has a competitive advantage or a whole lot less competition to even worry about.  For example, our Buy and Hold Fund is in a niche market purchasing homes in the $50K to $150K range.  Most investors or institutions are not set up to invest in that type of niche space.  This gives us a huge advantage!

We currently buy homes in 3 states and 5 cities and own over 900 properties.  The only way to acquire, rehab, rent out, and then manage these properties is to have an in-house operations team who does this day in and day out.  We have team members working in every city we have homes.  Imagine doing this as a single investor.  It would be impossible and extremely frustrating.  Because of how complicated it is to set up something like this, we don’t have much competition. 

By building the systems, processes, and economies of scale, we can reap the rewards of investing in a relatively untapped niche market.

Since we started in this business over 11 years ago, we’ve noticed an increase in non-traditional investments.  They are becoming more widely accepted since investing data shows that they help bolster a portfolio’s bottom line while reducing risk.  Large endowments like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale have moved the majority of their multi-billion-dollar portfolios into non-traditional assets for many of the same reasons that we tout are good for our investors.  It’s reassuring to know that we have something in common with the big shot Ivy League endowments, run by some of the smartest people in the world.