The stock market rise has been dubbed by some the “idiot-maker rally,” for its gravity-defying gains despite a lack of fundamentals. Nevertheless, the Dow (DJI) now sits above 15,000 and the S&P 500 (^GSPC) above 1600, both up more than 14% this year.
When you look at the smart money, though, how are they actually making impressive returns?
Take the Yale endowment. It’s up 100% over the last decade, according to Bob Rice, author of The Alternative Answer. But in 2012, just 6% of Yale’s portfolio was allocated to U.S. equities. Half was invested in absolute return, private equity, and real asset strategies – all alternative investments - while another chunk was in emerging markets.
In The Alternative Answer, Rice writes that "institutional investors and their ultrawealthy friends have had an unfair advantage: access to strategies and vehicles that were both unknown and unavailable to the rest of us.”
Rice, who is also managing partner at the New York broker-dealer and merchant bank Tangent Capital as well as Bloomberg TV’s Alternative Investments Editor, says alternative strategies have helped endowments like Yale avoid losses while making money.
“As simple and sophomoric as it sounds, the best way to make money is not to lose it,” Rice tells The Daily Ticker in the accompanying video.
Harvard, as another institutional example, has 10%, or $3 billion, of its endowment in timber, according to The Alternative Answer. In fact, it’s the biggest timberland owner in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the average person may be taught the ideal portfolio contains 60% stocks and 40% bonds, with these asset classes representing the best returns in the long-run.
So what gives?
Rice contends that the conventional wisdom about stocks and bonds is skewed. He says in the 11 decades since 1900, the 60/40 portfolio has returned “a grand sum of 1% after inflation” in seven of the decades. And while you get big bursts like in the 1980s, this distorts the long-term averages, and not everyone can wait it out 30 to 40 years so that the timing works out like it’s supposed to.
“These things are too volatile, because the occasional big blowup, which is happening more and more frequently…will wipe you out, and that’s what you have to avoid,” he says.
In Rice’s view the good news is that because of changes to laws and new products, the average person can now access some of the “same kinds of things the big boys have been investing in all along and what has carried them so far.”
Some accessible places he recommends to start researching include:
- “Multiclass” ETFs (exchange-traded funds), which combine investment categories like real estate investment trusts, royalties, and high-dividend stocks.
- Business Development Companies (BDCs), which are like “junior varsity private equity shops.” It’s a publicly traded, nontaxable entity that invests in middle-market and smaller companies.
- Royalty Trusts, which own and pay out royalty rights from mineral and mining properties. They can offer high yields over 10%, but are volatile, just like commodity prices.
In the accompanying video, he gives more details and responds to the more traditional investing gospel of gurus such as Suze Orman and Warren Buffett.
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