Real assets, in plain terms, are real items that you have in your possession. Unlike common investment products, which are not items that can be utilized or consumed, real assets combine aesthetic appeal, material value, and investment options. Some commonly held real assets include:
- Ancient coins
- Fine art
- Precious metals
- Properties and real estate
There are unique benefits to holding real assets in your investment portfolio. They offer a number of financial incentives that aren't necessarily recreated through traditional investment vehicles.
Diversification is the strategy by which an investor spreads their investment funds across various financial markets. The importance of diversification cannot be overstated. However, some investors have the mistaken understanding that diversification is designed to increase total returns. This is not the case.
An investor diversifies their holdings to reduce risk. For example, an investor who is tied up 100% in the oil markets is extremely susceptible to variation in the price of oil. If only 10% of their portfolio is in oil, their overall return is less tied to the fluctuations in the oil market.
Real assets are often unrelated to the movement of the major financial markets. An investor who diverts a portion of their investment funds to an item such as artwork or ancient coins can enjoy the financial gains of holding a scarce resource while remaining insulated from many market factors. Very few investment products can offer financial upside combined with this level of risk shielding.
With many real assets, the primary value of the investment is in the desirability or collectability of the item. That means a shift in perception of the item might cause the investor to lose value. That said, the same is true of common stocks and bonds--with one major distinction.
A stock or a bond could, theoretically, move to a value of zero. If a company goes out of business, stock in that company is effectively worthless. An ancient coin, on the other hand, has a minimum value of the materials used. Gold coins will always be worth the price of gold--at minimum. In that way, real assets bring the minimum value of your investments up.
Trading stocks and bonds is a difficult, multi-stage process. Stockholders must work with a licensed broker, who takes a percentage of the sale as a commission. The broker lists the stock on an exchange, where another broker purchases it for their client. Regulations and protocols cause this process to be cumbersome and costly.
Real assets are much easier to exchange between private parties. Certain real assets, such as real estate, are subject to local laws and government regulations. However, you can place artwork, metals, and and ancient coins for sale at any time. There is no commission or broker required--and the private parties can reach an agreement on the purchase price without being subject to government regulations.
Liquidity isn't a primary concern for folks who are investing for retirement that is 20 years away. On the other hand, most private brokerage accounts benefit from a certain degree of liquidity. Basically, highly liquid accounts can take advantage of market fluctuation more effectively and have a better ability to manage a crisis or downswing. Real assets are a fantastic way to increase liquidity without holding an excessive amount of cash on hand.
Real assets offer a variety of unique benefits that allow them to have a meaningful place in any investor's portfolio. Only a professional advisor can help you determine just how much of your portfolio should be allocated to real asset holdings. That said, just about everyone could benefit from real asset acquisition to some degree.