4.6 Alternative Investments in Portfolio Diversification

The world of investing has expanded beyond traditional asset classes like stocks, bonds, and cash. As savvy investors seek to enhance returns and diversify risks, they’ve begun to consider the merits of alternative investments. This isn’t your typical portfolio chat, we’re stepping into the world of real estate, private equity, commodities, hedge funds, and even cryptocurrencies. Sounds intriguing, right?

Strap in as we delve into the role these non-traditional asset classes play in jazzing up your portfolio, adding a dash of diversification, and potentially, amplifying your returns. Remember, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; these investments come with their unique set of risks and considerations. So, let’s embark on this eye-opening journey into the realm of alternative investments and see what they can bring to your portfolio table.

Types of Alternative Investments

As we stroll through the wide-ranging world of alternative investments, you’ll find an exciting lineup of assets that break away from the traditional mold. So, what’s on the menu? Well, let’s find out!

First up, we’ve got real estate, a long-standing favorite. From commercial buildings and residential properties to real estate investment trusts (REITs), this sector is as vast as it is varied. A well-placed property can yield handsome rental income and capital appreciation, providing a buffer against inflation and a source of steady cash flow.

Next in line are hedge funds, the mystique-filled players of the investment world. These specialized funds can use complex strategies, including short-selling and leveraging, aiming to deliver high returns. They’ve got the flexibility to navigate through stormy market weather, potentially offering gains even in downturns. But remember, with high reward often comes high risk.

Let’s not forget private equity and venture capital. These involve investing in companies that aren’t publicly traded or in startups with high growth potential. With this, you get to participate in the company’s journey, which can be both exciting and risky.

Moving along, we find commodities, like oil, gold, and even agricultural products. These tangible assets can serve as a good hedge against inflation. They allow you to bet on global economic trends, but beware, price fluctuations can be sharp and sudden.

Lastly, we have the newcomers on the block, cryptocurrencies. From Bitcoin to Ethereum, these digital currencies have taken the financial world by storm. They offer the potential for astronomical returns but come with significant volatility and regulatory uncertainties.

Collectibles, such as fine art, wine, and classic cars, also make an appearance in this space. While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they can offer unique diversification benefits and even personal enjoyment.

This broad array of alternative investments provides an avenue for you to diversify your portfolio beyond the usual suspects. However, their unique nature means they come with their own sets of risks and challenges. Due diligence, understanding, and careful strategy are key when exploring these less-traveled paths. So, buckle up as we dive deeper into how these alternatives can enhance your portfolio’s diversification.

The Importance of Diversification

Picture this: you’re at a buffet. There’s a dizzying array of dishes on offer, each more tantalizing than the last. Do you heap your plate with just one type of food, say, pasta? Or do you take a bit of everything to get a balanced meal? If you’re anything like me, you’d probably opt for the latter. This concept of “not putting all your eggs in one basket” is precisely what diversification in investing is all about.

Diversification is a risk management strategy that mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. The rationale behind this approach is that a portfolio constructed of different kinds of investments will, on average, yield higher returns and pose a lower risk than any individual investment found within the portfolio.

Diversifying your portfolio isn’t just about spreading your money across different asset classes like stocks and bonds, though that’s certainly part of it. It’s about extending that diversification into various sectors, geographic regions, and investment styles. And this, my friend, is where alternative investments come into play.

Alternative investments are an excellent way to further diversify a portfolio. They tend to behave differently than traditional stock and bond investments. So when stocks are down, your real estate or commodity investments might be up, balancing out your portfolio’s overall performance.

Not only do alternative investments offer potential returns, but they also act as a buffer against the volatility of traditional markets. They can provide a counterbalance during periods of economic downturn, providing stability in stormy market seas.

Remember, though, diversification is not just about adding more investments; it’s about choosing investments that perform well under different market conditions. Alternative investments can be that wild card in your portfolio that not only ups the potential for returns but also helps keep risk at bay. But like any investment, they require a careful understanding and should fit into your overall financial goals and risk tolerance. Now, let’s dig into the various ways alternative investments can diversify your portfolio!

The Role of Alternative Investments in Diversification

So, you may be asking yourself, “If diversification is about spreading my investments around, what unique role do alternative investments play?” That, my dear reader, is an excellent question. You see, alternative investments are not just another card in the deck. They’re more like a wildcard, bringing unique characteristics to your portfolio that can help further spread risk and potentially enhance returns.

The first and perhaps the most compelling reason to include alternative investments in your portfolio is that they often have a low correlation with traditional asset classes. This fancy finance term essentially means that alternative investments don’t necessarily move in the same direction as stocks and bonds. When stocks are slumping, your alternatives might be on an uptrend, helping to offset potential losses.

Let’s get a little concrete here. Suppose you’ve invested in real estate, a popular type of alternative investment. The performance of your real estate investments would depend on factors like rental income, property prices, and interest rates, which are quite different from the factors affecting stock and bond prices. So even if the stock market takes a nosedive, your real estate investments could still provide stable returns, keeping your portfolio afloat.

Another key role of alternative investments in diversification is their potential for high returns. Some alternatives, like venture capital and private equity, offer the opportunity for outsized gains, especially over the long term. Now, these aren’t for the faint-hearted or those with a tight budget – they require significant investments and carry high risks. But if you have the means and the risk tolerance, they can deliver impressive returns that significantly boost your portfolio’s performance.

The icing on the cake is that alternative investments provide access to a broader range of opportunities. Think about investing in art, wine, or even a startup. These aren’t just opportunities for financial gain but also chances to support something you’re passionate about. Investing in a local winery or a promising startup can be rewarding both financially and personally, making your investment journey that much more enjoyable.

To sum it up, alternative investments can play a crucial role in diversifying your portfolio. They can smooth out returns when the stock market is on a roller coaster ride, provide potential for high returns, and open up a world of exciting investment opportunities. So while they may not be for everyone, for those willing to step off the beaten path, alternative investments can be a powerful tool in their diversification strategy.

Risks and Considerations in Alternative Investments

Before we get carried away with the shiny allure of alternative investments, it’s crucial to note that they’re not without their risks. As much as they can provide those lofty returns and exciting opportunities, they come with their own set of challenges that any savvy investor should be aware of.

First up, liquidity – or rather, the potential lack thereof. Many alternative investments like private equity, real estate, and collectibles aren’t as easily traded as stocks and bonds. You can’t just log into a brokerage account and sell a building or a vintage wine collection at the click of a button. These investments often require a longer time horizon, and you may have to hold onto them for several years before you can realize any gains.

Moreover, the market for some of these alternatives can be quite thin. What that means is, even if you’re ready to sell, finding a buyer might be a challenge. This illiquidity risk is something you should take into account when determining how much of your portfolio to allocate to alternatives.

Then, there’s the issue of valuation. Valuing stocks and bonds is a fairly straightforward process – you can easily find the latest prices online. But how do you determine the value of a piece of art or a private company? These valuations are often subjective and can fluctuate significantly over time. This uncertainty can lead to volatile returns and, in some cases, potential losses.

Alternative investments can also be more complex than traditional ones. Take hedge funds, for instance. They employ sophisticated strategies involving shorts, leverage, derivatives, and more. While these can lead to higher returns, they can also increase risk. So, before diving in, ensure you understand what you’re getting into.

Lastly, let’s talk about transparency, or rather, the lack of it. Information about alternative investments can be harder to come by than for traditional investments. For instance, private companies don’t have to disclose as much information as publicly traded ones. This lack of transparency can make it challenging to assess the investment’s potential risks and returns.

While these risks may seem daunting, they’re not meant to scare you off. Instead, they serve as a reminder that while alternative investments can play a valuable role in diversification, they should be approached with a keen understanding and careful consideration. By doing your due diligence and possibly seeking advice from financial professionals, you can navigate these risks and tap into the unique benefits that alternative investments can offer.

Real-World Examples

Let’s shift gears a bit and dive into the real world – let’s explore how alternative investments have played a role in portfolio diversification through some tangible examples.

Case 1: Let’s talk about Yale University’s endowment fund. David Swensen, the fund’s chief investment officer, has been a champion of alternative investments for years. Under his stewardship, Yale has allocated a significant portion of its portfolio to alternatives like hedge funds, private equity, and real estate. The result? Well, from 1985 to 2020, the fund achieved an annualized return of 12.4%, outperforming most of its peers. This example is a testament to the potential that alternative investments can have in boosting returns and diversifying a portfolio.

Case 2: Moving from institutional to individual investors, let’s consider the case of a high-net-worth individual. Let’s call her Jane. Jane has a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds but wanted to further spread her risks and potentially enhance returns. She decided to invest in a private equity fund focusing on technology startups. While this investment was riskier and less liquid than her other investments, it offered her the potential for significant returns. After a few years, one of the startups in the fund’s portfolio went public, and Jane’s investment doubled in value. This example demonstrates how alternative investments can provide unique opportunities for high returns.

Case 3: Lastly, let’s consider an investment group that pooled their resources to invest in a commercial real estate property. Despite the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group managed to secure a tenant on a long-term lease, providing them with a steady income stream. This income was especially valuable during a time when interest rates were low, and bond yields were unattractive. The real estate investment added a new layer of diversification to the group’s portfolio, providing steady income and acting as a hedge against inflation.

These examples underline how alternative investments, while presenting unique challenges and risks, can serve as potent tools for diversification. Whether it’s an endowment fund, an individual investor, or an investment group, alternatives have the potential to enhance returns and spread risk, adding a robust dimension to a well-rounded investment portfolio. As always, the key lies in understanding the risks, doing your due diligence, and ensuring the investments align with your financial goals and risk tolerance.


In conclusion, alternative investments can play an influential role in portfolio diversification. As we’ve journeyed through the world of alternative investments – from private equity and hedge funds to real estate and commodities – it’s evident that they bring something unique to the investment table. They offer potential benefits such as higher returns, inflation protection, and reduced exposure to market volatility.

However, it’s also important to remember that alternative investments are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They come with their own set of risks and considerations, like illiquidity, complexity, and potentially higher costs. Therefore, thorough research, due diligence, and understanding are crucial.

The world of investing is vast and diverse, and alternative investments are just one piece of the puzzle. But if utilized judiciously, they can be a potent tool to help build a well-diversified and resilient investment portfolio.

Invest wisely, and remember, diversification is not just about spreading your investments, but about achieving the right balance. Happy investing!


What are the 4 types of investments?

When it comes to the world of investing, there are four primary types of investments, often known as ‘asset classes.’ These include stocks, bonds, cash, and real estate.

Stocks represent a share in the ownership of a company, and potentially a claim on part of the company’s profits (or dividends). Bonds are essentially loans to the government or a corporation, where the issuer agrees to pay you back the loan amount plus interest. Cash investments are the safest and include products like savings accounts and CDs. Lastly, real estate investments involve buying physical property, whether residential or commercial.

Why is alternative investments important?

Alternative investments have gained considerable attention for their potential to diversify a portfolio and reduce risk. These non-traditional investments, such as hedge funds, private equity, commodities, or even artworks and collectibles, can provide unique investment opportunities that are uncorrelated to traditional markets. This uncorrelated behavior can provide a buffer in times of economic downturns when traditional asset classes like stocks and bonds might be performing poorly.

Is cryptocurrency an alternative investment?

Yes, cryptocurrency is considered an alternative investment. Although it’s relatively new, digital currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others offer a new world of investment opportunities. Cryptocurrencies can provide significant returns and are a good hedge against traditional financial market risks. However, they’re also highly volatile and risky, so it’s crucial for investors to exercise caution and invest only what they can afford to lose.

Is ETF an alternative investment?

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) aren’t typically classified as alternative investments. They are a type of investment fund and exchange-traded product, traded on stock exchanges. ETFs are designed to track the performance of a specific index, sector, commodity, or asset class. They’re similar to mutual funds but are traded like stocks on an exchange. However, some ETFs can provide exposure to alternative investments, like commodity ETFs or real estate ETFs, which might be considered “alternative” due to the non-traditional assets they represent.

Marc Munier