Investing in Alternative Assets

by Alexander Green, Investment U Chief Investment Strategist
Friday, February 3, 2012: Issue #1701

Rarely have Americans faced a more challenging investment landscape.

Bonds yield next to nothing. Money markets pay literally nothing. Residential real estate is swamped in a flood of short sales and foreclosures. Gold – after climbing six-fold over the last 12 years – may have topped out. And stocks are gyrating madly.

Given all this, where does the prudent investor put his money to work?

That’s what I asked Rick Pfeifer, an Oxford Club Pillar One Advisor and Senior Portfolio Manager with Fund Advisors of America, a Maitland, Florida-based money management firm, in a recent interview:

Q: Rick, the typical investor is disgusted with the yields on bonds and cash and scared to death of the stock market. What are you saying to clients?

A: I’m telling them that now is an excellent time to take a portion of their portfolio and diversify into alternative assets: convertible bonds, preferred shares, foreign currencies, hedge positions, ultra-cheap commodities and so on.

Q: Okay, let’s take these one at a time. What are you buying now and why?

A: We recently launched a managed account for individual investors that we call The Global Hedge Portfolio. The idea is not to replace your traditional stock and bond portfolio, but to offer a complement to it. We’re seeking profits in investments that don’t move in lockstep with either the S&P 500 or Lehman’s Treasury Index.

Q: Give me a couple of “for-instances.”

A: Take the situation in the Eurozone, for example. We see European leaders and the European Central bank doing a whole lot of talking, but we don’t see genuine, concrete steps toward solving the huge fiscal problems in Southern Europe. Some might even argue that the reason they haven’t yet taken serious corrective steps is because their options are so limited. Italy, for example, is simply too big an economy to bail out, in my view. My co-strategist Greg Galloway and I forecast that the euro will fall to parity with the dollar within 12 months. So we are short the euro in our Global Hedge Portfolio.

Q: Can’t fault your thinking there. I’ve been saying much the same thing for months now. What else are you doing?

A: We’re investing in overlooked asset classes with plenty of upside potential. Take timber, for example. Over the long run, investments in timber have beaten stocks by about 4% annually – and with considerably less volatility. Plus, timber is uncorrelated to stocks, making it an excellent way to balance your portfolio. One timber trust we own is seeing revenue grow 23% annually. Operating margins top 24%. And we’re getting a 3.5% dividend yield, too.

Q: What else are you buying?

A: We’re finding bargains in certain international markets, particularly Asia and Latin America. Because domestic demand there is growing, these areas are largely immune to problems here at home and in the Eurozone. For example, we’re buying an Asian auto manufacturer that’s selling for just half of annual sales. It’s trading at a substantial discount to book and should easily triple its earnings this year. We’re also picking up undervalued oil assets in Brazil, high-yielding energy trusts in Canada, a high-quality wine maker in Chile and the world’s leading food company, denominated in Swiss francs.

Q: How about metals?

A: We’re not buying commodities directly. Instead, we’re buying metal producers that appear undervalued and have big dividends attached.

Q: What about gold?

A: I don’t know what gold is going to do and I don’t think anyone else knows, either. But some gold producers are selling at mouth-watering prices right now, even if gold goes nowhere. One of our favorites yields 10% right now. If gold takes off, great. But if it moves sideways for a while, a 10% yield makes it a comfortable wait.

Q: What if gold moves south?

A: We run trailing stops on our investment positions. That gives us unlimited upside potential with strictly limited downside risk.

Q: Anything else you really like?

A: Quite a few things, really. I’ll mention one. Residential real estate is a mess, not only in the United States but in many overseas markets, as well. But we’re finding real bargains in commercial real estate in select overseas markets. Of course, we’re not buying the buildings themselves. Our investments are totally liquid. And, in addition to potential share price appreciation here, some of the assets are currently yielding more than 7%.

Q: Good to know, Rick. And an excellent reminder that for investors who are willing to invest worldwide, there are always opportunities available somewhere. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today, Rick.

A: Any time. It’s my pleasure.

Good Investing,

Alexander Green