Your starter guide to alternative investments

In the wake of very lacklustre JSE performance and plenty of uncertainty, many investors have started considering thinking… alternatively.

In a nutshell

Alternative investments are different to the standard stock market approach; investing in assets outside the usual asset classes or in companies outside of the JSE-listed crowd.

But can you invest alternatively? The first thing to note is that, like anything bespoke, alternative investing is far more expensive and less easily accessible than good ol’ equities. However, if you have significantly more cash than the average Joe and the financial know-how these alternatives can easily outperform the normal market.

Assuming you can, should you? Here, we break down some of the main and most popular alternative investment options:

Hedge funds

Hedge funds are by far the most common and easily accessible of the alternative investing options. Due to this, they enjoy better regulation and options than other alternative asset classes. They are smaller, boutique funds often operating with much higher fees than traditional equities investing. But hedge funds routinely beat equities in the returns stakes, although not as handily of late.

The phrase ‘hedging your bets’ explains what hedge funds do well – hedge funds have a unique ability to ‘hedge’ themselves so that the investors behind the hedge fund manager can do well whether a stock appreciates or depreciates.

Hedge funds are essentially an exclusive pool of investors aggressively investing in a variety of opportunities not often available to the mainstream market. This can suit investors who have money to spare (the minimum investment requirement for most funds is high – sometimes R1 million just to get in the door) and want a long-term investment vehicle that’s safer than the stock market that offers similar or higher returns.

Venture capital and private equity

Usually only available to private equity of venture capital funds themselves, this is long-term investment in promising businesses near the beginning of their lifespan, with a view to share in their success later down the road when the company is turning a profit.

Venture capital investing, specifically ‘seed round’ investing during which the company invested in is very young, is typically a long relationship with the funder in an advisory role to the business and an aid in growth.

Private equity, although often grouped with and sometimes mistaken for venture capital, is different. Private equity often buys out these companies wholly or in part and so is the primary decision-maker, rather than the advisor.

This is attractive because private equity traditionally outperforms equity. Options here are limited to those with a private equity fund registered with SAVCA.

Socio-economic investments

Even more rewarding than the idea of private equity can be socio-economic investing – which is putting in finance and sharing in the returns later, not in a company, but in the country. So-called ‘impact investing’, these investment alternatives address issues in society like infrastructure, education for lower classes, renewable energy innovation and the creation of low-cost houses, to name a few examples. Few funds offer such options as it’s still a relatively new concept for SA, but it’s a great vehicle for those who can access it and are looking to improve and contribute meaningfully to the world while making returns on their money at the same time.

It’s important to remember that alternative investing is generally more difficult, exclusive, expensive and time-consuming than the well-oiled default of listed stock market options or old-favourite vehicles like unit trusts. They’re also newer here in south Africa, with less variety and regulation for now because there is simply less demand. But if you’re something of a pioneer and you want something very long-term, it may be worth a try. Just be sure to talk to your financial advisor and consult your personal financial plan before making any sudden movements.

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