Investment Alternatives – Inherent Risks

This article addresses some of the risks associated with real-asset investment alternatives in general.

As with any potential transaction, all investments carry risk, and in the case of alternatives those risks are often very specific to the asset class, here we address some of the general risks associated with moveable and immoveable properties considered as alternative investments. This risk-set can be broadly defined and categorised as:

  • Sector Risk
  • Location Risk
  • Asset Specific Risk
  • Counterparty Risk

Sector Specific Risk

As is the case with traditional financial investments, hard-assets carry risks specific to their sector. For example, in the case of agricultural land, Investors must be aware that a variety of exogenous variables can affect the investment performance of the property. Weather, commodity prices, the cost of farming, and agricultural inputs all factor in the revenue potential and profit margins of a farm. As farmland values are dictated primarily by the income producing potential of the asset, poor on-farm performance can adversely affect capital values. The same can be said for gold; during period of growth in equity markets, gold values may fall as confident investors sell their gold and buy into equities in order to capture returns from raising markets. Subsequently gold values may fall as a result. In the case of timber properties, poor house building figures result in a fall in demand for construction timber, and in these circumstances Investor may not be able to secure the price they require for their timber, and may ultimately leave their trees to continue to grow throughout the downturn, choosing instead to harvest when prices are more buoyant and capturing the extra physical growth that has occurred in the interim.

Location Risk

In many cases, especially in the example of real-estate related investments, Investors may choose to acquire assets in countries other than their own domicile. Asset values in emerging markets are often lower, along with the price of labour, and demand in those markets might also be higher, so acquiring assets that form party of the emerging market supply chain is often a strategy to capture superior returns. Whilst man overseas locations offer security of ownership and a transparent business environment, any overseas investment carries risks specific to the country of operation, and developing economies often carry a much greater risk of political interference or security of ownership issues. This extra risk must be factored into the due diligence process, and the potential returns on offer weighed against this inherent risk to capital.

Asset Specific Risk

When acquiring a tangible asset, it is imperative that the investor has access to the requisite skill-set in order to properly identify any issues with the asset itself. This kind of due diligence is essential in order to establish value of money, and avoid costly investments into otherwise useless assets. In the case real estate based investment alternatives, there may be issue with title, access, planning or even financial issue like outstanding tax bills. In the case of niche property like farmland or forestry, there may be specific issues relating to soil quality or water supply which may ultimately cause the property to be less productive and profitable. In the case of other niche sectors like fine wine or collectibles, very specific experience is required in order to identify genuine investment opportunities, and Investors without access to quality, experienced advice may end up purchasing valueless assets for unscrupulous sellers out to make a quick buck.

Counterparty Risk

When investing in niche products, Investor will usually require the services of a professional to advise on the transaction, but also to operate or manage the assets as is the case with real estate or other assets that require ‘trading’ in order to capitalise on opportunities and minimise risk. In these cases, the investor is exposed to the professional capabilities and honesty of their partners, be they forest managers, fine wine investment managers or collectibles experts. Poor advice at the point of investment and bad or incapable on-going management can ultimately destroy the investment potential of any asset. Proper due diligence is required in order to establish the track record of all partners in their respective fields.

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