The Pros and Cons of Alternative Investments

If you start to really look at all of your investing options and you start collecting advice, it would not be long before you ran into an investment professional who touts the benefits of a “public, all-cash, non-traded REIT. ” Your first response might be, “What’s the ticker symbol?”

Since they have no ticker symbols, your next conversation would probably consist of a description of what an “alternative” investment is and how, although there is a share price, it can’t be found on an exchange. Then, if market fluctuations make you queasier with age, this investment may start sounding pretty good the more you look into it because it’s a competitive investment that takes some of your money off of the daily pricing roller coaster. You may find that it’s an alternative worth exploring, although there are, of course, pros and cons.

What Alternative Investments Are

Investments that are considered “alternative” are investments other than the traditional stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and annuities offered by stock brokerage and insurance companies. They allow for a more direct way of investing in an entity in that you buy your shares, or units, from the company itself, not over an exchange like the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ. They are usually long-term investments by nature with very limited liquidity.

One of the most common asset classes for alternative investments is real estate. Real estate investment trusts provide the opportunity to invest into a wide variety of different classes and types of real estate including, but not limited to, office, retail, industrial, houses, apartments, self- storage, timberland, healthcare, and government tenant buildings. In addition, there are varying degrees of risk which usually can be measured by the level of leverage the program uses. For example, a program that buys buildings using all cash has no mortgage default risk, so interest rate risk and property value fluctuations are less of a concern. There is no mortgage to default, whereas a speculative program that uses a high level of leverage and is probably aiming for spectacular returns, is much more likely to default if there is, say, a commercial credit freeze such as we are experiencing right now. Low debt is also usually associated with competitive monthly or quarterly distribution payments with limited appreciation potential. High debt is also usually associated with little or no periodic distributions, but high appreciation potential.

Those are the extremes. There are many levels of risk in between and it takes some effort to gauge the level of risk you are taking. What is somewhat helpful is that the alternative investment industry is using some general terms when titling their programs that loosely describe the level of risk for the program. “Core” means no leverage. “Core Plus” means some leverage, with probably an overall loan-to-value ratio of 25% to 50%. “Value Added” or “Growth and Income” means moderate leverage, with probably an overall loan-to-value of 40% to 60%. “Opportunity” means they are probably on the high side with 55% to 75% overall loan-to-value.

In general, REITs usually have a Share Repurchase Program which typically states that they will buy back your shares at a reasonable discount to the purchase price in the first two or three years, and then at either 100% or the appraised REIT value thereafter. However, they are limited to redeeming 5% of the REIT per year and can stop redemptions at any time if it’s in the best interest of other shareholders. A “public” REIT is also one of the easiest alternative investments for which to qualify. You will typically need to have either a net worth of $250,000, or a net worth of $70,000 combined with an income of $70,000. It differs, though, REIT by REIT, and state by state.

Investing in real estate entails certain risks, including, but not limited to, changes in the economy, supply and demand, laws, tenant turnover, and interest rates. Some real estate investments offer limited liquidity options. There is no assurance that the investment objectives of any program will be met. REITs are not right for all investors. Be sure to consult your advisor regarding your specific situation.

To sum it up, alternative investments can be useful in several ways. They can diversify your overall portfolio, provide some tax advantages, and provide strong cash flow and/or appreciation. On the minus side, your liquidity is very limited until the program goes full cycle and returns your principal along with whatever gain or loss it generated. As with all investments, the return of your principal is not guaranteed and past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Registered Representative of and securities, advisory services and insurance offered through INVEST Financial Corporation (INVEST), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered investment adviser and its affiliated insurance companies. INVEST is not affiliated with Retirement Solutions. This newsletter has been provided by PEAK for use by Robert Cadena. All expressions of opinion reflect the opinions of PEAK and not necessarily those of Retirement Solutions or INVEST. The information contained in this newsletter is general in nature and should not be construed as tax or investment advice. INVEST does not provide tax advice. Please consult your tax adviser for guidance on your particular situation.

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