You’ve no doubt read all the headlines by now, including:
“Fastest bear market in history.”
“Worst global recession since the Great Depression.”
“Unprecedented monetary policy in response to severe economic downturn.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most volatile investment periods in history. The CBOE Volatility Index, commonly known as the VIX, peaked in the mid-80s in March exceeding the peaks of the 2008-09 financial meltdown.
Alternative investments – an umbrella term describing assets that fall outside of conventional investment categories like stocks, bonds and cash – have been growing in popularity since the global financial crisis. Appetite for alternatives, which includes hedge funds, venture capital, real estate, precious metals, private mortgages and tangible assets, has continued to grow amid the pandemic.
Alternatives are now a $10 trillion market, and are expected to reach $14 trillion in 2023, according to Preqin research.
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Alternatives Outperform Broader Market
Liquid alternative funds in the U.S. and other markets also outperformed the broader equity markets. Even hedge funds outperformed. According to The Wall Street Journal, the $3 trillion hedge fund industry lost just 3.04% in the first two months of 2020 compared with an 8.27% loss for the S&P 500. Preliminary first-quarter data showed a loss of 7% for hedge funds in the first quarter compared with the approximately 20% plunge for the S&P 500.
It’s important to point out that not all alternative assets performed equally well during the crisis. Real assets, such as infrastructure and real estate, showed mixed performance due to a variety of factors. Being publicly or privately listed and tied to the energy sector had a direct impact on their results.
Ultimately, the performance of alternatives during volatile market cycles depends largely on their correlation profiles, investment objectives and their management teams’ expertise. Research from Preqin shows that investors are increasingly turning to alternative investments for their diversification benefits, potential for high risk-adjusted returns, low correlation to other assets and reduced portfolio volatility. Investors are also turning to alternative assets to generate reliable income streams, hedge against inflation and generate high absolute returns.
Reliable sources of income are becoming more important in the age of ultra-low bond yields. With central banks committed to keeping interest rates at record lows, alternatives such as real assets, private mortgages and real estate are growing in popularity.
If you are considering investing in gold, check out this article.
Optimistic Outlook on Alternatives
The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to keep alternative assets growing at a significant rate in the coming years. Major investment themes tied to the global economic rebound, inflation and monetary policy highlight the need for portfolio diversification, inflation hedges and reduced portfolio volatility.
Although the global economy is healing, the economic rebound is expected to play out over many years. It remains to be seen whether sectors tied to discretionary consumer spending, travel and hospitality will ever rebound.
And while the U.S. stock market experienced a ‘V-shaped’ recovery, it took extraordinary fiscal and monetary stimulus to do so. The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has swelled to $7 trillion and the commitment to zero-bound interest rates is likely to continue at least for the next couple of years. Fed Chair Jerome Powell says the central bank will let inflation run hotter than its 2% target to achieve its macroeconomic objectives.
The Bottom Line
Investors looking to diversify away from the traditional portfolio of stocks and bonds should do their research and talk to a financial adviser before making a complicated investment decision.
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