Alternative investments have been called many things, but comparing them to succotash might win an award for creativity. The simile used by a speaker on Monday at the Seventh Annual Inside Alternatives investment conference in Denver sponsored by Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines was meant to convey the notion that alts are hard to define and, as such, require financial advisors to carefully consider how to allocate them in client portfolios.
“What is the nature of an alternative asset? Alternative assets are like succotash—it’s very complicated; it’s not an asset class, said Randy Zisler, managing partner at the real estate brokerage Zisler Capital LLC, who spoke on a panel on how alternatives can enhance portfolio allocation.
Succotash generally consists of corn and lima beans, but can include various other beans and vegetables. Not to beat the analogy to death, but alternatives consist of an array of products that can be utilized in client portfolios—provided the chef, or in this case the advisor, knows how to source the ingredients and blend them together.
Getting away from the food talk, alternative investments are about finding non-correlated assets that can improve a portfolio’s risk-adjusted performance.
Benjamin Deschaine, partner and portfolio manager at Balter Liquid Investments, said he has spent a large part of his career constructing alternative portfolios for some of the country’s wealthier families. “Why do we put alternatives into our clients’ portfolios?” he asked. “At the end of the day we’re looking for some sort of differentiating return stream for our clients.”
And liquidity is a prime influencing factor regarding how much to put into alternatives because you don’t want to be too illiquid, he added. “The liquid alternatives space is really coming into its own because the available funds are getting better and better. The question is how do you do that?”
One area Deschaine likes to focus on is less-efficient places in the market. “That’s where active management can really add value,” said.
In other words, don’t follow the herd by placing money in large funds that have attracted lots of cash but can often produce mediocre results as a result.
You have to be willing to take on opportunities that are smaller in nature,” Deschaine said. “It can be a little uncomfortable. But the reality is if you’re doing what everybody else is doing, you’ll end up with the same types of results.”
The liquid alternatives space allows you to construct more interesting portfolios for your clients in a way you couldn’t do five years ago, he added.