In the never-ending attempt to beat the market, some investors will leave the markets altogether to find outperforming investment ideas. These strategies range from the brilliant to the bizarre, and they are not necessarily the most accessible or liquid ideas. Still, for investors who want to look beyond stocks, bonds and mutual funds for portfolio growth, there are some unconventional ideas worth considering. (For further reading, read Alternative Assets For Average Investors.)
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"Invest" in your Fridge?
Much has been written over the past couple of years about how people could have beaten the market if they had simply bought various pantry or freezer staples and hung on for a while. To a point this is certainly true - the price of butter and bacon has absolutely gone up in the last year or so. But are these really investments? It is not as though you can buy $10,000 worth of butter, hold it in your freezer, and then sell it later. At best, it is a hedge against future commodity price inflation, though one that carries a risk of spoilage.
No Wine Before Its Time
In contrast, wine actually offers some investment potential. It is possible for people to buy bottles, cellar them properly, and then sell them at a higher price down the line. It is difficult to find properly audited performance reports on wine as an investment, but there is strong anecdotal evidence that investments in top first-growth vintages have done very well for the past decade-plus. To participate, an investor will have to educate themselves and be savvy about their purchases; buying wine at the local wine store isn't going to get the job done. Rather, prospective investors will need to investigate auctions and so-called "wine futures" to really benefit from this opportunity.
Call a Cab
Some people see money in the seas of cabs that clog downtown city streets. Some cities, most notably New York City, restrict the number of cabs on the roads by issuing what are called taxicab medallions - without a medallion, it is not legal to accept fares. What makes this an investment opportunity is that the operator of a cab and the owner of the medallion do not have to be the same person (for certain types of medallions); somebody can buy a medallion and then lease it to a cab operator. These medallions are not cheap (often causing many hundreds of thousands of dollars), but the leases often generate double-digit returns in an average year. For investors not quite willing to make the full plunge, Medallion Financial (Nasdaq:TAXI) is a publicly-traded company that is involved in this business.
The Sweet Sound of Success
The rental or leasing of musical instruments has been commonplace for years, but is arguably not an investment opportunity that many people have considered. That said, there can be very solid returns available in acquiring masterwork instruments (say a Stradivarius violin) and then renting them to musicians for performances. Although it may surprise some, many of the fine instruments that concert-goers see the musicians play are not owned by them, and considering that a master instrument can auction for over $1 million, it is easy to see why. While there are huge upfront costs in this investment, to say nothing of serious ongoing care and maintenance needs, owners of instruments can earn thousands of dollars for a performance rental as well as enjoying the appreciation of the instrument itself and the fact that collectors (who never play or lease out the instrument) keep taking instruments off the market. (These vehicles have gotten a bad rap in the press. Find out whether they deserve it. See Are Derivatives Safe For Retail Investors?)
A Lifetime Investment
Investors may be surprised to learn that there is a market in life insurance policies. While many people purchase and hold life insurance policies with the intent of the proceeds going to a spouse or family member, that is not always what happens. Sometimes the policyholder sees the beneficiary predecease them or encounters financial trouble. In those cases, the policyholder can sell the policy to an investor who buys the policy at a discount to its anticipated payout and then fulfills any remaining payments. While this is may seem like a morbid investment option, both parties are getting something they want or need - the seller is getting cash up front, while the buyer is getting a solid (if indefinite) return in exchange. Though this has been a market largely dominated by large or institutional investors, individual investors can participate in the marker as well.
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The Bottom Line
While double-digit returns for little work always seem attractive, investors should go into these unconventional ideas with their eyes wide open. These are not sure-fire paths to easy money and there are always drawbacks and hazards. Nevertheless, for investors who can withstand the risk and have the capital to make what can be large upfront commitments, some of these non-traditional investments may offer market-beating potential. (Find out whether your funds are being managed according to your goals. Check out 3 Alternative Ways To Assess Your Investment Manager.)
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