Saddled with a pile of debt and a looming war with England, France was in desperate need of cash in 1803. So Napoleon took the same course of action that many publicly traded companies do today -- asset liquidation. The ensuing Louisiana Purchase was sealed for $15 million, or just 3 cents per acre.
Thomas Jefferson's emissaries to France struck an incredible bargain. They acquired a territory that stretched from the Gulf Coast to Canada, essentially doubling the size of the fledgling United States. France didn't know it, but Jefferson was willing to pay $10 million just for the city of New Orleans. Control of the strategic port secured navigation and trade along the Mississippi River, which is what he was really after.
For half a century, this would be the cheapest and most transformative land grab in the nation's history. But it was outdone in 1867, when Russia (a motivated seller that also feared war with England at the time) ceded what would later become the state of Alaska for $7.2 million. This purchase netted more than twice the land area of Texas for just 2 cents an acre.
That's an amazing deal -- even before you consider the millions of ounces of gold or billions of barrels of oil that were subsequently unearthed.
A lot has changed since then, but as I've been telling High-Yield Investing readers for months now, prized real estate is still in fashion.
Scarce resources are typically associated with fungible commodities such as oil or metals. They're not exactly making any more land, yet the world's population is growing by 200,000 people (births minus deaths) each day.
That's over a million new people a week crowding into a fixed amount of space to live, work and shop -- placing upward pressure on housing, office parks and retail strip centers.
That's exactly why forward-looking investors like Warren Buffett are placing big bets on land and buildings. We tend to associate ultra-rich business tycoons with hard assets like steel, but a disproportionate number of the world's billionaires have invested the bulk of their wealth in real estate.
Ted Turner owns more than a dozen sprawling ranches from Oklahoma to Montana. This collection spans 2 million acres (an area more than twice the size of Rhode Island), making the media mogul one of the nation's largest private landowners.
Turner's explanation is simple: "I never like to buy anything except land. It's the only thing that lasts."
Liberty Media CEO John Malone scooped up 1 million acres of timberland in Maine. And Sam Zell (No. 66 on the Forbes 400 list with a net worth of $4.9 billion) made a fortune by investing in commercial office properties. His current portfolio includes housing in China, shopping malls in Brazil, and the Waldorf Astoria Chicago hotel.
The point is, real estate can be a sound, durable investment -- not to mention a great way to protect against the ravages of inflation and a depreciating dollar. And its low correlation to equities can provide some buoyancy when the economy deteriorates and stocks are sinking.
Most of us don't have the bankroll to buy an office tower, an apartment complex or a retail shopping center. But I've found what just might be the next best thing.
I call them "Eisenhower trusts."
And simply put, when it comes to income investments, they can't be beat. Income earned from "Eisenhower trusts" have risen through every recession, depression, stock market crash and economic meltdown -- and it does all this while growing faster than the rate of inflation... an average 10% a year for the past 60 years.
These investments get their name from a law hidden deep inside the Cigar Excise Tax Extension Act, signed 53 years ago by President Eisenhower. And now, thanks to this law, it's possible for ordinary Americans to invest in wealth-creating asset classes like real estate and tap into the same income sources that America's elite have used for generations to shield their wealth from taxes and turn it into a fortune -- but only if you know how.