Assets under management in vehicles classified as alternative investments have grown rapidly since the mid-1990s. This growth has largely occurred because of interest in these investments by institutions, such as endowment and pension funds, as well as high-net-worth individuals seeking diversification and return opportunities. Alternative investments are perceived to behave differently from traditional investments. Investors may seek either absolute return or relative return.
Some investors hope alternative investments will provide positive returns throughout the economic cycle; this goal is an absolute return objective. Alternative investments are not free of risk, however, and their returns may be negative and/or correlated with other investments, including traditional investments, especially in periods of financial crisis. Some investors in alternative investments have a relative return objective. A relative return objective, which is often the objective of portfolios of traditional investment, seeks to achieve a return relative to an equity or fixed-income benchmark.
This reading is organized as follows. Section 2 describes alternative investments’ basic characteristics and categories; general strategies of alternative investment portfolio managers; the role of alternative investments in a diversified portfolio; and investment structures used to provide access to alternative investments. Sections 3 through 7 describe features of hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, and infrastructure, respectively, along with issues in calculating returns to and valuation of each.1 Section 8 briefly describes other alternative investments. Section 9 provides an overview of risk management, including due diligence, of alternative investments. A summary and practice problems conclude the reading.