Alternative investments: six of the best

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There's no denying the attractions of investing in something a bit different. While stocks and shares may be a sensible part of your portfolio, you can hardly hang them on the wall, polish them in the garage, show them off to your friends, or admire them in your wine cellar.

Meanwhile, there's the diversification that you get from investing beyond the ordinary, because while the global stockmarkets may suffer together, it's less likely that shares take a tumble at exactly the moment your Chippendale sideboard halves in value.
Of course, when you move away from some of the more traditional investment routes, there are certain risks that are specific to each market. Of all the things that can happen to traditional investments at least they won't sit unfashionably in your front room, break down spectacularly, or turn out to be a fake.

Yet many of them have performed so strongly over recent years that they deserve a second look. Knight Frank's Luxury Investment Index, which includes things like art and wine, coins and stamps, has risen faster than the FTSE 100 in the past decade, which makes them an interesting proposition.

We reveal six of the most popular alternative investments, and what you need to consider before you invest.

Alternative investments
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Alternative investments: six of the best

Fine wine is one of the best-performing asset classes of the last 20 years, and prices are still going up as demand from China hits new highs - particularly at the top end of the red wine market.

However, there are no guarantees that this trend will continue, and the experts recommend that nobody goes anywhere near wine as an investment unless they can afford to lose a substantial proportion of their money - or if they would be happy drinking their losses.

They highlight that in 2008 and 2011, the market saw some serious slips - in fact in 2011 it fell 30% - so it’s important to be alive to the risks

We’re used to the idea of the value of cars falling over time, but desirable classic cars can actually gain in value. The most desirable handful of cars have seen their value double in the past four years, while even the kinds of classics that most people can afford are increasing in value by anything up to 20% a year.

However, as with all of these alternative investments, this isn’t guaranteed to continue in the future, so you should never invest what you cannot afford to lose.

Buyers also need to bear in mind that unless they are keeping the car in mint condition in a garage, they need to pay to keep it on the road - which can easily cost £1,000 a year - more if something big goes wrong.

Some owners think of this as the price they pay for the hobby of owning the car - quite aside from the investment - but if you consider the two together, it’s easy to see how even if the car itself increases in value, you’ll end up paying out more than you gain.

According to Knight Frank, antique furniture has had the worst run of all of the luxury investments. Prices fell 8% last year, and are down 22% in five years and 24% in ten.

This is partly because older antique furniture is falling out of fashion. As a result, more fashionable early and mid 20th century pieces have done better, and are up 29% in ten years.

Passing fashions make this a particularly volatile investment, so in this case more than any other, investors should buy things because they want to see them in their home - with the handy side-effect of a potential increase in value if they buy something iconic and unusual.

And while they should buy the best they can afford, they need to ensure they do not spend more than they can lose - or choose to keep in the lounge if the bottom falls out of the market.

Investing in rare coins is one of the most buoyant parts of the alternative market at the moment - with values up 10% in a year, 90% over five years, and 221% over ten years. However, this is definitely an area for experts, because unless you know what you are doing it’s easy to be taken in by counterfeits, doctored coins, and dealers who encourage you to spend more than the coin is worth.

Most people tend to start collecting coins as a hobby, investing to own something they love, hoping they will see some gains, but willing to take a loss on their collection if they ever had to sell. With this sort of approach, the big gains are likely to be well beyond your reach, as they are focused on the top end of the market. However, it should protect you from unaffordable losses if the value of your collection drops.


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