Can sneakers be a serious investment? What about trading cards? Or shares in a cannabis farm?
While many people are satisfied keeping their savings in a 401(k) or in IRAs, there are plenty of other ways to grow your wealth. Among financial advisers, these are known as alternative or nontraditional assets. The best-known alternative assets include real estate, hedge funds, private equity, and venture capital. But as technology and culture have evolved, new options have emerged. Kevin Mirabile, associate professor of finance at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, calls them “exotic alternative investments.”
“You can define an alternative investment by inclusion or by exclusion,” Mirabile says. “Exclusion is the more common way, and it’s simple: an alternative investment is anything that’s not a stock or bond. Anything that can’t be converted to cash tomorrow is an alternative investment.”
One advantage of these investments is that they aren’t affected by greater forces in the economy as directly as stocks and bonds. “A recession may mean that people aren’t buying the same number of airline tickets, but it doesn’t necessarily make the value of a Picasso or a pair of Air Jordans decline,” Mirabile says. Otherwise stated: “Basically, you want investments that you wouldn’t find in your parents’ portfolios.”
There are, however, parameters to these investments. As Mirabile explains, there needs to be a mechanism allowing you to buy a share of the asset and an index to compare its value to those of other assets in the same category, and the asset has to be tradable.
Mirabile lays out a framework for evaluating such investments in his recent book Exotic Alternative Investments: Standalone Characteristics, Unique Risks and Portfolio Effects. The professor, who previously worked for financial powerhouses like Morgan Stanley and Barclays, spoke to Complex about opportunities ranging from e-sports to Beanie Babies. His answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.