Alternative Investments (I): Art, Gold, Wine
If the investments in shares, bonds or bank deposits seem boring to you, then you should have a look at the so called alternative investment market, which can be very roughly described as being everything that does not fall under the categories above. Maybe, in this case, you will be surprised to see that success is even more problematic here than on the classic markets.
This is very glamorous topic, which we have encountered also in movies and in the news. However, we need to know two things about a real art investor. Firstly, they need to suppress their own aesthetic taste in favor of the profitability criteria and, secondly, they need to have a vast experience and matching knowledge. On stock exchanges, for instance, insider trading (trading based on confidential information) is severely punished. The art market, the same as other alternative markets, would not exist without this type of strategy. It is obvious that in order to be successful, you have to deal more or less on insider information.
On the other hand, not only in case of art, but also in case of all forms of alternative investments, you must be ready to wait in order to make a profit. Artsy, the well-known platform of art dealings, says that it is easier to buy art than sell it. The auction houses and art galleries worldwide tend to favor famous artists, but in their case the profit margin is much lower.
They say about gold – and this goes also for the other precious metals – that it is infallible, as its value increases constantly. This is true, but only on the long run, dozens of years. More precisely, gold is a crisis asset, which preserves its value during hard times (booming inflation, armed conflicts). During the periods of economic growth, its value may decrease, or at least, the value of company stocks increases at a faster pace.
You should also know about gold that it is difficult to purchase, keep and trade in physical form. In Romania, there are banks, such as BCR, which redeem it if you keep it deposited in the bank’s safes. However, the redeeming price is visibly lower than the purchase price.
If physical gold is a difficult investment, there are various forms of gold related investments, such as or CFD (contracts for difference). These refer to the speculative profit by sale or redeeming at a date subsequent to the contract date, fixed in case of futures. The investment in the shares of a company specialized in mining for precious metals is also strongly influenced by the price of gold.
You may have heard that the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy have increasingly become a trendy investment, especially since 1999, when a specialized exchange was set up in London, London International Vintners Exchange. This is, however, a market on which you can venture only helped by a specialized manager. The entry threshold amounts to several thousands of dollars or euros, as the price of a collector’s – or investor’s – bottle of wine starts from $ 5-600. Which means that drinking non profitable bottles is only to a small extent a practicable alternative, no matter what the novices might think.
Storage conditions are also important. In case of a significant investment, of thousands or hundreds of thousand euros, wine is stored in specialized facilities, for an annual fees. Besides the fee, you should also consider insurance. In 2012, WineCare, a specialized store in in the USA, was destroyed by the hurricane Sandy. Having no insurance meant a disaster to all who had kept their assets there.
This story was also published in Romanian on News.ro, on 15 January 2019.
It used to be the case that one would have some money, and they would go to an advisor who would then, in turn, research different markets and make a recommendation. That person would charge their client a fee for managing the money and a success fee should the placement of funds generate a profit. While the former would vary from, generally, 0.5% to 2% (with the rule being that you pay less when you place more money), the latter could go to up to 20% of your profits. And while, in the old days, one would pay for the work the advisor does behind the scenes to research and get top-notch information in a market, the alternatives nowadays no longer justify paying such high prices to place one’s money. The advisor is slowly being replaced by a user’s own research, online investment management companies, or even Artificial Intelligence.
The price for investing your money has also gone dramatically down, with the rise of more and more digital companies using advanced software to analyse data and generate attractive portfolios.
Stock market investments are also an attractive alternative. However, without experience in the field or a fee-hungry advisor, this can prove to be a problematic choice. The issue is two-fold: on the one side, picking the stocks to “bet” on can be extremely difficult, as it takes serious market research to identify the potential long-term champions; and then, of course, there is the approach that some companies might skyrocket when they are launching new products or tapping into a new market. However, this comes with significant risk, as overnight success is rare, and massive failures have been generating headlines since before we can remember.
One could think that actively investing one's own money is a bold move, but the old-fashioned “keep your money in the bank” option is now a money-losing option.
It’s been 12 years since the modern financial sector started to show its weaknesses, and 11 since the sequence of events that started with Lehman Brothers collapsing nearly destroyed the world economy. The new reality is one of lack of trust in the banks from the younger generation, and of negative interest rates. Yes, in many countries it actually costs you money to have banks take your placements.
As such, it is no wonder that it actually makes sense to find alternative ways to protect and expand one’s wealth. However, there is one significant risk that one should always consider: while not being tied to big institutions such as banks is what has made these alternatives attractive to younger generations in the first place, the downside to that is that, if anything were to happen to them, they will not have an entity behind them to bail them out, which poses an increased risk to customers. As such, research and caution are highly desirable.
Over the last 2-3 years, the shared economy model, championed by the likes of Uber, has been adopted in more and more industries, including the financial one.
More and more platforms are offering the option for people to create portfolios using small amounts of money, relying on the power of the crowd to create strength when put together.
So, here are a few of the options that are out there, and a bit on how they work:
- FinTech is always an exciting field. Have a look at players such as Robinhood and Sofi.com, which offer lending, mortgages and investment to categories of people who would not always qualify for support from a traditional bank.
- Peer-to-peer lending (P2P) uses marketplaces or platforms to match borrowers (people) lenders (also people) - see Mintos, Grupeer, Peerberry, Lendermarket. Those interested can “buy” a share of a loan on the platforms.
- Startups: new and exciting startups are in the news almost daily. Two of the ones that have piqued my interest are forgeglobal.com, seedrs.com. If you have a more serious amount of money to invest, getting “in on the action” at ground level can be incredibly rewarding, both in terms of supporting an entrepreneur who’s just starting out, as well as potentially getting a significant return for your investment. But, as with everything, make sure you do your due diligence and ample research in the space you are about to invest in.
- If you want to go industry-specific, there are now marketplaces for investments in real estate. Don’t have enough money to buy and flip a piece of real estate? That’s okay. You can pair up with other investors, crowdfund and get involved that way. Crowd Estate, for example, promises 17% annual returns.
Please note that I am an investor in some of the companies I have mentioned in this article. This article is not meant to provide investment advice, it is merely an investor’s perspective on alternative investments available. Capital at risk.
If you’re a startup or scale up founder, or if you are working up to launching your idea, events can be useful to see how others do or dit it. It’s useful to see what worked and what didn’t for successful entrepreneurs, how they think, their approach to business.
It can take a lot of time and energy to attend business events, and the gains aren’t always immediate, but success doesn’t happen in isolation – entrepreneurs need a certain vibe and energy to keep going, they need networks, need to be connected to their markets, their competitors and their peers.
I go to a few events every year, and I choose those where I am likely to see new ideas put into action, meet smart people and explore different sectors. I do focus on my key areas (property, fintech and medtech), but I keep my eyes open for what’s going on outside of there areas too. So here is what’s on my list currently.
- Central European Startup Awards – happening this week in Bucharest!
Conflicting agendas mean that unfortunately I’m not going, but I’ll follow it with interest.
This is a regional program run by the Global Startup Awards. In Romania they’ve partnered with Impact Hub, one of the biggest co-working spaces and entrepreneur networking platforms. Annually, they select and award startups in tech / web industries. After the national phase of Central European Startup Awards competition, the winners of each of the 10 countries (Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary) participate in a regional competition, whose winners are announced on November 21st in Bucharest.
2. Disrupt Berlin – 11-12 December, Berlin, Germany
Organised by TechCrunch, Disrupt Berlin showcases emerging trends in the business of technology and is a great place to meet or find information about game-changing founders, startups and technologies.
There are a multitude of conferences, workshops, networking opportunities and companies from all aspects of tech, but focused in on several category tracks. I'm looking this year at Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, BioTech/HealthTech, Blockchain and FinTech, but there are a few others.
3. Bucharest Tech Week – May 2020, Bucharest, Romania
5 days of conferences hosting international & local speakers, and a B2C gadgets and tech expo. Conferences are focused on innovation (seems to be an umbrella theme, which can fit anything these days though), HR, some coding conferences but also Fintech.
4. Wearable Europe - 13 - 14 May 2020, Berlin, Germany
Conference and exhibition focusing on wearable technologies, applications, and their commercialisation progress. The conference is part of the IDTechEx Show, a series of synergistic events on Printed Electronics, wearable, sensors, IoT, graphene & 2D materials, energy storage, electric vehicles.
5. EU-Startups Summit – 28-29 May, Barcelona, Spain
Some of Europe’s hottest startups and successful European entrepreneurs - over 1,500 founders, startup enthusiasts, corporates, angel investors, VCs, and media from across Europe. The two-day event is a great opportunity for networking, and a meeting point for aspiring entrepreneurs and investors who are aiming to build international tech companies.
6. London Tech Week - 8-12 June 2020, London, UK
A 5 day technology and innovation marathon, with events on connecting global markets, cybersecurity, digital transformation and innovation, for startups and scaleups.
7. Webit Festival Europe - 17-20 June 2020, Valencia, Spain
A huge event, Webit is a B2B and B2C festival and tech fiesta: 15.000 delegates, 450 speakers, 1,500 selected startups, 500 investors, international media.
With specialised summits for many verticals, I particularly am interested in the summits for health, fintech and blockchain. Other summits focus on cybersecurity, mobility, growth, future of food, or digital entertainment & media.
8. Techsylvania – 20-23 June 2020, Cluj, Romania
One of the biggest tech events in CEE, Techsylvania has tens of events, workshops, keynote speakers and panels. It can be very informative and great for networking and for benchmarking ideas, because it has almost 4.000 attendees - engineers, founders, investors, executives and CEOs of IT & digital companies, banks and startups.
There is a startup competition at Techsylvania too, Startup Avalanche, for early-stage startups, which get to meet international VCs and investors as they compete for the Grand Prize – €100,000 investment.