Browse Analysis of Managed and Structured Products

20.3 Investing In Alternatives – Benefits And Risks

Understand the benefits and risks associated with investing in alternative assets, including insights on portfolio diversification, alpha generation, and potential for increased absolute returns.

3. Benefits of Adding Alternative Investments to a Portfolio


One of the primary benefits of incorporating alternative investments into a portfolio is diversification. Diversification involves spreading investments across various asset classes to reduce risk. Alternative investments often have low correlations with traditional asset classes like stocks and bonds. This low correlation means that they can perform well when traditional assets do not, which reduces the overall volatility of a portfolio.

– An investment portfolio with more asset classes tends to have a smoother return profile over time. – Reducing risk while retaining potential for high returns is a key advantage.

Alpha Generation

Alpha refers to the ability of an investment to outperform its benchmark index. Investors seek assets that can generate alpha to enhance their portfolio returns, making alternatives an attractive option.

– Alternative investments can offer unique opportunities not available in traditional markets. – Skilled management can result in higher-than-average returns.

Increasing Absolute Returns

The pursuit of absolute returns aims to generate positive returns regardless of market conditions. Alternative investments often utilize strategies that seek to achieve these types of gains.

– Strategies may include Arbitrage, leverage, security selection and market timing. – Flexible in approach, alternatives offer the potential for superior returns.

4. Risks of Investing in Alternatives

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk arises because many alternative investments are not easily sold or are sold at a discount. This can create problems if the investor needs quick access to their funds.

– Longer lock-up periods limit immediate access to funds. – This can impact investors’ capacity to respond to market shifts quickly.

Volatility Risk

Though alternatives are often seen as a way to reduce portfolio volatility, investing in certain types can result in high volatility.

– Some hedge funds and private equity investments can be subject to rapid price changes. – Higher risk leads to higher potential for loss.

Regulatory Risk

Regulatory risk relates to the risk that changes in laws and regulations could adversely affect alternative investments.

– New policies may impact operations, profitability, and the overall stability of the investments. – Navigating regulatory environments requires significant diligence and expertise.

Manager Risk

Much of the success in managing alternative investments depends on the skills and judgments of the managers.

– Investors must vet fund managers carefully. – Poor management can lead to suboptimal returns or significant losses.

High Fees

Fees for managing alternative investments can be substantially higher compared to traditional assets. These fees can eat into returns, making it admittedly costly.

– Management and performance fees can add up. – Investors need to be cautious and clearly understand the fee structure.


Q1: What kinds of assets are considered as alternative investments?

A1: Alternative investments commonly include hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, and collectibles.

Q2: Are alternative investments suitable for all investors?

A2: Alternative investments are generally more suitable for experienced, high-net-worth, or institutional investors due to their complexity and higher risks.

Q3: Can alternative investments guarantee high returns?

A3: No, like all investments, alternative investments carry risks and there is no guarantee of high returns. They can, however, provide opportunities for higher returns when managed skillfully.

Key Takeaways

  • The main benefits of adding alternative investments to a portfolio include improved diversification, potential for alpha, and increased absolute returns.
  • The main risks include liquidity risk, volatility risk, regulatory risk, manager risk, and high fees.
  • Investors should conduct comprehensive due diligence and consider their risk tolerance before investing in alternatives.


  • Diversification: Spreading investments across various asset classes to reduce overall risk.
  • Alpha: The ability of an investment to outperform a benchmark index.
  • Absolute Returns: Positive returns achieved independently of market direction.
  • Liquidity Risk: The risk associated with the difficulty of selling an investment quickly without significant loss in value.
  • Regulatory Risk: The risk that changes in laws and regulations will adversely affect investments.
  • Manager Risk: The risk that a fund manager’s behavior will negatively impact portfolio returns.

Mermaid Chart Example: Diversification Effects

    graph TD;
	    A[Traditional Portfolio] -->|Stocks| B[Stocks];
	    A -->|Bonds| C[Bonds];
	    A -->|Low Correlation| D[Alternative Investments];
	    D --> E[Real Estate];
	    D --> F[Commodities];
	    D --> G[Hedge Funds];

** Mathematical Formulas Example (Beta as a measure of volatility):**

$$ \beta = \frac{{\text{cov}(r_i, r_m)}}{{\text{var}(r_m)}} $$


  • $ \beta $ = Beta of the investment
  • $ r_i $ = Return of the investment
  • $ r_m $ = Return of the market
  • $ \text{cov}(r_i, r_m) $ = Covariance of the return of the investment and the market
  • $ \text{var}(r_m) $ = Variance of the market’s return

Reference: Canadian Securities Course | Volume 2

📚✨ Quiz Time! ✨📚

🧐 Assess and Solidify Your Understanding

Welcome to the Knowledge Checkpoint! You’ll find 10 carefully curated quizzes designed to reinforce the key concepts covered. These questions will help you gauge your grasp of the material, identify areas that need further review, and ensure you’re on the right track towards mastering the content for the Canadian Securities certification exams. Take your time, think critically, and use these quizzes as a tool to enhance your learning journey. 📘✨

Good luck! 🍀💪

## Which of the following is a primary benefit of adding alternative investments to a portfolio? - [ ] Reducing alpha - [x] Diversification - [ ] Increasing beta - [ ] Decreasing absolute returns > **Explanation:** Diversification is one of the key benefits, as alternative investments typically have low correlations with traditional asset classes, thus reducing overall portfolio risk. ## How can alternative investments contribute to a portfolio's performance? - [ ] By minimizing returns - [ ] By reducing portfolio volatility - [x] By adding alpha - [ ] By increasing market risk > **Explanation:** Adding alpha refers to generating excess returns above the benchmark, which can potentially improve overall portfolio performance. ## What is meant by increasing absolute returns in the context of alternative investments? - [ ] Minimizing account balances - [ ] Maintaining fixed returns - [x] Achieving positive returns irrespective of market conditions - [ ] Reducing risk exposure > **Explanation:** Increasing absolute returns means aiming for positive returns regardless of market conditions, often by employing strategies that exploit various market inefficiencies. ## Which of the following is a common risk associated with alternative investments? - [ ] High liquidity - [x] Limited transparency - [ ] Low volatility - [ ] High correlation with traditional assets > **Explanation:** Alternative investments often come with limited transparency, making it challenging for investors to fully understand the underlying risks. ## Why might an investor be concerned about the liquidity of alternative investments? - [ ] Because they can be easily bought and sold - [x] Because they might be hard to sell quickly without a significant loss in value - [ ] Because they always have high trading volumes - [ ] Because they are listed on major exchanges > **Explanation:** Liquidity risk is significant in alternative investments as it might be difficult to quickly sell them without incurring significant losses. ## How do alternative investments help in diversification? - [ ] By being highly correlated with traditional assets - [ ] By exclusively investing in public stocks - [x] By having low correlations with traditional assets - [ ] By focusing only on one sector > **Explanation:** Alternative investments are typically less correlated with traditional assets like stocks and bonds, which helps in spreading risk and diversifying the portfolio. ## What is a potential benefit of adding real estate as an alternative investment? - [ ] Immediate liquidity - [x] Income generation through rent - [ ] High correlation with stock markets - [ ] Daily pricing > **Explanation:** Real estate can provide income through rent and potential capital appreciation, offering a diversification benefit. ## Which risk is highlighted by the complexity of some alternative investment structures? - [ ] Simplicity risk - [x] Operational risk - [ ] Sanction risk - [ ] Transparency risk > **Explanation:** The complexity of alternative investment structures can lead to operational risks, as they might require specialized knowledge to manage effectively. ## What is a key reason for the lack of transparency in many alternative investments? - [ ] High public reporting requirements - [ ] Centralized management - [x] Proprietary investment strategies - [ ] Real-time pricing availability > **Explanation:** Many alternative investments use proprietary investment strategies and have less stringent public disclosure requirements, leading to a lack of transparency. ## Why might high fees be a concern for investors in alternative investments? - [ ] They always ensure higher returns - [ ] They indicate fair market value - [ ] They guarantee liquidity - [x] They can reduce net returns > **Explanation:** High fees associated with managing alternative investments can significantly reduce the net returns to investors. ## In what way can alternative investments help in managing portfolio volatility? - [ ] By being highly predictable - [ ] By being free from market risks - [x] By providing returns that are not correlated with traditional assets - [ ] By guaranteeing returns > **Explanation:** Since alternative investments are often not correlated with traditional assets, they can help manage portfolio volatility by diversifying the sources of risk and return. ## Why is due diligence critical when investing in alternatives? - [ ] Because it guarantees returns - [ ] Because it eliminates market risks - [x] Because it helps in understanding the underlying risks and structures - [ ] Because it is regulated by law > **Explanation:** Due diligence is critical to understand the underlying risks, structures, and management practices of alternative investments. ## What is one risk of investing in hedge funds compared to traditional investments? - [ ] They have higher liquidity - [ ] They are fully transparent - [ ] They are regulated like mutual funds - [x] They may use leverage, increasing risk > **Explanation:** Hedge funds often use leverage to amplify returns, which also increases the potential risk compared to traditional investments. ## How do private equity investments differ from public equity investments in terms of liquidity? - [ ] They are more liquid - [ ] They are traded on public exchanges - [x] They have lower liquidity - [ ] They have real-time pricing > **Explanation:** Private equity investments tend to have lower liquidity because they are not traded on public exchanges and may require a longer investment horizon. ## Which alternative investment is known for its potential to hedge against inflation? - [ ] Corporate bonds - [x] Commodities - [ ] Fixed deposits - [ ] Short-term treasury bills > **Explanation:** Commodities are often seen as a hedge against inflation because their prices tend to rise when inflation increases. ## What type of risk is particularly associated with venture capital investments? - [ ] Currency risk - [ ] Interest rate risk - [ ] Sovereign risk - [x] High failure rate of startups > **Explanation:** Venture capital investments often involve startups, which have a high risk of failure, making this a significant risk factor. ## Which asset class is commonly included in the 'alternatives' category due to its unique characteristics and returns? - [ ] Government bonds - [ ] Large-cap stocks - [x] Hedge funds - [ ] Index funds > **Explanation:** Hedge funds are considered as alternative investments due to their unique characteristics like the use of leverage, short selling, and their ability to generate returns uncorrelated with traditional markets. ## What benefit might infrastructure investments provide to a portfolio? - [ ] High volatility - [ ] High liquidity - [x] Stable cash flows and inflation protection - [ ] High market correlation > **Explanation:** Infrastructure investments can provide stable cash flows and some degree of inflation protection, making them attractive for portfolio diversification. ## How should an investor approach allocation to alternative investments in their portfolio? - [ ] Invest all assets in alternatives - [ ] Avoid alternatives completely - [x] Allocate a small percentage to increase diversification - [ ] Switch completely from traditional to alternative investments > **Explanation:** Allocating a small percentage to alternative investments can provide diversification benefits without exposing the entire portfolio to the risks associated with alternatives. ## What is a potential consequence of high management fees associated with alternative investments? - [ ] Increased transparency - [x] Decreased net returns - [ ] Eliminated risk - [ ] Guaranteed higher returns > **Explanation:** High management fees can substantially reduce the net returns to investors, making it crucial to consider fees when evaluating alternative investments.

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In this section

  • 20.3.1 Why Invest In Alternative Investments?
    Explore why investors include alternative investments in their portfolios. Understand the concepts of diversification, alpha addition, and increasing a portfolio's absolute returns in this comprehensive guide.
  • 20.3.2 Efficient Frontier
    Learn about the Efficient Frontier and its importance in creating an optimized investment portfolio by properly managing risk and return.
  • 20.3.3 Empirical Evidence
    Discover the performance of hedge funds contrasted with traditional investments through varied economic conditions over a span of 15 years, highlighting key periods of market stress and stability.
  • 20.3.4 What Is Risk?
    A detailed guide on understanding risk in investment strategies, including traditional and alternative investments, primarily focusing on measures like volatility and drawdown amount.
  • 20.3.5 Alternative Strategy Risk Drivers
    An in-depth exploration of the various risk drivers associated with alternative strategy funds, including first-order, second-order, and operational risks.