Real Assets: A Comprehensive Exploration


Real assets, such as commodities, real estate, equipment, and natural resources, hold intrinsic value due to their physical qualities. These tangible investments offer diversification benefits in a portfolio, often moving independently from financial assets like stocks and bonds. While real assets are generally more stable, they can be less liquid and involve higher carrying costs. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the world of real assets, their types, advantages, disadvantages, and answer common questions about their role in a diversified investment strategy.

Understanding real assets

Assets are categorized as either real, financial, or intangible, based on their economic value. Real assets are tangible, deriving their value from their physical attributes. This category includes natural substances like gold and oil, as well as man-made assets like machinery and buildings.

Intangible and financial assets

Intangible assets, unlike real assets, lack physical form and include items like patents, copyrights, trademarks, and intellectual property. Financial assets, on the other hand, encompass liquid properties like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and investment accounts.

For tax purposes, the IRS groups real and financial assets under the tangible asset category, while treating intangible assets differently.

Real assets vs. financial assets

Real assets and financial assets, though both considered tangible, are distinct. Real assets possess intrinsic value, whereas financial assets derive value from contractual claims on underlying assets. For instance, commodities and property are real assets, while commodity futures, ETFs, and REITs constitute financial assets dependent on real assets.

ETFs can sometimes blur these lines, as they may invest in companies connected to real assets or aim to mirror the performance of specific real assets.

Exploring the Types of Real Assets

The universe of real assets is incredibly diverse, offering a plethora of investment opportunities. Here are some of the primary categories within this asset class:

Precious metals

Precious metals, including gold, silver, platinum, and palladium, are renowned for their intrinsic value and rarity. These shimmering commodities often serve as safe havens during economic uncertainties and can act as effective hedges against inflation.

Real estate

Real estate, with its tangible presence, is one of the most recognizable forms of real assets. This category encompasses residential and commercial properties, land, and even large-scale infrastructure projects. Real estate investments offer the potential for rental income and long-term appreciation.

Equipment and machinery

Industrial equipment and machinery are vital assets in various sectors, including manufacturing and agriculture. These assets not only facilitate production but can also appreciate in value over time, making them attractive investments.

Natural resources

Natural resources, from oil fields to timberland, constitute another critical category of real assets. Their value often hinges on global supply and demand dynamics, making them sensitive to shifts in economic conditions.

Real assets vs. intangible assets vs. financial assets

To gain a comprehensive understanding of real assets, it’s crucial to contrast them with the two other main asset categories: intangible and financial assets.

Intangible assets

Intangible assets, as the name suggests, lack physical form. Instead, they represent valuable but non-material rights or intellectual property, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and intellectual creations. While intangible assets can hold significant value, they are fundamentally different from real assets due to their non-material nature.

Financial assets

Financial assets, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, bank deposits, and various investment accounts, are characterized by their liquidity and the rights they confer. Unlike real assets, financial assets derive their value from contractual claims on underlying assets, which can be real or intangible.

For tax purposes, the IRS groups real and financial assets under the tangible asset umbrella. However, intangible assets are subject to different tax treatment, reflecting their unique nature.

Real assets: the tangible foundation

Real assets serve as the tangible foundation of many economies. They encompass essential resources like oil, which powers industries, and real estate, which provides housing and commercial spaces. Their value often responds to supply and demand dynamics and economic conditions.

Financial assets: market performance

Financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, are more closely tied to market dynamics and investor sentiment. Their value can fluctuate rapidly based on factors like company performance, interest rates, and macroeconomic trends.

Investing in real assets

Investors can access real assets through direct ownership or indirectly through investment vehicles like Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) or commodity ETFs. These investments offer portfolio diversification, as they often move independently from financial assets like stocks and bonds.

The blurring lines

In recent years, investment products like ETFs have blurred the lines between real and financial assets. Some ETFs invest in companies connected to real assets, such as those in the energy or mining sectors. Others aim to track the price movement of specific real assets or a basket of real assets, even though the ETFs themselves are financial assets.

This distinction is crucial for investors, as it impacts the risk and return profiles of their investments. While real assets often provide stability and can be a hedge against inflation, financial assets may offer more liquidity and potential for capital appreciation.

Understanding the nuances

Understanding the nuanced differences between real and financial assets empowers investors to make informed choices in building diversified and resilient portfolios. It’s essential to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each asset class within the context of your financial goals and risk tolerance.

Investing in real assets can provide stability, diversification, and the potential for long-term growth. However, it’s crucial to assess your investment goals carefully and consider factors such as liquidity and carrying costs before venturing into the world of real assets.

Advantages and disadvantages of investing in real assets


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Portfolio diversification: Real assets often move independently from financial assets, providing diversification benefits that can help reduce overall portfolio risk.
  • Inflation hedge: During inflationary periods, real assets tend to outperform financial assets due to their intrinsic value. Investing in commodities like gold can be a hedge against rising prices.
  • Steady income streams: Long-lived real assets, such as real estate and infrastructure projects, can provide reliable income streams for investors. This income can be particularly valuable in uncertain economic times.
  • Illiquidity: Real assets are less liquid than financial assets, meaning they take longer to sell. This can pose a challenge if you need to access your investment quickly.
  • Storage costs and transport fees: Investing in physical real assets, like gold bullion or real estate, often requires additional costs for storage and transportation. These expenses can eat into your overall returns.

Frequently asked questions

Are real assets a suitable investment for beginners?

Real assets can be suitable for investors of all levels, but beginners should be aware of the potential illiquidity and storage costs associated with certain real assets. It’s essential to diversify your portfolio and seek advice from financial professionals.

Can I invest in real assets through mutual funds or ETFs?

Yes, you can. There are mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that focus on real assets. These funds allow you to invest in a diversified portfolio of real assets without the need for direct ownership.

Are there tax advantages to investing in real assets?

Yes, there can be tax advantages to investing in real assets. Depending on your location and the type of real asset, you may be eligible for tax deductions or favorable tax treatment. Consult with a tax professional to understand the specific tax implications in your situation.

What are some common real assets for individual investors?

Common real assets for individual investors include real estate investment trusts (REITs), precious metals like gold and silver, and energy-related assets such as oil and natural gas. These assets are accessible to retail investors through various investment vehicles.

Key takeaways

  • Real assets, including commodities and real estate, hold intrinsic value due to their physical properties.
  • They offer portfolio diversification by often moving independently from financial assets.
  • Real assets can be less liquid and involve higher carrying and storage costs.
  • Investors should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of real assets to determine their suitability for their financial goals and risk tolerance.
View Article Sources
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