One of the problems of being ultra-wealthy is not knowing what to do with all your money. Sure, it’s a good problem to have, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge.
If you’re an average Joe, or even if you’re mildly wealthy, choosing the best investment for your modest savings is easy. There really aren’t that many options. Once you have 6-12 months of living expenses stashed into an emergency fund with high-liquidity, and you’ve maxed out your annual contributions for tax-sheltered accounts (think IRAs, Roth IRA and 401(k)) and invested them in a well-diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds, there’s probably not much money left to invest. And if there is, you probably should just blow it on a round-the-world vacation, a new car, a jet ski, or a brand new flat-screen TV. You’ve earned it.
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If you’re ultra-wealthy, it’s not so simple. There are high expectations to meet. Plus, you already have enough cars, jet skis and flat-screen TVs to sink your 400-foot yacht. You need to find something more imaginative, fun and profitable, than just buying stocks in a Vanguard Total Stock Market Index fund. It’s a smart move but also lame and, oh, so middle class. And if getting into shadier business deals isn’t your game, it’s time to do some real investing.
Here are three of the best investment options around the 0.1% use to park their stacks of spare moolah.
Closed-end funds are a popular choice among the über-wealthy because of their excellent return on investment. The only catch is you need large amounts of cash reserves and be willing tie up your money for at least five years, often longer. In exchange for their lack of liquidity, closed-end funds offer big returns and high yields.
A good example of a profitable closed-end fund is Doric Aviation, a closed-end fund manager that was awarded the Most Innovative Deal of the Year 2012.
The company pools the money of investors and buys planes which are then leased to large airlines, such Emirates and Singapore Airlines. Just from the leases, investors can make a 9% annual yield, plus they get a big chunk of cash when the planes are sold after a few years. (Flightglobal)
In comparison, the S&P 500, the main investment benchmark in the United States, is usually around 3%.
The catch is you need to invest a minimum of 10,000 euro ($13,822) and pay a 5% one-time fee. This is actually a relatively inexpensive entry-fee for closed-end funds, but it’s still more than most amateur investors (at least the smart ones) are willing to invest in a single asset.
Become an Angel Investor
Angel investors are high net-worth individuals who use their own cash as seed money for start-up companies in exchange for ownership in the business. Although some angel investors also provide time, expertise and hands-on support to startups, many simply hand over the cash and let entrepreneurs run their businesses without further intrusion.
Investing in start-ups used to be something only the very rich and well connected could aspire. Nowadays, all it takes is a whole lot of dough: $1 million to be precise. That is the minimum net-worth the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires individuals to have before they are recognized as accredited investors, a requirement for most high-risk investment ventures.
Although it is possible to invest in start-ups through online syndicates and crowdfunding platforms, the more serious start-ups follow the advice of the Angel Capital Association and only use accredited investors.
Angel investments are notoriously risky, but there’s nothing that offers more potential for growth. A classic example is the $100,000 to $200,000 Ram Shriram, the King Midas of angel investors, invested in Google back in the days when the company’s only office space was a garage. When Google went public he netted 5.1 million shares. He still owns 2.8 million shares, which as of August 1, 2014, are selling for $566 each. Now that is what I call return on your investment.
It could have been an even better deal. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, first started their company, their goal was to sell their search engine idea to whoever was willing to pay $1 million. Happily for them, but not for Yahoo, one of the companies that rejected their offer back in 1997, nobody was willing to buy their idea.
The downside of being an angel investor is many of your investments in start-ups will fail, and even those that do well may take years to make a profit. Usually, the only time angel investors really make a real profit is when one of their companies goes public or is bought out by another company or investor.
Hedge funds are the most widely used investment vehicles for the über-wealthy. According to a study by Prince & Associates on the investing habits of the rich, wealthier investors are more likely to invest in hedge funds and start-up companies as opposed to mutual funds. In fact, the report shows that among the individuals with more than $20 million, not one of the investors in their survey invested in mutual funds. (Wall Street Journal)
Hedge funds are private investment partnerships that are only available to wealthy individuals who qualify as accredited investors. In other words, you need to bring at least $1 million in poker chips to play at this table. Hedge funds charge exorbitant management fees and require you to lock your cash for long periods. They are certainly expensive to join, but once you do, they open the possibility of using investment techniques that aren’t available to most investors.
Hedge fund managers use aggressive investment strategies such as short selling assets (betting on the value of assets dropping), use derivatives like futures, forwards and options, and aren’t afraid to leverage their assets to borrow more money to invest. This allows them to receive return rates that sometimes far exceed the profits of mutual funds.
Another advantage of hedge funds is that it provides the wealthy with an investment avenue that is not directly linked to the stock market. Because they invest in a wide variety of assets, hedge funds can perform well even when stock markets are plummeting. This provides the rich with a nifty way to diversify their investment portfolio.
The Final Caveat
The investment options described above are no longer the domain of the ultra-wealthy. Regular investors can now pool their resources and pay the entrance fee required to access exclusive financial vehicles. The question is no longer whether they can, but whether they should.
Closed-end funds, angel investing and hedge funds are all good if you are already financially independent. If you’re comfortable with taking risks in exchange for the chance of squeezing a higher return on your savings, even better. But they are not for small-time investors who have some cash to work with but may need to tap into their savings to cover unexpected expenses in the future.