Today there are more ways to invest your money than ever before. Alternative investments can help provide counterweights to more common investments.
Historical documents are important pieces of cultural memorabilia that are sought after by personal collectors, museums and universities. Given the prestige of the collectors, historical documents can go for top dollar. In one recent example, Bill Gates purchased the Codex Leicester for over $30 million.
Historical documents can be a great addition to any portfolio, but one word of caution: authenticity is critical. Far too many investors have been bamboozled by counterfeit documents. Raab Collection, an internationally recognized proprietor of historical documents, stresses the importance of due diligence. When they help clients such as the Library of Congress build their collections, every step possible is taken to authenticate a document before striking a deal.
Here are four other factors that should be considered before making your first historical document investment:
Plan for Preservation
The older historical documents get the more valuable they become – as long as they are properly preserved. The condition of the document is second only to authenticity when it comes to value.
Before you take ownership of a historical document, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for how the document will be stored. Documents should be kept in waterproof, airtight containers that protect the fibers from the elements. UV radiation can also degrade paper overtime, which is why storing historic documents out of direct sunlight is always advised.
Protecting Your Investment
Unlike stocks and mutual funds, physical assets can be destroyed or stolen. Historical documents have to be treated like fine art. They should be insured and some form of theft protection should be put in place. Documents can be stored in a fireproof lockbox and/or stored in a bank safe under lock and key.
Get Documents Appraised
Professional appraisals are important for historical collectables. An appraisal will give you an official estimate of the value, which can be used for securing insurance. Appraisals also give you a better idea of an acceptable price when it comes time to sell off your investment.
Keep Track of the Market and Trends
You won’t be checking stats daily like the stock market, but keeping up with historical document sales is needed to ensure you make the best decisions for your investment. After all, making money on investments hinges on knowing when to buy and when to sell. Knowing what’s happening in the market will help you determine when the time is ripe to sell or whether you should hold onto your asset a little longer. Demand for historical documents tends to be higher than supply, but catching things right when interest is trending upward can help you make the most profit possible.
Historical and autographed documents have always been popular collectibles, but now more people are beginning to realize their investment potential. Every year countless documents are sold privately and at auction for thousands and even millions of dollars. Investors that seek professional guidance before buying and take care to preserve their asset will be able to grow their portfolio or retirement nest egg by simply holding on to a piece of history.
In general alternative investments (historical documents, art, coins, collectibles etc.) should make up a small portion, under 5%, of an investment portfolio. Another investment that isn’t quite normal, but isn’t really considered a normal investment either is peer to peer loans. We have written about peer to peer loans several times on this blog recently, I would consider under 5% for peer to peer loans acceptable but would consider that part of the bond portion of a portfolio.
This is a continuation of my previous post: Investing in Peer to Peer Loans
LendingClub suggest a minimum of 100 loans (of equal size) to escape the risk of your luck with individual loans causing very bad results. Based on this diversity the odds of avoiding a loss have been very good (though that obviously isn’t a guarantee of future performance), quote from their website (Nov 2015):
This chart, from LendingClub, shows a theoretical (not based on past performance) result. The basic idea is that as the portfolio ages, more loans will default and thus the portfolio return will decline. This contrasts with other investments (such as stocks) that will show fluctuating returns going up and down (over somewhat dramatically) over time.
For portfolios of personal loans diversity is very important to avoid the risk of getting a few loans that default destroying your portfolio return. For portfolios with fewer than 100 notes the negative returns are expected in 12.8% of the cases (obviously this is a factor of the total loans – with 99 loans it would be much less likely to be negative, with 5 it would be much more likely). I would say targeting at least 250 loans with none over .5% would be better than aiming at just 100 loans with none over 1% of portfolio.
There are several very useful sites that examine the past results of Lending Club loans and provide some suggestions for good filters to use in selecting loans. Good filters really amount to finding cases where Lending Club doesn’t do the greatest job of underwriting. So for example many say exclude loans from California to increase your portfolio return. While this may well be due to California loans being riskier really underwriting should take care of that by balancing out the risk v. return (so charging higher rates and/or being more stringent about taking such loans.
So I would expect Lending Club to adjust underwriting to take these results into account and thus make the filters go out of date. Of course this over simplifies things quite a bit. But the basic idea is that much of the value of filters is to take advantage of underwriting weaknesses.
This chart (for 36 month loans) is an extremely important one for investors in peer to peer loans. It shows the returns over the life of portfolios as the portfolio ages. And this chart (for LendingClub) shows the results for portfolios of loans issued each year. This is a critical tool to help keep track to see if underwriting quality is slipping.
Peer to peer lending has grown dramatically the last few years in the USA. The largest platforms are Lending Club (you get a $25 bonus if you sign up with this link – I don’t think I get anything?) and Prosper. I finally tried out Lending Club starting about 6 months ago. The idea is very simple, you buy fractional portions of personal loans. The loans are largely to consolidate debts and also for things such as a home improvement, major purchase, health care, etc.).
With each loan you may lend as little as $25. Lending Club (and Prosper) deal with all the underwriting, collecting payments etc.. Lending Club takes 1% of payments as a fee charged to the lenders (they also take fees from the borrowers).
Borrowers can make prepayments without penalty. Lending Club waives the 1% fee on prepayments made in the first year. This may seem a minor point, and it is really, but a bit less minor than I would have guessed. I have had 2% of loans prepaid with only an average of 3 months holding time so far – much higher than I would have guessed.
On each loan you receive the payments (less a 1% fee to Lending Club) as they are made each month. Those payments include principle and interest.
Lending Club provides you a calculated interest rate based on your actual portfolio. This is nice but it is a bit overstated in that they calculate the rate based only on invested funds. So funds that are not allocated to a loan (while they earn no interest) are not factored in to your return (though they actually reduce your return). And even once funds are allocated the actual loan can take quite some time to be issued. Some are issued within a day but also I have had many take weeks to issue (and some will fail to issue after weeks of sitting idle). I wouldn’t be surprised if Lending Club doesn’t start considering funds invested until the loan is issued (which again would inflate your reported return compared to a real return), but I am not sure how Lending Club factors it in.
|4||Exxon Mobil||USA||$342 billion|
|5||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||$340 billion|
|9||Wells Fargo||USA||$282 billion|
|10||Johnson & Johnson||USA||$281 billion|
Google and Amazon were star performers in the last 4 months with Google up $127 billion and Amazon increasing $96 billion moving Amazon from outside the top 20 into 8th place. Facebook increased in value by $64 billion and moved from the 18th largest market cap to 7th. The China market declined quite rapidly since June and the largest Chinese companies saw significant drops in market cap.
Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and China Mobile dropped from the top 10 (replaced by Facebook and Amazon). That results in USA companies holding the top 10 spots (the next 5 are either Chinese or Swiss).
The next ten most valuable companies:
|11||Industrial & Commercial Bank of China||China||$250 billion*|
|12||China Mobile||China||$247 billion|
|14||Petro China||China||$241 billion|
|16||JPMorgan Chase||USA||$241 billion|
|17||Hoffmann-La Roche||Switzerland||$231 billion|
|20||Procter & Gamble||USA||$210 billion|
Market capitalization shown are of the close of business October 30th, as shown on Google Finance.
The 11th to 20th most valuable companies includes 3 Chinese companies, 3 USA companies, 3 Swiss companies and 1 Japanese company. Alibaba, Tencent, China Construction Bank and Walmart dropped out of the top 20 (replaced by Amazon, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble and Toyota). Alibaba remained above $200 in market cap making it the only company worth more than 200 billion that missed the cut. In the top 20 the USA gained 2 spots, China lost 3 and Japan gained 1.
The total value of the top 20 has barely changed since my June post on the top 20 most valuable companies in the world: from $6.046 trillion to $6.054 trillion. Since my October 2014 post of the 20 most valuable companies in the world the total value of the top 20 companies has risen from $5.722 trillion to $6.054 trillion, an increase of $332 billion. Several companies have been replaced in the last year to create the current top 20 list.
A few other companies of interest (based on their market capitalization):
The number of USA households spending more than 50% of their income on rent is expected to rise at least 11% to 13.1 million by 2025, according to new research by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners.
The findings suggest that even if trends in incomes and rents turn more favorable, a variety of demographic forces—including the rapid growth of minority and senior populations—will exert continued upward pressure on the number of severely cost-burdened renters.
Under the report’s base case scenario for 2015-2025, the number of severely burdened households aged 65-74 and those aged 75 and older rise by 42% (830,000 to 1.2 million) and 39% (890,000 to 1.2 million); the number of Hispanic households with severe renter burdens increases 27% (2.6 million to 3.4 million); and the number of severely burdened single-person households jumps by 12% (5.1 million to 5.7 million).
Enterprise Community Partners argues for more government action on affordable housing. I am worried about such efforts being done in a sensible way but I do agree with the concept of supporting affordable housing. I would use zoning to require affordable housing construction along with market rate housing.
Doing such things well requires a government that is not corrupt and fairly competent which isn’t so easy looking across the USA (unfortunately). An example of somewhere that does this fairly well is Arlington Country, Virginia (which also has a good non-profit focused on affordable housing). Good non-profits can play a vital part in affordable housing over the long term.
My comments on a post by Kiva about their decision to end the Kiva Zip (direct to people loans – no intermediary financial institution) program in Kenya.
I do think it is very important to retain an infrastructure for those people you got to try the new effort with, as I believe Kiva will. This has to be part of any innovation efforts – a budget to include unwinding the effort in a way that is in keeping with Kiva’s mission to help people. I strongly believe in efforts to avoid abandoning those who worked with you in general, but for those taking loans from Kiva it is much more important than normal.
Keep up the good work. And keep challenging Kiva to get better and not get complacent when things are not going as well as they should. I am happy to continue to lend to Kiva but I also am concerned that the focus on making a difference and making people’s lives better can be lost in the desire to grow.
The Curious Cats group on Kiva has made over $27,000 in loans to entrepreneurs around the world (the way Kiva works the groups, they don’t include Kiva Zip loans). You can join us. I believe in the model of micro-finance (Investing in the Poorest of the Poor [this one is grants instead of loans]), though I also believe we need more data on real experience of borrowers. Kiva Zip gives loans directly to people with a 0% interest rate. Normal Kiva loans have financial institutions (some of which are charities but they still have expenses) make the loans and Kiva lenders provide capital (at 0%) but the borrowers have to pay interest (the idea is they pay lower interest since the financial institution has a 0% cost of capital).
When you sell your primary residence in the USA you are able to exclude $250,000 in capital gains (or $500,000 if you file jointly). The primary test of whether it is your primary residence is if you lived there 2 of the last 5 years (see more details from the IRS). You can’t repeat this exemption for 2 years (I believe).
It doesn’t matter if you buy another house or not, that exclusion of up to $250,000 is all that can be excluded (you must pay tax on anything above that amount – taxed at capital gains rates for long term gains).
For investment property you can do 1031 exchanges which defers capital gains taxes. Otherwise capital gains will be taxed as you would expect (as capital gains).
When you inherit a house the tax basis will be “stepped up” to the current market rate. So if you then sell your basis isn’t what the owner paid for it, but what it was worth when it was given to you.
The 10 publicly traded companies with the largest market capitalizations. Since October of last year the top 20 list has seen quite a bit of profit for stockholders (mainly in Apple and Chinese companies).
|4||Exxon Mobil||USA||$352 billion|
|5||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||$346 billion|
|6||China Mobile||China||$340 billion*|
|7||Industrial & Commercial Bank of China||China||$306 billion**|
|8||Wells Fargo||USA||$292 billion|
|10||Johnson & Johnson||USA||$273 billion|
Apple’s market cap is up $115 billion since the last list was created in October of 2014. That increase is more than 50% of the value of the 14th most valuable company in the world (in October 2014).
China Mobile increased $100 billion and moved into 6th place. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) increased $78 billion to move into 7th place.
Exxon Mobil lost over $50 billion (oil prices collapsed as OPEC decided to stop attempting to hold back supply in order to maximize the price of oil). Alibaba (the only non-USA company in the last list) and Walmart dropped out of the top 10.
The total value of the top 20 increased from $5.722 trillion to $6.046 trillion, an increase of $324 billion. Several companies have been replaced in the new top 20 list.
The next ten most valuable companies:
|11||JPMorgan Chase||USA||$250 billion|
|12||China Construction Bank||China||$250 billion**|
|13||Novartis (NVS)||Switzerland||$246 billion|
|14||Petro China||China||$237 billion|
|19||Hoffmann-La Roche (ROG.VX)||Switzerland||$231 billion|
Market capitalization shown are of the close of business last Friday, as shown on Yahoo Finance.
The current top 10 includes 8 USA companies and 2 Chinese companies. The 11th to 20th most valuable companies includes 4 Chinese companies, 3 Swiss companies and 3 USA companies. Facebook (after increasing $21 billion), China Construction Bank (increasing $68 billion – it is hard for me to be sure what the value is, I am not sure I am reading the statements correctly but this is my best guess) and Tencent moved into the top 20; which dropped Procter & Gamble, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron from the top 20.
A few other companies of interest (based on their market capitalization):
I believe a huge amount of money will be made due to self driving cars. Figuring out who will make that money is not easy.
The value of being able to use the time you are moving to your destination instead of concentrating on driving is huge. And the reduction in deaths, serious injuries, injuries, damages, frustration and waste of time caused by accidents will be a huge benefit to society. Many people attempting to focus on phone calls or whatever else instead of driving create lots of that damage due to accidents.
There will also be big restructuring in how the economy works. Car sharing (such as Zipcar) will greatly increase I think and Uber and Lyft will likely be big players in a move to driverless cars. It sure seems like fewer cars will be needed. Space wasted on parking cars should be greatly reduced. Deliveries will likely see big changes. The impact on the economy will be huge. Even the health care system may see billions in savings.
Toyota is an amazingly well managed company. They should capitalize on any important shifts in the auto industry. But will they do so for driverless cars? Will there be a decrease in demand for cars so large that Toyota losses more than it wins? My guess is the decrease in demand globally will not be huge for the next 10 years (of course I could be wrong). My guess is Toyota will do well, but may be caught a bit behind, but then will come back strongly.
For those that don’t think Toyota can innovate, remember the Prius. Also they have been big investors in robots. That they haven’t turned robots into a big business yet though may be a sign of weakness (related to turning innovation into business profits).
I think Toyota will do the best of the large traditional car companies at taking advantage of this opportunity. Honda would be my second pick.
Google has been at the forefront of the driverless car efforts; I first wrote about self driving cars in 2010 about Google’s efforts (on my Curious Cat Engineering Blog). They are willing to take big gambles. They have a very good engineering culture. They are very profitable. They haven’t done much at creating profitable businesses outside of search and ads though. Still I think they may be huge winners in this area. I would guess by licensing technology to others, but things are involving quickly we will see how it plays out.
Tesla has a great engineering culture with a priority given on innovation and customer focus. They are in the car industry though I don’t lump them with the “traditional car companies.” I give weight to the value Elon Musk will bring them. They have big potential to be one of the big winners in a self driving car future. But they have yet to create much profit. Will they be able to turn promising engineering and leadership into a huge business? I think the odds are good but that is still a difficult challenge. Others have much more money than Tesla. Apple has so much money they could even buy Tesla easily.
Elon Musk recently spoke about the current state and near term future:
Musk also stressed that the new Tesla autopilot system, which uses radar, ultrasonic sensing and cameras to create a sort of super-smart cruise control, obstacle avoidance and lane-keeping system, is not the same as a self-driving car.
Apple seems like a long shot to me. It doesn’t seem like the type of business Apple has gone into in the past. The argument for doing so is the huge pile of cash they have (over $170 billion which is an absolutely huge number – it is also a bit fake in that they have started borrowing tens of billions instead of spending that cash). The moves with the cash are based on 2 circumstances. First they would have to pay large amounts of taxes to use that cash in the USA (taxes are delayed as long as they hold it overseas). And second interest rates are so low, borrowing money hardly costs them anything.
I continue to believe the choices for investors are much more challenging than they normally are, as I have written about several times. Though maybe soon, this will just be the new normal (in which case investors won’t have the fairly easy choices they have had for much of the last 100 years).
In previous posts I have discussed the value of real estate investments in this investing climate. Real estate is one way to cope with the challenges of extremely low yields today.
There are many advantages to city property, in the right city. When I was looking at my first house I looked for something that would be easy to rent out. The most important factor to minimize vacancy is high demand. If there is high demand, the worst you should face is the need to lower your asking price.
An additional consideration in buying condos (your only option in large urban centers like New York City, seen in my photo of the Empire State Building) are condo fees. Fees and taxes can make positive cash flow a challenge and they continue when the property is vacant thus creating more risk for the investor. Of course, in popular markets and good times rents are very attractive for owners and price increases can make them great investments.
During downturns rental property that is not in high demand can be vacant no matter the price. And those properties with some, but not overwhelming, demand will face the need for dramatic rent decreases to minimize vacancy (and large declines if you need to sell). My purchase was 3 blocks from a metro stop (close in to Washington DC). All housing near metro stops in DC have high demand and that close in to the city has even higher demand.
In over 10 years I have had maybe 2 months of vacancy – the first year I messed up; I was new to trying to rent places out and believed people were going to sign the lease because they said they would but then they backed out. I think I may have had 1 more month sometime, but maybe not, I can’t really remember.
I have considered tourist property but have decided against it so far. The rental yield are higher but you have higher vacancy rates, which is manageable, but also much more property management issues to deal with. In order to cope with that you need to hire a property manager, very carefully. You need to carefully check their experience, reliability and competence.
And even for residential real estate the hassles of dealing with the property management yourself may lead investors to use property managers. This cuts into the advantages of direct real estate investments and so if you are going to use property managers then looking at REITs has to be considered. I believe if you are sensible direct real estate investments would normally return more but the risks are significantly higher and the hassle is somewhat to significantly higher. Likely the decision on whether to use direct real estate investing is more about personal preference than just a decision on which option would be a better investment.