Alternative Investing

Individual investors have 'alternative' options

Ron Carson, Special to
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Investors have options in this treacherous environment.

As a professional who has provided clients with financial advisory services for several decades, I find today's investment environment entirely unique.

I struggle to remember a time when economically sensitive investments, such as stocks, rally so frequently on what has traditionally been interpreted as bad news. For instance, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke caught many market experts off-guard by announcing that there would be no change in the Fed's quantitative easing program.

This decision was made because the economy is frail. The Federal Reserve is seeing the same things most Americans are experiencing first hand: a weak labor market, lackluster economic growth, inadequate leadership in Washington and a severe lack of confidence.

While the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program has coincided with higher stock prices, the simple fact that the Fed feels the need to pump trillions of dollars into the financial system is of concern. We could argue over the potential implications of this experiment and try to predict how this story ends, or we can admit that it's largely unknowable.

(Read more: What is quantitative trading?)

If we take a step back, it's obvious that, whether or not stocks move significantly higher or lower from this point, the current status of our economy is alarming enough to warrant some of the smartest people in the world to believe it's in the country's best interest to continue purchasing $85 billion of securities per month. That makes me a bit nervous and hesitant to dive head first back into risky assets.

So where does a cautious investor go?

Most bonds are offering what appear to be insultingly low yields. Even a simple suggestion that the Federal Reserve might begin to slightly taper its monthly purchasing program sent rates soaring and bond prices tumbling earlier this summer. I can only imagine what bond prices will do once quantitative easing actually starts to unwind. 

(Read more: Pros share best bond plays regardless of taper)

This is why many financial advisors are expanding their thinking by considering the many ways to win in this treacherous investing environment. First of all, financial advisors should know their client's individual goals and calculate a target rate of return. Identifying those objectives, especially the client's risk tolerance, should always be the first step, in my opinion.

After doing that, most people will fall somewhere between having an infinite time horizon with high tolerance for volatility and someone who needs to protect their assets completely.

It's imperative that investors know they have options across this spectrum. While advisors all have equity strategies that have experienced strong performance during this market rally, we find that most clients still seek out the comfort of protecting their assets against downside risk.

(Read more: Bill Gross is selling bonds. Should you?)

One particular strategy that has been popular with clients operates with the philosophy that since we insure most everything throughout our life, including our life, why don't we insure our investments?

By investing in the stock market, but also purchasing investments that protect against sudden, large declines in the market, this strategy has actually produced better annualized returns since inception than the S&P 500, with a fraction of the risk.

Another strategy advisors find very attractive today offers clients the opportunity to invest in single-family homes and enjoy the benefits of the income produced by renting these homes. 

This offering is allowing clients to gain exposure to further potential improvements to the housing market, while generating a seemingly inimitable income stream when compared to what's available through the traditional avenues of the fixed income market. Furthermore, current conditions favor the probability that rental demand will continue to increase as many people find it difficult to purchase a home in today's environment.

In addition, given the risk of the fixed-income market, many advisors have developed a strategy that invests in high-quality, dividend paying companies to satisfy income-hungry investors. To supplement the income stream, advisors also are selling out of the money call options. This strategy provides clients with a liquid, income-generating alternative to bonds.

(Read more: Picking real estate winners)

These uncertain times have resulted in many lost nights of sleep for investors around the world. However, rather than dwelling in misery, we find it more rewarding and productive to search for the silver lining. Yes, today's economy is weak and the traditional stock and bond markets have been scaring off some would-be investors. However, by digging deep and exploring different paths, there remain many ways to win.

—By Ron Carson, Special to

Ron Carson, a certified financial planner, is chief executive officer and founder of the Carson Wealth Management Group, which has more $2.7 billion of assets under management. Carson is also founder of Peak Advisor Alliance, a coaching program for financial advisors.