Why not turn investing into an adventure sport? Money managers are scouring the world for oddball assets, desperate to find anything that moves to its own beat, rather than rising and falling with the markets. They are putting money into racehorses, stakes in lawsuits, and old coins. One fund manager bought stock in a beer company called Bralirwa in Rwanda, where a genocide left 800,000 people dead in 1994.
‘‘Rwanda triggers a lot of bad memories, so people don’t even think of investing there, but there’s huge opportunity,’’ says Lawrence Speidell of Frontier Market Select Fund.
Bralirwa stock has risen 150 percent since Speidell bought it early last year. But the real appeal is that it did so in a steady, calm way, disregarding world events like the Japanese tsunami and European debt troubles.
In trading jargon, the Rwandan company and some of Speidell’s other exotic holdings are ‘‘uncorrelated.’’ They have a tendency to move to their own rhythm, a sort of Holy Grail in investing.
Discover enough of these assets and a money manager might claim to have achieved ‘‘alpha,’’ an ability to beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 or other indexes without taking on more risk.
Convincing investors is another matter. For years, ordinary investors trusted their fund managers, but they’ve grown skeptical. Not only did the managers fail to protect against losses in the financial crisis that year, but too much of what they’ve bought since seems to ride up and down with the indexes.
Not lawsuits, though. In exchange for a cut of the winnings, funds have sprung up to help pay for suits brought by wives in divorce court and by 9/11 cleanup crews against New York City for health problems.
In lawsuit investing, a fund gets something akin to a share of one side of the dispute. If that side loses in court, the investors are out their money. If that side wins, the investors get their money back with profit.
Exotic fare like rare coins and fine wine funds have mostly risen in recent years, but so have stocks, making you wonder whether they’ll fall together, too. Avarae Global, a rare-coin fund that lost half its value in 2008, is up 27.7 percent in two years, a near carbon copy of the S&P 500’s rise. The Vintage Wine Fund appears to be moving on its own: It dropped 22 percent last year.
Those looking for extreme investing on the cheap may want to check out exchange-traded funds, which typically charge half what mutual funds do and, unlike them, can be traded all day like stocks.
ETFs are exploding in number and variety. Bullish on China, but only on the small companies? Think stocks in Kazakhstan are about to soar? There are ETFs for that.