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Commodities and alternative investments

Find out more about putting resources into commodities like gold or oil and alternative investments like wine, art and classic cars.

Key points

  • Commodities and alternative investments can be very risky
  • Neither any potential return nor the value of your initial investment will be guaranteed, and associated costs can be significant
  • You can reduce risk by investing as part of a balanced portfolio
  • Speak to an independent financial adviser for tailored advice

Investing in commodities isn't something most of us would consider - dabbling in stocks and shares are the biggest risks most of us take with our savings.

With alternative investments, neither the initial capital you put in nor any potential return will be guaranteed, while the costs associated with simply maintaining your commodity can eat into any profit you may be lucky enough to accumulate.

But investing in commodities such as gold or oil and alternative investments including wine, classic cars and art can be worth considering as part of a varied portfolio which also includes lower-risk investments.

Investing in gold

Gold is often viewed as a sure bet during times of economic uncertainty - during the 2009 financial crisis the value of gold went up considerably.

The value of gold is volatile and depends entirely on investors, as it's widely traded by those hoping to make a profit quickly.

Some ways to invest in gold

You can buy physical gold in the form of coins or bullion through a specialist dealer or an online broker. Investing in physical gold gives potential investors a tangible asset and no VAT is chargeable on gold. A piggy bank wearing a pair of sunglasses

Websites like Gold Made Simple and BullionVault claim to make buying gold accessible to the new investor. They allow people to buy gold online and offer storage options.

Bars of physical gold come in different weights and their values are usually given in US dollars. There are a variety of gold coins, including sovereigns and Krugerrands, but these may prove to be an expensive option.

In September 2014 the Royal Mint launched a new website selling gold and silver coins. Customers can choose to have the coins delivered through an insured post service or to keep their coins in a vault at the Mint's site in Llantrisant at a cost of 1% of the value every year.

Gold Exchange Traded Commodities (ETCs)

Launched in 2003, ETCs offer convenient access to commodities such as gold and are the commodity equivalent of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

Pros of investing in commodities

  • Allow investors to combine their hobby with the potential to make money
  • Offer the chance to diversify a portfolio
  • Funds and auctions can offer convenient access

ETCs can be bought and sold like shares by a broker on a stock exchange.

You can also buy gold ETFs, which are synthetic and mirror the value of gold.

Investing in oil

Oil is one of the most volatile commodities and is a very risky investment choice, but there are a number of ways to invest - and unlike gold it doesn't involve actually taking delivery of the black stuff.

Oil stocks and shares

One way to invest is simply to buy shares in a company in the oil industry.

However, investing with a single company can be risky, so it might be safer to diversify your stock portfolio and spread the risk.

Oil ETFs and ETCs

The easiest way to invest in oil is by buying an oil ETC or ETF, which - like a gold ETF - tracks the movements of either the price of oil or oil companies.

Investing in a stock fund will probably mean some investment in oil, aLoans: A wad of notess commodity firms make up a large proportion of the firms listed on the FTSE index.

While you may not be aware of it unless you read documentation with care, it's entirely probable that a percentage of a fund is linked to oil.

Alternative investments and collections

As with all alternative investments it's advisable to get the expertise of an independent financial adviser before you dip your brush in an investment - or rev the investment engine or pop your investment cork, for that matter…

Classic car investment

Classic cars obtain their collectability from their limited production runs - there are only a certain number in the market and that number will only decrease.

Many classic car experts will suggest that you buy the best you can afford in order to avoid being saddled with repairs and maintenance costs which could add up to thousands of pounds.

But many investors may be particularly adept mechanically and/or could see the challenge of restoring a classic car as a hobby and part of the enjoyment of their vintage vehicle.

One point bearing in mind is that the right classic car insurance can be an affordable option as some providers will recognise the love and attention that owners lavish on their vehicles.

Some ways to invest in classic cars

There are classic car auctions up and down the UK and eBay is a popular source, while many vintage enthusiasts will choose to buy from a private owner or specialist dealer.

Investing in art

The art market can be volatile and unpredictable and is subject to innumerable trends and patterns that will affect the value of your investment.

Investing in art may not provide big returns either - the cost of purchase and resale fees alone can take a big chunk out of your profits. What's more, any profit may be a long time coming.

Some ways to invest in art

Investing in art can be done alone or as part of a group with other investors. Art funds are likely to be for the more serious investor with hundreds of thousands of pounds to invest over a few years. Funds like this include the Fine Art Fund Group which, according to its website, was the "first fund of its type to invest in art as a worldwide asset class".

Cons of investing in commodities

  • Vulnerable to change and fluctuating values
  • It may take a number of years to realise your investment, or that return may never come
  • You'll need to factor in costs such as storage and insurance

If you're considering going it alone, it's a good idea to consult an independent expert first and do your research thoroughly.

If you're looking for a personal piece which may also appreciate in value, remember that you want to enjoy the art you're buying - you might be looking at it for a long time.

Storing and insuring art

How and where you store your art will depend on your collection, your attitude to risk and your ability to afford potential loss.

If you want to build a sizeable collection and are focusing on profit then professional storage will be necessary, while a few more personal investments could be kept in your home.

The cost of insurance and storage can be steep. Specialist storage is recommended to keep your pieces in pristine condition, but if you want to enjoy your art at home then it's important to check that your home insurance covers your investment.

Smaller art collections - worth between £500 or £1,000 - may be covered by your standard home insurance, but if your art appreciates in value you may need specialist cover.

Check with your home insurer as their cover may exclude paintings or other works of art, or you may need to specifically list the valuable items with them.

Investing in wine

Whether you're an expert in matters of the vine or just partial to a decent bottle of plonk, investing in wine can be difficult and getting a good return can be even harder.

Like cars and art, wine offers an alternative to traditional investments and has the benefits of being easily tradable. What's more, as it's a 'wasting chattel' (an asset that doesn't have an indefinite life) it isn't subject to capital gains tax (CGT).

Wine also has a finite supply - chateaus can only produce so many bottles a year which means the bottles that remain can be valuable.

It can cost tens of thousands of pounds to build a valuable wine collection and, while it's considered a fairly stable investment, you might want to make wine investment part of a portfolio along with traditional investments.

While investing in wine is exempt from CGT, if you buy and sell wine regularly HMRC could classify you as a trader and make you liable for CGT.

Some ways to invest in wine

You can pay into wine funds, which work as unregulated collective investment schemes, but note that the FCA says these are aimed at specialist and experienced investors.

With a wine fund you trade on the value of the market and don't own the wine yourself. Funds usually ask for a minimum investment of £10,000 and usually charge fees as well.

A wine merchant can help novice investors find wine that offers a decent investment. Merchants take a fee of 10-15% on the wine they sell.

Websites like Cavex and Wine Owners provide platforms for potential investors and sellers to build their collections.

Storing wine

Professional storage is advised if you're making wine a serious business choice.

Storing your collection professionally will mean that it's insured and will be 'held in bond', so is therefore free of duty and VAT.

Taking the wine out of professional storage will probably incur duty and VAT charges.

By Emily Bater