Research report

The real world: A modern approach to real asset investing

Secular changes in our economy and elevated inflation demand not only a fresh look at real assets, but also a fresh definition.

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December 1, 2021 | 15 minute read

With inflation re-entering the lexicon in recent months, renewed attention has been placed on real assets. Long lauded for both their inflation protection and diversification benefits, real assets have, at their core, existed to build and power our nations and economies. The onset of COVID-19 served as an accelerant to existing multi-year trends, including increased adoption of technology by consumers and businesses, rising demand for sustainable energy, a renewed focused on public health and equal access to a safe and reliable food supply. We believe these long-term, secular trends will drive economic growth in the coming years and create a massive investment opportunity in traditional and “next generation” real assets.

Key takeaways

  • Investors have traditionally turned to real assets for potential inflation protection, income and diversification. But at their core, real assets have existed to build and power our nations and economies.
  • We believe that the onset of COVID-19 accelerated certain multi-year trends that will drive economic growth in the coming years and represent a massive investment opportunity set.
  • In our view, a well-designed real assets portfolio incorporates both traditional and “next generation” real assets.

Real assets are physical or tangible assets that you can touch or hold—a building, railroad or a bar of gold. They have intrinsic value thanks to their physical attributes. This compares to financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, which derive their value from a contractual claim on or interest in an underlying asset (e.g., debt or equity of a company).

Traditional real assets are often divided into four main categories: real estate, commodities, energy and infrastructure. Real estate is land, or anything permanently affixed to it, such as office buildings, houses, apartments, or retail stores. Commodities are basic goods or raw materials and have intrinsic value on their own and may also be used as inputs into manufacturing processes. Examples include precious metals, agriculture products like wheat or coffee, and natural resources, such as oil and natural gas. Energy encompasses elements of the broader ecosystem, such as utilities or midstream companies engaged in the transportation, storage and processing of the raw energy commodities. Infrastructure refers to the physical assets and networks that transport, store and distribute goods, energy, people and information. Examples include airports, toll roads and cell towers.

We’ll spend much of the paper discussing the evolving opportunity set in real assets driven by the secular themes noted above. But let’s start by revisiting the investment merits of traditional real assets.

This information is educational in nature and does not constitute a financial promotion, investment advice or an inducement or incitement to participate in any product, offering or investment. FS Investments is not adopting, making a recommendation for or endorsing any investment strategy or particular security. All views, opinions and positions expressed herein are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of FS Investments. All opinions are subject to change without notice, and you should always obtain current information and perform due diligence before participating in any investment. FS Investments does not provide legal or tax advice and the information herein should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact any investment result. FS Investments cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. FS Investments makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information.

Any projections, forecasts and estimates contained herein are based upon certain assumptions that the author considers reasonable. Projections are necessarily speculative in nature, and it can be expected that some or all of the assumptions underlying the projections will not materialize or will vary significantly from actual results. The inclusion of projections herein should not be regarded as a representation or guarantee regarding the reliability, accuracy or completeness of the information contained herein, and neither FS Investments nor the author are under any obligation to update or keep current such information.

All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

Beth Anne Byrne

Liquid Alternatives Investment Specialist

Kara O’Halloran, CFA

Director, Investment Research

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