Welcome to the Alternative-Investment Party. You’re Late.

If you want to get rich, here’s one way to do it:

  1. Find an investment that few investors know about.
  2. Write a pitch book laying out why that investment is likely to work.
  3. Sell your idea to rich institutional investors.
  4. Charge absurd fees.
  5. Let everyone know that your investment made lots of money for lots of investors.
  6. When your investment becomes too crowded to produce outsized returns, sell it to unsuspecting individuals.

Steps one through five are a brief history of so-called alternative investments, such as hedge funds, private equity and real estate. And now, thanks to JPMorgan Chase & Co., step six is underway.

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Bitcoin Isn’t an Investment Until Buyers Sweat the Fees

If you want to know where cryptocurrencies are in their development, keep an eye on fees.

When a new “investment” comes along, investors are often too busy counting their anticipated bounty to care about cost. Shrewd purveyors predictably seize the opportunity to charge excessive fees. But reality inevitably falls short of investors’ expectations, and the focus eventually turns to how much they’re paying to invest.

That’s a short history of stock investing. Investors had little access to stock market data a century ago. They didn’t have the luxury of knowing, for example, that the S&P 500 Index would generate a real return of 7.1 percent annually from 1926 to 2017, including dividends. Or that the index’s real return would fall short of that long-term average 52 percent of the time over rolling 10-year periods.

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Private Equity’s Diminishing Returns

Investors can’t get enough of private equity. According to research firm Preqin, private equity firms’ assets under management ballooned from $580 billion in 2000 to $2.4 trillion by June 2015 (the latest date for which numbers are available).

Private equity investing has become de rigueur for big money managers ever since The Yale Endowment made piles of money in the funds years ago — making private equity a fixture for money managers trying to emulate Yale’s model.

Current expectations for low returns on U.S. stocks and bonds, at a time when many hedge funds are stumbling, has also left many investors seeking private equity returns to breathe life into their portfolios.

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