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Investors Hunt for Alternatives

Investors looking for options besides stocks and bonds have plenty of choices in an uncertain market, but experts warn that a move too far into commodities, real estate or hedge fund-style products could yield more long-term damage than short-term help.

With the stock market essentially flat for the year, the bond market in limbo ahead of an imminent rate hike from the Fed and money markets offering paltry returns, investors are getting pitches for everything from precious metals to collectible bobble head dolls sold on eBay (EBAY).

While so-called alternative investments, from real estate to hedge funds, are no longer the exclusive domain of the very rich, advisers and financial planners say variations to the typical portfolio template of 60% stocks and 40% bonds should be made with an eye to conserving capital, rather pocketing healthy gains.

They also warn that alternatives are more expensive than conventional funds, with funds that charge higher fees and products that demand larger minimum investments.

"There is no one perfect allocation solution," warns Jane Levine, a financial planner in Danville, Calif., who says she's busy helping clients explore commodity funds and hedge fund-like strategies. "But right now, I think commodities are a pretty good bet as an asset class." So do many other financial planners.

The (PCRAX) Pimco Commodity Real Return fund and the (QRAAX) Oppenheimer Real Asset fund are the favorite choices of most planners, who say these funds may be volatile and pricey, but are largely uncorrelated to the with the direction of other markets. The Pimco fund, which has pulled in $4 billion since its launch at the start of 2003, was up 29.1% for its first full year, and is up 16.84% for the year to date. The Oppenheimer fund's class A shares are up 18.3% for the year to date through May, having gained 22.6% in 2003. A rough performance in 2001 cut its three-year total return to 15.51% and its five-year one to 19.94%.

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