There is no such thing as the perfect investment. They all come with advantages and disadvantages, or trade-offs.
One of the simplest explanations of these trade-offs I have heard goes as follows:
Any investment you make needs to balance three factors: low risk, high returns, and liquidity. You can have any two of these but not all three.
If you want high liquidity (easy access to the money) and low risk you are going to have to sacrifice high returns. Your money is going to be in something like a savings account.
If you want high liquidity and high returns you are going to have to take a lot of risk. This could mean an investment in stocks that could go down significantly in the short term.
If you want low risk and high returns, no-one is going to give you that unless they are able to keep your money for a long time. The best performing hedge funds and capital guaranteed products often have lock-ins, preventing investors from withdrawing their money for a fixed period.
Another trade off to consider is capital versus income. Some investments provide capital growth, but little or no income. Income generating investments may have lower prospects for capital growth. Before investing it’s important to understand which is best for you at your current stage in life.
One more trade-off to consider is absolute versus relative return. Absolute return is what an investment returned over a particular period. If a mutual fund returned 10% over the last 12 months is that a good return? Well, it depends on what the rest of the market returned. If the market returned 18%, then 10% is not particularly good. In fact in relative terms it’s a minus 8% return. Active fund managers are benchmarked in this way in order to gauge their performance. We will talk more about benchmarks starting tomorrow.