Beyond Gold: 6 Overlooked Alternative Investments

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At one time the Swiss Franc was backed 100 percent by gold, says Dr. Donald Moine, co-author with Dr. William McCord of the book "Better than Gold: An Investor's Guide to Swiss Annuities." Today, says Moine, "It's still largely backed."

The buyer of a Swiss annuity is betting on two things: the enduring value of gold and the ability of a Swiss institution to make payments. Switzerland has long been famous for its politically stability and financial probity. "Under Swiss law," says Moine, "the government cannot run a deficit." The country has stayed out of wars. Its citizenry is hard-working and sober.

Why not just buy Swiss francs? Because owning an annuity anchored to the franc has advantages. These include privacy, safety and liquidity. Moine says that under Swiss law Swiss annuities are protected from all judgments, claims by creditors and bankruptcy decisions. Where the holder of a U.S. annuity cannot borrow against it, the holder of a Swiss one can. For what kind of investor might a Swiss annuity a bad idea? "Anyone who wants a short term investment that will rapidly increase in value," says Moine. "Swiss annuities are designed for the long term."

Do-it-Yourself Gold.

Got a pick? Got a shovel? Nobody's stopping you from going right out and getting your own gold. By so doing you'll eliminate the middle man and greatly reduce your cost of acquisition. It's hard to say no, after all, to gold whose acquisition cost was zero.

Well, maybe not zero -- but almost. Your total outlay to get started in placer mining (where you take rocks and dirt from a stream and swirl them in a pan until the gold settles out) can be under $25, according to Hoss Bundy, owner of Action Mining Supplies in Smartsville, Calif.

He himself has been mining for 25 years. How well can an amateur do?

"I paid my house payment for 12 years with this," he says, "but that's when I was mining three or four days a week. I was getting sometimes two ounces a week, back when gold was $350 or $400 an ounce. It's back-breaking work, but if you're serious about it, there's a lot of money to be made."

Since opening his store, he's not been able to devote as much time to panning.

"Now I do about half an ounce a day, on average," he said, but added that he's got customers who get $400 or $500 a day.

Laws on what kind of mining is permitted where vary state to state. California's are particularly restrictive. Make sure you know the rules before laying out any cash.

Women's Hockey Gear

Ice hockey ranks high among the fastest-growing women's sports. By some estimates, the number of participants worldwide has increased 350 percent in the past 10 years. Growth has been especially brisk in North America, Canada particularly. Players are required to wear certain pieces of equipment not required of their male counterparts, including a protective full-face mask, thus creating, in the opinion of the U.S. Department of Commerce, a golden opportunity for equipment manufacturers and retailers.

Be warned, however: Past women's hockey speculators have suffered. Gary Waller of Toronto says that 15 years ago, during an early phase of the boom, he wrote an insurance policy for a store whose distinction was that it sold hockey equipment to women only. The store's male owner, Waller says, had expected to cash in. Growth did not materialize soon enough, and the store failed--a chilling testament to the folly of trying to time women's hockey.

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