Real assets

Real Assets is an investment asset class that covers investments in physical assets such as real estate, energy, and infrastructure. Real assets have an inherent physical worth.[1] Real assets differ from financial assets in that financial assets get their value from a contractual right and are typically intangible.

Real assets are categorized into three categories:

  • Real Estate: REITs, commercial real estate, and residential
  • Natural Resources: Energy, Oil & gas, MLPs, timber, agriculture, solar, mining, and commodities
  • Infrastructure: Transportation (roads, airports, railroads), utilities, telecommunications infrastructure

Real assets are appealing to investors for four reasons: high current income, inflation protection / equity appreciation, low correlation to equity markets, and favorable tax treatment.[2][3][4]

Public Equity Investing in ETFs

Historically investors have gained exposure to this asset via investing in underlying strategies such as REITs or utilities. However, in the past few years, several public funds have been started. The benefit to the individual investor for investing into a single real asset fund to get exposure into the asset class is immediate diversification at a low cost. The two major ETFs in the real asset space are:

  • Virtus Real Asset Income ETF (Ticker: VRAI)]:[5] This is the dominant ETF in the asset class. VRAI is a diversified portfolio of income-producing real asset equity securities. VRAI does not invest in commodities because they do not generate income.
  • SPDR SSGA Multi-Asset Real Return ETF (Ticker: RLY):[6] This is an ETF of ETFs, This ETF includes commodities, gold, and traditional fixed income (TIPS).

For investors interested in comparing these two ETFs, Indxx did a write-up in October 2019 (

On the mutual fund side, real asset funds include Nuveen Real Asset Income Fund, T Rowe Price Real Assets Fund, and DWS REEF Real Assets Fund.

In additional several of the largest investment firms have launched private real asset investment strategies for institutional investors. This includes Carlyle, KKR, and Oaktree.


  1. Some investment professionals have argued that intellectual property (such as royalties and patents) and insurance (life and annuities) should be included as real assets.
  2. For example, in the United States, REITs are treated as pass-through vehicles and not taxed at corporate level. In the case of exploration & development for oil and gas, there is accelerated depreciation.
  3. "Real estate investment trust", Wikipedia, 2019-09-24, retrieved 2019-10-08
  4. Cussen, Mark P. "Oil: A big investment with big tax breaks". Investopedia. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
  5. "RLY: SPDR SSGA Multi-Asset Real Return ETF, Asset Allocation | SSGA SPDRS". Retrieved 2019-10-08.
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