I just found this site on Friday and, having caught up on some of the conversations you all are having, I feel like I'm ready to put forth some new questions. First one is, how do you evaluate the merit of precious metals against other more or less hard assets? Everyone on this forum seems really bullish on gold. I am thinking of two alternatives, (1) timberland and (2) capitalist opportunities in relatively illiquid emerging markets.

(1) In 2005 I researched opportunities for a small investor to purchase parcels of timberland overseas. I found some businesses in New Zealand which were interested in serving international retail investors. I did not buy in at the time. I am wondering, do precious metals have some inherent benefit that timberland does not (assuming a long holding period)?

(2) Another example would be capitalist opportunities in relatively illiquid emerging markets. Let me explain what I mean by that, by explaining my reservations with mainstream emerging markets investments. I believe that investing in securities through the mainstream channels is not cost effective. First, by the time investment banks has securitized and productized a particular opportunity, the price of the securities has already been inflated, and can just as well collapse when all prices collapse. Second, the investor ends up paying fees to a bunch of middlemen.

So, with these reservation in mind, take a look at the really emerging, emerging markets. By the time American investment banks have opened channels for retail investors into a particular stock market, much of the gains have already been had. This happened to Vietnam after 2005, when Marc Faber predicted a bull market there, but as far as I know there is still no easy for non-accredited, retail investors to buy in. It is happening now in the Balkans. I really want to buy shares in East Capital's Balkan Fund, but as a non-accredited investor, the SEC says I cannot. By the time Vietnamese and Serbian stock markets are productized for American investors, these promising opportunities will have turned into dubious hucksterage.

This I why I am interested in bypassing the financial services complex whenever possible. So here is what I mean by "capitalist opportunities in relatively illiquid emerging markets". I happen to have a family connection to a small, private company in a former Soviet state. Family matters aside, and assuming the company is run responsibly, it seems like an excellent opportunity to transfer capital out of the American miasma, and put it to work in a place that is not overvalued.

What do you think of this idea, and are there other opportunities out there in public? I am inspired by Kiva, the micro-credit charity. There could be other systems for direct angel investment, for profit investments in profitable enterprises around the world.

To close, I am looking for feedback on both of these ideas, which seem like plausible alternatives to precious metals, or at least good long term diversifiers.