Currencies, bonds, deposit accounts - all provide options for investment planners. And how many are there in total. Six, 10, a dozen or more? I consider there are just three. Admittedly, each of the three classes can be broken down into sub-groups, but I promise you, three covers the field.
There are those where the capital is static and the income fluctuates; those where income remains the same but the capital fluctuates; and those investments where they can both vary.
You can choose between bank and building society deposits, fixed income securities (such as British government securities) and equities and property or any fund investing in either. Each investment has its own strengths and weaknesses in portfolio planning.
Take the first asset class. Inflation is low and falling, yet short term interest rates have held up remarkably well. When rates fall, as seems inevitable, it will not necessarily be a period of rejoicing. Plenty of people depend on bank and building society interest for a large slice of their income.
Class two, fixed income stocks - or bonds, as they are popularly known - have occasionally enjoyed periods of unparalleled popularity. The summer of 1998 was just such a time. The trouble is that it has become increasingly difficult to find bonds worth buying as a private investor, unless you mind raising your risk profile and buy corporate bonds.
Finally, we have equities, (I think I'll give property a miss on this occasion). Generally speaking, when bonds do well, so do equities. Not so recently. This has much to do with the somewhat creaky state of the international financial system. Is a global recession really on the cards? What will happen to pensioners if markets do not stage a recovery soon?
Seldom has the future looked more opaque. It makes you realise that investment strategists really do earn their keep, particularly if they deliver sound advice. Most probably, like me, uncertain on what message to deliver.
Liquidity is driving markets at present. UK pension funds have more than pounds 100bn sitting on the sidelines. It means that when the turn comes, it will be on a sixpence and rocket-fuelled.
But you need more than liquidity to power a market. Confidence is what we really need. So just get out there and spend: we owe it to the market.
Brian Tora is chairman of the Greig Middleton investment strategy committeeReuse content