Just what are “cash” and “cash options?” Some of us take those terms for granted, but after a recent article on sector allocation, one of our subscribers wrote in asking for clarification. Money Forever recommends holding approximately one-third of your portfolio in cash or cash options, but what does that really mean?
To clear up any confusion, “cash options” are not publicly traded options. “Cash alternative” is probably a more appropriate phrase.
I had a pleasant surprise over the holidays, as my own baby-boomer children struck up several kitchen-table discussions. They are wrestling with how to fund their children’s college followed by their own sprint to the retirement finish line.
My daughter Dawn said it best:
“Dad, this time it feels different. In the past the government would sell Treasuries, and people would lend us money to pay our bills. Now the government is just creating money out of thin air. Isn’t that eventually going to cause the dollar to collapse?”
Of course, that was followed by a discussion of how we can protect ourselves. They understand the gray cloud looming on the horizon very well. We no longer have a safe, good, interest-bearing account to park our cash in. We need to find safe alternatives, including ways to diversify outside of the US dollar.
Finding cash alternatives is one of the most important issues affecting us as investors. To help this make sense, let me begin at the beginning… the good old days of 2007, when most of us kept our cash in brokerage “sweeps” accounts.
Sweeps accounts automatically “swept” a portion of our brokerage account into an interest-bearing account so that our idle cash would provide some income. At that time, my Schwab sweeps account was paying 4% interest. To keep the math simple, imagine a person with a $150,000 portfolio who wanted to earn 10% overall – that’s $15,000. If one-third of that portfolio ($50,000) were in cash, earning 4% interest, that’s $2,000. That means that the other two-thirds of the portfolio has to earn $13,000, or 13%, on the remaining $100,000. That wasn’t so outrageous in 2007.
Many conservative portfolios would take a portion of that remaining $100,000 and invest it in fixed-income instruments paying 6% or more. Even then, the remaining balance could be invested wisely to make for a 10% overall return with only a portion of the capital at any real risk.
Now fast forward to 2012. Today my sweeps account pays exactly 1/100th of 1%. That same $50,000 only earns $5.00 in interest annually. That means that the other two-thirds of the portfolio has to earn close to 15% to reach the same target of 10% overall… in a down economy. That’s a tall order.
I want to really emphasize this point for all of our readers. In 2007, it took $50,000 to earn $2,000 in interest in our normal cash account. To earn the same $2,000 today, we would need $20 million in our sweeps account.
In addition, back in the “good old days” part of the remaining two-thirds of a conservative portfolio would have been invested in CDs or top-quality bonds. What’s happened to that portion? The best rate I can currently find for a five-year CD is 1.2%. Not only has the one-third cash allocation taken a huge hit, so has the portion that would have been safely invested in CDs and high-quality bonds.
Betty B., Defensive Solider in the War on Seniors and Savers
I received a very interesting letter from a subscriber, Betty B., who wrote in after reading Straight Talk About Working in Your Golden Years. She has kindly allowed me to quote from her letter. She writes:
“If I were able I could have written the today’s straight-talk message. I am an 80-year-old widow. When my husband died in 2000 he left me quite comfortable. I invested [a certain amount] in bank certificates of deposit paying good monthly interest. I also purchased a large Georgia Power bond paying 6% each month. Also I had some other utility bonds paying monthly.
“Well, today I do not have one CD, and all of my bonds have been called as of this year. So I have had to do exactly what you wrote about and start managing my own money. I must say I have lost some and am now depending on dividends mostly and I have had to start living off my principal. I just hope now that my money will last as long as I live. I once lived very well, but I now am trying to be frugal. I worry about older people who did not have anything to fall back on except Social Security, which for the first time I have to admit I look forward to my Social Security check.”
In essence, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates artificially low to support banks that made poor business decisions. They are doing so at the expense of the public; seniors and savers are often the hardest hit.
A few months ago, I wrote that I felt like the federal government had declared war on seniors and savers. Much to my surprise, some folks took issue with that remark. Today my response to those folks is, “Talk to Betty B.” Or perhaps they should ask all the retired people who have unretired and found a job to help pay the bills how they feel.
We must make up for the difference in yield somewhere; that is the reality retirees face today. There are no cash instruments that will make up that difference with the same safety that was available in 2007.
Investors – particularly those who are retired or getting close to it – have to come to grips with the fact the investing paradigm has changed, and it will likely continue to change. Today, investing cash the same way we did in 2007 will provide only a small fraction of the yield.
The current challenge with the cash portion of your portfolio is to find safe, somewhat liquid investments that provide some sort of yield, hopefully enough to keep you even or ahead of inflation. Sad to say, even a 1% return is 100 times greater than what you’d earn on a current sweeps account. And you have to earn double that just to try to stay even with the government reported inflation. (Take a peek at Paul Revere, The Fearmonger if you have the sneaking suspicion that the figure isn’t quite right.)
The reality today is that same $50,000 in your cash account will earn $5 in interest and lose $1,000 in buying power due to inflation during the year.
Building a Hedge with Cash Alternatives
In the September issue of our premium publication, I interviewed Chuck Butler of EverBank, who knows more about this issue than anyone I know. One hedge against inflation is foreign currencies. If you can find one that’s paying interest, even better.
EverBank has 90-day, FDIC insured CDs that are denominated in foreign currencies. One particular currency that Chuck outlined is currently paying 1.63% while appreciating against the US dollar. Would you rather tie up your money for five years to earn a meager 1.2%, or commit to 90 days and earn 1.63% while adding inflation protection against the declining value of the dollar? I sure know my answer to that question.
My wife Jo and I currently have a portion of our personal cash in three EverBank 90-day CDs, with one maturing each month. They’re liquid enough for our comfort level, and they earn us much more than any long-term US-dollar-denominated CDs would.
Exchange-traded funds are another avenue for accessing the benefits of foreign currencies. Vedran Vuk, our senior research analyst, did a terrific analysis of some liquid, short-term bond funds in The Cash Book. Sure, the yields are not like they used to be, but they’re certainly better than 1/100th of 1%.
It’s 2013, and good old days of 2007 are long gone. No one can afford to keep one-third of their portfolio in a US-dollar-dominated cash, totally liquid, interest-bearing account. The yield isn’t there anymore; it fact, it’s virtually nil. That’s why finding cash alternatives becomes so critical.
Our team here at Money Forever still believes that one-third of your portfolio should be in cash or cash alternatives. It just shouldn’t all be in US dollars, nor all in a cash account. There are other options out there, and investors need to consider them, at least for a portion of their cash. It needs to be safe, predominately liquid, and providing some yield to take the pressure of the other two-thirds of your portfolio.
Particularly for seniors and savers, trying to earn unrealistic gains in the market means putting too much capital into speculative investments, at too huge of a risk. But the thought of letting $50,000 in cash sit idly, earning a measly $5 annually is truly detestable. It’s like trying to invest your life savings with one hand tied behind your back.
What this really means for seniors and savers is simple. Wake up and smell the coffee! The Federal Reserve has made it quite clear that it is not going to change its interest-rate policy anytime soon. As I realized at our kitchen table this week, the situation is not one exclusive to seniors; baby boomers trying to accumulate wealth are facing the same challenges.
Those who are close to either side of the cusp of retirement have worked hard and saved money, and likely made retirement projections based on the old rulebook. Now those rules have changed… for good. As a young Marine, I learned that with a bit of training and good practice, it’s not that difficult to hit a moving target. Investing today is not a whole lot different. It may seem impossible, but with a little practice you can learn to hit your target.
Our premium subscription includes three special reports which dig deeper into these issues and recommend potential cash alternatives for safety-conscious investors: The Cash Book, The Yield Book, and our most recent release, Money Every Month. Our team has put in hundreds of hours looking at various ways to help our subscribers invest cash wisely. Folks who’ve to saved up a nest egg are not afraid of hard work. It takes ingenuity, intelligence, and common sense to build up a nice retirement – the same attributes that will keep you ahead of the crowd. We are here to help you make that hard-earned nest egg work for you.
If you have not taken advantage of our premium subscription, I urge you to take advantage of our 90-day guarantee. Sign up and get your copy of my book Retirement Reboot, all of our monthly reports and special reports – including The Annuity Guide and Income-Producing Stocks, and check out what we have to offer. If you don’t like what you see, you can cancel your subscription within the first 90 days and receive a 100% refund (and keep the material as a thank-you from me to you for looking us over).