Money-market fund returns and other cash equivalents haven’t looked this attractive since before the global financial crisis.
That has some investors rediscovering the once popular destination for parking money during times of uncertainty, especially now with equities flirting with record highs and the Federal Reserve committed to raising short-term interest rates even more. No greater authority than BlackRock Inc.’s Larry Fink pointed out during a Bloomberg Television interview that cash equivalents are an attractive place to camp out.
Whether that proves enough of an impetus remains to be seen, according to Peter Crane, who has been following the sector for decades and serves as president of Westborough, Mass.-based Crane Data LLC. The highest-returning funds are yielding about 2.2 percent, compared with about 5 percent before central banks in the U.S., Europe and Japan slashed borrowing costs to zero to revive growth in 2008.
“To hold an allure to cash, 5 percent had been a big psychological level in the past and a lot of investors — and old guys in Florida and retirees with cash — are looking at 2 percent and still saying, ‘This sucks,”’ Crane said. “They remember that it wasn’t long ago that it was 5 percent and their stocks are still doing well. It’s coming but it will take more time.”
The highest-yielding money-market fund tracked by Crane is the DWS Variable NAV Money Fund, or VNVXX, at 2.2 percent. But with more Fed rate hikes on the horizon, fund yields should top 2.5 percent by the end of the year, he said.
Money funds stand to have sizable cash injections over the second half of the year, as later months historically see the biggest inflows, he said. However, “people need to be reminded of risk and they haven’t been yet,” said Crane. “You still have a broad de-sensitivity to rates on cash, because they were so low for so long that it will take a while for the ostrich to pull its head out of the sand.”
Meanwhile, 10-year Treasury yields rose for a second week to about 2.9 percent. In addition, the spread between short-term government bond yields and the S&P 500 dividend yield has been closing and is now the tightest since December 2010. To be sure, even with short-term Treasury yields at about 2.6 percent, cash balances haven’t budged significantly.
“Using the short end of the curve as an opportunity for cash, I think, will become more prevalent going forward but I still think we’ve got an awful lot of fiscal tailwinds when you think about infrastructure spending, reduced regulation, improved lending capacity,” said John Lynch, chief investment strategist at LPL Financial. “We still think there’s some room to grow in equities.”
But, according to Fink, a changing global dynamic and uncertainty about trade means investors can afford to hunker down in cash equivalents and not get lured in by riskier assets. This is especially true when the short end of the curve is paying higher yields, although he warns that the 10-year Treasuries aren’t paying investors enough.
“Do I want to be in longer-duration bonds now? Probably not,” Fink said. “But I can be in low-duration bonds. I can be in cash.”