I never prescribe one overall asset-allocation formula because no such solution suits everyone. That includes the popular 60-40 stocks-to-bonds ratio, which advisers frequently recommend to retirees or preretirees who are afraid to lose principal but still need growth alongside immediate income. I also avoid dictating how much cash to hold, unless your answer is 100% — especially if you limit yourself to money market funds, Treasury bills and bank deposits. The closest I shall venture to a 2024 forecast is that those 5% risk-free yields will not vanish before summertime.
However, there is another, often overlooked cash-management opportunity you can employ after you decide what percentage of your portfolio to keep in ready money: how best to distribute savings in interest-earning investments.
I take an expansive view of what counts as cash, with ultra-low duration (a measure of the price sensitivity of a fund or bond to changes in interest rates) high on my list. (Bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions.) The goal is to collect substantial income with mild price risk and everyday liquidity. Consider the following ideas reasonable for most everyone:
You can outdo the best money market and certificate of deposit rates by impersonating a banker: Invest in funds that hold high-yielding assets, such as commercial loans, credit card portfolios, home-equity credit lines, and so forth. Duration in these types of funds is minimal, and the payouts dwarf those of CDs and T-bills. For example, Fidelity Floating Rate High Income Fund (FFRHX, yield 9.4%) and the discounted closed-end fund Nuveen Credit Strategies Income (JQC, distribution rate 13.0%) transmit enough income to offset even a small uptick in delinquencies and write-offs. RiverPark Floating Rate CMBS Fund (RCRFX, yield 7.7%) and Janus Henderson AAA CLO ETF (JAAA, yield 6.7%) focus on different kinds of creditors but boast similar duration, yield and return. So far, 2023 has been friendly to this quartet, which has averaged a 7.3% total return through October.
A better lockbox
If those ideas are too spicy, you can still add value. The yield curve is screaming for you to target three-to-six-month maturities; anything that goes out one to two years or longer is silly. If you have a one- or three-year CD coming due, or any 401(k) savings sitting in a stable-value account yielding 3%, consider transferring the cash to ultra-short options such as money market funds or T-bills. On $50,000, the difference between a 3.0% and 5.5% yield is $1,250 a year — too much to ignore. And if you have cash in a brokerage account, be sure it sits in an actual money market fund and not a brokerage’s or bank’s holding tank paying no more than 1%.
If the economy weakens, or if the Federal Reserve hints that it can refrain from further interest rate hikes, the managers of actively managed ultra-short bond funds may be able to boost their net asset values a percentage point or two over and above the yield. Funds such as T. Rowe Price Ultra Short-Term Bond Fund (TRBUX, yield 4.9%) have done that in 2023 — the fund is on pace to return 6% for the calendar year — and it may pick up some upside on price for several more quarters until higher-yielding assets, which include corporate notes and consumer loans, roll over and new ones pay less. If you give the pros the flexibility to find snippets of extra yield on favorable terms, you should take home more cash with ease.
Note: This item first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, a monthly, trustworthy source of advice and guidance. Subscribe to help you make more money and keep more of the money you make here.
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