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Summer 2024 Investment Outlook – July 23

Is the growth momentum sustainable?

Key takeaways

  • Investors today hold nearly $6 trillion in money market funds.

  • Higher interest rates today create low-risk opportunities in money markets and other cash equivalent securities not seen for decades.

  • However, investors should consider the impact of persistent inflation as they compare returns on different types of securities.

Investors today hold nearly $6 trillion in money market assets, slightly down from record high levels reached in prior months but still historically elevated.1 Significant sums are also held in other types of cash-equivalent securities and short-term debt instruments. While many investors are benefiting from attractive yields available on short-term instruments, it’s important to recognize that rates won’t remain at current levels indefinitely. Eventually, interest rates will come down.

“An environment featuring such competitive yields may have given people a false sense of security about the benefits of lower-risk, short-term instruments,” says Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “Yet those who continue to put money to work in cash-equivalent vehicles as an alternative to stocks have, since late 2022, missed out on what proved to be an impressive period for stock market returns.” The benchmark S&P 500 stock index generated a total return of more than 26% in 2023 and has gained nearly 6% so far this year.2

Haworth says investors need to consider the impact of higher living costs as they compare returns of different types of securities. “Although fixed income yields look much more attractive today than they did a few years ago, this comes at a cost,” says Haworth. “Investors must keep in mind that inflation is higher as well, and that’s a primary risk to a portfolio as you assess the most effective way to structure your asset mix.” Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, stood at 3.5% for the 12-month period ending March 2024.3

Haworth encourages investors to broaden their horizons, as appropriate for their circumstances. “In today’s market, there is a lot of value to be found beyond cash-equivalent instruments,” says Haworth. “The key to investing is holding a diversified portfolio to meet a broad range of investment needs.” This includes longer-term bonds and stocks.

 

Prioritizing portfolio objectives

Haworth says it can be helpful for investors to consider how investable assets are allocated to meet both short-term and long-term goals. “Some of your funds should be positioned in cash instruments to meet more immediate needs, but money that is intended to achieve long-term objectives should be invested in assets like stocks and bonds to work toward those goals.”

For cash needs, consider separating your assets into two categories:

  • Money set aside to meet current and pending cash flow needs for the next 0-to-18 months
  • Money intended to meet longer-term goals

You may want to maintain up to 18 months’ worth of assets in accounts that offer some degree of immediate liquidity. These resources can be used to meet living and lifestyle expenses, tax liabilities and to repay debts. It’s also important to maintain at least a six-month emergency fund. For these purposes, consider higher yielding checking accounts, money market mutual funds or CDs.

“Such competitive yields may have given people a false sense of security about the benefits of lower-risk, short-term instruments,” says Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “Yet those who continue to put money to work in cash-equivalent vehicles as an alternative to stocks have, since late 2022, missed out on what proved to be an impressive period for stock market returns.”

For money that’s not needed in the next 18 months or so, but that may be required after that period, consider money market funds, Treasury bills and short-term bonds that may offer the potential to generate additional yield while still protecting principal.

Charts depicts yields in January 2022 versus April 2024 for typical bank savings accounts, 1-year certificate of deposit, 6-month, 1-year and 2-year Treasury securities.
Bank Savings and 1-year CD rates based on National Deposit Rates, provided by FDIC, as of April 15, 2024. Rates for U.S. Treasury securities from U.S. Department of the Treasury, Daily Treasury Par Yield Curve Rates, as of April 29, 2024.

As indicated in the chart, Treasury rates currently move lower as maturities increase (i.e., a six- month Treasury bill pays more than a 1-year Treasury bill, which pays more than a 2-year Treasury). However, the yield differences today are marginal compared to what they were in 2023. This is an unusual situation, but Haworth notes that tax-sensitive investors who put money to work in municipal bonds must realize that a different yield environment exists in the tax-free market. “As opposed to the case for taxable bonds, municipal bond yields are tracking along a normal yield curve,” says Haworth. “Municipal bond investors can earn higher yields as they move farther out on the maturity spectrum.

 

Positioning for long-term goals

Resources not needed for near-term purposes can be invested with the objective of generating more attractive, longer-term returns. “Historically speaking, a diversified portfolio emphasizing stocks and bonds will outperform cash,” says Haworth. “In fact, despite today’s elevated yields for cash vehicles, a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds likely generated superior performance in 2023.” Haworth says investors holding money in cash that is intended to help meet long-term goals should consider ways to put it to work more effectively.

“A first step is to move cash into short-term, lower-quality fixed income instruments that pay more attractive yields given the recent change in the interest rate environment,” says Haworth. He says investment grade corporate debt provides competitive rates, with municipal bonds also offering even more attractive tax-equivalent yields for individuals in higher tax brackets. Other options to consider are FDIC-insured bank savings accounts, which typically provide immediate liquidity, and certificates of deposit, available for various holding periods. Both vehicles offer more competitive yields than was the case prior to 2022.

 

Fixed income investments

Haworth says another sensible step may be to consider longer-term fixed income securities. “The Fed is expected to begin lowering interest rates at some point this year, though the timing of such cuts remains uncertain. Once rate cuts occur, yields will drop on short-term instruments,” says Haworth. “In this environment, locking in one-year or two-year yields on Treasury bills at today’s higher rates may be a smart move to protect short-term cash.” Haworth adds that for investors seeking to achieve long-term goals, it may be an opportune time to put more money to work in longer-term fixed income securities. For tax-aware portfolios, investors may consider municipal bonds with slightly longer than average durations, with a modest allocation to high-yield municipal bonds. Within taxable portfolios, consider a meaningful investment in non-government agency issued residential mortgage-backed securities while managing total duration with long-maturity U.S. Treasuries.

 

Equity investments

Beyond the bond market, Haworth suggests directing money back into equities. “While equity markets performed particularly well in 2023, investors should be prepared for more choppiness in the months ahead.” The S&P 500 gained more than 26% in 2023 and is up nearly 6% so far in 2024, although equity markets experienced significant price fluctuations. In this environment, dollar-cost averaging can be an effective strategy for shifting assets into stocks and bonds.

 

The opportunity cost of too much cash

When investors hold cash for too long, it typically results in an opportunity cost, relative to their goals and their long-term portfolio strategy. “Investors often pull money intended to achieve long-term goals out of markets after prices have already declined, then are hesitant to get back in until the markets have already recovered,” says Paul Springmeyer, senior vice president and regional investment director at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. “This is the risk of trying to time the market,” he says. “Too often, investors are late to return and miss a major part of the rebound.” This was true of investors who stayed out of the stock market in 2023 and early 2024, when the S&P 500 reached new highs for the first time in more than two years.

Chart depicts S&P 500 performance: 12/31/2021 – 4/29/2024.
Source: Data compiled from WSJ.com thru April 29, 2024.

How your views on risk affect your approach to cash and investments

This may be a good time to reassess your own views about risk tolerance and determine if you want to adjust your portfolio. Springmeyer says for many investors, keeping long-term money on the sidelines turns out to be counterproductive. “It’s important to stay invested for the long-term to capture the opportunities that equities and bonds ultimately generate, without having to make decisions about whether the time is right to get into the market.”

Haworth also notes that along the way, changes may be appropriate. “It’s important to regularly rebalance a portfolio to reflect how market performance has changed your asset mix and bring it back to the intended allocation based on your risk tolerance, time horizon and goals,” he says.

 

Consider your cash management and investing opportunities

It is not possible to predict with accuracy what to expect of the equity and bond markets in the near term. But if you have long-term financial goals, you should seek reasonable opportunities to put cash to work in ways that will help you achieve those objectives.

Review your financial plan with a wealth professional and explore cash management opportunities – along with your long-term investing goals – to help you capitalize on today's interest rate environment.

Note: The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) consists of 500 widely traded stocks that are considered to represent the performance of the U.S. stock market in general. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of stocks. It is not possible to invest directly in the index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Frequently asked questions

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Disclosures

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  1. Investment Company Institute, “Money Market Fund Assets,” Feb. 29, 2024.

  2. S&P Dow Jones Indices.

  3. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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