Why Cash, Why Now?

FinovateFall2014MaxMyInterest is presenting at the FinovateFall conference this week in New York City. In honor of the conference, which showcases innovative financial-technology solutions, we’re taking a look at the problem that Max solves: people are not earning enough on their cash in the bank, and they’re taking more risk than they’d like by not staying under the FDIC limits on their bank accounts.

Cash makes up a reported 40% of Americans’ holdings — far more than most asset-allocation models would recommend. With the stock market at an all-time high, why are investors holding onto so much cash?

There are several logical reasons why people would choose a more conservative asset allocation, yet in doing so they’ve missed out on a stock market rally which has been going strong for more than three years.

Some investors feel the market is overvalued and are waiting until stock prices fall to buy more.  They remember the tremendous buying opportunities that existed at the depths of the financial crisis. Investors who had “dry powder” — cash on the sidelines available to invest — were able to triple their money simply by buying the S&P 500 Index at the bottom and waiting for the recovery to take hold.

Many savvy investors employ a strategy called dollar-cost averaging, which reduces the risk of market timing by taking a fixed amount of cash and deploying it methodically in equal installments over several days, weeks, or months. This strategy requires holding extra cash, because it takes some time to accumulate the position that the investor ultimately wants to hold.

Investors’ appetite for cash also depends on how old they are. For millennials, who came of age during the 2008 global financial crisis and the recession that followed, the equity markets are viewed to be perilous. Many investors in this age bracket are ultra-conservative in asset allocation and don’t want to own any stocks at all. As a result, they keep a larger proportion of their assets in cash than people their age usually do. According to a recent Forbes article, 40% of millennials favor cash over any other asset class.

Investors approaching retirement tend to hold a larger portion of their portfolios in cash and fixed income instruments — but with interest rates expected to rise, holding long-term bonds could be a losing strategy, so many of these investors have pulled cash from bond funds, hoping to preserve its value better by keeping it in cash.

One investor who’s holding lots of cash is Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway has $55 billion in its corporate bank account. Buffett knows that opportunities are out there, and cash gives him the freedom to scoop them up when they become available. As we wrote earlier, Buffett has historically saved up cash when the markets rise, and spent it quickly when the markets fall.  He is perhaps the ultimately market timer.

The trouble with keeping a large percentage of your portfolio in cash is that cash provides little, if any, real yield, often underperforming inflation. Many investors also grapple with the limits of FDIC insurance, which only cover the first $250,000 per depositor, per account type, per bank.  For investors who hold cash in money market funds (as is often the case in brokerage accounts), they are not even covered by FDIC insurance, meaning their cash could be at risk.

For Max members, holding cash on the sidelines becomes less of an issue. Max members are currently earning a weighted-average 0.88% yield on their cash, far more than the national savings average of 0.11% or most money market funds that yield a paltry 0.01% today. Even in this low-interest-rate environment, that means Max members are earning 8 times as much as the average bank customer on cash deposits. While each investor should make his/her own determination as to how much cash to hold, at least via Max, they can rest easy knowing that they’re earning as much as possible on that cash, so that there’s more of it at the ready when the next investment opportunity presents itself.

Gary Zimmerman

Gary is the Founder of MaxMyInterest.com.
Gary Zimmerman

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