Cash: Making the Most of a Turbulent Market

Be wise and optimize: Start with cash.

Be wise and optimize: Start with cash.

With the stock market off to a violent start to the year, many investors are looking to an asset class that performed better than equities last year: cash.

In 2015, most cash in the bank earned, essentially, zero: the average bank savings account paid depositors about 10 basis points, or 0.10%. But those investors savvy enough to put their money in online-bank savings accounts earned up to 1.05% on FDIC-insured cash.

That’s a healthy return, compared to the equities market. In 2015 the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.2% and the S&P 500 declined by 0.7%, according to the Wall Street Journal. Poor returns are contributing to the growing number of pension funds and other institutional investors who are warehousing cash — as much as 10% to 15% of some portfolios, the newspaper found.

For individuals who also feel they should hold cash on the sidelines — either because they’ve adopted a conservative, capital-preservation stance, or because they want to reserve dry powder for market buying opportunities — the difference between 10 basis points and 100 basis points on cash is significant, particularly when compounded over time. It’s even more material when the stock market itself is in decline.

And rates probably won’t stay this low forever. Now that the Federal Reserve finally has raised interest rates, online banks likely will raise their rates more rapidly than bricks-and-mortar banks, because their cost structures are more flexible. Investors who already have online savings accounts for their cash will benefit from this trend. Those who use Max to optimize their cash will see higher rates automatically, when the banks raise them, since Max automatically helps funds flow to whichever banks are offering the highest yields.  

For cash held on the sidelines, it makes sense to earn as much as possible, while protecting principal by ensuring full FDIC coverage. Risk, and the volatility of risky returns, are for other asset classes. Cash is stable, and should churn out a steady yield while staying safe. Learn how Max can help investors earn more on the cash within their portfolios.

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The Role of Cash in Investor Portfolios

There’s global-volatility-roller-coasternothing like a little reprise of global market volatility to remind us that stocks don’t always go up.  That’s no reason to panic, of course, but sometimes it’s good to take a moment to reflect on portfolio theory and appreciate why most advisors don’t advocate a 100% allocation to equities.

Here at Max, we are not financial advisors, nor do we offer financial advice. Our goal is simply to help individual investors earn as much as possible on whatever portion of their portfolio that they — or their advisors — have chosen to hold in cash, while keeping it safe.  Today, our members are earning approximately 1.00% yield on their liquid cash, with FDIC insurance of up to $5 million per couple.  This works out to roughly 10x more interest income than paid in most savings or brokerage accounts and 20x more than most money market funds (which, it’s worth noting, are not insured.)

According to the most recent Capgemini/RBC Wealth Management World Wealth Report, 4.7 million high net worth households in North America — defined as those with more than $1 million of investable assets beyond their primary residence — are holding a collective $3.8 trillion dollars in cash & cash equivalents.  That works out to 23.7% of their portfolios.  Yet most financial advisors think that their clients are holding closer to 10% of their portfolios in cash. What accounts for the difference?  It seems as if Americans are more conservative than their financial advisors would seem to believe or advise.  They must be holding cash in other pockets — bank accounts, CDs, and money market funds outside the view of their advisors.

Why so much cash? There are several reasons. Some have to do with timing differences. A law firm partner might, for instance, receive monthly draws from the partnership, but pay estimated taxes quarterly. This results in a build up of cash that must be set aside to pay taxes. But if that cash is sitting in a regular checking or savings or brokerage account, it is likely dramatically under-earning its potential. Other households may be saving for a major purchase, such as a first or second home, or reserving funds against commitments made to invest in private equity funds. Again, cash set aside earning next to nothing creates a drag on the portfolio and represents a lost opportunity to earn on those funds.

Other investors are more strategic about their cash allocation. For some, it’s a hedge (amidst market volatility, where the values of stocks and bonds gyrate, it’s nice to have the comfort of an asset class that acts as a store of value.) For others, cash is an even more strategic asset – a form of dry powder, ready to be deployed when market opportunities present themselves.

For all the talk of cash being a zero return asset class, excess cash in a portfolio can also facilitate outsized gains. Looking back on the financial crisis of 2008-2009, an investor with cash on the sidelines, who was able to bravely dip a toe into the market while others were fearful, could have tripled her money simply by buying the S&P 500. Had that same investor been fully invested, she would have missed one of the greatest investment opportunities of our lifetimes. This past week’s market volatility again reminds us that having cash at the ready can mean the difference between fretting over falling share prices vs. capitalizing on opportunity.

Financial advisors should pay close attention to these statistics. Astute advisors know that they can deliver better financial advice if they have a truer picture of their clients’ assets, objectives, and risk tolerance. Bringing more of a client’s cash into view can help inform this discussion and lead to better investment outcomes. is one such tool that can be deployed to generate better returns for clients, both directly by way of higher yield, and indirectly, by assembling a pool of cash that’s ready to be deployed when volatility emerges.

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