Rates Rise; Max Members Cheer

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen speaks at a press conference to announce the central bank's rate increase on December 14, 2016. Photo credit: Federal Reserve via Flickr.

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen speaks at a press conference to announce the central bank’s rate increase on December 14, 2016. Photo credit: Federal Reserve via Flickr.

Since the Federal Reserve last raised interest rates in December 2015, investors have been waiting for the central bank’s next move. Now Chairwoman Janet Yellen and her board have done what the market expected and raised rates by 25 basis points (0.25%).

Analysts expect that this will be the start of a period of increased rate volatility. In 2017, the market anticipates three to four more rate hikes, as the Fed climbs out of the near-zero rate trough that accompanied years of quantitative-easing after the 2008 global financial crisis.

Rising rates are a conundrum for investors. They bring the promise of more interest earned on new or floating-rate debt, but they also mean that investors now have to make sure their investments are earning the best rates.

Bank deposits will likely move higher now that the Fed’s rates are increasing. Investors who keep cash in the bank or in brokerage accounts should monitor their financial institutions’ rate moves to be certain their money is earning the most advantageous rate.

That’s not a problem for Max members. Max automatically reallocates cash to a member’s highest-yielding online savings accounts. Members don’t have to think about which of their banks is paying more in interest, or about whether they’ve exceeded the FDIC deposit-insurance limit on their bank deposits.

As the Fed continues to raise rates, it’s likely that the spread between the interest rates paid by brick-and-mortar banks — practically zero — and online banks will widen. Online banks, which have a lower cost structure because they don’t have branches, are likely raise their rates on savings accounts more rapidly. This also means that Max members will benefit, since Max works by optimizing members’ cash balances across online savings accounts.

In a rising interest rate environment, Max can help investors to stay current with the highest rates they can earn on their cash. Currently, Max members are earning .70% to .90% more than the national average.

We also work with financial advisors to help their clients earn more on cash in bank or brokerage accounts.

To learn more about how Max can help you, visit MaxMyInterest or MaxForAdvisors.com.

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Guest Post: Where to Go When Cash Is King

James Sanford of Sag Harbor Advisors

James Sanford of Sag Harbor Advisors

With interest rates remaining low, many investors wonder how to evaluate the safety of various places to keep cash. Max invited financial advisor James Sanford of Sag Harbor Advisors, a performance-fee-based wealth manager, to talk about how best to think about choices for cash in a portfolio.


By James Sanford

With the Federal Reserve now expected to wait at least until the December meeting to end 8 years of zero interest rates, and some strategists putting the first lift-off out to March or June of 2016, it’s time to revisit where to put your cash when cash is king. Two-year Treasury notes are now down to 63 basis points. Emerging market weakness in China and commodity-centric nations led to a 12% decline in the S&P 500 from July through September 28, and a surge in the Volatility Index (VIX) to over 40. If you’re with me in the camp to move a substantial amount of the portfolio to cash after the Central-Bank-fueled reversal rally of more than 10% since October 1, it’s important to understand where your broker or advisor places your cash, which is called the “cash sweep.” If swept into money market funds, you’re not in cash at all, but merely a basket of short-term risky securities that earn a paltry yield of zero to 15 basis points.

First, these underlying securities contain corporate credit risk of default like any other corporate bond. Second, there’s no legal guarantee of a “par put” from the manager. Money market funds routinely maintain a fixed $1.00 par value, rather than mark to market, a convenient shell-game trick which completely hides the underlying volatility of the basket of securities in the portfolio, convincing the holder he owns a “cash equivalent.” What he actually owns is a portfolio of risky corporate senior unsecured-debt obligations, which despite their 7, 10, or 90-day maturity, are equal in recovery and default risk to corporate long bonds maturing 10 and 30 years from now. Some money market funds hold tax-free municipal bonds. These are commonly considered “risk free,” which is absolutely not the case, as investors learned the hard way in Detroit, several cities in California and Rhode Island, and, soon, Puerto Rico.

Usually the portfolio in a money market fund doesn’t move at all in price, due to its very short duration. That’s until a shock event hits one of the securities, which was the case with the Lehman Brothers default. Lehman, opened up Monday morning, September 15, 2008, at a bid-offer of $10 to 12 cents on the dollar.  Suddenly this “cash” equivalent lost 90 cents on the dollar. Roughly 35 to 40% of all investment company assets are comprised of money market funds, with 80% of corporations using money market funds to manage their cash balances, and 20% of household cash balances comprised of money market funds, according to a 2009 SEC report.

There is an investor perception that money market funds are insured by the manager due to the “never break the buck” concept. In fact, there is no legal requirement or guarantee that money managers must “never break the buck” or shield investors from losses. Many managers in 2008 compensated investors for losses in money market funds, because it was good for business and they had the capital. Those without the capital, such as the Reserve Fund, did not. Nobody legally had to.

So what advice would I give investors, as a financial advisor? Keep your cash in short-term T-bills? But there is very little if any interest. Take duration risk on longer dated Treasuries?  No.

The answer is more obvious then we think: it’s your common bank savings account. Investors can earn up to 1.1% on internet-only savings accounts that are 100% FDIC guaranteed, a guarantee as solid as U.S. Treasury bonds, yet one that offers overnight liquidity and no duration risk. In fact, investors would have to go all the way to the three-year note to earn a yield equal to the highest available online savings rates of 1.1%.  The counterparty risk of the bank offering the rate is immaterial. As long as it’s FDIC guaranteed, even in the event of an FDIC bank seizure, accounts holders with $250,000 or less, or $500,000 in a joint account for couples, will have unrestricted access to their cash. If the FDIC can’t honor its agreement, all investments will be set to zero. That would be the equivalent of a U.S. government default.

Advisors often don’t like using a savings account as the cash sweep option, as they can’t control the assets. At Sag Harbor Advisors, our clients’ advisor accounts at our custodian are linked via the ACH system to any bank account of their choice, and clients sign over authorization to draw specified funds back to the advisor account should we see market opportunities. For cash holdings that are well north of the FDIC limits, MaxMyInterest is the only way to efficiently manage funds.

Ask your advisor where your cash sweep is, what it’s yielding, and you might find it’s not really “cash” at all.  

 

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How can U.S. depositors protect their cash against earning negative interest?

Protect your cash against earning negative interest.

Protect your cash against earning negative interest.

The European Central Bank’s announcement that it will lower interest rates in the Eurozone and charge banks to park their funds in Frankfurt overnight brings renewed attention to the problem of bank depositors earning little interest on their savings accounts.

The ECB’s move is designed to spur banks to lend out more in the form of loans to European companies and individuals. By cutting its deposit rate to negative 0.1%, the central bank aims to boost economic growth in the region, which has struggled to overcome a sovereign-debt crisis that followed the global financial crisis and sparked a deep recession.

As the world emerges from the financial troubles of the last half-decade, central banks are signalling that low interest rates will continue. The U.S. Federal Reserve is ending its own quantitative-easing program, which pumped extra money into the economy, but rates are only expected to rise slowly for the next few years, unless inflation spikes sharply.

While more bank loans could have a positive effect on European businesses and encourage companies in the region to invest more, this is not good news for bank depositors. They are already suffering from ultra-low interest rates on savings accounts. Many people are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of having to pay to keep their money in the bank. With today’s near-zero interest rates on offer from most banks, the real return on cash is often negative, even in the U.S.

Fortunately, depositors have options. In the U.S., online banks have lower operating costs than traditional brick-and-mortar banks and are thus able to pay higher interest rates to their depositors.

With Max (MaxMyInterest.com), we have built an automated system that helps depositors benefit from the higher rates on offer from FDIC-insured online banks. Today, our members are earning a weighted average 0.87% on their cash, or 0.79% net of fees, which compares favorably to most bank accounts or money market funds that offer little to no yield.

The effects of compounding are important to an investor’s portfolio. Earning an extra 0.70% to 0.80% on deposits, year after year, can have a profound impact. Most Max members can expect to earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in incremental interest over their investment horizons, simply by using Max to help continuously optimize their cash allocation across multiple online bank accounts.

Periodically reviewing one’s portfolio and ensuring that cash is working as hard as possible — while spread across enough banks to be adequately covered by FDIC insurance — is one way to enhance returns without taking on more risk. Many depositors, however, are too busy to focus on how they manage their cash. In a time of low interest rates, it’s crucial to keep on top of which online banks are offering the best rates and move deposits accordingly — or let Max handle it for you, automatically.

Gary Zimmerman is the Founder of MaxMyInterest.com.

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