Fresh starts are nice. That largely explains our natural drive to celebrate the New Year with such hope and joy. After a year like 2022, and especially for retired investors, I’d say a fresh start is well deserved!
Before looking forward, let’s first run the numbers for 2022. With stocks declining about 20% and with bonds dropping about 13% for the year, there were very few places to hide. Given the dual decline in both stocks and bonds, the primary risk management tool of asset allocation failed to deliver. The end result? Last year was one of the worst on record for conservative investors with balanced portfolios.
Today, on the other hand, a broadly diversified bond portfolio made up of a combination of US Treasuries, mortgages and corporate bonds now sports a yield-to-maturity of about 5%. From an income perspective, bonds are now putting up a real fight against stocks. With interest rates having been pinned down by the Federal Reserve for much of the last 15 years, this hasn’t been the case in a long, long time.
For those sitting with a lot of cash in the bank or parked in a money market fund, it might be enticing to just do nothing and keep that money safe. That’s especially true with short-term cash now earning around 4%. But, remember, if the economy slows next year as expected, short-term rates could just as easily decline once again. In other words, that 4% yield on cash could be short-lived. Looking at following a careful process of investing some of your excess cash in bonds is worthy of consideration.
The last two months of inflation reports are showing a breaking of the inflation fever. While inflation will be slow to fully recede, a careful reading of the tea leaves points to the Fed now starting to shift their focus to the economy. It’s about time, because many investors worry that the Fed has already raised interest rates too high and too fast. Their big fear? A recession. In fact, this might be the most widely-anticipated recession ever.
Nothing in financial markets is certain, of course. Even with bonds finally showing promise, the Fed has not yet fully vanquished inflation. If inflation so much as ticks higher, expect talk of more rate hikes than currently anticipated. And, even with so many investors openly predicting a recession, stock prices haven’t fully baked in that scenario. We’re not yet out of the woods.
Without sounding too mealy-mouthed, we’re still in a moment that calls for careful, but not crazy, risk taking. The ironic solution? Do what most absolutely didn’t work last year; try to embrace a balanced portfolio in 2023!
Jason P. Tank, CFA, CFP® is both the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm and the founder of the Money Series, a non-profit program committed to providing open-access to financial education, for all. Contact him at (231) 947-3775, by email at [email protected] and at www.FrontStreet.com