April 18, 2024

Wealth Matters: The Hidden Dangers In Safe Havens

“They fled the perceived risk of falling stock prices right into the assured risk of overvalued assets,” said G. Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist for the wealth management division at Brown Brothers Harriman.

What drove those decisions was not logic but fear — fear of a repeat of September 2008. And that fear may only have intensified when markets dropped again late this week, sending yields on 10-year Treasury notes to record lows and the price of gold above $1,800 an ounce.

Even if the fear is understandable, however, acting on it may not be the best long-term strategy.

“If you were right about the timing decision to get out, you’re going to have to be right again about when to get back in,” said Joseph W. Spada, managing director at Summit Financial Resources in Parsippany, N.J. “Even professionals have trouble doing it. If that’s not going to be your strategy, then don’t do it once.”

But now that people have done it once, what are the risks of holding on to large positions in gold and Treasuries?

TREASURIES While the economy may seem bad to many people, it would not take much improvement for investors to lose money quickly on their investment in Treasury bonds.

A week and a half ago, the 10-year Treasury note was yielding only 2.10 percent, after Standard Poor’s downgraded the United States’ credit rating. Since the yield of a bond moves in the opposite direction of its price, this meant demand for 10-year Treasuries was high.

If over the next six months, the yield were to move up another half of a percentage point to 2.60 percent, however, investors owning those bonds would have a negative 6.25 percent return, said Barbara Reinhard, chief investment strategist at Credit Suisse Private Banking in New York. If the yield curve were to move up a full percentage point during that time, the loss would be 14 percent.

She said such a quick increase could easily happen, as it did from October 2010 to January 2011 when the Federal Reserve began its second round of large-scale purchases of government debt, the program known as quantitative easing.

Now, plenty of people buy bonds with the intention of holding them until maturity. In doing that, it would seem that they would earn a return of 2.10 percent. But they would actually lose 1.5 percent, when the most recent inflation rate of 3.6 percent is factored in.

“That’s assuming inflation doesn’t rise,” Ms. Reinhard said. “Right now, you’re betting inflation will fall below 2.10 percent. You’re betting against history because inflation has been around 3 to 4 percent historically.”

This is not the brightest picture for people who added to their allocation of Treasury bonds. But many felt it was the only safe place.

J. D. Montgomery, a managing director at Canterbury Consulting, an investment consulting firm in Newport Beach, Calif., said he had a client who wrestled with where to put $5 million that he needed to keep safe. The client chose a three-month Treasury note, even though the interest was only $1,000.

There was at least some logic behind this. Most people who bought Treasuries were abandoning their investment strategy, and wealth advisers say that is more troubling than paltry returns.

“The risk of changing your strategy when it’s being tested as opposed to changing it when it’s not being tested is you risk derailing your long-term investment plan,” said Gregg Fisher, president and chief investment officer of Gerstein Fisher, a wealth management firm in New York.

So what should nervous investors have done? Selling Treasury bonds when everyone else was buying them would have been a start. But that might have taken too much discipline. Moving to cash was the top option because at least investors would have money ready when they felt comfortable returning to the markets.

GOLD Investors in gold are a different breed. They often have a passion for the metal that goes beyond returns. And they are not going to be swayed by arguments that gold, hovering around $1,800 an ounce, is overvalued.

“When you buy gold you’re saying nothing is going to work and everything is going to stay ridiculous,” said Mackin Pulsifer, vice chairman and chief investment officer of Fiduciary Trust International in New York. “There is a fair cohort who believes this in a theological sense, but I believe it’s unreasonable given the history of the United States.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=aae92cb932f8390d4ee26965fec549ac