Investing money in 2011 through 2012 may require that most people change their thinking about the best investment strategy. Traditional investing strategy for average folks suggests an asset allocation of over 50% to stock funds, about 40% to bond funds, and the rest to perhaps a precious metals (gold) fund for added diversification. In the world of investing money, times are changing; especially for bonds and gold.
In putting together your investment strategy one of the best ways to focus is to consider the flow of money between asset classes over the recent months and years. In the investing world money always goes someplace, and it tends to concentrates in different areas at different times. When money floods an asset class like bonds or gold, prices can rise dramatically. When it makes a grand exit prices can tumble. Extremes in price movements should grab your attention when investing money for 2011 and beyond, especially when you hear mention of the word “bubble”.
In the months leading up to 2011, investors both large and small were investing money heavily in bonds and in precious metals like gold. This investment strategy was among the best as prices in both asset classes climbed to record or near record highs. Millions of everyday folks threw money at bond funds and some discovered gold funds. The question going forward: are prices at extremes, and is either investment a bubble waiting to deflate or burst? Let’s look at bonds first.
Investors have flooded bond funds with an additional net inflow of hundreds of billions of dollars while pulling money out of stock funds in recent times. The bond funds have then taken this money and bought more bonds, in the process sending bond prices up to extremes. This has pushed bond yields (interest income as a percentage) to near-record lows. Looking back to 1981, the 10-year Treasury note (intermediate-term government bonds) hit a high yield of 14%. Today they’re paying less than 3%, near historical lows. The problem: investing money in bonds and bond funds carries a significant risk today. When interest rates go UP, bond prices (values) will FALL. If there is a bubble here it will deflate as investors rush to pull money out of bonds.
The best investment strategy for 2011 in the bond department is to avoid long-term bonds and funds that invest in them because they will get hit the hardest when rates go up. Who wants to get stuck at a low fixed interest rate for 20 or so years when rates are going up? Go with shorter-term funds holding average bond maturities of 7 years or less. DON’T chase bond funds; consider cutting back your holdings. Investing too much money here has too much downside risk associated with it… unless you’re willing to speculate that interest rates and our economy will stay depressed well beyond 2011.
Now let’s get a perspective on gold prices that recently glittered at an all-time high of over $1400 an ounce. In 1999 gold sold for as little as $253. Investing money in 2011 and beyond in gold or gold funds at these prices is as much speculation as it is hedging against disaster. The best investment strategy here is to take some profits if you have them. If you missed the boat in gold, wait for the next one. The price of gold has been unstable at best since the yellow metal resumed trading in the U.S. in the mid-1970s. Don’t view gold as the best growth investment. View it more as a speculative bubble with risk outweighing future profit potential. The price would have to go up $1400 an ounce in order to double your money at recent prices. This is not a likely scenario.
Now that you’ve cut back on bonds and precious metals, what’s the best investment strategy for the rest of your money? Unless you’re over the age of 80 and/or extremely risk adverse, you need stocks in your investment portfolio. There hasn’t been a real bubble in the stock market since 1999 when the Dow peaked and closed the year at 11,497. In late 2010 that ever-popular stock market barometer was fighting just to get back to its 1999 highs… after the shock delivered to it by the financial crisis of 2008.
In 2011 and beyond investing money in stock (equity) funds should focus on both those that invest in domestic (U.S.) stocks, and in international funds that invest money abroad as well. You need all of the diversification you can get. Go with funds that invest money in large well established companies with a good record for paying dividends. These are less risky and volatile than growth funds that pay little if any dividends. Plus, good reliable income from either dividends or interest is hard to come by these days.
For the rest of your money you need good safe investments that pay interest. Here we face another of today’s extremes: historically low interest rates at the bank and in the money markets. Even though you’re looking at less than 1% a year in interest, you’ve got to go with the flow and continue investing money here because these are truly the best safe investments. The best investment strategy for mutual fund investors: money market funds. When rates go back up your money market fund yields will automatically follow and go up accordingly.
The best investment strategy for 2011 and beyond will be to diversify broadly, leaning toward a defensive posture. Investing money across all of the investment classes mentioned is still the key to long term success as an investor. Sometimes… like now… it’s better to be more conservative when investing, and live to chase opportunity another day.