Can looking back this year help investors move forward in 2024?
We think it can.
Several months ago, we sounded a warning on what might happen to investors stampeding into money-market funds and ignoring attractive municipal bond yields (“Parking Problem: How Muni Investors Lose Out”).
Fast-forward to today, and we see the predicted scenario unfold: The Federal Reserve Board’s mission to tame inflation by raising interest rates and slowing the economy is succeeding.
As the economy cools, higher short-term rates (the province of the Fed) are leading to lower long-term rates (the focus of muni investors).
Yields on 10-year Treasury bonds, a key benchmark, are hovering around 3.80%, their lowest levels since July.
At its meeting earlier this month, the Fed again declined to raise rates. The last time it did so was back in July. Now the Fed expects to cut rates three times in 2024.
And here we are.
Money funds for parking, not investing
Our message earlier this year came as investors were pouring cash into money-market funds that offered relatively high yields and a safe haven from erratic equity markets.
As we pointed out, money-market funds work well for short-term cash management, but investors parking cash for the longer term can miss out on significant tax-free income, as municipal bond yields were scraping highs not seen in about a decade.
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Perhaps those who remain on the sidelines now are waiting for muni yields to climb further, though when that might happen and by how much is, of course, guesswork. Meantime, municipal bond yields are declining.
For valuable perspective to those pining for munis yielding 5.00% at par, we offer this, as noted by Raymond James: Can you guess how many times over the past 20 years – that is, more than 5,000 trading days – the 10-year Treasury bond closed higher than 5.00%? Fewer than 100, or a microscopic 2% of the time. In fact, during that stretch, the average yield of the 10-year Treasury was 2.90% – and today we are about 100 basis points above the 20-year average.
To those trying to outguess the market, we must ask: Are you willing to forego a steady stream of tax-free income at lofty rates while waiting for yields to reach a level that occurs just 2% of the time?
Yes, muni yields are easing, but the market still offers exceptional value not seen in years. To take advantage, investors need only common sense, not a crystal ball.