Why you should hold cash
A long-term property bear told me this week that he was going to buy a flat. Why? He can’t bring himself to keep his money in cash when savings rates are 3%, inflation is 5% and income tax is 40%. But he can’t bring himself to buy much else either: most equities look overvalued; commodities could easily be on the edge of another cyclical peak; and there is only so much gold a man can hold. But his money “has to go somewhere”. And at least property offers some kind of yield.
I can see his points – holding cash in an era of negative real interest rates can feel painful. But what if it’s the least bad option? Dylan Grice of Société Générale points out that while it’s true cash “generally has a zero expected real return”, there is at least a “near-certainty around that expected return”. Mostly if you hold cash you know you won’t make money, but you won’t lose much either.
That’s not usually good enough. Most of the time, risk assets return more than 0%. So it makes sense to be biased towards equities, bonds, commodities, houses and wine instead of cash. But there are also occasions when risk assets are unlikely to return more than zero – times when the risk of losing money in non-cash assets is so high that it makes more sense to aim for a zero return than a real return. Now, says Grice, “might just be one of those times”.
• Read the full editor’s letter here: Why you should hold cash