Month in Cash: Coming around to our way of thinking

10-01-2018

In recent weeks, we’ve begun to see a stirring in the financial press about the renewed worthiness of cash and money markets, especially prime institutional. What was once “in the doldrums,” “left for dead” and dealt a “fatal blow” is now regaled with statements such as “prime time returns,” “cash comes into focus” and having “increasing attractiveness.”

Hmmm. This all sounds strangely familiar. Might that be because we at Federated—not to mention this column—have been saying this for months and quarters? What a Bloomberg article recently called, “Rising rates lift relative appeal of cash to decade high,” we have said in marketing campaigns and presentations for some time. In particular, our mandate has been to focus liquidity clients on the comparisons between banks and prime. It’s important to remember that, industry-wide, prime products tend to be more responsive than bank deposits to rising rates because they trade using the London interbank offered rate (Libor), which traditionally traces Fed hikes faster and that money funds provide a market rate, not an administrative one chosen by a bank or similar institution. It’s a reason assets are flowing back into prime money funds in general; diversification is another one.

Well, better late than never for the popular press, which Reuters colorfully said a few days before the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) raised rates in its September meeting: With the “anticipated rate action, cash will join the party.”

In addition to a much-expected 25-basis-point hike in the target range to 2-2.25%, the FOMC summary of economic projections indicated it expects one more hike before the end of 2018 and three similar hikes in 2019. The forecast extended to 2021 this time, with a rate of 3.4% implying no additional tightening.

A bit of inside baseball is that the Fed did not choose to further lower the interest paid on excess reserves (IOER) target compared to the upper end of the fed funds rate. Both rose a quarter point, so the difference between them remains 20 basis points.

We would expect yields on prime securities to continue to move higher over the fourth quarter and issuance of Treasuries to remain strong. Given the outlook for higher rates, we continue to invest in floating-rate securities and maintain the weighted average maturity (WAM) of our prime funds in a 30-40 day range and 25-35 days for government funds, with our municipal call shifting down five days to 25-35. Libor rose over the month, with 1-month at 2.26%, 3-month at 2.40% and 6-month at 2.60%.