Cash and bonds are different. Cash is generally any fixed income instrument that matures within one year. This includes certificates of deposit, money market funds, savings accounts, and even bonds maturing within one year (for example, a 5-year maturity that was issued 4 years ago). Bonds, on the other hand, are fixed income instruments that mature out past one year and whose price varies with interest rates. As interest rates rise, bond prices decline and vice versa. The bottom line is that the returns for bonds (also classified as fixed income) and cash are different, and this difference should be kept in mind in the asset allocation process.
To appreciate the difference in performance between cash and fixed income, consider the 20-year period presented by BlackRock: CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
The table shows that the return on fixed income as an asset class varied between +18.5% (1995) and -2.9% (1994). Cash returns varied between +8.4% (1990) and +0.2% (2009). The 2009 cash return, of course, reflects the fact that, today, short-term interest rates are at the lowest level in 20 years.
The fixed income sector in the table represents the overall investment grade bond market as represented by Barclay's Capital U.S. Aggregate Index. It essentially encompasses the U.S. investment grade bond market for issues having a maturity greater than 1 year.
In looking at the fixed income returns in the table, it is notable that there were 4 years out of the 20 where returns were double-digit positive. In these years, bond prices rose as interest rates dropped. The capital gain along with the year's interest produced double-digit gains.
Flip this around, and notice that there were only 2 years where returns were negative. In these years, bond prices dropped because of rising interest rates and overcame the positive contribution from the interest payment. Still, as noted above, the biggest negative return was only -2.9% in 1994.
The negative returns beg the question of what would it take to get a big negative drop? Another way to ask this is: should we be worried about the much bally-hooed bond market bubble. In fact, conditions are ripe for a decent sized downturn - yields are low and could rise a sizable amount over a fairly short period of time because of macroeconomic conditions involving the Federal Reserve flooding the banking system with reserves and a fiscal policy mess at the Federal and State levels.
Read up on 1994 to understand the conditions that produced the -2.9% in the fixed income sector. Also look up the the 12-month returns for HYG, TBT, and CSJ to see how widely varying the returns are within the fixed income sector. Finally, pull out your 401 (k)s and other account statements to review your asset allocation.
Disclaimer: Information is for instructional purposes and is not to be construed as advice specific to any investor.
If you are seeking investment help, look at the video here on my services. If you are seeking a different approach to managing your assets, you have landed at the right spot. I am a fee-only advisor registered in the State of Maryland, charge less than half the going rate for investment management, and seek to teach individuals how to manage their own assets using low-cost indexed exchange traded funds. Please call or email me if interested in further details. My website is at http://www.rwinvestmentstrategies.com. If you are new to investing, take a look at the "DIY Investor Newbie" posts here by typing "newbie" in the search box above to the left. These take you through the basics of what you need to know in getting started on doing your own investing.