Investing Money in 2011-2012 – Stocks Vs Bonds

Investing money in 2011 and 2012 puts the investor between a rock and a hard place as investing has become more difficult. Investing in stocks has gained favor vs. bonds in recent months. What’s going on, how should you invest, and why do I say investing has become difficult?

The stock market just about doubled in value between early 2009 and early 2011, and investing money in stocks (equities) and selling bonds appeared to be the new trend in investing for 2011. Does this mean that investors are confident that the U.S. economy is well and getting better? Not necessarily. More than likely it means that investing in equities appears to be the lesser of two evils. Bonds and bond funds have a cloud hanging over their head. Interest rates could start rising significantly in 2011 or in 2012 and this spells trouble for anyone investing in bonds.

There are very few statements you can make in the world of investing money that are universally accepted as fact. One of them is this: when interest rates go up, bond prices (values) go down. In simple terms, the fixed interest payments that these securities pay become less attractive to investors as rates go up. So, many investors will sell their bonds… sending prices down… and put their money someplace else. Since the government had been holding interest rates down for months to stimulate the economy, rates are likely to go up in 2011 or 2012, if the government stops this policy as planned. Investing money in bonds will then be a loosing proposition if rates rise significantly. That’s a fact and about as black and white as investing gets.

Stock investing is more of a gray area. High and rising interest rates can slash corporate profits and this tends to send stock prices down. But in early 2011 rates might have been rising, but they certainly were not high by historical standards. Corporate profits were strong and investors dumped bonds and switched to stocks. The other major alternative for investing money was safe investments like one-year CDs and money market funds. With both of them paying less than 1% a year, there was little reason for the average investor to invest in either. The only real advantage in safe investments at these low interest rates is safety and liquidity.

In other words, none of the three basic investment areas where most people invest look very attractive. That’s what makes investing money in 2011 and going forward difficult. If interest rates continue to climb bonds are guaranteed losers and stocks will eventually get hit. Safe investments might not look attractive when they start paying at 1% or 2%, but they will at 3%, and that’s where folks will put there money.

So, how should most people invest money for 2011-2012? Cut your exposure to bonds and avoid long-term bonds and funds that invest in them. Long-term bonds and funds will get hurt the most if rates rise significantly. Go with intermediate or shorter term bond funds. Move some money into money market funds. They are safe and the interest they earn will automatically go up with rising interest rates. Investing money in stocks or equity funds should remain a part of your overall strategy, but avoid aggressive growth issues or growth funds that don’t pay significant dividends. Look for dividend yields of at least 2% in high quality stocks or equity funds. Growth stocks are often hardest hit when corporate profits fall.

Diversification and balance are your keys to success when investing money in 2011-2012. There are times you can invest aggressively, and there are times when a more cautious approach is called for. With interest rate hikes looming over the markets, this is not the time to throw caution to the wind. 

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