Economy & Markets

4 key actions to position your portfolio for what’s to come this year

In ice hockey, there’s a famous quote attributed to star Wayne Gretzky that a good player should aim to “skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Where have things been for investors? For the past two years, they’ve enjoyed a good environment for allocating to cash, and holdings have grown larger than usual. But the interest rate “puck” is about to move, and we see lower rates and cash returns on the horizon.

Investors need to look ahead now to where interest rates are likely going in 2024 and beyond—and consider pivoting away from surplus cash holdings.

To be fair, it was sensible to have larger than usual cash holdings in the post-pandemic period. The most aggressive interest rate hiking regime by the Federal Reserve (the Fed) in a half-century—along with notable moves by other global central banks to raise rates—resulted in cash returns being more attractive than they had been in many years.

But cash’s trajectory is changing. We believe the Fed will soon embark on a rate-cutting cycle. So where should you aim next, in what’s likely to be a falling rate environment? How might you reinvest maturing Treasury bill or money market holdings in 2024?

For investors to position their investment portfolios to meet long-term financial goals, now is the time to do a health check and think about:

  1. Sizing your surplus cash position
  2. Getting back into equities—and core bonds
  3. Incorporating alternatives
  4. Ensuring your portfolio is cost-sensitive and tax-aware

1. Sizing your surplus cash position appropriately

We think rates have peaked. We expect yields are likely to drift lower this year as central banks around the world begin to take action and lower rates.

This means staying in cash could actually adversely impact your long-term financial goals. Inflation has eased, and we expect that overall trend to continue. But inflation is still tangible and eroding the value of cash holdings.

With interest rates expected to come down in the quarters ahead, you may want to consider what the right amount of cash ought to be for your wealth plan. If you are holding surplus cash for your short-term needs, you should consider reducing your cash balances now and locking interest rates that match your time horizon and liquidity needs.

Historically, bonds have outperformed cash holdings in the years immediately following a pause in the Fed’s rate-hiking trajectory (see below). And we believe we’re in this pause period, with cuts that may follow soon—creating more opportunities to put your excess cash to work to serve your longer-term goals.

Once the Fed pauses interest rate hikes, bonds have historically outperformed cash holdings

Historical bond returns (%) after the Fed’s final hike (1971–2019)

Historical bond returns (%) after the Fed's final hike chart -  This bar chart shows the U.S. core bonds and cash returns from the final Fed hike to the final Fed cut, from 1971 to 2019. In each of the twelve years shown (1971, 1974, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1989, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2018, 2019), core bonds outperformed cash returns. Returns were under 10% in 1971, trending upward as the years progressed. 1989 saw the highest returns, with over 50% for core bonds and over 25% for cash returns. Returns trended downward after this point, with some fluctuations over the years.

Source: J.P. Morgan, Bloomberg Finance L.P., Haver Analytics, Ibbotson, from Tim Andres & Ben Bakkum. U.S. core bonds return represented by 50% Bloomberg U.S. Corporate Aggregate Bond Index and 50% Bloomberg U.S. Government Aggregate Bond Index. Data as of December 2019.

 

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

2. Getting back into equities—and core bonds

With equity markets recently reaching all-time highs, investors could be forgiven for wondering how long this bull run will last. But we remain optimistic. It’s also worth noting that historically in the U.S. equity market, all-time market highs are often followed by further all-time highs (see below). This is no guarantee of future performance, of course, but these patterns tend to repeat over time as economies and companies grow.

U.S. stocks have historically never failed to regain a prior high

S&P 500 Index level and all-time highs (1970–2024)

S&P 500 chart - This line chart shows the S&P 500 index level and all-time highs for the years 1970 to 2024, exhibiting how stocks have historically never failed to regain highs. 67% of the time, a 3-month return was positive (median: 2.6%; average: 1.5%). 74% of the time, a 6-month return was positive (median: 5.5%; average: 4.4%). 73% of the time, a 12-month return was positive (median: 12.1%; average: 9.4%). 73% of the time, a 24-month return was positive (median: 16.6%; average: 20.2%).

Source: Bloomberg Finance L.P., J.P. Morgan. Data as of January 31, 2024.

 

Outlooks and past performance are no guarantee of future results. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Please refer to "Definitions of Indices and Terms" for important information.

 

Once you’ve sized your cash holdings appropriately for your short-term liquidity needs (or for a psychological safety net), you may want to consider how you could potentially grow your wealth at a much greater rate over time. Moving some cash into equities may allow you to reach your goals more effectively. Right now, we are particularly focused on three key equity sectors: technology, healthcare and consumer discretionary.

You may also want to look at your core bond holdings, as they can still provide solid ballast. Because we foresee yields on investment grade bond portfolios heading lower in upcoming quarters, you may want to think about rotating into high-quality bonds now to lock in yields at healthy levels.

3. Incorporating alternatives for their diversifying power and return potential

After 2023’s spectacular “everything rally” (when the U.S. stock market soared and bonds made a comeback), this year may be an opportune time for investors to harness the diversifying power—and potential outperformance—associated with private markets.

Private markets are so varied, we recommend taking a diversified approach to allocating capital to alternatives. Diversifying by asset class and strategy makes sense, but so does diversifying by vintage year, or year of fund inception. This approach, which spreads investment risk across time, also allows investors to lean into market opportunities. It’s an approach that can be particularly powerful when specific strategies appear poised for strong relative outperformance. But it’s important to remember that investing in alternatives often involves a greater degree of risk than investing in traditional assets.

Looking ahead, we see compelling opportunities arising this year in private equity, private credit and infrastructure, with private credit likely to be a primary focus.

4. Ensuring your portfolio is cost-sensitive and tax-aware

As you consider realigning your portfolio allocations to your long-term financial goals, make sure that your approach is cost-sensitive and tax-aware.

Active management—highly informed and selective stock picking—can offer an opportunity to generate competitive returns, but often at a higher cost. Knowing where to use active management in your portfolio is paramount to keep it cost-efficient.

Similarly, being tax-aware as you review your portfolio in 2024 can help you keep more of what you earn.

We can help

Now is a good time to review your long-term wealth plan and consider whether you may be holding more cash than necessary to achieve your long-term goals. We encourage clients to “skate where the puck is going” rather than staying in cash. For a comprehensive health check of your investment portfolio, reach out to your J.P. Morgan team today.

A falling rate environment may present an opportune moment to move away from cash

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Key Risks

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against loss.

Investment in alternative investment strategies is speculative, often involves a greater degree of risk than traditional investments including limited liquidity and limited transparency, among other factors and should only be considered by sophisticated investors with the financial capability to accept the loss of all or part of the assets devoted to such strategies.

Bonds are subject to interest rate risk, credit and default risk of the issuer. Bond prices generally fall when interest rates rise.​

The price of equity securities may rise or fall due to the changes in the broad market or changes in a company's financial condition, sometimes rapidly or unpredictably. Equity securities are subject to "stock market risk" meaning that stock prices in general may decline over short or extended periods of time.

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