What are the Investment Choices

I can discuss with you what option would suit you best and you should know that a vast array of investment products exists – including stocks and stock mutual funds, corporate and municipal bonds, bond mutual funds, lifecycle funds, exchange-traded funds, money market funds, and U.S. Treasury securities. For many financial goals, investing in a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash can be a good strategy. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of the three major asset categories.

Stocks – Stocks have historically had the greatest risk and highest returns among the three major asset categories. As an asset category, stocks are a portfolio’s “heavy hitter,” offering the greatest potential for growth. Stocks hit home runs, but also strike out. The volatility of stocks makes them a very risky investment in the short term. Large company stocks as a group, for example, have lost money on average about one out of every three years. And sometimes the losses have been quite dramatic. But investors that have been willing to ride out the volatile returns of stocks over long periods of time generally have been rewarded with strong positive returns.
Bonds – Bonds are generally less volatile than stocks but offer more modest returns. As a result, an investor approaching a financial goal might increase his or her bond holdings relative to his or her stock holdings because the reduced risk of holding more bonds would be attractive to the investor despite their lower potential for growth. You should keep in mind that certain categories of bonds offer high returns similar to stocks. But these bonds, known as high-yield or junk bonds, also carry higher risk.
Cash – Cash and cash equivalents – such as savings deposits, certificates of deposit, treasury bills, money market deposit accounts, and money market funds – are the safest investments, but offer the lowest return of the three major asset categories. The chances of losing money on an investment in this asset category are generally extremely low. The federal government guarantees many investments in cash equivalents. Investment losses in non-guaranteed cash equivalents do occur, but infrequently. The principal concern for investors investing in cash equivalents is inflation risk. This is the risk that inflation will outpace and erode investment returns over time.

Stocks, bonds, and cash are the most common asset categories. These are the asset categories you would likely choose from when investing in a retirement savings program or a college savings plan. But other asset categories – including real estate, precious metals and other commodities, and private equity – also exist, and some investors may include these asset categories within a portfolio. Investments in these asset categories typically have category-specific risks. Before you make any investment, you should understand the risks of the investment and make sure the risks are appropriate for you.

Yuko Oshiro * Financial Consultant