Author Topic: To keep something liquid? Where?  (Read 10778 times)

michael

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To keep something liquid? Where?
« on: December 04, 2012, 11:01:15 PM »
I'm contemplating the usefulness of an emergency fund. I've read articles for and against and I think I'd like to have a little liquidity available just in case, maybe in the realm of $15k, which would give me room and board for 5 months if I lost my job. I currently have $6500 with ING Direct, with an APY of 0.75%! I thought maybe a Vanguard money market holding would be better, and even something like the CA tax-exempt fund (https://personal.vanguard.com/us/funds/snapshot?FundId=0062&FundIntExt=INT#tab=0) would be neat, but the APY isn't that great, especially recently.

Are there any MMM-reader opinions here for or against an emergency fund? Where do you keep your liquid cash so it's working at least a little?

smedleyb

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2012, 07:25:31 AM »
ZIRP = Zero Interest Rate Policy = Cash no longer "works," i.e., earns interest (beyond a fraction of a percent) without taking on risk which creates the potential for capital loss.

Is the 15K money you're gonna need anytime soon?  If you will need it, leave it in low-yielding money market funds.  At least you won't lose anything.

If you don't need it, then invest it in some stock funds (a little every month over the next 12 months) and let the money ride for the next 20 years.  And take the chance that any "emergency" that arises can be dealt with without having to divest yourself of the stock funds and thus risk having to sell these funds at potentially depressed prices ("uh!  I sold my Vanguard at the 2014 low because I needed the money for such and such....").

Personally, I like a nice buffer of cash.  A big buffer.






jrhampt

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2012, 07:37:50 AM »
I keep a max of 10k in cash in ing, and any excess above that (which I'm not intending to invest in stocks) I keep in a muni bond fund.  I figure muni bonds are less volatile than stocks, and they're earning a lot more than the ing interest.  There is interest-rate risk, though, which is why I still keep some cash on hand.  This is also good to have if there's a buying opportunity - I usually don't go below 5k in cash, though.

michael

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2012, 11:14:19 AM »
@smedlyb, if I lost my job, then I would need access to the cash to cover room and board while I go job-hunting. I currently feel very secure in my position, but I've worked at other places where I felt the same and lost the job due to circumstances outside my control. You never know...

Do you like to keep cash for 12 months of unemployment? I see suggestions of 6-12 months of cash in emergency funds, but that is an awful lot of lazy dollars.

@jrhampt, thanks... I'll check out municipal bonds. I haven't looked into them yet. Is there a particular fund you're a fan of?

smedleyb

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2012, 11:34:55 AM »
@smedlyb, if I lost my job, then I would need access to the cash to cover room and board while I go job-hunting. I currently feel very secure in my position, but I've worked at other places where I felt the same and lost the job due to circumstances outside my control. You never know...

Do you like to keep cash for 12 months of unemployment? I see suggestions of 6-12 months of cash in emergency funds, but that is an awful lot of lazy dollars.

@jrhampt, thanks... I'll check out municipal bonds. I haven't looked into them yet. Is there a particular fund you're a fan of?

I actually went over to MMM's preferred method of "emergency cash" fund, i.e., a HELOC.  Now I keep only 5-10K in available funds laying around, and sweep the rest into my brokerage accounts.  I use to keep 5 times that figure in the old days. 

jrhampt

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2012, 12:44:41 PM »
@jrhampt, thanks... I'll check out municipal bonds. I haven't looked into them yet. Is there a particular fund you're a fan of?

I like VWLTX.

michael

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2012, 10:32:58 AM »
@smedleyb, a HELOC would be great, but it'll be a while before I'm there. Thanks for the reminder though - I had forgotten about that recommendation!

@jrhampty, good fund. I have an 80/20 mix of Vanguard total stock/total bond at the moment, but these tax-free funds seem to excel in the first 5 years and then the total bond fund starts doing a little better as more time goes by. Would you consider a tax-free fund investment for 5 years, then moving to a total bond fund? Or sticking solely with the tax-free as your bond investment of choice? Do you think it's worth it to consider state-specific funds, which dont have the variety and dont perform as well, but do avoid state taxes as well as federal?

Posthumane

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2012, 11:17:35 AM »
The thing with an emergency fund to consider is that, while you may need/want to have 6-12 months worth of expenses available and you need to start paying rent on the first month after your job loss, you don't actually need the entire amount right away. What you need to have is the first month's worth of expenses available within the first month (IOW immediately), the second month's worth of expenses available at least one month after your job loss, etc. I think it's best to structure your emergency fund around that principle. For me, the first month is covered by credit card so there is no need to have money available that I can get out in less than a month (although in reality I keep about that amount in my checking account to keep away transaction fees). If there is a slump in my portfolio for more than a month so that I don't want to sell some equities, I can use my line of credit for a few months. Although it's not a HELOC but a standard unsecured line, the interest rate is low enough that over a few months the dent isn't big.

dragoncar

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2012, 01:06:59 PM »
In a bucket!

Sorry, couldn't resist.  I think ING Direct is fine.  I'm OK with earning a low interest rate on 15k if I can get it from the ATM or write a check at the drop of a hat.  It's not just for emergencies either.  You never know when a great opportunity will pop up!

chucklesmcgee

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2012, 01:55:48 PM »
Is it all that difficult to just keep it in an index fund? Yes the value may be a bit less if you need it immediately, but I can't imagine it fluctuating so much you couldn't cover your expenses. The opportunity costs of parking $15k in an account like that are probably $1000 a year...that's some pricey insurance!

Maybe there are some concerns I'm not understanding here. What's so tough about throwing it into a standard Vanguard fund and selling the stock if and when an emergency strikes?

Kriegsspiel

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2012, 05:01:18 PM »
Is it all that difficult to just keep it in an index fund? Yes the value may be a bit less if you need it immediately, but I can't imagine it fluctuating so much you couldn't cover your expenses. The opportunity costs of parking $15k in an account like that are probably $1000 a year...that's some pricey insurance!

Maybe there are some concerns I'm not understanding here. What's so tough about throwing it into a standard Vanguard fund and selling the stock if and when an emergency strikes?

The stock could be on a long slide down, so you'd be selling it at a disadvantageous time.

Personally, I use the permanent portfolio, which has a quarter allocated to cash-like stuff.  So I have about 10 grand in a savings account/CD, and the rest of it I use to buy Treasury bills through Vanguard.

michael

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2012, 05:07:26 PM »
The thing with an emergency fund to consider is that, while you may need/want to have 6-12 months worth of expenses available and you need to start paying rent on the first month after your job loss, you don't actually need the entire amount right away. What you need to have is the first month's worth of expenses available within the first month (IOW immediately), the second month's worth of expenses available at least one month after your job loss, etc.

This is so true. That's a good point to highlight when we're talking about access to money. I know some people use revolving CDs to set up this type of situation, but like dragoncar pointed out, for me anyway, it's not just for emergencies but it is a safety net.

In a bucket!

Sorry, couldn't resist.  I think ING Direct is fine.  I'm OK with earning a low interest rate on 15k if I can get it from the ATM or write a check at the drop of a hat.  It's not just for emergencies either.  You never know when a great opportunity will pop up!

Haha :D

Is it all that difficult to just keep it in an index fund? Yes the value may be a bit less if you need it immediately, but I can't imagine it fluctuating so much you couldn't cover your expenses. The opportunity costs of parking $15k in an account like that are probably $1000 a year...that's some pricey insurance!

Maybe there are some concerns I'm not understanding here. What's so tough about throwing it into a standard Vanguard fund and selling the stock if and when an emergency strikes?

No, it's not that difficult! But there is the consideration that Kriegsspiel is pointing out, that, while it didnt happen to me, lots of people were in foreclosure/emergency situations in 2009 and 2010 when the DOW was less than 10k and things were looking really dreary. Maybe the remedy would be to move funds from the non-emergency reserves to the emergency reserve if it falls below my desired level? Or just let it go and hope I dont need it before it comes back?

 "Opportunity cost" refers to what I could be making on that $15k if it were performing better than the 0.75% from ING, correct? That's what got me to start this thread!

Your question got me thinking about using a state-specific tax exempt municipal bond fund. This fund seems less volatile than the stock funds while still providing far more ROI than a savings account or money market fund.

chucklesmcgee

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2012, 08:13:51 PM »
The stock could be on a long slide down, so you'd be selling it at a disadvantageous time.

Yes, but would it be so low that you'd be unable to cover your expenses? To the extent that you'd pay $1000 a year to protect $15000 from temporarily fluctuating downwards...even when you'd probably have at least 30 days to sell it? And chances are it'll be higher than you bought it at. To me, this stinks of risk aversion. You're paying what seems like a small amount to protect against a fairly probable catastrophic event.


Kriegsspiel

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2012, 08:51:41 PM »
I'm not really sure what scenario you're talking about.

k9

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #14 on: December 07, 2012, 08:01:17 AM »
The problem when you invest your emergency fund in a stock index is that the time when you are most likely to lose your job is also the time when your stocks are most likely to dive. ie, during difficult economic situations (recessions). You don't want to need cash when everybody else is doing the same.

But I think it is also worth noting that you need a smaller emergency fund when you have volatile assets that you can sell rather fast if you really need to. If you have 10k and 50k in a stock index, you're in a better position than a landlord having 15k and only a rental house that he won't be able to sell as fast as needed.

The need for an emergency fund is very personal : you have to determine what lets you sleep at night, that's the only correct answer. You now the most commonly advised amounts stand between 0-12 months of expenses, with a lot of people saying 3-6, now you have to make your choice :)

chucklesmcgee

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #15 on: December 07, 2012, 09:27:56 AM »
The problem when you invest your emergency fund in a stock index is that the time when you are most likely to lose your job is also the time when your stocks are most likely to dive. ie, during difficult economic situations (recessions). You don't want to need cash when everybody else is doing the same.

Yeah, but even in major crash that starts a recession what's the worst that'll happen? Maybe a 50% loss if you bought it all near the peak and had to sell it all in the month or so at the very bottom? What are the chances you both buy stock such that it's at it's peak, that the stock crashes 50%, that you lose your job AND that you need all of that money at once? An enormous 50% crash happens maybe once every decade or two. If you lose your job, you just need money for rent/mortage/utilities every month and get a 30-day interest free loan for your groceries (and possibly rent and utilities if you pay a small fee)- you will not need $15000 immediately. It's an expected positive return, so especially if you intend on keeping that much in the market/savings account for more than a few years, the odds that you'll actually encounter a worse off-situation than a savings account are slim, and the odds that you'll actual end up experiencing something catastrophic because you chose an index fund are near nil.

In the meantime, if you don't have a massive emergency, in 9 years, you'll be expected (within bounds) to have nearly doubled your money. So keeping $15000 in a savings account for 9 years will expect to cost you $15000. That's a lot!

I guess everyone has their own comfort level here, but considering the massive opportunity costs here and size of the account I would just double check how much you're willing to pay for this insurance. Would you really pay $1000 a year to an insurance company for coverage of your utilities, groceries and rent/mortgage in the event of a job loss?

jrhampt

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #16 on: December 07, 2012, 09:28:22 AM »
@jrhampty, good fund. I have an 80/20 mix of Vanguard total stock/total bond at the moment, but these tax-free funds seem to excel in the first 5 years and then the total bond fund starts doing a little better as more time goes by. Would you consider a tax-free fund investment for 5 years, then moving to a total bond fund? Or sticking solely with the tax-free as your bond investment of choice? Do you think it's worth it to consider state-specific funds, which dont have the variety and dont perform as well, but do avoid state taxes as well as federal?

I have a tax-exempt bond fund in part because I am in a higher tax bracket, so it makes sense for me.  I do have bonds in my tax-deferred accounts also.  Unfortunately, Vanguard does not have a muni-bond fund for my state; otherwise I would consider putting some in that also.

jrhampt

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #17 on: December 07, 2012, 09:30:58 AM »
I also have money in an index fund in taxable, but I would tap the muni bond fund before I would tap that fund in an emergency.  Part of this is that you're less likely to have a taxable event due to capital gains.

chucklesmcgee

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #18 on: December 07, 2012, 10:37:41 AM »
I also have money in an index fund in taxable, but I would tap the muni bond fund before I would tap that fund in an emergency.  Part of this is that you're less likely to have a taxable event due to capital gains.

Long term capital gains are piddly, and just taxed on the gain, so what's the big deal?

Paul der Krake

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #19 on: December 07, 2012, 10:50:19 AM »
I am considering keeping an "emergency" fund of 5K in a quick access savings account, but that's more because I'd hate to pass up on a great opportunity, say if a neighbor is selling a car waaaay below market value.

jrhampt

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #20 on: December 07, 2012, 11:49:56 AM »
I also have money in an index fund in taxable, but I would tap the muni bond fund before I would tap that fund in an emergency.  Part of this is that you're less likely to have a taxable event due to capital gains.

Long term capital gains are piddly, and just taxed on the gain, so what's the big deal?

I would absolutely tap the index fund if I needed to, but if I have an option to cash something out and not pay taxes, why wouldn't I use that option first instead?

michael

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #21 on: December 07, 2012, 12:21:37 PM »
I have a tax-exempt bond fund in part because I am in a higher tax bracket, so it makes sense for me.  I do have bonds in my tax-deferred accounts also.  Unfortunately, Vanguard does not have a muni-bond fund for my state; otherwise I would consider putting some in that also.

I'm in the 28% bracket, looking to move up to 31% in 2013, of course. Capital gains taxes are expected to rise, too, correct? Therefore I am thinking that, for me, the state-specific fund would be a good option in the short term, but if I dont have to use the savings after five years, I'd move it to a long-term federal tax-exempt fund to get more diversity.

Long term capital gains are piddly, and just taxed on the gain, so what's the big deal?

Are you for a stock index fund over a bond index fund, then? For hopefully better overall gains as opposed to more conservative tax-exempt gains?

James

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #22 on: December 07, 2012, 12:40:49 PM »
I could tap my Roth in an emergency, I keep it in index funds because it would be a very big and very true emergency for me to need it, and I could take a couple thousand out per month to spread it out over some time.  Credit cards would enable me to avoid taking money out during a deep crash, at least for a while, and could probably cover all by a truly huge emergency.  I do have a couple month buffer in my bank just because of cash flow issues, but I don't mind when that level dips down.  I could also sell a vehicle, sell my photography equipment, etc.  You just need to know you can deal with whatever comes up, it doesn't take a ton of cash sitting in a bank to make you financially prepared.

k9

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #23 on: December 08, 2012, 04:10:05 AM »
The problem when you invest your emergency fund in a stock index is that the time when you are most likely to lose your job is also the time when your stocks are most likely to dive. ie, during difficult economic situations (recessions). You don't want to need cash when everybody else is doing the same.

Yeah, but even in major crash that starts a recession what's the worst that'll happen? Maybe a 50% loss if you bought it all near the peak and had to sell it all in the month or so at the very bottom? What are the chances you both buy stock such that it's at it's peak, that the stock crashes 50%, that you lose your job AND that you need all of that money at once? An enormous 50% crash happens maybe once every decade or two. If you lose your job, you just need money for rent/mortage/utilities every month and get a 30-day interest free loan for your groceries (and possibly rent and utilities if you pay a small fee)- you will not need $15000 immediately. It's an expected positive return, so especially if you intend on keeping that much in the market/savings account for more than a few years, the odds that you'll actually encounter a worse off-situation than a savings account are slim, and the odds that you'll actual end up experiencing something catastrophic because you chose an index fund are near nil.

In the meantime, if you don't have a massive emergency, in 9 years, you'll be expected (within bounds) to have nearly doubled your money. So keeping $15000 in a savings account for 9 years will expect to cost you $15000. That's a lot!

I guess everyone has their own comfort level here, but considering the massive opportunity costs here and size of the account I would just double check how much you're willing to pay for this insurance. Would you really pay $1000 a year to an insurance company for coverage of your utilities, groceries and rent/mortgage in the event of a job loss?
Oh, I think you're right, that was just to point out the possible risk. In the end, everybody has a different comfort zone. The only important thing is to have at least some liquid assets you can use in case you need it (i.e. only owning your house is VERY risky).

My (very personal) point of view on cash and emergency funds : I actually have a rather big amount of cash (wrt to my stock allocation), but not as an emergency fund per se, it's here to force me rebalance often, so as to buy stocks when they are low and sell some of them when they are relatively high. I see cash as an option to buy assets (whether stocks, rental houses or consumption items) when they are cheap ; not having cash on a stock crash would make me feel bad because I couldn't profit from it. Well it happens that my cash allocation can ALSO be used for emergencies, but its size is moving constantly and I can't express it in "months of expenses".

markstache

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #24 on: December 18, 2012, 01:07:53 PM »
I'm contemplating the usefulness of an emergency fund. I've read articles for and against and I think I'd like to have a little liquidity available just in case, maybe in the realm of $15k, which would give me room and board for 5 months if I lost my job. I currently have $6500 with ING Direct, with an APY of 0.75%! I thought maybe a Vanguard money market holding would be better, and even something like the CA tax-exempt fund (https://personal.vanguard.com/us/funds/snapshot?FundId=0062&FundIntExt=INT#tab=0) would be neat, but the APY isn't that great, especially recently.

Are there any MMM-reader opinions here for or against an emergency fund? Where do you keep your liquid cash so it's working at least a little?

LongTermReturns suggests Treasury I Savings Bonds. They (currently) pay no interest, per se, but are inflation adjusted. Given the minimal nominal returns on CDs and the like, the real returns (nominal minus inflation) are probably negative. The bonds can be redeemed (with a minimal penalty) after 1 year, and penalty free after 5. If they are used for a qualifying educational expense, the interest is tax free (at least at the federal level). Minimally, they are tax deferred as you don't pay tax until you redeem them. There is an upper limit on the number that can be purchased in a year (I forget what it is).

They can't be traded on a secondary market and can't be held in an IRA, so they don't get as much press, but LTR's arguments (in the previous link) are compelling for why individual investors should hold these bonds. If you are butting up against the maximum in tax advantaged accounts (where one typically holds bonds), if you want to save for educational expenses while also having an emergency fund, or if you are worried about inflation, I think they make a good option. I recently started supplementing our cash e-fund with i-bonds, and I'd recommend others consider the option.

Disclaimer: please check all my facts before making any decisions.

capital

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #25 on: December 18, 2012, 08:27:01 PM »
Don't forget about unemployment insurance in case of job loss. Looks like you'd get $450/week in California if you're making over $17,000 a quarter.

dragoncar

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #26 on: December 19, 2012, 01:15:03 AM »
Don't forget about unemployment insurance in case of job loss. Looks like you'd get $450/week in California if you're making over $17,000 a quarter.

Of course you can't plan for every eventuality, but there are circumstances where you might be denied UI payments (for example if you are accused of theft in the workplace -- right or wrong, you might have to fight it in court but without an emergency fund how would you afford the lawyer?).

capital

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #27 on: December 19, 2012, 10:48:45 AM »
Don't forget about unemployment insurance in case of job loss. Looks like you'd get $450/week in California if you're making over $17,000 a quarter.

Of course you can't plan for every eventuality, but there are circumstances where you might be denied UI payments (for example if you are accused of theft in the workplace -- right or wrong, you might have to fight it in court but without an emergency fund how would you afford the lawyer?).
That's true, but the question of how much you want liquid is a question of the likely returns of having the money invested versus the risk of having to draw down investments during a down market, and the risk of being unemployed due to an employer claiming a firing for cause is much lower than the overall risk of just becoming unemployed.

Abouscent1961

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #28 on: December 30, 2012, 11:32:58 PM »
I would put it into precious-metals equities.  In terms of security, gold etc. equities are only a notch down from physical delivery, but far more liquid, and with the many uncertainties remaining in the global economy, there's no reason to believe the metals secular bull that's been running for a decade now is likely to end anytime soon.

Crash87

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #29 on: December 31, 2012, 09:29:47 AM »
I'd recommend either a Kasasa Cash account or a low risk vanguard fund. My Kasasa Cash checking account pays 3.01% on the first $15k as long as I use my debit card 15 times a month. No penalties if I didn't make the 15 debits, the rate just drops for that month.

k9

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #30 on: January 01, 2013, 11:56:26 AM »
I would put it into precious-metals equities.  In terms of security, gold etc. equities are only a notch down from physical delivery, but far more liquid, and with the many uncertainties remaining in the global economy, there's no reason to believe the metals secular bull that's been running for a decade now is likely to end anytime soon.
Hmm, not that I don't like gold or silver, but sounds like market timing, isn't it ? ;)

eyePod

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #31 on: January 02, 2013, 02:17:07 PM »
I would put it into precious-metals equities.  In terms of security, gold etc. equities are only a notch down from physical delivery, but far more liquid, and with the many uncertainties remaining in the global economy, there's no reason to believe the metals secular bull that's been running for a decade now is likely to end anytime soon.

Hold on, let me go throw my seeing stones to see if you're right.

*throws stones*

Sorry bud, but the stones are showing the exact opposite of what you're implying. The stones show that you have no idea what's going to happen in the future!

dragoncar

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Re: To keep something liquid? Where?
« Reply #32 on: January 02, 2013, 02:49:01 PM »

Hold on, let me go throw my seeing stones to see if you're right.

*throws stones*

Sorry bud, but the stones are showing the exact opposite of what you're implying. The stones show that you have no idea what's going to happen in the future!

Lisa, I'd like to buy your stones.