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Treasuries: Risk free or not?

Chris Farrell Sep 1, 2011

One of the most important issues in personal finance is whether U.S. Treasuries are still risk-free securities.

The doubts about Treasuries have grown ever since Washington’s needless, destructive fight over the debt-ceiling. The safety and soundness of Treasuries came under an additional cloud after the federal government lost its Triple-A rating and signs multiplied that Washington’s political culture is ever more dysfunctional.

Gillian Tett has an insightful case against Treasuries in the Financial Times, Get used to world without ‘risk free’ rate. She’s the US managing editor and an assistant editor of the Financial Times:

On the first issue – namely whether US Treasuries really offer a good “risk-free” rate – I personally think that there does need to be an investment rethink. On paper, the idea that the US would actually default on its debts currently looks odd; quite apart from the fact that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, the US fiscal problems would not be impossible to solve if only politicians could produce an intelligent, collaborative fiscal plan. >

For a different perspective, check out my latest column for Kiplinger’s. I think you can still count on Treasuries.

Here’s a surprise: The message from the market is that nothing has changed. The government didn’t default. And even during the past few weeks of unsettling market volatility, nervous investors have raced to embrace the security of U.S. Treasuries. For example, the appetite for short-term Treasuries has driven yields on three-month T-bills to 0.00%, one-year T-bills to 0.09%, and two-year T-notes to 0.20%. (T-bills and the like are considered the equivalent of cash on Wall Street.)…. “The conventional safe stuff still is safe,” says Jonathan Guyton, a certified financial planner and principal of Cornerstone Wealth Advisors Inc., in Minneapolis. “The past three years have been a wonderful stress test, a real opportunity to test our assumptions about safe assets.”>

It’s an important discussion. Meanwhile, just in case, I would embrace the security of diversification, including with your safe money.

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