Investors love to talk about financial liquidity. And if you peruse the various online financial discussion boards, you’ll discover a theme.

High liquidity is excellent, and low liquidity is terrible. 

But is this true? At the very least, it’s a gross oversimplification. And at worst, it’s propaganda designed to keep you heavily invested in high-commissioned paper assets.

What is Financial Liquidity? 

Liquidity refers to the ease with which one can buy or sell assets at their current market value. Lack of liquidity refers to assets that can’t readily be sold for cash.

Cash is universally accepted as the most liquid asset class. However, other highly liquid assets, such as stocks, mutual funds, and money market funds, exist.

Illiquid assets are things like:

  • Real estate property
  • Private company ownership
  • Antiquities
  • Art
  • Collectibles
  • Cars

What you should know about Financial Liquidity 

The advantages of liquidity are apparent. Being able to sell an investment quickly and access its cash value has benefits. Some stock investors utilize that liquidity to periodically rebalance their portfolio or to harvest tax losses.

However, if you sell off your assets for immediate cash needs, you may not have a large enough emergency fund or adequate insurance.

As evident as the benefits of liquidity are, the downside of financial liquidity may not be as obvious. 

Financial Liquidity has a downside 

Liquid assets are essential when constructing a portfolio. However, it may not be wise to be 100% liquid. There are downsides to liquidity. 

Liquidity can undermine a disciplined investment plan. For example, it can exacerbate emotional investing, both out of fear and out of greed. Financial liquidity can also lead to lower returns as investors miss out on potential liquidity premiums that can come with illiquid assets. Let’s explore this further.

The DALBAR Effect

DALBAR is a market research firm that has studied investor behavior for years. In 1994, they produced their inaugural Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior (QAIB). In their words, “QAIB has measured the effects of investor decisions to buy, sell, and switch into and out of mutual funds over short and long-term timeframes.”

They’ve found every year since their inception that investor behavior leads to market underperformance in comparison to the index. In other words, the financial liquidity of the market allows investors to execute bad decisions. They tend to buy toward the top of a market out of irrational exuberance and sell toward the bottom out of fear of losing it all. 

Financial Liquidity, The Good and Bad of Financial Liquidity For Real Estate Investors

Source: Seeking Alpha

The volatility of the market cycle produces a whole range of emotions that lead to underperformance within the market, largely due to its liquidity. The research firm DALBAR documents this underperformance annually. 




Their research clearly shows that emotional decisions coupled with market liquidity lead to an overall underperformance (5.96% return vs. 7.43% return from the index).  

Financial Liquidity, The Good and Bad of Financial Liquidity For Real Estate Investors




Investors Chasing Return

Just as DALBAR has shown time and time again, financial liquidity enables investors to make bad decisions. One category of bad choices is chasing a return. How often have you heard someone say they sold off a percentage of their stocks or mutual funds to buy something else?

Often, that something else wasn’t part of their long-term plan. Typically, it’s the flavor of the month. Maybe it’s a hot stock pick, or perhaps it’s a new promising asset class positioned to take off. Perhaps it’s art or cryptocurrency or something else. 

Illiquidity protects people from making irrational decisions like chasing returns or becoming enamored with shiny object syndrome.

Liquidity Highlights Investor Ignorance

As mentioned earlier, cash is the most liquid asset class. And you’d think that coming into a substantial financial windfall of money would create a lifetime of financial freedom. However, research shows that whether it’s lottery winners or NFL players, the financial liquidity of cash only magnifies one’s financial woes. Kiplinger reports that 78% of NFL players are in severe financial distress or have gone bankrupt within two years of retirement. They report that 60% of NBA players experience financial ruin within five years of retirement. 

These individuals could benefit from a disciplined approach to investing that included some percentage of illiquid assets. 

Financial Liquidity and the Lessons of Allen Iverson

While having a portfolio that contains liquid assets is essential, it’s clear that millions of people have fallen victim to the downsides of that liquidity. The poster child for this is probably Allen Iverson.

For those who don’t know, Allen Iverson was one of the best point guards in the National Basketball Association. Over a fourteen-year career, he was paid handsomely for his talents. He retired from basketball in 2010, having made $200 million. By 2012, he was broke.

As good as Allen was at basketball, he didn’t have a handle on his finances. Allen frequently dealt in cash and spent it as fast as he could make it. Whether it was cars, jewelry, or clothing, Allen spent extravagantly. He didn’t spend everything on himself either. He was famous for lavishly spending on friends and family as well.

Financial liquidity led to his economic collapse. Fortunately, financial illiquidity saved him from becoming destitute. He had one asset that he couldn’t fritter away. It happened in 2001 when Iverson signed an endorsement deal with Reebok. The deal was structured to pay him $800,000 a year for life and supply a trust fund worth $32 million that he can’t access until he’s 55 in 2030.

The deal’s lack of liquidity has provided Iverson with a lifelong income stream and a second chance at real wealth in 2030. Hopefully, he has learned from his mistakes.

Loss of a Liquidity Premium

Investments that lack financial liquidity tend to pay a liquidity premium. A liquidity premium is simply extra compensation for investing in an asset that can’t easily or quickly be cashed in. 

The easiest way to understand a liquidity premium is to think about bonds. Short-term bonds typically pay less than long-term bonds. The liquidity premium is the higher return gained from a longer-term illiquid investment. 

It’s your opportunity to gain enhanced returns.

Financial Liquidity and Modern Portfolio Theory

Financial liquidity is neither good nor bad. Instead, it is a feature of every investment one should consider before investing. Modern portfolio theory revolves around owning a range of assets that diversify one’s portfolio while maximizing the return given one’s risk tolerance. 

For that reason, many people don’t have all financially liquid assets or all financially illiquid assets. Instead, they retain a mix of the two to achieve the results they are looking for. 

Liquidity has downsides, and being overweight in financially liquid paper assets can make you vulnerable to those downsides. If you find yourself in that situation, you would be wise to learn more about multifamily real estate.

Using Illiquid Real Estate Investments To Balance Your Portfolio

Liquidity is neither good nor bad. Everyone should have liquid assets in their portfolio. However, being all liquid or all illiquid can be risky. Instead, it’s better to balance assets with your investment goals and risk tolerance to include both liquid and illiquid assets. 

Multifamily real estate is considered an illiquid asset class. Investing in it could help balance a portfolio that is too heavily weighted with stocks, mutual funds, and cash.

Multifamily real estate has a long history of superior returns. Apartment returns have enjoyed high (stock-like) returns and low (bond-like) risk. That’s why they’ve had a risk-adjusted return (Sharpe ratio) that has outperformed stocks and bonds over the last two decades. 

If you’re not investing in apartments, perhaps it’s time to learn more. 37th Parallel Properties utilizes a fund model in which one can invest fractionally in direct real estate for diversification, cash flow, and the potential for appreciation. 

Contact us today and let us know how we can help you.

To learn more about commercial multifamily real estate investing, download your free copy of Evidence Based Investing from 37th Parallel Properties.
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Financial Liquidity, The Good and Bad of Financial Liquidity For Real Estate Investors