Best places to park short-term, nearly-risk free Canadian cash

As a result of the Bank of Canada’s decision to hold the overnight interest rate target at 0.5%, options for Canadian dollar cash balances are bleak.

Cash can always be held at zero yield and would be immediately available for deployment.

There are also financial institutions that will allow you to lock your money in for a 1-year GIC and earn around a 1.25% risk-free return. However, the sacrifice in liquidity in the event that you would want to deploy such capital is unacceptable from an investment perspective. One can also purchase a cashable GIC (typically redeemable within 30 days after purchase) that earns slightly less yield – my local BC credit union offers such a product with a 0.85% yield.

I was curious as to the best exchange-traded products that would offer some yield at the lowest risk.

There are basically two options. They are (TSX: XSB) and (TSX: VSB). Both are short-term government bond funds. VSB is significantly cheaper on management expenses (0.11% vs. 0.28% for XSB), and both portfolios offer similar durations (roughly 2.8 years), and VSB has slightly better credit quality (55% weight to AAA instead of 50% for XSB). VSB should eventually have a better net yield after expenses (roughly 1.1%) due to the smaller MER. While the 1.1% net return is small, it is better than zero and is nearly risk free – there is anti-correlation between general market movement and the likely price movement of this fund – the capital gain on VSB should rise if there was some sort of crisis due to the heavy government bond exposure of the fund.

Another alternative which is deceptively cash-like but will not serve any purpose if you wish to save money for some sort of financial crisis is the high-quality corporate bond fund also offered by Vanguard (TSX: VSC). Although VSC will offer you another 80 basis points of yield, it has the disadvantage of likely having a liquidity premium in the event there was some adverse financial event – i.e. your cash-out price will likely be materially less than NAV.

All three ETFs trade at modest premiums to NAV.