The latest T-Bills yield 3.77%.
While CPF-OA yields 2.5% (after the first $20,000).
T-Bills are backed by the Singapore government.
So … Should one buy T-Bills with CPF-OA money, and earn the extra 1.27% interest, risk free?
There’s a bit of nuance to this question, and it’s not as straightforward as it seems.
So I wanted to share views in this article.
Basics: What are Treasury Bills (T-Bills)?
Treasury bills (T-bills) are short-term Singapore Government Securities (SGS), of 6 or 12 month duration.
There are 3 big advantages of T-Bills:
- Risk Free
- High short term interest rates
- Can be bought with CPF-OA (and SRS / Cash)
Backed by the Singapore government, this is as close to risk free as it gets
High short term interest rates
The latest Singapore Savings Bonds yields 3.08% for one year, and the latest Fixed Deposit yields 3.33% for one year.
While T-Bills yield 3.77% for 6 months, and 3.72% for 12 months.
In rapidly rising interest rate climates (like right now), very few products out there will be able to match the interest rates on T-Bills.
Can be bought with CPF-OA (and SRS / Cash)
And probably the biggest advantage.
You cannot use CPF-OA funds to buy Singapore Savings Bonds or Fixed Deposit.
But you can use them to buy T-Bills.
Should you buy 3.77% yielding T-Bills with 2.5% yielding CPF-OA?
Any amount in your CPF-OA above $20,000 earns 2.5% interest.
So… if you don’t need to use the CPF-OA funds.
Should you put it into 3.77% T-Bills and earn the 1.27% spread risk free?
3 big questions in my mind:
- How much CPF-OA interest do you lose by doing this?
- Should you buy 6 month or 12 month T-Bills?
- Will CPF-OA interest rates go up?
Question 1 – How much Interest CPF-OA Interest do you lose by buying T-Bills?
There’s a funky feature about how CPF interest is calculated:
Interest is paid on the lowest balance of your CPF balance that month.
You can see the highlighted portions in the screenshot below.
What this means, in simple English, is that when you use CPF-OA money to buy T-Bills:
- You will not get any CPF interest in the month that you apply for the T-Bills
- You will not get any CPF interest in the month that you get the money back from the T-Bills
For example – If you apply for $100,000 worth of T-Bills on 10 November 2022, maturing on 10 May 2023.
This means you don’t get CPF-OA interest for the $100,000 for the months of November 2022 and May 2023.
BUT – you will get the T-Bills interest from 10 November onwards, up till 10 May.
So effectively, you lose 1 month CPF-OA interest if you buy T-Bills with CPF-OA.
This means the T-Bills interest must be high enough to compensate you for the loss of the 1 month CPF-OA interest.
How high must T-Bill’s interest be for this to be worth it?
CPF-OA’s interest rate of 2.5% divided by 12 is about 0.208%.
Which means doing this trick loses you about 0.208% worth of CPF-OA interest, and you need a higher yield on the T-Bills of about 0.208% per annum.
So anything above 2.71% per annum, and you probably break even (2.92% if you buy the 6 month T-Bills and don’t roll over).
With T-Bills at 3.77% now, we are well above the threshold rate.
How much do you make by doing this, at current T-Bills interest rates?
I computed the numbers above for easy reference.
If you’re buying $100,000 worth of 6-month T-Bills, at the latest 3.77% interest rate, you will make $426.67 extra by doing this (for 6 months).
This is a 29% increase in the interest earned.
If you’re buying $100,000 worth of 12-month T-Bills, at the latest 3.72% interest rate, you will make $1011.67 extra by doing this (for 12 months).
Which is a 37.35% increase in the interest earned.
Not too shabby indeed.
The more CPF-OA you have, the more you make.
What about compounding?
Now for simplicity’s sake, I didn’t include the effects of compounding in my numbers above.
CPF interest is calculated monthly (but only credited annually).
Whereas with T-Bills, because they are issued at a discount, you actually get the full “interest” upfront.
Viewed this way T-Bills actually have superior compounding effect, compared to CPF-OA, because you get to compound the interest immediately.
Question 2 – Should you buy 6 month or 12 month T-Bills with CPF-OA?
The answer to this question depends on where the 6 month T-Bill interest rates will be in 6 months (whether they go up or down).
It also depends whether you can roll over the expiring T-Bills into new T-Bills the same calendar month (to avoid losing an extra month of CPF-OA interest).
Let’s start with the first question.
How high will T-Bills interest rates go?
Latest Futures markets are pricing in a peak US Fed Funds Rate of about 4.75 – 5.25%, by mid 2023.
You can see the US 1 and 2 year Treasuries have already baked this in, as they trade at about 4.5% now.
Let’s be conservative and assume SGD interest rates peak slightly below US interest rates.
I think realistically, you could see T-Bills trade anywhere from 4.25% – 5.0% by end of this cycle.
But of course, all of this are just forecasts, and many things can go wrong.
If the global economy starts to collapse, or we get systemic risk, interest rate may get cut quite quickly.
Will you be able to roll over the expiring T-Bills into new T-Bills the same calendar month (to avoid losing an extra month of CPF-OA interest)?
Because of this, it actually makes sense to apply for T-Bills at the start of the month.
This way, they will mature on the start of the month – giving you time to roll over the money into new T-Bills, without spilling over into the next calendar month and losing another month of CPF-OA interest.
So… buy 6 month or 12-month T-Bills?
Here are the numbers, assuming that:
- 6-month T-Bills will be 4.5% in 6 months
- You can roll over your T-Bills without spilling over into the next calendar month (and losing another month of CPF-OA interest)
Winner: Buying 6 month T-Bills makes an extra $415, which is an 11% increase in interest.
What if you cannot get the timing and need to spill over into the following month (losing an extra month of CPF-OA interest)?
Winner: Buying 6 month T-Bills makes an extra $206.67, which is a 5% increase in interest.
So as you can see, the key to this question is where the T-Bill interest rates will be in 6 months time.
If you think interest rates will go up and stay up, buy the 6 month T-Bills.
If you think interest rates will go down or stay at current levels, buy the 12 month T-Bills.
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Question 3 – What if CPF-OA Interest Rates go up?
Now the other big consideration – is whether CPF-OA interest rates will go up.
If you buy T-Bills with CPF-OA, the interest rate you get is locked in for duration.
You can lose money if CPF-OA Interest Rates go up
So imagine if the CPF-OA interest rates are increased to 3.5% (or higher).
After factoring in the 1 month lost CPF-OA interest, you might actually be losing money.
Here are the numbers, assuming CPF-OA goes up to 3.5%.
You actually lose money due to the 1 month lost CPF interest.
How are CPF-OA interest rates calculated?
From CPFB’s website, CPF-OA is pegged to the lower of:
- 3-month average of the major local banks’ interest rates
- Legislated minimum interest of 2.5%
As of now, the 3 month average of the 3 local banks interest rates is 0.09%.
Even if it moves, I don’t see it going above 2.5%
Which leaves (2) – the legislated minimum interest rates.
Will / Should CPF-OA legislated minimum interest rates go up?
Most of you will have your views on whether CPF-OA interest rates should or should not go up.
The complexity is that HDB loan rates are pegged to 0.1% above CPF-OA interest rates.
So if CPF-OA rates go up, so do HDB loan rates.
Which makes a sensitive political issue.
Now this is a finance blog, and this horse does not want to wade into any political debates.
I’m in the business of predicting what governments will do, not what governments should do.
Gun to my head, I think that if interest rates stay elevated for a prolonged period, CPF-OA rates will probably move up eventually.
But maybe not in the immediate future.
But like I said, this is not a topic I have a strong view on, and I leave it to you to decide if CPF-OA interest rates will go up.
FH… that’s all very technical, can you summarise?
1. As long as T-Bills pay more than 2.71% per annum, you will make money buying T-Bills with CPF-OA (2.92% if you buy the 6 month T-Bills and don’t roll over).
2. However, this is assuming CPF-OA interest rates do not go up, and I leave it to you to make a judgment call on this
3. Whether to apply for 6 month or 12 month T-Bills will depend on where interest rates are in 6 months. If you think interest rates will go up and stay up, use 6 months. If you think interest rates will go down, use 12 months.
4. If you plan to roll the expiring T-Bills over into new T-Bills, it is best to apply for T-Bills at the start of the calendar month, to avoid losing an extra month of CPF-OA interest.
Do you need to use the CPF-OA funds?
Now of course, this is assuming you don’t need to use the CPF-OA funds.
A big drawback of T-Bills is that for retail investors, it is not easy to sell them before maturity.
Unlike SGS which are listed on the SGX, T-Bills are not listed, and can only be sold over the counter (OTC) via the 3 local banks.
So if you need the CPF-OA funds to pay your mortgage, my strong suggestion is to not bother doing this.
T-Bill interest rates are not known in advance
Do note that T-Bill interest rates are not known in advance, as they are determined at auction.
If you are worried, you can ask the bank to put in a competitive bid for you, so you only get the T-Bills above your desired level of interest.
When is the next T-Bill Auction?
Next T-Bills auction is on 27 October, you need to apply at least 1 Business Day before.
Eligibility to use CPF-OA Funds to buy T-Bills
Before you can use your CPFIS funds, you need to have a minimum sum of $20,000 in your Ordinary Account.
And you must be:
- at least 18 years old;
- are not an undischarged bankrupt;
- have more than $20,000 in your OA; and/or
- have more than $40,000 in your SA; and
- have completed the CPFIS Self-Awareness Questionnaire (SAQ)
How to buy T-Bills with CPF-OA – You must go down to the bank IN PERSON
I know… this is 2022, after a huge global pandemic.
And I need to go down to the bank… in person… just to buy T-Bills with CPF-OA?!
I suppose the thinking is that before this, nobody was buying T-Bills using CPF-OA, so the banks saw no need to implement this feature.
There’s even a cheeky little note from CPF saying they “welcome the bond dealer banks to offer online and ATM services for CPFIS applications as well.”
Whoever wrote that line, you have my respect sir.
CPF Investment Account (CPF-IA)
FYI that you also need a CPF Investment Account (CPF-IA) with one of the three agent banks (DBS/POSB, OCBC, and UOB).
So go down to the bank that you opened the CPF-IA account with (or if you don’t have one then just open it when you go down).
Do remember to bring your NRIC/ Passport.
CPF-IA not required for CPFIS-SA funds
Sidenote that there is no need to open any CPF Investment Account if you wish to invest CPFIS-SA funds.
That said, CPF-SA pays 4%, which is higher than T-Bills for now.
But who knows, that might change in a couple of months.
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