Tuesday, September 23, 2008
There isn't a financial analyst anywhere in the country who can, with any certainty, tell us what the economy's future holds. Only a few months ago, most of those analysts would have insisted that financial giants like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Citicorp, Bear Stearns and AIG were rock solid underpinnings in a time of economic turmoil.
And it wasn't that many years ago that only a small percentage of wage earners had that much interest in the stock market. Then along came 401(k) and similar tax-deferred retirement plans that turned most American workers into investors in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and money-market funds. Nowadays, most Americans have some ties to the world of investments, including retirees whose monthly income is dependent on the ups and downs of their portfolios.
So it is with considerable alarm that much of America watches as the biggest financial firms crumble or continue a shaky, government-reprieved existence.
That's enough to make many small investors pull out all their retirement dollars and look for a safe place to put them. But in most cases that's not the best thing to do. It's true that investments in stocks and bonds have lost value in the declining stock market. But as wage earners continue to put some of their income into market-based retirement funds, they are getting stocks and bonds at bargain prices.
When the stock market recovers -- and, historically, it always does -- investors who have ridden out the current storm are likely to enjoy the gain in value of their low-priced investments.
Maintaining a sensible investment plan even during tough times tends to generate rewards. Panic shifting of funds out of the market generally results in losses. Investors have a choice.