Despite market improvement, investors still fearful of volatility

(AP Photo/Richard Drew) (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Even though the stock market has been on a steady climb the past couple of years, many investors still fear to put their hard-earned funds into something that has been so volatile.

Some in the retirement industry are concerned we are headed for another big drop before the economy smooths out, like it did in the early ‘90s.

T. Doug Dale Jr., a client advisor with Security Ballew Wealth Management in Jackson, Miss., believes that more market volatility needs to happen and banks need to start mortgage lending again before the economy will turn around.

Dale spends a lot of his time tracking historical stock market trends, all the way back to the 1800s. What he has found is that, “as long as we are in a period of time where there are excessive levels of debt at multiple levels [corporate and government], if interest rates rise, they won’t rise for long, but will have adverse effects on the housing market in this country, and the stock market’s ability to go higher will be dampened.”

He pointed out that some European countries are experiencing the same thing right now, which is adding to the world’s financial woes.

Dale said he isn’t sure another 2008 is going to happen, but it would be “just as imprudent and irresponsible to say we know the worst is over, when in fact the issues that got us in trouble around the world are still there, maybe worse, and the central banks printing money is what got us out of it.”

Organizations that track investor habits have been surprised by the lack of movement on the part of investors.

“Since the recession, the interesting thing we found is that investment habits are not changing that much,” said Patti Rowey, retirement and market trends expert for the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.  On its 12th Annual Retirement Survey, Transamerica asked participants if their spending habits had changed since the recession began. What it found is that more people are spending less money now, but that has not increased their savings habits, she said.

Rowey speculated that this could be happening because there is less credit available, people are concerned about being laid off and overall compensation is lower.

The survey also asked if people had changed their investment contributions in the past year. Seventy percent said they had not changed their contributions. Only 30 percent had changed their contributions and, of those, 20 percent said they increased their contribution rates. Ten percent stopped contributing altogether.

Transamerica’s 2009 survey, which was taken during the height of the market downturn, found that even then, people were still contributing to their retirement accounts. While 68 percent didn’t change their percentage, those who did were more likely to increase it than anything else, Rowey said. That year, only 11 percent of respondents said they decreased their contribution rates.

“Maybe people are making changes in other areas of their financial lives and have tried to keep their retirement plans up as best they could,” she said.

The downturn did cause investors to look for “safer” investments. Thirty-three percent of those interviewed for the 2009 survey said they changed their asset allocations within the past 12-month period; 48 percent of those moved their money to more conservative investments, “which is very very troubling,” Rowey said. “People thought about it and moved to more conservative investments.” Many also changed their mix instead of their allocation.

“Typically it is set it and forget it,” she said.

Bruce Young, senior resident financial planner with Financial Finesse in Chicago, said that he has noticed the same apathy on the part of investors. “It’s interesting because the market obviously is inching up rather nicely, so you would think that the normal investor would be excited and looking at their portfolios a lot more, but more people are just staying on the fence where they are at,” he said. “I’m not sensing any excitement. Because it is a heavy political year, that has taken the forefront. People are just waiting.”

One of the unsettling things he has seen lately is people remaining in stable value funds, even though the market has improved. Usually, investors see the market start to move up and they jump back in at the wrong time, Young said.

“We’re not seeing it that much. It is almost like they are waiting for something. I don’t know if it is because we are still not out of the housing crash. Obviously interest rates are low so there is an opportunity prime for buying, but lenders are not lending. We are still not getting anywhere. We’re truly not out of this thing and the economy has not helped at all. Just because the market is going up is not a definitive sign to get back in,” he said.

Pete D’Arruda, founder and president of Capital Financial Advisory Group in Cary, N.C. and host of the nationally syndicated radio show “The Financial Safari,” believes that people are their own worst enemy. “They buy when the market is too high and sell when the market is too low,” he said.

In 2009, many people stopped putting money away in their retirement accounts, but “that’s the exact time they should have increased the amount they put in because the market was low,” he said.

As the market climbs, some investors are getting back into the market but now they are buying less stocks for more money, he said.  Too many people are influenced by the market’s volatility when what they should be doing is making sure they have a well-balanced portfolio. 

“Asset allocation is making sure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket because if you drop that basket, all the eggs are going to break,” D’Arruda said. The same thing goes for stocks. Investors need to “divide between risk and safety.” He advises people to have three separate strategies as part of their retirement plan. He calls them, Safe, Income and Risk. Safe is having at least six months saved for emergencies; income is investing in safer growth assets that will produce income upon retirement, like a fixed indexed annuity with a guaranteed income rider; and Risk is investing in stocks and other high-risk assets.

D’Arruda doesn’t see anything wrong with getting into the market at any time, he just cautions people to have an exit strategy in place before they invest. “Before you get in, you need to know when you are going to get out,” he said. “If you don’t, the greed is going to take you.”


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