Many of us are still in the grip of analysis paralysis when it comes taking the next step with our money. Traumatized by the current volatility in the market caused by flash crashes -- not to mention the complete collapse of the financial markets a few years ago -- there is still a broad segment of investors who are crouched in their bunker of money market funds. Statistics indicating the flow of money out of stock mutual funds indicates that the number of these investors is growing. They are effectively losing about 2 percent per year as inflation slowly nibbles away at the value of those money market dollars.
People in this state of mind will tell me that they are waiting to see signs that the market has settled down and that the risk of the stock market has dissipated. As they have been waiting patiently, the market has now returned to its high-water mark of December 2007.
Throughout the past 41/2 years, stocks making up what we call "the market" have continued to pay dividends approaching about 2 percent per year, so a holder of stocks is actually about 10 percent ahead of where they were at the high-water mark of the last big stock run-up.
Wait, there's more. Anyone still in the accumulation stage saving for retirement with regular contributions has benefited even more. The historic downdraft caused by the financial collapse actually created a buying opportunity for stocks, so some of what was contributed over the past four years has actually more than doubled in value. Consider the 401(k) contribution that was contributed into your mix of mutual funds on or about the week of May 6, 2009 -- at the very bottom.
What made this collapse different from the one in the 1930s was that companies this time were still making a lot of money. They made more in 2008 than in 2007, but who would have guessed it looking at stock prices. Throughout most of the crash, American companies have remained enormously profitable and are sitting on record amounts of cash today. The latter is a contributing factor that explains why money market rates are so low.
So, what's the answer for a catatonic investor hunkered down in a money market fund and simply unable to move? Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca" might have said, "Go back to Bulgaria," but my advice is to settle on a so-called "default investment" to which you can move when times are tough. It should involve a safe mix of large-company stocks and bonds so as to remove the temptation to try to time the market.
Let's face it. If you were sitting on cash thinking that you would "get back in" at a low point, you had your chance earlier this year and missed it -- like almost everyone who tries to time the market.
So, an ideal default investment would be a balanced no-load mutual fund with very low annual fees that invests in a broad range of dividend-paying stocks and bonds -- about a 50-50 mix. You can lose some money in a few years -- like as few as six times over the past 42 years -- but the losses will be manageable, and the average returns over rolling 10-year periods can be in the 6 percent to 10 percent range. This is especially true when you consider how predictable the "snap-back" effect has demonstrated itself after every one of the eight crashes we've had since 1974.
You don't need a financial planner (thereby incurring their fees) to help you find a balanced fund or to help you select a combination of no-load funds that will create the desired net effect. Use this as an exercise in increasing your investment experience and self-confidence level.
The default investment doesn't preclude someone from still trying to time the market if they want to fool around. Its purpose is to establish a statistically profitable repository for the money that would otherwise have been sitting in cash earning nothing and waiting to "buy high and sell low" -- the traditional curse that afflicts individual investors and, all too often, their advisors.
Steve Butler is CEO of Pension Dynamics. Contact him at email@example.com or 925-956-0505, ext. 228.