Have retail investors completely bailed from the stock market? Just about, analysts say.
The European financial crisis and the poor employment outlook prompted global investors to pull $41.6 billion from equity funds in the second quarter. If those outflows seem mild given the volatility of the past few months, it’s because the majority of retail investors may have already dumped their stocks, says Cameron Brandt, a global markets analyst for EPFR Global, a research firm. Consider: investors yanked $54 billion from stock funds last August alone, following the Standard& Poor’s credit rating of U.S. debt and heightened concerns about the debt crisis in Europe. “There isn’t a lot of retail money left in the market,” says Brandt.
Indeed, retail investors keep fleeing stocks at a precisely a time when the “smart money” from institutional investors is going in, data shows. This year through July 4, U.S. stock mutual funds—which are mainly used by retail investors—lost $3.1 billion, according to fund researcher Lipper. However, stock exchange-traded funds, which can be a gauge of institutional activity in the short term, took in $35.2 billion for that same time period, says Tom Roseen, an analyst with Lipper. Retail investors are instead pouring money into cash and bonds, with $125.8 billion flowing into taxable bond mutual funds this year.
Do you know how much you’re paying in 401(k) fees?
Surveys and studies suggest many Americans have no clue. But a report released last week estimates the average American household pays nearly $155,000 in 401(k) fees over the course of a lifetime — or roughly 30% of their 401(k) balance. That’s enough to buy a house, says Demos, the non-partisan public policy group behind the report. “Every little bit more in fees takes a really big chunk out of your end balance,” says Robert Hiltonsmith, a policy analyst with Demos and the study’s author.
This may not be a good time to check your 401(k) balance.
The Dow Industrial Average plunged 274 points Friday following a more dismal-than-expected jobs report. The drop — the index’s biggest this year — follows a dismal May in which stocks lost 6%.
Retirement savers appear to have fared only slightly better. The average 401(k) balance fell nearly 3% last month, estimates Jack Vanderhei, research director for the Employee Benefit Research Institute. However, the actual returns were likely worse as that figure includes gains from employee contributions.
After reading our story “The Big Business of 401(k) Plans,” some readers wrote to us wondering which of America’s retirement pillars, publicly-run Social Security, or privately run 401(k)s cost more to run. We went back to our sources to investigate – and the results might surprise some people.
First, the private sector. Based on industry figures for different-sized plans, we estimate that fees suck $30 billion to $60 billion each year out Americans retirement accounts — up to $164 million each day. We presented the figures to the industry’s trade group, which declined to confirm the numbers, but also didn’t dispute our methodology. So how much does Social Security cost? $11.5 billion, according to the Social Security Administration. That translates into about $31.5 million a day. The government, unlike the industry, publishes the cost figure. In short, it appears that the big government-run program is more cost effective.
Now that lawmakers voted to extend the payroll tax break to the end of the year, advisers are urging their clients not to let the extra cash in their paychecks go to waste.
Congress ironed out a deal that extends the cut, which since last year temporarily reduced the 6.2% payroll tax to 4.2%. For a taxpayer earning $50,000, that means roughly $1,000 in savings throughout the year, as opposed to a break of less than $200 through February. The amount, when looked at in each individual check may be too small to get noticed, but advisers say the savings add up over the course of the year. Pros are urging clients to take note of the boost and use it to build up their cash reserves, pay down debt and up their retirement savings. “Don’t let this just get lost in your cash flow,” says June Walbert, a financial planner with USAA. “With it really lasting all year long that’s more critical than ever.”
The new 401(k) fee-disclosure rules the Labor Department approved last week don’t address the bigger problem with the retirement plans, says psychologist Daniel Kahneman: They’re too much like cookie jars.
It’s not surprising 401(k)s mint so few millionaires, given that money stashed away for the future can so easily be cashed out in the present, he says. Kahneman, whose investigations into the biases and mental hiccups that make humans lousy decision makers won him the Nobel Prize, says these pots of cash are just too much a temptation.
Kodak’s bankruptcy filing this week is a tough blow for the 63,000 workers and retirees covered by the company’s two traditional pension plans, some of whom may no longer receive their full pension benefits. But are there lessons for other Americans who are still enrolled in company pension plans?
Judging by the latest figures from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures private-sector pension plans, Kodak retirees and workers aren’t the only ones facing possible reductions in their benefits. In fiscal year 2011, 152 underfunded private-sector pension plans shut down, and about the same number terminated in 2010. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation does insure private-sector pensions, so for current retirees, even if their pension plan shuts down, they’ll continue to get the income they were promised, just from a different source.
Three years after they first blew up — then settled down — some financial advisers and industry experts still don’t know what to make of one of America’s most widely used retirement investments: so-called target-date funds.
As reported on Monday by SmartMoney.com, the funds, which have become a popular option in many company 401(k) plans, faltered again last year. The average fund with about four years to retirement fell 0.4%, and trailed major bond and stock indexes.
The poor performance comes after many of these funds revamped their portfolios to better protect investors after many posted even steeper losses in the market meltdown of 2008 — tweaks some retirement pros say clearly aren’t working. “In a year where bonds and fixed income investments clearly were the winner, those portfolios didn’t even earn money, on average,” says Kevin Mahn, the president and chief investment officer of Hennion & Walsh Asset Management. “That’s surprising.”
For retirees, this week’s slide has been particularly cruel: After a record rally in October that put many nest eggs back in the black, those portfolios are once again getting punctured.
Unfortunately, most advisers predict the wild swings that began in August to continue through the end of the year, thanks to the debt drama playing out in Europe and plenty of economic headwinds at home. “This volatility may be the new normal,” says Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S. Dak.
Of course, such turbulence can be particularly troubling for retired investors, who are living on a fixed income. And unlike their younger peers, they have much less time to recover from any market losses. Fortunately, financial advisers say there are steps these older investors can take to minimize the risks to their portfolios and, perhaps most importantly, stay calm.
For many retirees, this month’s rally – on course to be the biggest since 1987 – provides a much-needed boost to their nest eggs. But it also raises a key question: What to do next?
Unlike younger investors, retirees have a shorter time to recover market losses. And with market volatility likely to continue, at least in the short term, there are some steps retirees can take to protect their nest egg. For starters, some retirees, especially those who need cash in the short term, may want to consider taking some gains now rather than waiting, says Michael Markiewicz, a certified financial planner at Fogel Neale Partners in New York City. Those worried about another market dip may also want to shift more of their portfolio from stocks to cash, experts say.
Of course, any gains taken now may have tax implications, so retirees should consider whether their capital losses will be enough to offset capital gains, says Markiewicz.
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