Tuesday, October 7, 2008

401k keeping you awake at night? Me too...

In looking at the logs for this blog I see that many people are visiting TradeRadar because they are searching on the term "401k".

I have written a few posts (see the list at the end of this post) describing my approach to dealing with your 401k during this time of sinking markets.

It is clear that anxiety is rising as fast as markets are dropping. I had remained fairly calm for the last eight to ten months, with a little over half of my 401k funds spread across a stable value fund, a Treasury bond fund and a global bond fund. I have continued to contribute and allocate nearly all of the contributions to stocks on the assumption that I am purchasing good mutual funds at cheaper and cheaper prices.

As the markets have gone from bad to worse to total carnage, it is unsettling in the extreme. Like many of those who are typing "401k" into Google, I am also a working stiff who is worried about his retirement. As someone who closely follows the markets and writes about investing, I am feeling the overwhelming need to do something.

At this point, the bear market is well along and most likely will continue for a while. Major averages are over 30% off the peaks established last year. Many advisers will now say that if something wasn't done months ago to protect your portfolio it probably isn't worth taking any drastic action now. I would tend to agree with them.

On the other hand, we are only human. We hate to stand by and watch a train wreck without doing anything. We hate to feel like events are totally beyond our control. So don't be afraid to do something, just make sure it is not something extreme. If you're 100% in stocks in your 401k and you can't sleep at night, take a modest percentage and move it into a Treasury bond fund. If you have no foreign stock exposure, perhaps now is a good time to move some assets from a U.S. stock mutual fund into an emerging markets fund given that emerging markets are down even more than U.S. markets. You may find that taking one of these simple actions provides some relief.

It is practically a given that things will get worse before they get better. If you must take some action so you can sleep at night, please don't do anything drastic like bailing out of stocks entirely. When the market does move up, it almost always does it in such a way that the average individual investor misses a big part of the ride; therefore, you need to keep a certain amount of your 401k in stocks not matter how painful that decision seems to be. After all, at some point in the future when the bottom is finally established and stocks begin to rally, all the experts will be saying that it is just another suckers rally in a bear trend. Except that it won't be and if you don't have some stocks in your portfolio you will miss this initial move which is likely to be powerful.

So swallow hard, make a few sensible adjustments and hang in there. This bear market won't last forever.

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