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Wed Dec 4, 2019, 11:16 AM

Opinion: Economists say a recession is coming: How can 401(k) investors prepare?

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Opinion: Economists say a recession is coming: How can 401(k) investors prepare?

Published: Dec 3, 2019 11:00 a.m. ET

Donít let a downturn throw you off course

By NICK STRAIN

According to a recent survey by the National Association for Business Economics, seven out of 10 economists expect a recession by the end of 2021.

Even the savviest investors worry about not having enough cash on hand to cover basic expenses during a recession ó let alone those who have their entire nest egg wrapped up in a volatile market. That reasonable anxiety can prompt 401(k) participants to decrease their contributions or even cash out on their retirement savings entirely.

However, the long-term harm that a panicky move may have on their ability to retire outweighs any short-term benefits.

An economic downturn may tempt investors to put even less into retirement savings while waiting for a bull market to return. On the surface, it seems like this strategy protects savings. During the last recession, personal savings as a percentage of disposal income fell from 6.4% to 3.7% between December 2008 and January 2009. With concerns about another recession growing, many investors might consider cashing out on savings in an attempt to avoid similar losses. However, because it is almost impossible to time the market, this approach is likely to backfire, further delaying their ability to save and pushing the retirement date back. Staying steady and continuing contributions during a recession is necessary to grow savings and have a solid financial footing in retirement, even just by maintaining an employer match.

Preparing for a recession

{snip}

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Reply Opinion: Economists say a recession is coming: How can 401(k) investors prepare? (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves Dec 2019 OP
lastlib Dec 2019 #1
PoindexterOglethorpe Dec 2019 #3
lastlib Dec 2019 #4
PoindexterOglethorpe Dec 2019 #2
lastlib Dec 2019 #5
PoindexterOglethorpe Jan 2020 #6

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Wed Dec 4, 2019, 07:30 PM

1. I have been moving my gains from the past decade into cash & short term....

Basically what I will have in equities exposure is equal to what my 401k "bottomed out" at in early 2009. If the market goes south, I won't be losing the $$ I gained in the recovery. I may lose a chunk of what I had left, but I'll be positioned to move back in when the markets turn back up, and thus magnify my gains. It may not be the wisest strategy, but I think being heavy in equities in the next year is too risky for a guy (theoretically) three years away from retirement.

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Response to lastlib (Reply #1)

Fri Dec 6, 2019, 09:45 PM

3. Given that the stock market is more than 4 times what it

was at the beginning of 2009, by taking out money you've lost a lot of gains.

Trying to time the market is pretty much impossible.

I once saw a chart that showed how well some particular sum of money would have done from some arbitrary date which I don't recall if it could have been put in and out of the market with perfect foreknowledge of the rise and fall of the market. It was then compared to sticking with various sectors that have done well at various times. The timing scenario was basically crap. The other one better. I expect that a basic diversified portfolio would be even better.

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #3)

Fri Dec 6, 2019, 11:37 PM

4. I've been in equities since the low of 2009......

My equities are now worth about four times what they were worth at the start of 2009. No, I haven't "lost" a lot of gains--I'm locking in those gains into assets that won't be susceptible to a severe market downturn. I'm 62 years old--I cannot afford to expose my assets to a 2008-type market meltdown if it happens in the near future. I still have some equity exposure, but it's what I can afford, and I want that as a basis for the longer term (I do have a good chance of living a long time after I retire). Meanwhile, I am (at least theoretically) protecting substantial assets that I have built up in the past decade of growth that President Obama has provided. I know that "market timing" is usually a fool's game, but having worked in investment firms for the past 25 years, I get pretty good insights into where markets are heading, and I've managed my assets pretty well accordingly; I've bought low, and sold high--not perfectly, but well enough to satisfy myself.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Fri Dec 6, 2019, 09:42 PM

2. The end of 2021 is a year away.

Anyone who takes a lot of money out of the market right now may miss out on some serious gains.

The basic rule is to be diversified. If you are sitting on some profits and feeling nervous, go ahead and take some of those profits, and stash them in cash or maybe stocks that pay dividends. Oh, and diversification might well include bonds or bond funds.

Meanwhile, here's something very important that almost never is brought up: the stock market periodically posts new highs. It never posts new lows.

Trying to time the market is a true fool's game. Some people here sold everything after Trump was elected. Or at some other point since then, utterly convinced we're on the verge of a collapse that might make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park. Dare I point out they were wrong?

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #2)

Fri Dec 6, 2019, 11:46 PM

5. I'm also foreclosing what could be significant losses...

which, at my age, I cannot afford. I'm willing to forgo those possible gains, given the gains I'm preserving, to avoid the losses. I still have the prospect of gains on what I'm leaving in; really, I'm just re-allocating in what I believe is a prudent approach for my personal situation. If I still had twenty-five years to work, I'd be leaving most of my assets in equities. That's not the case. So you can't really say that "anyone" who takes money out of the market is missing out. It's all about managing risk--taking the risks that's acceptable, and avoiding the risk that's excessive.

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Response to lastlib (Reply #5)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 02:12 PM

6. Late response here.

But I'm 71, retired for about five years now, so I likewise don't have years left in the job market. But I probably do have 20 plus years left to live with or on my money.

I did express myself poorly. What I was responding to was what seems to be a sentiment of selling all equities, which may very well not be what any of the any of the posters meant.

Taking a closer look at my account statement (my various investments are all in one statement), it looks like about a third to a half of my money is in bonds, the rest in equities with a small amount in cash. It's been years since I've bought individual stocks, but I'd never criticize that.



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