Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Resurrecting Your 401(k)

Back from the dead, for many 401(k)s are beginning to recover with the recent market uptick. The question remains, though: is my 401(k) really going to make it?

Study after study confirms that investors chase past performance, buying whatever made money for other people. These same investors also chase their own past performance, buying more of what has worked for them in the past.

Economist David Laibson of Harvard University has researched 401(k) participants and their investment behavior to find they will add significantly to the funds they already own that have gone up in value the most. “Investors expect that assets on which they personally experienced past rewards will be rewarding in the future, regardless of whether such belief is justified,” Laibson says.

Apparently this is how investors are currently making their buying decisions. In June, 401(k) participants contributed about 41% of their investment dollars to stocks. In July, as the Dow rose by 725 points, 401(k) participants increased their funding of equity investments to 42.3% of contributions. At the same time, they were dumping value preservation funds that hold bonds and cash.

In The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham wrote “the investor with a portfolio of sound stocks should expect their prices to fluctuate and should neither be concerned by sizeable declines nor become excited by sizeable advances.” Basically, to be a true investor, you must strip emotion from you decision-making process.

Ultimately, to buy more of a stock, fund, or investment simply because its value has gone up is to believe that stocks become safer as their prices rise. This type of investing belief system is what perpetuates bubbles, not unlike what we’ve recently experienced. Defining an investment objective, maintaining a disciplined approach, and regularly saving money will help you avoid bubble-vision and make the most of that 401(k).

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