Dear Liz: I’ve asked a fee-only advisor, a fee-based advisor and a full-service broker about investing in stocks, and their response is always the same — that I should diversify across multiple investment types, consider my risk tolerance and invest regularly to take advantage of dips in stock prices. They tell me that because I’m young I can be more aggressive with my retirement funds to make them grow. But no matter what these folks say, I think the emperor has no clothes: The stock market is one big gambling venture and we’ve all been scammed into believing otherwise. Frankly, I feel like I’m risking all of my retirement funds by leaving them in the market. (Remember the Reagan-era bust? The dot-com bust? The housing market bust?) Though the stock market seems to be the only game in town (CD rates are 2% or lower, real estate is still risky, who can afford gold?), and those invested in the game tell me I’d be foolish not to play, I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. Is this all in my head or do I have a rational basis for my skepticism?
Answer: Remember the Depression? World Wars I and II? The Cold War? The assassination of President Kennedy? Vietnam? Watergate?
Probably not, because you weren’t around. Regardless of the setbacks we’ve faced, however, our economy — and stocks — continue to grow.
Investing in stocks is essentially investing in the productivity of our companies. If you want a graphic representation of that growth, use a search engine to find a chart showing “Dow Jones historical average.” You’ll see that this market benchmark has had numerous setbacks, many of them serious, but its growth has been exponential. The Dow started 1932 at 100, for example; in the 1970s, it bobbed around 1,000; it started this year well over 11,000.
Yes, there will be scams and scandals and people gaming the system. The fact remains that no other investment has the inflation-beating history or potential that stocks have. If you hope to retire someday, a good portion of your portfolio likely needs to be in stocks.
As for gold, here’s another little bit of history you should know. Although it’s been on a tear lately, the price of gold still hasn’t returned to the peak in value it enjoyed in 1980, once you adjust for inflation.