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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Please ignore the optimism machine

Chris Farrell Sep 4, 2009
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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Please ignore the optimism machine

Chris Farrell Sep 4, 2009
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: At least the economy isn’t on fire anymore. Though there are stray embers — like adjustable rate mortgages and layoffs –that could re-ignite at any moment.

There does seem to be more optimism about the economy. The improvement is starting to show up in our retirement savings plans. But instead of cheering, our economics editor Chris Farrell is nervous.


Chris Farrell: Part of my job is to worry, to look at the downside, to explain the dangers. Even though things seem to be getting better, a subtle lesson involving music and wine has me concerned. No, this isn’t a tale of romance. That’s for another show.

Michael Mauboussin is the chief investment strategist at Legg Mason, but he’s also a delightful intellect that draws investment insight from all kinds of research. Take this tidbit from his book “Think Twice”: Imagine you’re strolling down a grocery store aisle. There is a bin with French wine and next to it a basket of German wine. Sometimes the background music is French and other times German.

Marketers discovered that consumer’s bought French wine 77 percent of the time when French music was playing. With German music playing, 73 percent of the buyers chose a German wine. Yet a majority of customers denied that the music influenced their choice.

RIGHT!

What does this have to do with the market and retirement savings plans? Well, imagine that the “background music” is a better performing economy. What bottle might you be coaxed to purchase? Chateau De Wall Street?

Sure, we know there will be dark days and nerve-wracking setbacks in coming months. But with the stock market up by more than 40 percent from its lows, isn’t it time to jump back in? No.

Sure, lots of folks are singing the stock market tune. But don’t listen to the siren song of joining the crowd. Don’t let a strong stock market influence your investing decisions. Be aware of the investing music in the background.

How do you do that? Focus on your family and household and ignore the Wall Street optimism machine. What are your goals and needs? What would happen to your standard of living if the markets swooned again? Maybe you should invest more in equities, maybe you shouldn’t. What’s the right decision for your household?

These are kinds of questions that matter. And enjoy that glass of wine while you’re thinking it over.

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