So. You're over 50, not all that far from retirement, and the stock market has been dicey -- to say the least.

Is it time for you to get out of stocks?

Here's the short answer: No.

Um, I hope you have a longer answer
I do. For starters, here's what got me thinking about this. Every quarter, Fidelity Investments data-mines their 401(k) participant records and issues a little report on trends in defined contribution land. Of course, they have their own spin on things, but with 11.2 million people in their databases, it's a pretty good sample population and a pretty good indicator of what's going on out there.

And according to the most recent edition of that missive, here's what's going on: Apparently, 11.4% of participants over 50 hold no stocks in their 401(k). None. Zero. Zilch.

That's far more than a million folks who are inviting retirement disaster.

Stocks, as we all know, or should know, have historically been the best source of returns over time -- the best source of growth. Stocks should form the core of nearly everyone's retirement portfolio until well into retirement.

Sure, there are good years and bad ones, which is why we say that as a general rule, you should keep the money you will need in the next five to seven years out of the stock market. But even then, assuming you expect to live a while past your retirement date, you should still have a sizeable chunk of your portfolio in stocks on the day you retire.

As far as I'm concerned, that's a no-brainer.

But stocks have stunk in recent years!
Yes, it's true that we had a heck of a market flop last year -- what my fellow Fool Alyce Lomax recently called, in her crisp, no-nonsense way, The Autumn of the Massive Collective Pants-Soiling. It's also true that if we look at a major index like the S&P 500 on a 10-year chart, we'll see that it has indeed "lost money over the last 10 years."

From there, people have gone running off, flailing their arms and howling about how "buy-and-hold is dead" and "stocks are no longer investments" and other arrant nonsense.

Yeah, arrant nonsense. Here's where I debunk this stuff.

First, take that 10-year number that the media likes to throw around. Do you remember where the markets were 10 years ago? I do -- they were near the top of the historic dot-com bull run. Pick another time period -- say 20 years ago today (hold the Beatles music) -- and the picture is different, with the S&P 500 having nearly tripled over that time span.

But even if we stick with the 10-year period, it's important to remember: The index is not the market.

Plenty of stocks don't stink
Indexes average out the performance of big groups of (usually) big-name stocks. But that doesn't mean that all the stocks are performing the same way. Here are seven stocks that most definitely haven't stunk over the last 10 years.


Current CAPS rating

10-Year Total Return




Altria (NYSE:MO)



Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR)



Marvel Entertainment (NYSE:MVL)



Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)



Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB)



Annaly Capital Management (NYSE:NLY)



Source: Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance. As of Aug. 17.

These aren't ringers -- well, Green Mountain might be, but I was drinking Green Mountain coffee 10 years ago, and a coffee-junkie friend of mine who owns exactly one stock outside of her 401(k) has held Green Mountain for something like 15 years. And yes, she's quite happy about its performance.

But I digress. My point is this: None of these were unknown companies 10 years ago, and I could probably find dozens more that have done well over the same period if I spent some time looking. Growth in the stock market will always be available -- and your retirement portfolio should be taking maximum advantage of it.

The upshot
Unless you're well into retirement, you need stocks in your retirement portfolio. Even now, they are -- and will be, I'm comfortable predicting -- the most reliable engine of growth over time. If you don't like the options in your 401(k), poke around the Fool for some investment ideas and turn your IRA into a killer stock fund. The summer rally notwithstanding, there are still plenty of bargains to be had. But one way or another, stay in the stock market. Your retired self will thank you.

Wondering how much of your portfolio should be in stocks? Check out Rule Your Retirement's excellent asset allocation guides. They're easy to implement, designed to work with the options in almost any retirement plan, and do a great job of controlling risk while maximizing your gains. You can put them to work for you today with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Apple and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple, Marvel Entertainment, and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks, which is also a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. You can try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.