For investors, things look a lot brighter than they did a couple years ago. But even if you've seen your retirement account balances soar since the market meltdown, you still face some really big risks -- and the only way you'll retire rich is to find ways to control and eliminate them.
Where we've been and where we are
Around this time in 2009, most investors had serious doubts about whether they'd ever be able to retire. With the S&P 500 falling well over 50% from its late 2007 highs, those who had invested aggressively for their retirement saw much of their nest eggs evaporate. As the Employee Benefit Research Institute documented, between the end of 2007 and April 2009, 401(k) participants with more than 20 years of job tenure saw their balances drop by more than 20%.
Yet by the end of 2009, most of those 401(k) losses had disappeared. And in the year and a half since, longer-tenured workers have seen an additional 20% to 25% added on top of their year-end 2009 balances.
So if you're breathing a big sigh of relief, you're not alone. But things still aren't easy:
- The economic recovery hasn't exactly taken off, leaving high unemployment, falling housing prices, and plenty of uncertainty in its wake.
- Overseas, emerging markets are dealing with the opposite problem, trying to cool down their overheating economies through interest rate increases.
- Big sovereign debt worries have led to tense budget negotiations in the U.S. and have brought the Eurozone to the brink of disintegration.
- Despite the big rout in commodity prices over the past two weeks, fears of inflation still persist.
What you must do now
With all those risks, your first impulse might be to go hide somewhere. But the comfort of an FDIC-insured bank savings account will leave you powerless against long-term inflation.
Rather than looking to avoid market risk at all cost, you instead need to balance market risk against the other financial concerns you face. That means keeping a healthy portion of your money out of "safe" investments like bank accounts and investing it in riskier assets like stocks.
To do that, simple ETFs like SPDR S&P 500 and Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets
- With the job market facing uncertain time, avoid putting a large percentage of your 401(k) retirement plan account in your employer's stock. If the worst happens, you could face the double-whammy of losing your job and taking a financial hit in your 401(k).
- As formerly red-hot emerging markets cool, you'll likely see more allegations similar to those that stocks such as Yongye International
, China MediaExpress (Nasdaq: YONG) , and Gulf Resources (Nasdaq: CCME) have seen. Many of those allegations will turn out to be patently false, but some may turn out to be true. Unless you're comfortable with your own research, now isn't the time to take a wild flyer on emerging-market stocks. (Nasdaq: GFRE)
- Similarly, don't assume that European problems will automatically hurt every European company. SeaDrill
, for instance, may have Norwegian roots, but the driller is poised to profit from long-term energy needs. (NYSE: SDRL)
- With inflation, many turned to precious metal plays like Central Fund of Canada
. But as we've seen, even gold and silver can get overextended. Investing in strong companies that have the pricing power to pass on any higher costs is another smart way to hedge against inflation. One example is Coca-Cola (AMEX: CEF) , but you can find many similar stocks that have the same industry strength to beat inflation. (NYSE: KO)
Get back in the game
So if you want to retire rich, don't just leave your money on the sidelines. Only by aggressively facing your risks can you hope to defeat them. With smart planning, on the other hand, you can put yourself in a position to handle whatever the market throws at you next and still come out on top.
Make sure you know about all the risks in the market right now. Watch this free video before the market crashes, and it may save you a fortune.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger thinks a rich retirement is in everyone's grasp. He owns shares of Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Inside Value and Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Yongye International is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. The Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola, Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets ETF, and Yongye International. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy has riches to give you.