They are courted by brokers, exhorted by advisers, tempted by advertisements, driven by hopes and encouraged by neighbors and co-workers, but typical American investors don't give ground.
The radio blares out prices by the hour, the newspaper compiles the day's activities, magazines proclaim the efficacy of the latest investing technique, and a rich uncle relates how he once made a killing in the market.Every day in myriad ways Americans are urged to take a long shot in stocks, to play the market, to seek a quick fortune, to bet on a sure thing, to get in on a deal - but, so to speak, they keep their heads on their shoulders, their feet on the ground, their arms folded and their wallets in their pockets.
Difficult as it might be to comprehend, American households for years have been net sellers of corporate stocks, a trend at odds with the popular image of investors and in defiance of the intense efforts of securities marketers.
True, they may invest in corporate stocks indirectly through pension funds and mutual funds, but even that trend, a growing one, usually is viewed as a safe, patient, conservative, long-term approach to investing.
An employee benefits firm recently surveyed several hundred, mostly large companies that offer employee savings plans, including tax-deferred 401 plans. Most of the companies offered a choice of investment options.
The worker's money might be invested in equities, for example, or in real estate funds, bond funds, money market funds, the company's stocks or so-called guaranteed interest contracts that offer an assured annual return.
The most popular choice was the guaranteed interest contract (GIC) or its equivalent, the bank deposit agreement. The surveyor, A. Foster Higgins & Co., found GICs were not only the option most commonly offered by employers but the choice most commonly made by workers.
A principal of Foster Higgins observes that participants in such savings and investment plans are usually passive investors rather than tape watchers, "and for the most part, conservative, skeptical and averse to risk."
His opinion: "Though technology allows employees to transfer funds daily, they are typically ill-equipped to beat the market. In the long run, passive approaches such as `dollar-cost averaging' produce larger account balances."
Many individual investors have personal rather than company accounts, of course, and for them Gerald Perritt expounds on the conservative approach. He's editor of "Blue Chip Values," a former professor, a value-oriented investor.
- If a caller insists that you abandon your strategy in favor of the latest investment fad, thank the caller and hang up. "More than likely the caller is attempting to sell you a formula for investment disaster investing other than it works."
- There's no substitute for a balanced portfolio. "Concentrating in one asset class or one segment of the market sets you up for a large disappointment, not to mention severe losses in the value of your nest egg."
- Follow interest rate trends when making portfolio allocations. When interest rates trend downward, gradually raise your allocation to equities. When rates head higher, decrease your equity exposure.
- Assume a contrarian posture when making investment decisions. "You will avoid catastrophic losses by avoiding those assets which are being highly touted by nearly everyone."
Says Perritt: "Although this advice is not especially profound, given some of the shoddy investment advice being given investors these days, I just thought a little reminder might be in order."