Friday, April 18, 2008

Retiring Baby Boomers are Screwed and Most Don't Know it Yet

According to the 2007 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) released last week, 60% of current retirees have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments.

Personally, I can’t imagine how they manage it. Sure, some of them have pensions. Virtually all of them are receiving Canada Pension. But heading into your “golden years” with less than $25,000 must be terrifying.

Those of us still in the workforce could use a little shaking up too. The same survey shows that 36% of workers have less than $10,000 in retirement savings! Another 13% have less than $25,000. In other words, nearly half of all workers have less than $25,000 saved for retirement.

Some of these folks could benefit from reading Aesop’s tale about “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” There are clearly a lot of grasshoppers among us.

I think I know why. Surveys show that nearly half of all workers – I think we can assume which half - believe their retirement costs are the responsibility of their employers or the federal government. Big mistake.

Yet pension plans are going the way of the Dodo bird. They've been replaced by RRSPs (the Trust Tax was a direct hit on RRSPs). Young workers will be expected to pay for this demographic time bomb. Guess what...they won't pay.

For political reasons alone, current retirees are safe. But we baby boomers can’t realistically expect future generations to pay the mountain of taxes required to support boomers into their 90s. It’s just a matter of time before the age of eligibility is raised, benefits are cut, or both.

However, if you’re working now you still have time to make the choices that will lead to a more comfortable retirement. As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said, “responsibility is the price of freedom.”

You have to forego current spending to receive future benefits. Essentially, you need to save as much as you can, for as long as you can, beginning as soon as you can. (Millions of boomers are learning that this means working longer than they originally planned.) You then have to take this savings and begin to create an income portfolio now. At first it will be slow but with the magic of compounding it will begin to grow.

When you take responsibility for your financial welfare, it’s empowering. You let go of the idea that it is someone else’s obligation to provide for you in retirement. It means making hard choices. But, trust me, no one at your company or or civil servant cares as much about your financial future as you do. They are trying to create their own financial future at your expense. For proof.....look at teachers pension funds. It won't do you any good unless of course you are a teacher.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Now is the Time to get Into Stocks

He's usually not known for mincing his words, nor for fear of raising his head above the cornfield others know as the global financial sector, but when Dennis Gartman called for a decisive change in the outlook for global equities last week his call will have caught the attention of many.

Is this the same Dennis Gartman who produced one bearish note after another bearish comment since mid last year -at times in strong and defiant opposition to raging market bulls who believed that temporarily rising share prices was a vindication of their own views? It surely is the same one. And to spice it all up a bit more, he was happily pointing out the call came with strong conviction.

Many more market analysts and commentators have -mostly cautiously- expressed a view that the worst could now be over for global equity markets. Few, however, have dared to go as far as Dennis Gartman (at FNArena, we don't know anyone ourselves and we certainly haven't seen anyone anywhere thus far).

The man himself has tried to explain it in the last two editions of his daily newsletter, the Gartman Letter:

"We are asked, "If you are so bearish still of the economy, how can you be bullish of equities?" The answer is very simple: It is called a capital market for a reason. Capital, created by the central banks, floods into the system as the economy wanes, but not being needed as inventories are worn down, as employees are laid off, and as business conditions deteriorate, that capital finds its way into equities.

"Therefore, equities rise even in the midst of recession. It is for this reason that the stock market is one of the "leading economic indicators." Conversely, as business conditions heat up; as inventories are accumulated and as employees are added to payrolls, capital is demanded by the economy itself, and that capital flows from the equity market at the margin.

"Therefore, equities begin to weaken long before the economy makes its top and turns to recession. If one keeps this simple, but elegant, notion in mind, it makes the game of investing in the midst of recession a great deal easier."

Gartman happily concedes more difficult economic times lay ahead. The bottom line remains, however, that stocks are heading higher.