Brokerage statements showing results for the first quarter of 2009 for 401(k)s, IRAs, SEPs, etc. are reaching mailboxes this week and will look somewhat better for many investors than they would have a month earlier. But even though the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 7.7% in March and added another 5.4% in just the first three days of April, I have this feeling about another shoe waiting to drop.
Yes, I know it’s spring and hope springs eternal. And some talking heads see early signs of economic recovery with some statistics to back them up. And I hear “the government is here to help.” And I want to be optimistic.
But where does the “big money” – the pension funds, the endowment funds, the retirement plans, the insurance companies – have its investments? Large shares of their investments are either in stocks/mutual funds or in commercial property.
With the Dow down more than 13% in the first quarter of 2009 and down 40% from March 31, 2008, and dividends being cut, I can’t imagine that stocks are shedding off the income that the big money anticipated. With the dismal stock market showing contributing to companies and retail stores closing, the outlook can’t be too bright for the owners of shopping centers or warehouses either, some of which are carrying huge loans.
I wonder if the actuarial wizards have calculated the effect of what these huge shortfalls in funds will have on the ability to meet all of commitments. We are really only eight months into the financial crisis, and I don’t think we’ve seen the full effect yet of what it will mean when endowment funds can’t provide expected funding for colleges or when pension funds run low or insurance companies can’t pay all of their claims. Maybe the government can bail them all out, but I don’t see how adding trillions of dollars of debt is the solution to get out of debt.
My retirement plan welcomes March’s stock market performance, but I’m still very nervous . . . and would be very cautious about investing in commercial property or insurance companies or any other area where debt and future obligations are greater than the current income stream can support.