Felix TV: Time to chill out

By Felix Salmon
August 5, 2011

Jason Varone was not impressed by this video. “I guess you don’t know anyone trying to retire?” he tweeted in response.

Actually, I do. But retirement isn’t — or shouldn’t be, in any case — a day on which you suddenly liquidate your entire stock portfolio and go from risky stocks to safe cash. As we get older and more risk-averse, we should hold fewer risky stocks and more safer bonds. (Although the idea that bonds are particularly safe is something you might want to reconsider, these days.) Retirement is the point at which you stop putting money into your retirement account — and therefore the point at which you stop buying more stocks. But not-buying isn’t the same as selling.

What’s the optimal asset allocation for someone who’s retiring right now? The answer there depends on a huge number of variables — whether you own your own home, what kind of a mortgage you have, what your monthly expenditures are, what kind of Social Security income you have, etc etc etc. But one thing I can say: the amount of stocks you have the day before you retire shouldn’t be vastly different from the amount of stocks you have the day after you retire.

Yes, there’s always a small number of people who are genuinely hurt by a big stock-market sell-off — people who for some reason have to sell now and who would in hindsight have been much better off selling a few weeks ago. But I don’t see a lot of forced selling in the market right now, and I don’t think there are all that many people in that position: while unemployment is still at very high levels, the amount of new unemployment — people being laid off, and forced to live on their savings — is quite low, and the economy is gaining jobs, not losing them.

As for the rest of us — the employed majority — we should just continue to dutifully put aside a chunk of money every paycheck, and invest it in the broad stock market. Sometimes our retirement account will go up, and other times it will go down. But over the long term, simply putting money in every month is the most important thing of all — that and not panicking when the market gets volatile.

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