By Mark R. Triplett
Pink Floyd’s 1979 hit could easily be the theme song for many Americans disenchanted with Wall Street and Washington: “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.” Many savers (yes, I am purposely using the term “savers” in lieu of “investors”) are upset with the low interest rates. They do not want to place their money into what many see as a poker game gone wild on Wall Street. Not everyone is an investor, which is one reason why index annuities and other index linked safe money places are gaining in popularity of late.
Many people have been happy for decades (specifically those decades leading up to the 90’s) with “saving” their money and earning a competitive interest rate. In fact, according to The First Measured Century, only 13 percent of Americans owned stock in 1980. By 1989, that number had grown to 32 percent, which is more than double the ownership at any other time in the last 80 years. For the majority of the 20th century, most people who had extra cash lying around were savers, not investors.
As pensions became less common, and defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, became the norm, stock ownership skyrocketed. Many savers (and their children) became investors when they blindly made contributions to company plans they knew very little about. Other savers dove right in throughout the 90’s as stock valuations continued to raise at a dizzying pace. Mr. Greenspan later called it, “irrational exuberance.”
Think the new market entrants were savvy investors? Think they should have known better? I think most were savers swimming in shark-infested waters. Watch 60 Minutes’ special, “401(k) Fallout,” and re-read Time Magazine’s, “Why It’s Time to Retire the 401(k).” After that, answer my questions above again.
They should have known better. I would hold them responsible for their greed-motivated actions. But I don’t expect many of the savers to return to investing without a lot of encouragement from our financial services industry.
Pink Floyd’s video for “Another Brick in the Wall” depicts a dream sequence of the main character Pink. He dreams about school children protesting against their abusive teacher. Today’s savers, like in the video, are protesting Wall Street’s abusive practices. They are protesting by moving their hard earned money back to safe places.
But the savers are protesting with their accounts, rather than their words.
Traditionally, safe places for money would have been Certificates of Deposit (CDs) and money markets. People remember CD rates reaching10 percent, 12 percent or even more. They long for a bank account that pays them something, rather than charging them fees. Because of actions taken by Washington, however, and the Federal Reserve’s cheap money policy, fixed interest rates are at historical lows.
Quantitative easing has forced treasury rates lower, and anything tied to them has suffered. Savers are being punished, but they are unwilling to become investors again. As index annuities and other index linked safe money places are gaining in popularity, the savers are peacefully protesting, saying, “Hey Wall Street: Leave our savings alone!”
Mark R. Triplett is vice president of annuity distribution at AMZ Financial. Mark can be reached at [email protected].
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