Local News

Plummeting stock market impacting retirement funds

Posted September 15, 2008 11:13 p.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2008 12:33 p.m. EDT

— The upheaval in the American financial system sent shock waves through the stock market Monday, producing Wall Street's worst day in seven years.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 500 points, more than 4 percent, the most points the market has lost since it reopened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. About $700 billion in value evaporated from retirement plans, government pension funds and other investment portfolios.

“This has the elements of a full-blown panic,” financial consultant Jeffrey Miller, with Raleigh-based Armor Investment Advisors, said.

Miller said those people who were hoping to kick back in retirement soon are feeling it the worst.

"They don't wanna be 60 years old, looking to retire and not have any money there,” he said.

N.C. State economist Mike Walden said soon-to-be retirees need to be thinking about their options.

You "may want to think about pulling out. We do not know how low the low is going to be,” Walden said.

Miller said that for people with money to spare, it is a smart buyer's market. Stock shares of good companies are priced cheap.

“Fear and turmoil and all of this creates opportunity," he added.

Charlotte-based Bank of America took advantage of Merrill Lynch's plunging stock. Merrill's shotgun sale to BofA will create the nation's largest financial services company.

The deal keeps Merrill from a Bear Stearns-style fire sale or a complete meltdown like Lehman Brothers while removing a major player that some expected to be the next shoe to drop in the credit crisis. At the same time, it will enable BofA to expand the financial services it offers to its already huge customer base.

“We think this is a strategic opportunity of a lifetime,” Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis said.

"And that is very significant because financial services to North Carolina in the 21st century is what tobacco was to the state in the 20th century,” Walden said.

Miller said that is why he suggests his clients diversify their portfolios. Walden said he thinks there will be substantial improvement in the stock market by next summer.

Lehman Brothers, an investment bank that predates the Civil War and weathered the Great Depression, filed the largest bankruptcy in American history.

It was by far the most stomach-churning single day since this financial crisis began to bubble up from billions of dollars in rotten mortgage loans that have crippled the balance sheets of one bank after another and landed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under the control of the federal government.

In Washington, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who refused to toss a financial lifeline to Lehman, was unapologetic as the Bush administration signaled strongly that Wall Street shouldn't expect more rescues from Washington.

The American people should remain confident in the "soundness and resilience in the American financial system," Paulson told reporters at the White House.