Stock plan: Buy, sell or just ignore it?

Thursday, September 3, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When I woke up Monday morning I was not rich. That afternoon, after the Dow Jones took a 512-point nosedive, I was still not rich. But I was not poor.

On the other hand, on Wednesday, when Wall Street reported a dramatic turnaround, I was no better off than I was the day before. At least, I don't think so.

I still wait for my favorite Robert B. Parker and Janet Evanovich mysteries to come out in paperback. I still can't buy one of those glorious new Jaguar convertibles.

And I will have to cut down on something else if I want to save enough money for that full-body lift and liposuction I covet.

Buy Beanies

My friend, Pat, has been warning me that I should "get out of the market." My IRA? My 401(k)? Geez. What will I do with them? Put them under my mattress? Buy Beanie Babies?

Clearly, I need professional help.

I got on the horn to my "financial adviser." He is steward of the money I eventually plan to use to buy my way into a classy retirement home. He is also the one who explains things to me. Patiently.

Hey, Nathan, should I be nervous?

"About what? Have you been cheating at cards again?"

No, but what about my investments? You know, the stock market. "Relax. Take two aspirin and call me in a year."

Very funny.

"I'm not kidding. Look around. This country is in great shape." Well, yes but what about Russia.

"What about it? Are you planning to move there?"

Of course not. I've heard terrible things about their toilet paper and, besides, I think it's kind of cold there in the winter, isn't it? Say, are you trying to get me off the subject?

"You have to take the long view."

Isn't that just what you guys say to get us nervous investors off your backs.

"Yes."

That's my Nathan. Honest to a fault. He explained to me years ago that the stock market is not the lottery. Not a hot table at Las Vegas. It's just a way to reward myself for tucking some money away for the future.

He warned me that stocks, on average, since 1926 have returned about 11 percent a year. And that what my monthly statements have been showing me for the past three years -- more than 25 percent -- were bound to catch up to us.

"I'm a genius, of course," he says with typical modesty. "But history repeats itself. We can count on it."

'Greed is good' theory

He told me the market was due for a "correction." When analysts say this, it sounds to me like those invisible fences for dogs that administer a "slight correction." Which is actually a shock. This Wall Street stuff has surely been a shock to my fellow Baby Boomers who have been piling our savings into the market and counting our nest eggs several years before we plan to hatch them.

Most of us grew up with the spectre of Russia with The Bomb. Then we won the Cold War. Now, they are going to get us right in the IRA. "No, they're not," Nathan says. "But we'll probably have to help bail them out. Think of it as war reparations. We'll have to help countries trying capitalism for the first time. Indonesia, et al."

He actually talks like this. Et al. Ergo. To wit. It is very reassuring. "The United States is in the catbird seat. Everybody wants to be like us. They want satellite dishes in the back yard and Nikes on their feet. We are going to be building roads in Africa and selling Coke and jeans to Vietnam."

"Of course, you Baby Boomers have a responsibility to keep acting as selfish and greedy as you always have. Buy. Buy. Buy. Hang on to your stocks and spend the rest."

So, I went out to my favorite restaurant. Throwing caution to the wind, I had the Biggie Fries.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE