LIKE MANY AMERICANS, Mike Ferrari says his retirement plans aren’t what they used to be.
Since the stock?market crashed in September 2008, Ferrari, 49, is not only investing more conservatively than he used to, he is spending more time monitoring his investments. He is also putting off retiring for another three to six years to build up a larger starting nest egg.
Why? Things are just too risky these days, Ferrari says. “The term ‘playing the market’ didn’t used to mean that you were literally gambling. Now, with all of the derivatives — and derivatives of derivatives — one can be 100% on target about fundamentals, but still lose money because folks on the other side of the trade have not just hedged, but taken huge positions using derivatives.”
Ferrari, who co-owns the Integrity Group, a security consultancy in Pleasanton, Calif., says those positions have forced him to change his own. “Normally, at this point in my life, I’d be 90% invested in the stock market; I’d have bonds and real?estate, as well,” he says. “Today, I’m just not feeling comfortable.”
He’s not alone. Just 13% of workers surveyed in January of 2009 were “very confident” about having enough money to retire comfortably, down from 16% in 2008 and 27% in 2007, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s latest Retirement Confidence Survey. Another 44% of workers were split evenly between being “not too confident” and “not at all confident” about having enough for retirement. Current retirees were also feeling insecure about their savings. Only 20% of retirees expressed full confidence in having enough funds to last them through retirement, down from 29% in 2008 and 41% in 2007, according to the EBRI survey.
Ferrari hasn’t always been skittish about the markets. In fact, he used to have his investments — along with his retirement plans – planned out to the year. Initially, Ferrari would quit working at 55 and live off his investments — mutual funds (biotech companies, mostly), cash and about 20 individual?stocks through, which are now parks in a Roth IRA, a tax-advantaged individual retirement account.
Then, financial services giant Lehman Brothers collapsed. “After watching interviews and listening to conference calls, I could sense real fear in the air from people who shouldn’t have fear,” Ferrari says. As a result, he began to take a deeper look at his own finances. “I went into work mode,” he says.
That’s when Ferrari discovered five questionable companies in his portfolio that he eventually sold off. Among them: Maui Land & Pineapple was notified by the New York Stock Exchange in January that it fell out of compliance with the NYSE’s listing standards. The company’s average?market?capitalization amounted to less than $50 million over a 30-day trading period — and it recently reported that shareholders’ equity totaled less than $50 million. As it turns out, Lehman Brothers Holdings was the company’s lead lender of its syndicated construction?loan when it filed for bankruptcy protection.