Street Smart: To become an investor, think just like an owner

Ian Ogilvie: Stocks outperform most other investments over time, although consumers’ opinions vary widely about that.
By Ian Ogilvie, For The Oklahoman Published: July 13, 2014
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The term “investor class” is sometimes used to describe people who invest in stocks to make money. The investor class isn’t just made up of rich people, since people of all different means own mutual funds that own stocks. And it’s not just educated people, either: everyone knows smart college grads who can’t bring themselves to buy stocks. So what makes someone an investor?

It’s an important question, especially now, with too few people saving enough — or at all — for retirement. And relevant, too, given the headlines that much of the stock market’s gains are going to a relatively small number of people.

Ask someone why they don’t invest and their answers run the gamut: “I’m scared to death of the market;” “the market is going lower;” “I don’t like to lose money;” “the market’s rigged,” to name a few.

What each of these answers has in common is that the non-investor doesn’t believe that he or she can make money by owning stocks.

Of course some people don’t invest in stocks simply because they feel that they can do better by sticking with what they know: investing in real estate, or buying local small businesses, for example.

These people are comfortable with risk — maybe just not with the risk of investing in the stock market — and are also investors, and part of the investor class: when the stock market goes up, they benefit too.

The non-investor is less likely to have access to those kinds of opportunities, and buying rental houses, or investing in office buildings or a local business can require substantial capital up front. This creates a barrier to entry that many can’t afford.

Market opinions

Most non-investors do, however, have access to stocks: more than half of American workers have access to a 401k or other retirement plan through their job, and workers not offered a plan through their workplace could open a low cost investment account with a nominal sum of money.

But they don’t do this. According to a Gallup poll of April 2013, only people with incomes of $75,000 and over believed (by a 2-to-1 margin) that stocks and mutual funds were a better long-term investment than savings accounts, CDs and bonds taken together. Of people with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999, 26 percent believed that savings accounts, CDs and bonds were a better long-term investment vs. 22 percent who answered that stocks and mutual funds were a better long-term investment. And people with incomes below $30,000 were almost three times as likely (34 percent to 12 percent) to believe that savings accounts, CDs and bonds were a better long-term investment than stocks and mutual funds!

After 2013’s better than 32 percent gain (including dividends) in the S&P 500, there was some improvement, but not much, in people’s perception of stocks in the same Gallup poll taken in April 2014 (the number one choice of long-term investment for people in both of those income groups in both years was gold).

Not only was 2013 a good year, but the stock market has rewarded over time as well: including dividends, the S&P 500, for example, has gained an average of about 10 percent per year since 1926, and almost 8 percent per year over the past 10 years, which include the Great Recession years of 2008-09.

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