Friday, March 27, 2015

Consumer reaction to Lehman, Merrill

Do we have reason to panic, or is it a time to be opportunistic? Making quick decisions on breaking news is usually a recipe for investing disaster.

Consumer reaction to Lehman, Merrill

I'm not sure how many people in the Philadelphia area heard the news about Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch and AIG this morning and decided to make major changes in their finances, but some must or you wouldn't hear all these commentators urging people to sit on their hands.

But we all play the investor, the saver and the borrower at various times during a year. So things to keep in mind right now:

1. If you have a Merrill Lynch or Lehman Bros. brokerage account, you should be fine. The Securities Investor Protection Corp. notes that the bankruptcy filing involving Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. does not directly affect the broker-dealer called Lehman Bros. Inc.

"As of this morning, it appears that all customer cash, stocks and other securities are accounted for," said SIPC president Stephen Harbeck in a statement.

As for Merrill Lynch, Bank of America has agreed to buy it, so until it does little is changing.

2. People keep wondering, "Has the stock market bottomed? Is this the end of the credit crisis?" The fact that people keep asking this every few weeks should be a clear sign that no one really knows.

You've heard people say it's dangerous to time the market. And there's plenty of research that shows how difficult that is even for the pros to pull off.

Given the gyrations the stock market has displayed over the last few weeks, with triple-digit swings up and down, this is no time to make a snap decision with your assets. Talk with your financial advisor, if you have one. If you don't, review what it you now own. Are you comfortable with how you have your money invested? If not, think about what changes you'd make in order to sleep better. And then gradually make those changes -- don't sell or buy everything in one fell swoop.

3. Life may be getting a little better for those who prefer cash investments. Lots of lenders need to raise capital and they're starting to raise those paltry interest rates on money market funds and certificates of deposit. You won't get rich on 4 percent CD rates, but it will be safe in an FDIC-insured account as long as you stay under those insurance limits.

Who's got other concerns? I'm trying to reach various planners and consumer advocates, so I'll ask them your questions.

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
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Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
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