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Putting retirement savings in equities? Be aware of the pitfalls

Although I agree, by and large, with Ms Teh Hooi Ling's conclusion that investing regularly in the stock market can potentially help grow one's retirement savings ("Putting retirement savings in equities pays off in long run"; last Sunday), people who are planning to do so should be made aware of its pitfalls.

First, based on Ms Teh's analysis of two hypothetical investors, Mary and Jane, who started investing in the Straits Times Index (STI) from the first quarter of 1983 and the third quarter of 1987 respectively, both investors would have seen a nice, gradual rise in their stock portfolios over time in the early years of their investing.

However, if both investors had started investing in the STI beginning from the third quarter of 2007, they would have had to stomach the sight of their retirement portfolios being in the red for a number of years, owing to the STI crash between October 2007 and February 2009.

Although the STI eventually recovered, most investors would not have had the patience or gumption to ride out their paper losses, and would have withdrawn their money from the stock market too early, realising some rather hefty losses along the way.

For most beginning investors, having a positive experience of steady returns in the early years is the determining factor as to whether they continue investing in the long term.

Overall, putting retirement savings in equities can pay off in the long run but it is not for the faint-hearted.

The stock market is no quick and easy way to successfully grow one's retirement account.

However, in real life, there is no guarantee that things would pan out as nicely as for the hypothetical Mary and Jane.

A second major pitfall of retirement stock investing is when a company withdraws from the market at the most inopportune time for the investor.

A case in point is Osim International, which has been one of the best-known companies on the Singapore Exchange over the past 15 years, and has been recommended by analysts many times.

Recently, Osim's founder rather abruptly announced his intention to take the company private, and offered investors $1.32 a share in an unconditional deal ("Ron Sim to take Osim private with buyout offer"; last Tuesday).

If the buyout offer goes through at this price, investors who purchased the stock at its peak of $2.90 would have significant losses forced upon them.

Overall, putting retirement savings in equities can pay off in the long run but it is not for the faint-hearted.

The stock market is no quick and easy way to successfully grow one's retirement account.

Chan Yeow Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Putting retirement savings in equities? Be aware of the pitfalls'. Print Edition | Subscribe