The market is disappointingly flat and our lack of investing enthusiasm shows in sparse mutual-fund flows and a flagging national savings...

Share story

The market is disappointingly flat and our lack of investing enthusiasm shows in sparse mutual-fund flows and a flagging national savings rate. But experts say now is no time to give up on your long-term plan.

The market has been choppy since the first part of the year, mostly going sideways, which makes individual investors reluctant to commit new money.

According to the Investment Company Institute, mutual-fund flows for August came to just $8.5 billion, which barely covers estimated contributions to retirement plans such as 401(k)s, said Don Cassidy, senior research analyst at Lipper.

“Basically it means … people are still on automatic pilot with their 401(k) money, but everything else — taxable accounts, contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts, the kids’ 529 plans — totaled zero,” Cassidy said. “And since we know something is going into 529s, that means the taxable accounts are a net withdrawal. This is a society that’s living it up on credit cards.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

More discouraging, the Department of Commerce reported recently that our personal savings rate was in negative territory for a third straight month, a trend expected to continue in September amid back-to-school costs and the impact of hurricane season. And looking back over numbers provided by ICI over the longer term, it’s clear there have been some months when the public took money out of mutual funds, Cassidy said.

“Dissaving. Unsaving. Reverse saving,” he said. “And you ain’t gonna retire pleasantly on that, folks.”

Part of the problem is that it’s tough to get excited about investing and saving when the market is dull, said Mark Meyerowitz, an investment manager in West Orange, N.J. But if it’s action you seek, you’d be better off watching sports or going to a casino than looking for it in your investment portfolio.

A contrarian who likes to follow long-term trends with the aid of charts, Meyerowitz sees good reason to keep buying, despite the fact that returns seem stuck in the mud.

“The important thing is, you want to be invested when the market takes off,” Meyerowitz said.

“We can tell now where the right place is, we just don’t know when the right time is, what day it will happen. And it probably won’t happen when anyone is noticing. No bell will go off. And before you know it you’ll be up 10 or 15 percent. Markets take off when no one is looking.”