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Wall Street worries are hitting home
Financial expert answers some investment questions
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The bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the forced sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America sent shock waves from Wall Street to Main Street.

For individual investors there are a number of protections offered through the Securities Investor Protection Corp., which hastens to point out that it is not the securities world equivalent of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the federal agency that insures bank deposits.

"When a brokerage firm is closed due to bankruptcy or other financial difficulties and customer assets are missing, SIPC steps in as quickly as possible and, within certain limits, works to return customers’ cash, stock and other securities," SIPC president Stephen Harbeck said in a statement. "Without SIPC, investors at financially troubled brokerage firms might lose their securities or money forever or wait for years while their assets are tied up in court."

John Nix, president of the Gainesville accounting firm of Bates, Carter & Co., said even in the financial collapse of an investment firm most investments are protected.

"The money that someone might have with Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch or any other brokerage firm are in custodial accounts. Barring a super disaster, those accounts are fine. What this is affecting is the capital of those companies, their retained earnings that they have made. The investor’s money is not money that the investment firm uses to pay their bills."

Nix offered some insight to investors during these troubled economic times.

Question: What advice are you giving to customers who have retirement accounts that are invested in stocks or mutual funds that may be losing value?

Answer: "If you’re already in the market in securities, you should be a long-term investor. Emotions kick in a lot of times and people end up selling low and buying high, which is the exact opposite of what you should do. In the technology boom a few years ago, we saw people buy in when prices were high. There is only one way for the market to go and that was down. When the price fell, some people got scared and sold when the price was low."

Q: Is this a good time to invest in the stock market?

A: "Historically, September and October are down months in the stock market. If you go back and look at the market after a bear market, the return after it hits the bottom is generally 25 or 30 percent. If there is a buying opportunity in the stock market, it’s right now."

Q: Is that what you’re telling your clients?

A: "Absolutely. As long as they understand what their needs are and understand their risk tolerance and they are diversified, not buying one sector or one stock, this is a good situation."

Q: What about cash accounts that exceed the $100,000 insurance of the FDIC?

A: "I’m personally not that worried about it, because banking regulators do a good job of making sure that banks don’t fail. At the same time, you’re insured up to $100,000, but I’m not aware of any situation where people have lost money in a bank from their deposits. What can happen is an issue of liquidity. You might not be able to go to the bank and get your money out tomorrow. No bank has all of your deposits in cash."

Q: Are some of your clients who depend on their investments worried?

A: "It’s so important for an investor to understand what their situation is. They need to know if they’re going to have to live off their investments or is this money I can invest and not touch for 10 or 15 years. They also have to understand their risk tolerance. You can’t get around the rule that the greater the return, the greater the risk. People are seeing this in bonds that they thought would have a certain return, now they know there was risk. There is always risk in investment, that’s why they’re not guaranteed."

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