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How Investor Behavior Has Changed Since Economic Crisis: MFS Survey

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A new survey by MFS Investment Management of investors’ behavior since before the economic downturn versus today has found that “significant disconnects” exist concerning risk and asset allocation and retirement readiness. The survey polled 613 investors with $100,000 in household investable assets between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1, 2010.

Bill Finnegan, director of Global Retail Marketing for MFS, said in a statement announcing the survey results that “this year investors have flooded into bond funds with $216 billion in net flows, while pulling out $18 billion net from equity funds, at a time when a more balanced approach to both asset classes might be more prudent.” Interest rates are at all time lows, he continued, “potentially creating inherent risks to bond investors’ principal, should rates begin to rise. Based on this survey, coupled with Investment Company Institute (ICI) flow data, it appears that investors have understood only half the equation.”

The survey found that 43% of respondents said their risk tolerance had decreased while 14% said it had increased. Before the economic downturn 14% of the investors said their primary goal was protecting principal and not losing money versus the 36% that now say that’s their primary objective. “Investors are exhibiting this behavior at a time when investing in equities could be to their potential long-term advantage,” the report states. “Before the downturn, 50% [of investors] were generally willing to take substantial risk for substantial returns; today, it’s 23%.”

What’s surprising, the survey notes, is that while investors have become more protective of their assets, only 37% have rebalanced their portfolio; 44% of investors using an advisor have rebalanced, the survey found. Further confounding results, MFS says, show that 68% of investors claim to be making decisions on their own with minimal input from an advisor. However, more than 60% of respondents are less than “very” confident that their assets are appropriately allocated. The economic crisis has only lead 30% of respondents to seek professional financial advice.

As for retirement readiness, 54% of those polled reported being more concerned than ever about being able to retire, and 45% agree or strongly agree with the statement that “Since the downturn, I’ve lowered my expectations about what life will be like in retirement.” Thirty four percent “claim a net increase in time/effort devoted to savings and investments since the downturn,” the report states. Despite the additional time spent on savings and investing following the economic downturn, 44% said they had no idea how much money they will need to retire. The survey also found that more than a fifth of non-retired Boomers have decreased their retirement contributions during the recession.