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But the second answer to the question, Why do we invest in stocks at all, given their risks is, we generally have to, given the deleterious e ects of in ation The fact is, if you earn less than 3 or 4 percent on your money on average over time, you could actually be going backward, since in ation is constantly eating away at the future purchasing power of your money In ation is an economic phenomenon in which prices rise over time It s actually a healthy outgrowth of an expanding economy Unfortunately, gradually rising prices means that over time the purchasing power of today s dollars diminishes This means that you have to earn more than the rate of in ation just to stay even Since the 1990s, in ation has largely been kept in check, with the consumer price index, a closely followed gauge of trends in consumer prices, growing at around 3 or 4 percent or less a year But investors who were in the market in the 1970s up through the early 1980s will recall a period in which in ation ran into the double digits And there s no way to predict what the future rate of in ation will be with absolute certainty So, many investors feel it s prudent to plan for the worst Or at the least, it s best to plan for historic averages And history says that the long-term average annual rate of in ation is around 3 percent Even a 3 percent in ation rate can damage a person s long-term investment plans The chart in Figure 5-4 shows how much your investment accounts would su er over time based on a 3 percent in ation rate While bonds have historically returned more than the rate of in ation about 54 percent a year versus 3 percent bonds barely grow your money in real terms in high-in ation periods As for cash, it has historically grown at the rate of in ation, which means, in real terms, your money really isn t growing at all in checking or savings accounts, even if they are bearing interest That leaves stocks as your only real alternative among the major asset classes to combat in ation
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E ects of In ation*
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*Figures re ect the real purchasing power of your nancial assets over various lengths of time, based on a 3 percent annual rate of in ation
Now, some would argue that in recent years, with the development of in ation-indexed bonds, which are sold by the Treasury Department, there is a way for bond investors to combat in ation too And that is true However, again, the point isn t simply to beat in ation, it s maximizing your total returns, net of in ation, over time at an acceptable level of risk Stocks, with their superior average long-term returns, can leverage compound interest like no other asset For instance, say you re 45 years old and your goal as an investor is to turn your $100,000 nest egg into $500,000 by the time you retire How many years will it take you to turn $100,000 into $500,000 if you invested in a money market account Let s be generous and assume that your money market account pays out nearly 4 percent annual interest over the long term At that rate of return, it s going to take another 42 years for your money to reach its goal And remember, this is before we factor in the impact of in ation If in ation were to average 3 percent during this time, your net returns might only be 1 percent a year in a cash account, if that At 1 percent interest, it would take 162 years for you to grow your investment portfolio big enough to live comfortably
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