The stock market isn't the same as it was in the '80s, and that has big consequences for your retirement savings –

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 – Visual Hunt


If your financial awareness was formed in the 1980s and 1990s, you may have learned to expect too much out of the stock market. There was a long Reagan-Bush-Clinton-era run that led people to believe the stock market had almost magical powers.

But since then, returns haven’t been quite the same — a dip that may be playing a role in our country’s retirement crisis

Marketplace contributor and Washington Post columnist Allan Sloan joined us to to talk about how much investors have been losing out on and how pension funds are trying to compensate. Below is an edited transcript. 

Allan Sloan: In August [1982], the stock market started going nuts in the good sense, and so did the bond market. And suddenly the biggest bull market of all time was upon us, and it lasted almost 18 years.

David Brancaccio: You know, there was a moment in 1987 that wiped the smiles off some folks’ faces. But I get your point; it really stretched into the new millennium. But if you look at our present era, it’s not quite the same is it?

Sloan: No. And in the boom, stocks returned almost 20 percent a year, which meant every three and a half years, you doubled your money, and bonds returned about 10 percent, which for bonds was huge. Since then, according to my friends at AJO, a Philadelphia firm, stocks have returned less than five, and bonds have returned slightly more than five, which means it’s taking now 15 years to double your money in stocks instead of three and a half. And it’s taking much longer to double your money in bonds as well.

Brancaccio: That has wide implications for my family’s bottom line, your family’s bottom line. But I guess for policymakers as well.

Sloan: Well, sure. You see now all of these pension funds doing desperate things with computers and hedge funds, because they’re trying to make enough money to satisfy the assumptions that they’ll make 7 or 8 percent a year, which used to be easy and now it’s extremely difficult. And that’s a big factor in the whole retirement crisis.

Brancaccio: But also the notion that if we haven’t put in enough, we can’t just expect the market’s going to fix this.

Sloan: If you look at places like New Jersey — where you and I both live — and Illinois and other states and cities, they used to be in great shape in the public pension funds, because the markets were so strong. So they cut back the contributions, because they were doing great. And then when the markets turned, they kept waiting for the return of the magic market, and we’re now waiting in our 18th and 19th year, and somehow, David, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Follow David Brancaccio at @DavidBrancaccio