Julian Knight: Shares - now 'long term' is forever

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The Independent Online

Ever since I started reporting on money a decade ago, I have had one mantra constantly repeated to me: shares are a better bet than almost any other type of investment over the long term. This is the intellectual justification for our pensions, with-profits and unit trust funds being heavily invested in equities.

But during these 10 years I have seen little evidence of this mantra actually holding true. In fact, £1,000 invested in the FTSE 100 at the turn of the millennium would be worth around £700 today. I can't think of any other investment class that has lost quite so much of its capital value over this time.

So what is the response of the experts? They move the goalposts. When I started out, financial advisers and stockbrokers defined a long-term investment as lasting five years; they now say we should wait 10 or 15 years for the returns to arrive.

When the news broke last Monday of the original rejection of the Wall Street bailout, and the Dow recorded its single-biggest one-day loss since 1929, I was in the City having dinner with a group of independent financial advisers. The colour drained from many of the faces around the table and one IFA said he was suddenly wondering whether he had been sold a pup over share investing. Would his clients have been better served if he'd directed them to other investment classes?

That could have been a hasty reaction and indeed, over a really long span of time – 40 or 50 years - the performance of equities stacks up much better. But next time I hear the shares mantra, I'm going to take it with an even bigger pinch of salt than I do already – something that many readers, judging by a lot of emails received and conversations held, have been doing for years.

Overdue protection

The guarantee for depositors has at last been raised from £35,000 to £50,000. This is against the backdrop of the Irish government's promise to protect all savers, leading to a flood of money to the Emerald Isle. Putting aside the Irish move – described by one economic expert, rightly, as an "asinine" and "beggar my neighbour" policy – the protection limit should have been raised a lot sooner. Many months ago in fact.

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