Sam Dunn: 'Wall Street' it isn't but put your faith in shares

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The Independent Online

"Greed is good," purrs Michael Douglas as the ruthless financier Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street. His character goes on to make us wonder what he means by "good", using devious tactics to tear companies apart, upend livelihoods and make a fast buck.

Most of us prefer to make a good living by less rapacious means, of course. But that doesn't mean a little greed is bad either - especially in demanding a decent return from our personal finances.

Be it savings, investments or pensions, no one wants to see their money languish in a mediocre fund or gather little but dust in a low-paying account.

And at this time of year, as the end of the tax year looms and the deadline heaves into view for investing our annual £7,000 individual savings account (ISA) allowance, the sentiment comes through in The Independent on Sunday Money postbag.

Readers' questions usually turn on where to put their tax-free money - in a cash account or equities?

We're not trained as financial advisers, so we can't offer specific guidance, but this taste of the public's attitude to finance is revealing.

In the past couple of years, the mood has been one of caution. Reflecting their lack of faith in the stock markets, many correspondents were thinking of sticking up to £3,000 in a mini cash ISA - the most allowed - and either ignoring the rest of the allowance or putting small sums into UK stock market tracker funds.

But this year, the letters and emails are much brighter - perky even.

The inspiration for this appears to be the buoyant FTSE 100 index, as well as the reappearance of intense advertising campaigns by fund managers, featuring on billboards and in magazines and newspapers.

Many reader emails request tips for the specific stock market funds in which they should be investing, or ask whether the US or continental Europe might not be a better bet.

Clearly, there are now strong signs that enthusiasm for putting money in a stock market fund is back. As we report above, sales of equity ISAs in January more than doubled compared to last year.

Goodness knows, it's been a long wait.

Some five years have passed, to be more precise, since the dot-com bubble burst and deflated the hopes, and returns, of millions of individual investors, many of whom were dabbling in the stock market for the first time.

You too may be wondering whether now is the right time to use your ISA allowance to invest directly in an equity fund.

It may come as a surprise but, to some degree, this is a largely irrelevant question. The stock market is just one of many tools out there for you to use to try to boost your financial fortunes. It's simply a lever for wealth, along with property, cash savings, a pension and investment bonds, to name but a few.

Worrying about being in at the right or wrong time is almost to miss the point.

Think of the stock markets as personal to you. If you're grappling with credit card debts and on a low income, your priorities should lie elsewhere as you will need money more quickly than an equity investment allows.

And if you're elderly and want to be able to draw on spare income, investing huge sums in a Japan fund is throwing caution to the wind.

But if you can afford to spare a monthly sum - as little as £10 in some cases - for investment over the longer term, at least 10 years, then you'll have enough time to ride out the economic highs and lows.

You don't have to be Gekko to benefit from the stock market.

s.dunn@independent.co.uk

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