Bear Stearns' cautionary tale for 401(k) investors


In case you haven't watched anything other than HGTV for the past few days, the once-proud investment banking giant Bear Stearns has collapsed, going from $150 a share to $6 in less than a year.

Of course, top executives will be fine. But today's Wall Street Journalreports (subscription required) that the deal for the firm to be acquired by JPMorgan Chase for $2 per share will cost many employees their jobs -- and their retirement savings. Bear Stearns employees own about one-third of the company, and have seen their shares lose more than 90% of their value.

Of course my heart goes out to the Bear Stearns employees, but this is getting to be a familiar tale: company goes bust and workers are hit with a double whammy: no more job, worthless 401(k). Remember the video of the Enron human resources representative telling employees they should put their entire 401(k) in Enron stock?

Here's how I look at it: As an employee, your future is already bound tightly enough to the future of your company. If the company prospers, your job will be secure, you'll be in line for raises/promotions, and your resume will be improved by the recognition of your employer's great success.

With your retirement money, you should be looking to diversify away from your exposure to the company -- Since your job is probably your biggest supplier of wealth, you don't need to own a large amount of stock in the company too.