Amid rocky market 401k savers eked out gains in 2Q

Retirement savers have eked out steady gains this year, even as the stock market turned increasingly volatile amid uncertainty over the trade war between the U.S. and China and fear of a global economic slowdown.The average 401(k) plan balance rose 2% to $106,000 in the second quarter versus a year earlier, according to new data from Fidelity Investments drawn from more than 30 million retirement plan accounts.In 2016, about 55 million American workers were active 401(k) participants, according to the Investment Company Institute.Most of the gains came from employees setting aside more of their pay for their retirement plans. The average employee contribution rate rose to 8.8% in the second quarter, a record level. That’s up from 8% a decade ago, according to Fidelity.“While we’re seeing the market certainly play a role, the other part is that employees are saving more, employers are contributing more,” said Meghan Murphy, vice-president at Fidelity Investments.All told, nearly one third of savers increased their contribution to their 401(k) plan in the second quarter, Fidelity said.Boosting your contribution rate, even by 1 percentage point, can make a big difference to a 401(k) over a career. Consider a 25-year-old who is contributing 4% a year, with an equal contribution from their employer. If they bump up their savings rate by 1 point annually until reaching 15% they would see their retirement savings roughly double by retirement age, according to Fidelity.The amount of money employers put into their employees’ retirement accounts also increased last quarter. The average employer contribution rose to 4.7% in the second quarter. That’s up from about 3.9% a decade ago, Fidelity said.Fidelity recommends a total savings rate of 15%, including both the employee’s and the employer’s contributions.Another factor behind the gains is that more companies are automatically enrolling their employees in 401(k) plans.More than a third of employers now enrol new hires into 401(k) plans and set them up to automatically boost their contributions each year, Fidelity said.That trend has gathered pace over the last decade. Only 17.3% of employers used automatic enrolment 10 years ago.At the end of the second quarter, more than 20% of employers that used automatic enrolment enrolled employees at a contribution rate of 6% or higher. The 3% contribution rate is the most popular among employers, Fidelity said.The stock market’s gains this year have helped push the number of 401(k) and individual retirement accounts with balances over $1 million to a new high. At the end of the second quarter, there were 196,000 such 401(k) accounts and 179,700 IRAs, Fidelity said.The longest bull market since World War II has been good for longtime retirement account savers.In the second quarter, the average 401(k) plan balance for accounts going back at least 10 years hit $305,900, or more than five times the average balance 10 years earlier.Another factor keeping average 401(k) balances growing is fewer savers are borrowing against their 401(k) portfolios. The number of people with an active retirement plan loan declined to 20.1% this year. It was at 22.6% in 2013, Fidelity said.Although continued stock market volatility doesn’t bode well for retirement account portfolios, savers have not rushed to take a more hands-on role on their accounts.“We have not seen a lot of increased activity as far as rebalancing or exchanges,” Murphy said. “We tend to see less activity nowadays when there is market volatility because so many people are invested in a target date fund or using a professionally managed account.”Alex Veiga, The Associated Press read more

Mob attacks in Liberia injure two UN military personnel

The two UNMIL personnel, both from Ethiopia, were injured by protesters throwing stones, while two vehicles belonging to the Mission were damaged during an attack on the local headquarters of the Liberian national police on Friday night, UNMIL said today in a media statement. A number of shops were also looted and damaged.Zwedru is now calm after a contingent of UNMIL military police and UN Police (UNPOL) succeeded in restoring order, and the Mission has stepped up patrols of the town – located in Grand Gedeh County close to the border with Côte d’Ivoire – and nearby areas.Liberian police have since arrested 26 people believed to be the ringleaders of the attacks in Zwedru, and UNMIL said in its statement that it strongly urged locals not to take the law into their own hands.Friday night’s violent incident followed the discovery of the body of a 25-year-old motorcycle taxi rider on the main highway between Zwedru and the capital, Monrovia, last Wednesday. An investigation by Liberian police and UNPOL has led to the arrest of two suspects in Côte d’Ivoire. read more

Sudan Two UN agencies team up to help smallholder farmers promote food

Two United Nations agencies – the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – today agreed to strengthen their cooperation in Sudan to help smallholder farmers improve their production and thus promote food security.While the two agencies, both headquartered in Italy, have been promoting food security in the African country for decades, this is the first time that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize their partnership there.“We fully expect that this collaboration will strengthen our ongoing efforts to promote resilience and self-reliance among the vulnerable communities that we support,” the Head of Programme for WFP’s Sudan operation, Marco Cavalcante, said in a joint press release.“IFAD Country Office is pleased to sign this agreement with WFP today, which is an excellent example of extended collaboration between the Rome-based agencies here in Sudan,” said an IFAD Country Programme Officer, Ahmed Subahi.According to the WFP website, Sudan remains a least-developed and a low-income food-deficit country. In the UN Development Programme’s 2013 Human Development Index, Sudan ranked 166th out of 187 countries on the index and as the fifth most food-insecure country according to the 2013 Global Hunger Index. The country remains one of WFP’s most complex humanitarian emergencies characterized by recurrent conflict, new and protracted displacement, regional insecurity, crisis levels malnutrition and food insecurity, chronic poverty and a deteriorating economy. Under the agreement, IFAD and WFP will work to enhance smallholder farmers’ access to agricultural resources, including improved seeds and training on agricultural credit and methods to reduce post-harvest losses. The agencies will also work to improve the availability of market services for produce. The agreement will also enable the two agencies to strengthen cooperation on analysis of climate impact on agricultural activities to help communities adapt to changing climate patterns.In 2010, WFP implemented its innovative Farmers to Market (F2M) Programme to assist smallholder farmers as part of its efforts to promote food security and build resilience among vulnerable communities.Through this programme, WFP partnered with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Sudan to enable smallholder farmers to access markets for training, insurance, and credit. According to the joint release, WFP is currently assisting 45,000 smallholder farmers across Sudan to improve production and become self-sufficient, seeking to expand the F2M programme to reach more than 80,000 smallholder farmers by next year.For its part, the joint release noted, IFAD has invested $257 million to finance 20 programmes and projects since inception of its activities in Sudan in 1979. By the end of 2015, IFAD had been implementing eight projects that stretched over 11 states in 50 localities, encompassing areas with a high concentration of the rural poor. Currently, IFAD projects extend to 731 communities and more than 400,000 direct beneficiaries. read more