October 6th, 2009
04:10 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: 401(k) plans on the comeback trail

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/10/05/aif.ice.cream.shop/art.huge.serving.jpg caption="The Center for Science in the Public Interest listed ice cream amongst the 10 most risky foods in terms of illnesses"]
Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

Among the swell of bad news that occurred courtesy of the financial crisis last fall is that 401(k) investors got slammed. And a new report released today quantifies just how hard.

Taking into account both contributions and investment return, the average 401(k) balance fell 24.3% in 2008, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute and the Investment Company Institute. That brought the average balance down to $45,519, nearly 31% below the $65,454 recorded at the end of 2007.

Thankfully, that's not the end of the story, as many investors have since recouped a lot of what they lost. There are two reasons: the S&P 500 has been on a fairly steady upward march in the past several months; and most participants have kept making contributions to their 401(k)s despite the crisis.

Home heating costs expected to decline

It’s going to cost you less to heat your home this winter.

The Energy Dept. released its annual forecast this morning. It finds the average winter heating tab will be $960, an 8% decline from last year. Natural gas customers will see a 12% drop. People who use heating oil and electricity will see a smaller decline of just 2%.

But despite lower prices, state and local agencies are already seeing an increase in applications for heating assistance. Last year, a record 7.5 million people got help paying their bills. This year, with the tough economy and high unemployment, it could be even more.

Lettuce and eggs top risky food list

Leafy greens top the list of the 10 riskiest foods, according to a study released today from a nutrition advocacy group.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest listed the following foods, in descending order, as the most risky in terms of illness: leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts and berries.

The scientists rated these foods, all of them regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, by the number of outbreaks associated with them since 1990, and also provided the number of recorded illnesses.

Over the last 20 years, leafy greens caused 363 outbreaks, resulting in 13,568 reported illnesses, the center said. That compared to berries, No. 10 on the list, which were associated with 25 outbreaks totaling 3,397 reported illnesses.

So what about ice cream? Ice cream typically contains eggs, and Salmonella can survive the freezing process. In fact, a 1994 outbreak sickened thousands of ice cream lovers in 41 states.

FTC targets bloggers, celebrities

The Federal Trade Commission is going after bloggers, celebrities and tall tales in the first revision of its rules for endorsements and product reviews in nearly 30 years.

The new guidelines, which go into effect Dec. 1, are designed to adapt to a new world in which blogs and social media Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter have quickly become go-to destinations for consumers to get an opinion about a product. The last FTC rules revision was in 1980.

The new rules also clarify that celebrity endorsers of products must reveal their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements if they are pushing a product on a blog, social network or television talk show.

Existing rules carry a fine as high as $11,000 if product endorsers and reviewers don't comply.

Holiday sales: Tough sledding ahead

Santa's load will be lighter once again, with crucial year-end holiday sales expected to decline for a second year in a row, according to the latest industry forecast.

Although many Americans have had a year to absorb shocks to the economy and to their own household budgets, the National Retail Federation said continued job losses and stagnant income growth are forcing most consumers to keep shopping with extreme caution.

To that end, the trade group forecasts that this year's holiday sales for the combined November-December months will decline 1% to $437.6 billion. The decline would be narrower than last year's 3.4% drop for the season.

The two-month period can account for as much as 50% or more of merchants' profits and sales for the full year.

Follow the money… on Twitter: @AndrewTorganCNN

Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Finance
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Joanne Pacicca

    Still no solution for the 10% unemployment issue?

    October 6, 2009 at 7:17 pm |