The latest statistics are pointing to a saving grace within the economy’s shaky markets -- automatic contributions into 401(k) plans. And experts say that the market downturn would be much worse without them.

"We are dampening the volatility because there is a constant inflow of cash," said Chris Cummings, VP of marketing at Diversified Investment Advisors in Purchase, N.Y.

An analysis by the company, a national investment advisory firm specializing in retirement plans, said this inflow represents about $160 billion in new money per year, or about $13 billion a month. "This has got to be a huge stabilizing influence because it’s got to get invested," Cummings said.

"What we know right now is that the 401(k) system remains very stable," said David Wray, president of the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America. "Participants have not made dramatic changes in the way they are participating or managing their 401(k) plans."

However, Wray and Cummings both said it would be interesting to note the changes in loan and hardship withdrawal activity if the economy worsens.

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