Saturday, December 16, 2017

Dow's milestone elicits mixed emotions from individual investors

Not everyone is celebrating the new high in the Dow Jones industrial average.

After being mauled by two punishing bear markets in the past dozen years, millions of individual investors aren't sure how to feel.

On Tuesday, the world's best-known market gauge vaulted 125.95 points to close at 14,253.77, nearly 90 points above its previous high-water mark in late 2007.

Some small investors are dismayed at not loading up on equities when the market plunged in 2008 and early 2009. They're aware that they may have missed their best-ever opportunity to buy low.

"I wish I'd gone in when the market crashed," lamented John Hyche, a 53-year-old commercial banker from Pasadena, Calif.

Millions of others remain petrified of stocks after enduring punishing losses. They've entirely missed the bull market that has carried the Dow up 118 percent since its March 2009 trough.

And everyone is trying to figure out whether the bull market will continue.

Charles Chineduh, 32, a lawyer from West Los Angeles, jumped into the market in 2011 soon after graduating from law school and getting his first job.

He picked up shares in several technology and pharmaceutical companies but regrets that he didn't have enough free cash during law school to grab other battered stocks, such as Ford Motor Co.

"There are a lot of stocks I regret not buying," he said. "I got in at a good time, but it wasn't the best time."

Many other people, however, are suffering the financial version of post-traumatic stress.

Patti Fetter, 43, of Los Angeles didn't earn a penny when the Dow hit a new high because she didn't have a penny in the market.

Fetter swore off stocks in 2009 after losing half her investment in the global meltdown. She also saw her boss, who was then a millionaire nearing retirement, lose a huge chunk of his savings. He's working an additional five years to make up the difference, she said.

Even as share prices climbed steadily in recent years, Fetter, who works at an accounting firm, was too scared to venture back in.

"I don't trust it," she said. "I lost money. Other people lost money. I pulled it all out. I'm a single mom, so every cent is precious."

Small investors have clearly warmed to stocks this year but not as they did before the housing bust.

Individuals have shoveled a net $54 billion into stock mutual funds so far this year after yanking almost $460 billion in the previous five years, according to the Investment Company Institute, a mutual-fund industry trade group.

But stock ownership among ordinary Americans is at a 15-year low.

The percentage of U.S. households that own stocks, either directly or through retirement accounts, fell to 45.9 percent last year from 53 percent in 2001.

And despite their new receptivity toward stocks, individuals continue to flood into bond funds. They've funneled in $48.5 billion so far this year after pouring in nearly $1.2 trillion in the past five years.

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