Nervous investors suffer stock market blues

August 8, 2011 6:32:44 PM PDT
It's hard not to be nervous when you hear all the talk about the stock market plunge and the credit downgrade. Analysts say most of the sell-off in stocks has been triggered by hedge funds and other institutional investors. For individuals counting on investments for retirement, days like these can be unnerving.

"I think everyone feels nervous," says San Jose resident Alison Miller. "I'm just hoping I've got a long enough runway before I have to retire."

Everywhere you turn, people have that unsettled feeling. Their investments are turning sour, creating uncertainty about what is safe.

"Because they're concerned that other people are going to panic, they're trying to get out now before the panic sets in," says investment adviser David Amann, who is talking non-stop to clients who seek reassurance not to panic

Large institutional investors are selling off on Wall Street, and small investors may feel helpless trying to control the political battles in Washington, downgraded credit ratings and looming debt issues in Europe.

"Investors need to focus on the things they can control, and those are how much money they spend, how much money they save, the diversification of their portfolio, and keeping that long-term perspective," says Amann.

It can be difficult to heed that advice when you see stock prices plunge and when gold prices soar past $1,720 an ounce. The drop in oil prices provides the only bright spot since that will lead to lower gas prices.

"Today, I'd call this more like a flush crash, frankly. Everything's being washed away," says Terry Connelly, a former investment banker and dean emeritus at Golden Gate University's business school. "Everything's being flushed out, and what happens, of course, is that you're going to see a hit to your 401K."

Santa Clara University professor Meir Statman researches behavioral finance. He finds that many consumers misinterpret several days of sell-offs as a long-term trend.

"We have had a terrible week last week, and this day is terrible as well, and so people say, well, it will continue this way -- and it might continue like that tomorrow -- but at some point it is going to reverse and people will regret it," says Statman.

"Of course there are jitters and nervousness, but I think we need to be calmer than not," says San Jose resident Joseph DiSalvo.

So where are investors shifting their money? Into gold, which is why you saw a price spike Monday, and into bonds, including treasury notes. Despite the S&P downgrade, many investors still see them as safe.

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