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Many Small Investors Have Sat Out Rally
ICI data show that small investors have been pushing into bonds this year, taking advantage of falling interest rates and rising prices. During the first eight months of the year, $220 billion flowed into bond funds.
"Last year is going to change people's risk tolerance for a long time to come," Lash said. "They're not going to have a diversified stock-only portfolio. They realize that everything went down the same last year. There was nowhere to hide except Treasurys and cash."
According to Christine Parker, president of Parker Financial in La Plata, many small investors have adopted a less-than-go-go outlook.
"There's the pessimism of 'Is this just short-lived? Will this last?' " said Parker, many of whose clients are female executives in their 40s and 50s and retirees. "People are worried about consumer spending and the ending of the stimulus." In particular, she said, investors are wondering what will happen to the economy after the government's $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers expires at the end of November.
As stocks go higher, warnings from investment strategists that the market has increased too far, too fast have grown louder.
"We've had this wonderful run-up. What you have to be concerned about is that valuations have become stretched," said Brett Hammond, chief investment strategist at TIAA-CREF. "Markets tend to anticipate economic news, but they don't necessarily predict it. The economic news is better than it was, but it's certainly not rosy."
On Wednesday, as the closing bell approached on the New York Stock Exchange, Charlotte Vass said she had no regrets about not returning to the market sooner.
"We're cautiously optimistic, so it makes sense to move back in more slowly," she said. "The market is a fickle lady."