When Albert E. Sindlinger conducted his survey of American households recently, only 3.1 percent of the people who already owned stock said they planned to buy more shares in the near future.

That figure, while extremely low, was a slight improvement over just one month earlier.

Sindlinger, who has been conducting his survey on a daily basis for 36 years, said only 2.2 percent of the stockholders asked in early August said they would buy more shares. That was an all-time low.

"The public is as disillusioned about the stock market now as they were in 1930," said Sindlinger.

The public's attitude is just one of the many hurdles the stock market faces as it enters autumn -- which, to Wall Street's mind is the equivalent of beginning a new year.

As traders came back from Labor Day breaks and summer vacations last week, they also faced a major psychological barrier: In two of the past three years, the stock market has celebrated the arrival of fall by, what else, falling.

And factors like the economy and the outlook for inflation are much more bleak this year than they were during the depressing falls of 1987 or 1989.

All this hasn't gone unnoticed by foreigners, who seem to have pulled away from U.S. financial markets. The experts say they've been lured away by higher interest rates and greater security overseas and pushed away by the rapid deterioration in the value of the dollar.

And even professional investors and money managers, while publicly extolling the stock market's virtues, appear to be turning as cautious as small investors after this summer's volatility in stock prices.

"Wall Street pros are punch drunk," said William LeFevre, chief market strategist for Advest Corp. "They were euphoric in July, but became depressed after the Middle East situation resulted in higher oil prices and a further erosion of the domestic economy."

Many experts would argue that the economy was failing even before Iraq invaded Kuwait and put the world over an oil barrel.

Argus Research Corp., for instance, had been predicting that the nation's gross national product would contract in the final quarter of 1990 even before the oil shock. Now, Argus believes the economy will shrink by a bigger amount -- 1.5 percent -- in the fourth quarter.

And even if the Federal Reserve should reduce interest rates, experts fear that there is no way to force reluctant banks to give the economy a nudge by granting loans.

As one investment banker said last week, the only way to get banks back into the business of lending money would be to grant the entire industry a moratorium on government supervision of loan quality.

Because that isn't going to happen, experts say a reduction in short-term interest rates by the Fed, now widely expected, might have little effect on business.

Even worse, once the Fed reduces interest rates -- its most effective weapon -- Wall Street won't have anything good to anticipate.

On top of all that, if the rate cut doesn't do the job it's supposed to on the economy, the financial markets could become more depressed than they now are.

Under normal circumstances, Wall Street would have expected a respite between now and the time in mid-October when corporate profits are starting to be released.

But the unstable situation in the Middle East may have robbed the financial markets of that breathing space.

But some experts do see the flicker of a candle at the end of the economic tunnel.

H. Erich Heinemann, chief economist at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. Inc., said private demand for credit is "falling like a rock" as the economy slows.

He thinks this will offset the federal government's insatiable appetite for borrowing and prevent interest rates from rising.

And while Heinemann thinks there could be additional pressure on corporate profits over the short term, he believes that eventually, declining interest rates will benefit both the profits of corporations and their stock prices.

But for now, it's Happy New Year and keep your head down. Ever since the Time Inc. merger with Warner Communications was panned by investors and the new Time Warner Inc. stock was driven off a cliff, Wall Street has been wondering what the entertainment firm would do to cure itself.

Now, according to Wall Street sources, Time Warner may be thinking of revitalizing its shares by selling a piece of one of its biggest assets, its cable television business.

Sources say that Time Warner has already approached some would-be buyers of its cable business, but so far has had little success.

The speculation is that Time will combine its 82 percent-owned American Television and Communications Corp. cable operation with Warner Cable Co. It would then sell off a piece of the combined entity to a third party, or to the public, though that's less likely. It also may settle for a joint venture with another cable operator.

A Wall Street source, when asked, said such a move could be "a start." But he wouldn't confirm that talks had actually occurred.

Meanwhile, Time Warner officials met recently with Oppenheimer & Co. and left the impression there also that a restructuring of the cable operation was in the works.

"Management indicated that it is aware of investor concerns about high leverage, a situation that the Time and Warner managements would both like to alleviate," Dennis McAlpine said, recalling the meeting.

McAlpine said, however, that Time Warner management added that it would like to see the passage of an acceptable cable TV reregulation bill so that it can "compare its options."

The Oppenheimer analyst said he took this to mean that the company was seriously considering a restructuring of its cable operations, but would have to wait for regulatory fallout to clear first.

And despite recent rumors, McAlpine said Time Warner indicated it would not sell a piece of its American magazine operations or attempt to find a partner for its record operations.

Time Warner has nearly $11 billion in debt as a result of its merger. If completely sold, the cable TV operations could be worth as much as $10 billion.

John Crudele is a columnist for the New York Post.