Sam Prutch punched the Quotron machine like a pro yesterday morning at the downtown office of the Charles Schwab & Co. brokerage, calling up stocks one by one as share prices headed upward at dizzying speed during the first hour of trading.
But Prutch wasn't buying.
"You're going to see a spike up, but the market will step back and reassess it," said Prutch, an amateur investor who works in data processing. "You still have fundamental problems in the country. The banking problems haven't gone away, the savings and loan problems haven't gone away, the budget deficit hasn't gone away."
His attitude appeared to typify that of Washington area investors, many of whom reacted the U.S. attack on Iraq -- which sent the Dow Jones industrial average up nearly 115 points -- with caution.
"I think it's a great overreaction. This is a euphoric little blowoff. We still have economic problems," said Tom Callaghan, a former lobbyist who spends most of his time playing the market.
A number of area brokers said their clients, traditionally conservative anyway, weren't jumping in.
"We have a very disciplined and sophisticated client base, and I think they saw the rally today as a short-term emotional event," said Bonnie Wachtel, vice president of the Wachtel & Co. brokerage in the District.
With that attitude, Washington-ians appeared much like individual investors around the country. Experts suggested that the quick rise in the stock market was led by big institutional investors -- brokerage firms, insurance companies, pension funds -- who were better able to move in for a quick profit.
"I didn't see that today represented the small investor barreling in," said Larry Wachtel, a market analyst with Prudential-Bache Securities Inc.
Similarly, the Dow Jones News Service reported few signs that individual investors were rushing to put additional funds into stock mutual funds.
Washington area investors may have stayed away from the post-attack market rush because they are, on average, fairly conservative in strategy, brokers said.
"When I talk to other investment advisers in other parts of the country, my impression is we have a highly educated investing community that is very conservative," said Gail Winslow, vice chairman of the brokerage firm Ferris, Baker Watts Inc.
"They tend to be more cautious. They do know the headlines can change."
And Washington investors may have been influenced by the local economic recession. People who see that the value of their house has fallen, for instance, are less inclined to pour their money into short-term investments, brokers said.
"Normally, Washington investors are more optimistic than the average investor, but nowadays it is just the opposite," said Leslie J. Silverstone, senior vice president at the Chevy Chase office of Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.
"The local scene for the first time in history is really frightening."