The death of the 'cult of equities' was a popular topic this year among both fringe blogs and the best-known institutional asset managers and sell-side strategists. As AP discusses in this excellent article, ordinary Americans - defying decades of investment history - are selling stocks for a fifth year in a row. It's the first time ordinary folks have sold during a sustained bull market since relevant records were first kept during World War II. The answer is both complex and simple but summed up best by a former stock analyst's comment that in order to buy stocks "You have to trust your government. You have to trust other governments. You have to trust Wall Street, and I don't trust any of these." With Fed policy trying to force investors back into stocks (at any cost), a former fund manager notes, presciently that, "When this policy fails, as it will, baby boomers will pay the cost in their 401(k)s." Are we the new 'Depression Babies'? We suspect so.
Investors, as you well know, are leaving the equity markets in droves...
Based on AP's calculations, individuals accounted for 40 percent to 50 percent of money going to U.S. stock ETFs in recent years.
If you assume 50 percent, individual investors have put $194 billion into U.S. stock ETFs since April 2007. But they've also pulled out much more from mutual funds - $580 billion. The difference is $386 billion, the amount individuals have pulled out of stock funds in all.
If you include the sale of stocks by individuals from brokerage accounts, which is not included in the fund data, the outflow could be much higher.
But why are investors not buying the propaganda this time and jumping in with both hands and feet...
"You have to trust your government. You have to trust other governments. You have to trust Wall Street," says Neitlich, 47. "And I don't trust any of these."
Defying decades of investment history, ordinary Americans are selling stocks for a fifth year in a row. The selling has not let up despite unprecedented measures by the Federal Reserve to persuade people to buy and the come-hither allure of a levitating market. Stock prices have doubled from March 2009, their low point during the Great Recession.
It's the first time ordinary folks have sold during a sustained bull market since relevant records were first kept during World War II, an examination by The Associated Press has found.
"People don't trust the market anymore," says financial historian Charles Geisst of Manhattan College. He says a "crisis of confidence" similar to one after the Crash of 1929 will keep people away from stocks for a generation or more.
What is at the core of this mistrust or doubt?
People who think the market will snap back to normal are underestimating how much the Great Recession scared investors, says Ulrike Malmendier, an economist who has studied the effect of the Great Depression on attitudes toward stocks.
She says people are ignoring something called the "experience effect," or the tendency to place great weight on what you most recently went through in deciding how much financial risk to take, even if it runs counter to logic. Extrapolating from her research on "Depression Babies," the title of a 2010 paper (embedded below) she co-wrote, she says many young investors won't fully embrace stocks again for another two decades.
"The Great Recession will have a lasting impact beyond what a standard economic model would predict,"
But it's not just ordinary folks, its professional investors too...
Public pension funds have cut stocks from 71 percent of their holdings before the recession to 66 percent last year, breaking at least 40 years of generally rising stock allocations
as old 'lessons' or myths are dismissed...
And old assumptions about stocks are being tested. One investing gospel is that because stocks generally rise in price, companies don't need to raise their quarterly cash dividends much to attract buyers. But companies are increasing them lately.
Dividends in the S&P 500 rose 11 percent in the 12 months through September, and the number of companies choosing to raise them is the highest in at least 20 years, according to FactSet, a financial data provider. Stocks now throw off more cash in dividends than U.S. government bonds do in interest.
Many on Wall Street think this is an unnatural state that cannot last.
As it seems, for once, a positive lesson is being learned...
"People aren't looking to swing for the fences anymore," says Gary Goldstein, an executive recruiter on Wall Street, referring to the bankers and traders he helps get jobs. "They're getting less greedy."
The lack of greed is remarkable given how much official U.S. policy is designed to stoke it.
But the powers that be are not happy about it...
"Fed policy is trying to suck people into risky assets when they shouldn't be there," says Michael Harrington, 58, a former investment fund manager who says he is largely out of stocks. "When this policy fails, as it will, baby boomers will pay the cost in their 401(k)s."
So, what are 'smart' retail investors doing with their money?
Instead of using extra cash to buy stocks, he is buying houses near his home in Sarasota, Fla., and renting them. He says he prefers real estate because it's local and is something he can "control." He says stocks make up 12 percent his $800,000 investment portfolio, down from nearly 100 percent a few years ago.
After the dot-com crash, it seemed as if "things would turn around. Now, I don't know," Neitlich says. "The risks are bigger than before."
Depression Babies paper embedded below: