As the U.S. stock market continues its downward tumble, individual investors faced some difficult questions. Should they sell now or risk devastating financial loss while waiting for the market to recover?
Many of 85 million American investors say they are waiting out the storm.
Kathy Renaud, 61, decided to travel to New York City, as planned, during her summer vacation. The school teacher from the Midwestern state of Ohio says she is spending her money in the city, on taxi cabs, at stores and in restaurants, to help the city, still suffering financially from the September 11 attacks.
Back home, Mrs. Renaud is cautious with her money. She and her husband are starting to put more dollars in savings accounts rather than in stocks. Mrs. Renaud is worried about her retirement plan, which is plunging with the stock market.
"It is going to change my retirement style," she said. "I have to retire in five years and at that rate I might not have very much. But I did not have that much in [the market] to begin with. I am just reluctant. I do not want to be one of the ones that causes a crash."
For now, Mrs. Renaud is waiting for the stock market to recover and has decided not to sell. Economist William Dudley of the New York investment firm Goldman Sachs says most individual investors are acting the same way, despite the wild market.
"Most people seem to have a view that they are in the stock market for the long haul. And I think if you are investing in the stock market, I think that is the healthy attitude to have, and [do] not change your game plan based on some weakness in the stock market, which could very well turn out to be temporary," he said.
Not everyone is waiting patiently though. A series of corporate scandals, including the most recent declaration of bankruptcy by telecommunications giant WorldCom, has caused a two-week selling frenzy on Wall Street. Investors are unloading more shares and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen to its lowest level in four years.
Lou Colasanti, who currently works for the City of New York, says he lost confidence in the stock market long before the latest crisis. "I have gotten rid of most of my stock, pulled it all out a few months back. I have worked for the brokerage companies. I saw this coming again so after 9-11, I figured, that is it," he said.
A clerk named George who works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was not so lucky. George is relaxing in front of the landmark building, eating a cup of vanilla ice cream during a five minute break. He says he is no longer worried about the plummeting market since he has nothing left to lose. The 28-year-old lost $100,000 in technology stocks. He has one piece of advice for investors. "Play the market. Do not play greedy. Get out when you can," he said.
Expert William Dudley of Goldman Sachs say investors, such as George, failed to follow the first, most important rule of the stock market. "Portfolio diversification is one of the things that is always very important in investing," he said. "You do not want to have all your eggs in one basket," he said.
Secondly, Mr. Dudley says, look at your retirement portfolio as a long-term investment that could go up and down with the market. Some investors point out that rule only applies to people who are far from retirement age.
One investor on a trip to his hometown New York from South Carolina says that he is not watching his losses or his retirement fund, much of which has been invested in the stock of his employer, American Airlines.
"I do not follow it very closely, to be honest with you," he said. "I just figure it is going to come back eventually and I just leave it the way it is instead of running around scared."
Many investors say that while they wait for the stock market to rally, they are grateful to have their jobs at a time when a lot of people are nervous about the U.S. economy.