Our troubled economy

Stocks whipsaw state investors

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2008 - 11:43 PM

Uncertain. Afraid. Helpless. Discouraged. The market has average Minnesotans feeling all of this and more.

"I'm looking at at least 30 pink slips and I haven't gotten off the phone yet since 7:30 this morning."

That's Christina Boyd, a Merrill Lynch adviser in Wayzata, as she reacted to the flood of phone messages from her clients in the midst of the panic gripping Wall Street.

But she might as well be a stand-in for most any Minnesota financial adviser on Monday, a historic day when the House voted down the $700 billion bailout package and the market responded by sinking like a stone. The Dow Jones industrial average's 778-point decline was the biggest single-day point drop in the Dow's history.

Like Boyd, most advisers emphasized that such market dips -- despite the record steepness -- are completely the wrong time to sell; they continue to emphasize a long-term outlook.

Boyd said her clients' concerns ran the gamut -- from whether they will be able to take out a mortgage to whether their 401(k)s will be worthless and their credit cards will cease to work. "I thought I trained my clients well," Boyd said with a chuckle. "This is so over the top that I don't blame them. They can't prepare for this."

Craig Ostrem, vice president of investments for Van Clemens and Co., on the other hand, has clients who have taken cash out of their accounts and have it sitting at home after the demise of banking giants Washington Mutual and Wachovia. "They are very discouraged about seeing their assets sliding in their accounts, their 401(k)s, their housing values."

If he had to choose one word to describe how clients feel these days, it's "helpless." Many distrust what they're being told about the stock market and the bailout.

With the Dow down nearly 27 percent from last October, standing pat is tough for individuals such as Diane Iten, 60, who checks her portfolio every day to see how the market's treated her. "In one breath I want to tell you I'd like to put a halt on everything" and sell, said the Stillwater small-business owner. But in the other, she frets over the tax consequences of selling and reassures herself that "I've seen it go down and I've also seen it go back on three different occasions."

Robyn Riley, 45, isn't concerned about her own portfolio. It's her mother's. Riley just moved her to assisted living last week and is relying on her mom's stock portfolio to pay for it. "Before this mess we figured we could pay for her care for around eight years, but now we are concerned," said the Eden Prairie resident. "We've been trying to stay in a holding pattern because we don't want to sell so low."

Drew Whitson, a financial analyst with Target, acknowledges that a drop in the Dow of nearly 800 points "can sting a little," but the 28-year-old looks at it as a buying opportunity for the long-term investor. "I'm actually looking forward to being able to plow a little bit more extra dollars this year into the market," said the Maplewood resident.

Is this the bottom?

Of course, despite their reassurances, even the professionals aren't sure what will happen next. Marcus Winbush, a partner with investment adviser Breneman, Winbush and Associates, spent Monday evening with his team discussing the firm's market strategy for the weeks to come. He's concerned that if the market hasn't seen bottom, the next potential floor could be "several thousand points lower."

He isn't putting new money in equities and won't do so until he sees the financial market and housing market stabilize. "There could be a lot of headwind for the stock market. I think the bailout is just phase one" of recovery, Winbush said.

He thinks Monday's 778-point drop could result in Main Street finally realizing that the bailout is about more than just Wall Street. "My hope is maybe people will start to see this wasn't really about fattening Wall Street types, but it was really about confidence in the system."

It might take more than a historic drop to convince a wary public that the bailout is necessary. Whitson figures the bailout didn't pass because it's an unpopular move being made during an election year. But he thinks it's necessary and would approve of it if paired with changes that would prevent history from repeating itself. Riley would be happier if a bailout punished Wall Street executives.

"People who are in need of their investments in the near future are really being put in a pinch because of the mess made by Wall Street and speculators. The wealthy will recover, but those of us who are middle class will suffer."

Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293

  • about this series

  • The Star Tribune's coverage of the housing crisis, the credit crunch and their effect on Minnesotans.
  • related content

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  • Dow falls 777 points, biggest one-day drop ever

    Tuesday September 30, 2008

    The Dow's largest point drop ever came after the House rejected Bush's bailout bill.

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