Market tumble makes investors feel poorer

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2001

NEW YORK -- The stock market's nosedive is making investors feel poorer, even if the losses are only on paper, and folks across the country say they are tightening purse strings and no longer calculating portfolio losses.

''I won't even look at my 401(k). I know it's a disaster,'' said Jennifer Romanello, of Woodmere, N.Y.

Romanello is convinced the hit has been sufficient for her to curb spending, as she did recently when shopping for a diaper bag.

The 35-year-old publicity director had her eye on a bag at Saks Fifth Avenue, reconsidered the $100 price tag and bought one for $10 at a discount store.

''Six months ago, I would have gone for the Saks bag. If you think about it, it is silly to spend that much on a diaper bag anyway,'' Romanello said.

And investors realize paper losses could become real ones.

''I'm a whole lot poorer,'' lamented Sally Bradford, 60, a retired homemaker in Lexington, Ky., who estimates her portfolio is down about 30 percent from last year. ''If I needed the money right now, I'd have to settle for a lot less.''

Like many investors, the euphoria of last year when the Nasdaq was above 5,000 has given way to dismay now that it has shed more than 60 percent of its value.

''The market psychology is going down and (investors) want to get out,'' said Robert Shiller, an economics professor at Yale University who also specializes in investor behavior.

The Nasdaq slipped below 2,000 on Monday, then recovered somewhat Tuesday, closing just above 2,014.

Investors became particularly alarmed when they heard Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc., so-called tech blue chips, say they expect business to continue to slump.

''They were the leaders. Nobody ever faults you for owning the leaders,'' said Charles White, portfolio manager at Avatar Associates. ''Now all of a sudden, we are seeing some cracks in their stories, and nobody has any stomach for it.''

While people aren't cutting off all spending, they also are not bailing out of the market entirely. The long-haulers are still in.

Take Jeffrey Hutchins, a shoe store owner from Warren, Mich. When asked what he will do during the downturn, Hutchins said: ''Not a thing. I'm in it for the long haul.''

Hutchins, 40, who invests via mutual funds, said he is ''hoping to God'' that his fund managers are ''buying like crazy.''

Investors also are reminding themselves that the world isn't going to stop using computers and the Internet.

''The market leaders will weather the downturn,'' said Richard Stanton, a 32-year-old banker from Montclair, N.J. ''I'm holding tech companies like Cisco, Intel, Palm. Everybody has a Palm.''

Some investors only wish they could afford to take more advantage of seemingly cheap prices on Wall Street.

''I look at it as a buying opportunity,'' said Jason Springer, of Cincinnati. The 35-year-old computer programmer bought 100 shares of Cisco for about $18 on Monday.

''It has more potential to go up 10 percent than down 10 percent from that -- and that's just a short-term view, and I am a long-term investor,'' Springer said. ''I have a buy-and-hold strategy.''

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