Wall Street's Wild Week: Investors Live With It

Stockholders are living with Wall Street's crash, their broad economic concern tempered by the fact that most by far are buy-and-hold investors.

After one of the market's worst weeks in history, just half of stock and stock-fund owners say they've been hurt financially, and less, 20 percent say they've suffered a great deal. The pain is a bit lower still among all Americans because many don't own stocks.

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That doesn't meant the global financial crisis isn't affecting public attitudes; indeed it's sent them into a tailspin. A record 90 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the country's on the wrong track, 88 percent are worried about the economy's direction and 44 percent are confident they'll have enough money on which to retire. (See separate analysis.) But when it comes to the stock market in particular, Americans tend to respond with fortitude, and so far that's the case again.

On the one hand, in interviews the two nights after the Dow Jones industrial average finished down 18 percent in one week, 78 percent said they're worried about the performance of the stock market. Two-thirds (67 percent) are worried about their own family's financial situation. Less, but still 44 percent, are worried about their ability to get a loan if necessary.

In each case, though, considerably fewer are "very" worried about each of these, especially their family finances and the availability of credit. And fewer still are making panicked sell orders -- leaving those, it seems, to the professionals.

STOCKHOLDERS – Fifty-eight percent of Americans own stocks or stock funds; that's grown steadily from a third in a 1987 ABC/Post poll. But most of them by far are in funds; 22 percent of Americans report that they own individual stocks. And 42 percent report no market investments at all.

Among those who do hold stocks or funds, moreover, nearly all -- 95 percent -- describe themselves as long-term, buy-and-hold investors. And indeed they're holding tight: While 68 percent have checked their portfolios in the last few weeks, 87 percent of them have not changed their investments. And among the 13 percent who have made adjustments, most have bought as well as sold.

With more people in the market, more say they're affected by it. After the crash in October 1987, 20 percent of all adults said they'd been hurt by the drop in stock prices. That rose to 37 percent when the market dropped in July 2002. And it's 43 percent now, when you include people without stock investments. (As noted, it's 50 percent among stock and stock-fund owners.)

Again, though, fewer say they've been hurt "a great deal" -- 16 percent of all adults, and 20 percent of stock and stock-fund holders.

There are several likely reasons. The market's risk is built into public attitudes; 79 percent in this poll call the stock market a risky investment. The pain to most investors may be mitigated by their longtime frame, by factoring in past gains and by the fact that stockholders tend to be better off financially and so better positioned to handle the hit.

Among people with household incomes of more than $100,000, 93 percent own stocks or stock funds; among those in less-than-$50,000 households, it's 39 percent.

None of this, of course, eases the pain of the 16 percent who report a "great deal" of financial damage -- a minority of the public, but many millions of individuals.

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