Not everyone was celebrating the new high in the Dow Jones industrial average.
After being mauled by two punishing bear markets in the last dozen years, millions of individual investors aren’t sure how to feel.
Wednesday, the world’s best-known market gauge continued its climb to even greater heights, rising by more than 42 points to 14,296.24, a day after setting an all-time record of 14,253.77. It is now 132 points above its previous high-water mark of late 2007.
Some small investors are dismayed at not loading up on equities when the market plunged in 2008 and early 2009. They’re aware that they may have missed their best-ever opportunity to buy low.
“I wish I’d gone in when the market crashed,” lamented John Hyche, 53, a commercial banker from Pasadena, Calif.
Millions of others remain petrified of stocks after enduring punishing losses. They’ve entirely missed the bull market that has carried the Dow up by 118 percent since its March 2009 trough.
And everyone is trying to figure out whether the bull market will continue.
Charles Chineduh, 32, a lawyer from West Los Angeles, jumped into the market in 2011 soon after graduating from law school and getting his first job.
He picked up shares in several technology and pharmaceutical companies but regrets that he didn’t have enough free cash during law school to grab other battered stocks, such as Ford Motor Co.
“There are a lot of stocks I regret not buying,” he said. “I got in at a good time, but it wasn’t the best time.”
Many other people, however, are suffering the financial version of post-traumatic stress.
Patti Fetter, 43, of Los Angeles, didn’t earn a penny when the Dow hit a new high because she didn’t have a penny in the market.
Fetter swore off stocks in 2009 after losing half her investment in the global meltdown. She also saw her boss, who was then a millionaire nearing retirement, lose a huge chunk of his savings. He’s working an additional five years to make up the difference, she said.
Even as share prices have climbed steadily in recent years, Fetter, who works at an accounting firm, was too scared to venture back into the market.
“I don’t trust it,” she said. “I lost money. Other people lost money. I pulled it all out. I’m a single mom, so every cent is precious.”
Small investors have clearly warmed to stocks this year, but not as they did before the housing bust.
Individuals have shoveled a net $54 billion into stock mutual funds so far this year after yanking almost $460 billion in the previous five years, according to the Investment Company Institute, a mutual-fund industry trade group.
But stock ownership among ordinary Americans is at a 15-year low.
The percentage of U.S. households that own stocks, either directly or through retirement accounts, fell to 45.9 percent last year, from 53 percent in 2001.
And despite their new receptivity toward stocks, individuals continue to flood into bond funds. They’ve funneled in $48.5 billion so far this year after pouring in nearly $1.2 trillion in the last five years.
A few trends are clear. Even among people who have remained in the stock market, investment strategies have changed, expectations are lower, and fear is high.
Crystal Lozowchuk, 44, an entrepreneur from Saskatchewan, Canada, dumped her stock broker in 2008 after disappointing losses. She decided to take greater control of her finances and has focused on buying dividend-paying stocks.
Her logic: She’ll make money even if share prices fall. “I figure now even if my shares are a lower price, I’ll still have that same income,” Lozowchuk said.
Even people who have notched big gains in the rising stock market are scared.
Michael Mehanna, 29, a tax consultant from Chino Hills, Calif., “made a good chunk” by investing in Ford, Bank of America Corp. and Apple after share prices tumbled in 2008.
But he got nervous that the market would dive again and sold all his holdings a year ago to buy a house. The Dow’s new high has only intensified his fears.
He said, “I don’t plan on investing again, not any time soon.”