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Retail Investor Goes for Yield: Survey

Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

As the S&P 500 surged to a record close last month, retail investors cashed in high fliers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard and snapped up securities with hefty dividend yields like General Electric, Intel, and real estate investment trusts, according to an inside look into six million funded accounts at TD Ameritrade.

The actions suggest a mild-tempered, more sophisticated approach by retail investors, who are often derogatorily referred to as the "dumb money" and thought to blindly chase momentum after stocks post big gains.

In fact, their moves last month proved to be quite prescient as the overall market stalled in the opening week of April and yields on the 10-year Treasurys collapsed to their lowest level of the year, increasing the need for income-generating securities.

"They're getting more selective on the notion there could be a top soon," said Steve Quirk, senior vice president of TD Ameritrade's trader group. The securities they're buying "aren't things typically showing up on our screen."

Quirk is referring specifically to REITs, which garner revenue from their real estate properties and pass most of it on to the investor in the form of dividends, but aren't usually very popular with the retail crowd. American Capital Agency Corp., Armour Residential and Two Harbors Investment were among the more popular ones investors scooped up in March, according to Quirk.

While they were choosy, the retail investor was still firmly behind this bull market with TD's Investor Movement Index, or IMX, posting a very bullish score of 5.37, the highest since June 2011. This index and tracking of customers' actions were formally rolled out in January by TD after three years of back-testing, giving the first ever peek into specific behavior of the single largest pool of retail investors.

(Read More: US Stocks Still 'Good Investment': Robert Shiller)

The S&P 500 is up 9 percent this year. Hewlett-Packard and Dell are both up more than 40 percent in 2013. The index took its biggest knock of the year last week after a disappointing jobs report raised the prospect the economic recovery could be slowing again.

TD's data also showed retail folks were accumulating shares of Apple for a second month in a row. The iPhone-maker continues to stumble however, with the shares down 20 percent for the year and nearing a 52-week low last week.

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