Of course, it all seems counterintuitive until you consider what investors have had to endure over the past 14 years: Two crippling bear markets that saw stocks lose more than half their value, the worst economy since the Great Depression and the perception that market gains are the product of nothing more than rocket fuel from the Federal Reserve that is bound to run out at some point in the not-too-distant future.
"Five years into a bull market, that (sentiment) in itself is pretty unusual," said Brian Lazorishak, senior portfolio manager at Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Va. "It just reflects how much damage was done to investor psychology during the 2008 period. Not just market performance, but housing, too—having everything hit at the same time really rattled investors."
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Indeed, the Bankrate survey showed lagging sentiment across a number of indicators. The Financial Security Index slipped and comfort level with debt went from a general feeling of improvement to deterioration.
The survey of 1,010 adults conflicts not only with a sharply rising stock market but also a feeling that 2014 would be the year the economy finally shook off the remnants of a recession that ended in 2009.
"On a day-to-day basis, most of the noise is on the negative side," said Michael Kresh, president of M.D. Kresh Financial Services in Islandia, N.Y. "We're still close to a double-burn (from 2000 and 2008) that most people have never gone through in their lifetimes. That leaves for a great deal of fear."
That's a problem, he said, for investors looking to generate enough cash for their future by investing in low-yielding vehicles.
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"If you want to ultimately reach your goal, you have to have your money working for you or you will never be able to stop working for your money," Kresh said. "The way to get around this is to show them what staying away from the market means."