As market wobbles, mom-and-pop crowd gets nervous

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

All the recent big up and down days in the market have thrown a scare into mom-and-pop investors.

The most recent reading from the American Association of Individual Investors weekly survey showed market pessimism hitting 30.9 percent, its highest level since Aug. 7. That represents the amount of investors who believe the S&P 500 stock market index will be lower in six months.

Pessimism has been the rule recently as the market has seen a series of triple-digit swings by the Dow industrials and the S&P has come off its record high by 3.5 percent. AAII bearishness has risen 7.9 percentage points over the past two weeks.

The bulls still hold sway, though, with 35.4 percent confident in the market's direction, though that is down 6.4 percent points—a 15 percent decline—and also is at its lowest level since Aug. 7. Neutral sentiment stood at 30.9 percent, up 2.7 percentage points.

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Charles Rotblut, journal editor and vice president at AAII, attributed the jangling investor nerves to "prevailing valuations, events in the Middle East and Ukraine, the pace of economic growth and Washington politics."

One thing they don't seem particularly worried about is the swoon in small-cap stocks. The Russell 2000 index is 10.2 percent off its March high, but investors believe the move is not significant of broader weakness. Just 16 percent of respondents viewed the small-cap correction as a bearish sign for the overall market.

"I don't feel you can gain insights into the market as a whole by looking at market segments in isolation," one unnamed respondent said.

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