Stocks lose favor, despite run-up

NEW YORK — Americans missed out on nearly $200 billion of stock gains as they drained money from the market in the past four years, haunted by the financial ­crisis.

Assets in equity mutual, ­exchange-traded, and closed-end funds have increased about 85 percent to $5.6 trillion since the bull market began in March 2009, trailing the Standard & Poor’s 500 index’s 94 percent advance, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Morningstar Inc. The proportion of retirement funds in stocks fell about 0.5 percentage point, compared with an average rise of 8.2 percentage points during rallies since 1990.

The retreat shows that even the biggest gain since 1998 failed to heal investor confidence after the 2008 financial collapse, which wiped out $11 trillion in US equity value and was followed by record price swings, a market breakdown that briefly erased $862 billion in share value, and the slowest recovery from a recession since World War II.


Individuals are withdrawing money as political leaders struggle to avert budget cuts that threaten to throw the economy into a new slump.

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‘‘Our biggest liability in the stock market has been the total destruction to confidence,’’ said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management. ‘‘There’s just so much evidence of this recovery broadening.’’

The S&P 500 climbed 1.2 percent to 1,430.15 last week, extending the 2012 gain to 14 percent, led by financial stocks and consumer companies. The benchmark index has risen from a low of 676.53 on March 9, 2009, though it is still 8.8 percent below its record high on Oct. 9, 2007.

Much of the damage to investors is self-inflicted as US growth improves and companies whose earnings are most tied to economic expansion reap the biggest rewards. Of the 500 companies in the benchmark index, 481 are higher now than they were in March 2009 or when they entered the gauge.

Expedia Inc., the online travel agency, has rallied 577 percent. Capital One Financial Corp. rose 39 percent this year as the lender posted profit that beat projections. PulteGroup, the largest US home builder by revenue, more than doubled this year after it had its biggest annual earnings increase in 2012 and the housing market has rebounded.


Individuals, though, have cut the proportion of assets in stocks to 72 percent, down from 72.5 percent in 2009, according to 401(k) and IRA mutual fund data from the Investment Company Institute compiled by Bloomberg. The data are for all equities, bonds, and hybrid funds, and exclude money markets. Investors are lowering the proportion of stocks they own in retirement funds during a bull market for the first time in 20 years.

The percentage of households owning stock mutual funds has also fallen, dropping every year since 2008 to 46.4 percent in 2011, the second-lowest since 1997, according to the latest ICI annual survey.

The technology bubble in the 1990s saw equity mutual funds expand twice as much as the S&P 500. Stocks’ representation in 401(k) and individual retirement account funds rose to about 90 percent in 2000 from 77 percent in 1992.

Money has gone to the relative safety of fixed-income investments. Managers who specialize in corporate bonds and Treasuries have received nearly $1 trillion in fresh cash since March 2009, ICI data show.

The Federal Reserve’s zero percent interest-rate policy and the lowest inflation in almost 50 years have helped spur a 29 percent rally in debt securities since President Obama’s first term began, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s US Corporate and Government Index through the third quarter.


By reducing the yields on fixed-income securities, the Fed has been trying to push investors into riskier assets.

But even investors who were rewarded by sticking with stocks have had to endure record daily price swings and three so-called corrections of at least 9.9 percent. In August 2011, after S&P stripped the United States of its AAA credit rating, the Dow Jones average alternated between losses and gains of 400 points or more on four consecutive days.

‘‘We’ve had all of this crazy risk-on/risk-off day-to-day fluctuation based on headline stories,’’ said John Carey, who helps oversee about $200 billion at Pioneer Investments in Boston.

‘‘There’s been attractive income for stocks but certainly at the price of some volatility.’’