With Economy Holding Strong, Many Investors Standing Pat

Wall Street has caught Main Street's attention.

Truck drivers discuss Asian stock markets, and individual investors stop to stare at ticker tapes. Brokerage houses report phones are ringing and ringing. And some mutual funds have had to bring in their "corporate reserves" to help handle the inquiries.

Final market numbers were not available at press time, but, so far, Main Street does not seem to be reaching for the panic button.

Just look around, say individual investors. The US economy remains unchanged from last month. And many investors think standing pat in tumultuous times can make more sense than acting hastily. They are quick to point out investors who didn't panic in 1987 have profited well since then.

"The thing that has kind of amazed us in talking to investors is that the majority seem to be looking at this very much from the long-term point of view - that this happens in the market but it won't mean that much to me," says Thomas O'Hara, chairman of the National Association of Investors in Madison Heights, Mich.

At Fidelity Investments, the giant Boston mutual fund organization, share redemptions increased only slightly on Oct. 27, primarily for international and sector funds.

The trend was similar at discount broker Charles Schwab, based in San Francisco. The day brought $400 million in net redemptions for mutual funds, versus a normal net inflow of $50 million. To handle the extra volume, the company brought in 100 extra people.

Outside a Dreyfus mutual fund sales office in New York, people stopped to stare at the closing stock averages but generally agreed that their faith in stocks remained unshaken.

"This might be a good time to take advantage of the lower stock prices," said Kin Tsoi, a doctor who has invested in the market. "It's not a problem if you are in for the long term."

But Betty Jones, who works in the publishing industry, worried about her retirement program. "I'm scared," she said, "What should I do?" Ms. Jones decided to call her investment adviser and sell stocks that fell below their purchase price.

As he walked out of the Dreyfus office, Anthony Dias Blue, an editor at Bon Appetit magazine, was shaking his head. "There's no reason for it," he said, predicting that the markets would bounce back.

Many investors remember the crash of 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost a greater percentage. However, John Edwards, who sells residential real estate, recalled that the economy in 1987 was characterized by high debt and high interest rates. "This is a very different economy," he says, adding that the slide has just "set the clock back one to two years."

There's no question, however, that the market's slide has gotten everyone's attention. UPS driver Mario Capodiferro says he and his fellow UPS drivers have been discussing the stock market turmoil in Hong Kong and its likely impact on their own retirement investments. Now, they are talking about the US market. But there's no panic yet, says Mr. Capodiferro. "There's no cause for it."

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