Merger drives market up

By Cliff Edwards Associated Press Published:

CHICAGO _ Many small investors see the high-flying, record-breaking Dow Jones industrial average and begin counting the ways to spend their stock market winnings.

Who's got the blues? Those left on the sidelines during the unprecedented bull run by a lack of money or initiative, wondering whether they've missed a ride on one of the all-time gravy trains.

"It'd sure be nice to have some of that money," said Kwame Banks, 31, operations coordinator for the Philadelphia-based Colours Organization. "But the reason I've never gotten involved is because I never felt I was at a comfort zone to do it."

The Dow, a complicated index based on the prices of 30 blue-chip companies, is the oldest and most widely followed Wall Street indicator. It began the year at 7,908, but by gaining 49.82 points Monday, it stormed to 9,033.23, its first-ever close above 9,000.

The final nudge was Monday's announced merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group, two financial services companies with surging stock values. At $82 billion, it would easily be the biggest business deal ever.

"People just feel the general trend for the market will always be up," said Matt Waddell, director of online brokerage CompuTEL Securities in San Francisco. "If the market goes down 150 points, people come in looking for bargains, if it goes down 500 points, the same."

The market has been running without a sustained dip since 1990, when the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and worries about the economy sent stocks lower. One thousand dollars invested in the Dow Jones stocks on Oct. 11, 1990 _ when the Dow was at 2,365.10 _ would be worth $4,631 today if dividends were reinvested.

But what about the Asian economic crisis? Just three months ago, it turned the stomachs of some market watchers and prompted dire warnings. And the Dow opened the year with a 4 percent slide.

But the American economy has kept humming along. And with inflation apparently being held at bay, optimistic small investors continued to flood the market with money from their mutual funds, 401(k) plans, and Individual Retirement Accounts.

The Investment Company Institute, a mutual fund trade group in Washington, estimated that nearly $50 billion flowed into mutual funds alone from December through February. Many of these investors are looking to the long term, too _ as of 1996, the trade group said more than one-third of fund assets were earmarked for retirement.

Investment banker Sofia Anastopoulos of Chicago sold her stock portfolio in early October, before the market briefly tumbled below 7,000, to make a down payment on a condominium. She now is looking to jump back in.

"People keep saying 'This is incredible. The market's too high,' but it just keeps getting higher and higher," Ms. Anastopoulos said. "I'm looking at buying opportunities, like everybody else today, and plan on letting that money stay there for the ride."

Still, a good portion of the market is waiting for "the other shoe to drop," said investment counselor Marc Pershan of Krantz, Pershan Investor Advocate Service in Northbrook, Ill.

"We have half the people saying they're too late to get into the market and half the people saying they should have gotten out before," he said. "There's a nervousness that things have run up too high, but we're trying to focus people on longer-term trends as opposed to where the market is today."

While the Dow's 14.2 percent gain this year easily outshines what investors can get at the bank, the uncertain ways of the stock market keep many from diving in.

"You have to have that kind of gambling mentality to go there because just like it goes up, it can go right back down," said Banks, the Philadelphia operations coordinator. "When you start to do stocks, you need to be at a point where you don't have to worry too much about what happens with that money."

Said Stuart Plunkett, a 27-year-old attorney in San Francisco: "Yeah, I feel like I'm missing the boat. But I don't have the disposable income right now to invest in the stock market or mutual funds.

"I just hope it's doing as well in a couple of years."

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