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Investors still mindful of Sept. 11, but focused more on economy,
By Amy Baldwin, Associated Press
NEW YORK — In the year since Sept. 11, accounting scandals and a weak economy have given investors more cause for despair than terrorism has. But Wall Street is still mindful of the possibility of another attack, and that awareness has had a subtle and lingering influence on the stock market.
"The scandals will go away," said Bill Barker, investment strategy consultant at RBC Dain Rauscher in Dallas. "And the cooling economy is temporary ... The terrorism thing is kind of a permanent thing."
The threat of more attacks, he said, "is the one unknown factor going forward," likely to limit the market's ability to move ahead.
Yet as months have gone by without another attack, and with the arrests made of people charged with planning terrorism, Wall Street's initial fright has largely dissipated.
In the first week of trading after Sept. 11, stocks plunged precipitously, slashing 1,369 points from the Dow Jones industrials. The lows that the major stock indexes briefly reached after Sept. 11 were for months the yardsticks by which analysts measured the market's ups and downs.
But after the Dow and the Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq composite indexes all dropped back below those levels in June and July -- and fell to four- and five-year lows -- the post-Sept. 11 milestones lost much of their relevance.
"The first two or three months afterward, people were focusing on it a lot," said Michael Murphy, head trader at Wachovia Securities. "It is more about the economy and the corporate world."
Still, terrorism remains on investors' minds, contributing to a cautious attitude and an unwillingness to commit to stocks.
"It doesn't really push you toward investing," said Jack Ellis, 54-year-old retired state employee in Frankfort, Ky., who hasn't bought or sold shares since Sept. 11.
While the attacks were the first impetus for him to stay away from the market, Ellis has remained on the sidelines because of the market volatility that grew out of concerns about the economy and then out of accounting scandals and investigations involving Enron, WorldCom, AOL Time Warner and other companies.
"It just seems to be on a rollercoaster ride," Ellis said. "Invest one week, and the next week it can go down 400 or 500 points."
The market has always been more about the future -- of the economy, of business, of the value of stocks -- than the past. So, for the market to give the events of Sept. 11 less importance is, in a way, normal.
"The market tends to move beyond catastrophic events," said Peter Sperling, assistant professor of finance at Yeshiva University in New York. "There are too many other things ... the economy and all the scandals. Those are the fundamental drivers, not 9/11."
In some senses the market is right where it was just before the attacks. Stocks were sliding, and investors were getting anxious for an economic recovery. The difference now is a crisis of confidence in the integrity of businesses.
Ken Rapoza, a 34-year-old public relations executive in Boston, didn't sell his shares in two mutual funds when the terrorist attacks occurred. But he did when WorldCom disclosed in late June that it had disguised nearly $4 billion in expenses. Rapoza also lost $5,000 invested in WorldCom shares.
"I said, `I can't take this anymore. So I said I am going to cut my losses, sell these two funds,"' he said.
Burned by stocks, he and other investors won't be quick to return, and concern over future terrorism will linger as a factor in future investment decisions, analysts said.
"It made the market much more sensitive to terrorist threats," said
Richard A. Dickson, technical analyst at Hilliard Lyons in Louisville, Ky.
"Before, we had a sense of it can't happen here."