: Most Americans were feeling gloomy even before last week’s dramatic dive in stocks — and now they fear a prolonged bear market

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In a matter of hours, promising signs of a stock market rally turned into pessimism, even panic.

For retail investors trying to get their legs during a volatile moment, Thursday’s deep downward lurch is exactly what they didn’t want. But it might be what they knew was bound to happen all along.

A day after markets closed sharply up Wednesday on the news of the Federal Reserve’s 50-basis point interest rate hike — and no likelihood of steeper hikes in the future — they barreled down Thursday.

“More than half of people say the stock market is heading in a bearish direction through the next six months.”

— Investor sentiment from the American Association of Individual Investors

Markets tumbled Friday following an even steeper plunge on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average 
DJIA,
-0.30%
,
the S&P 500 
SPX,
-0.57%

and the Nasdaq Composite 
COMP,
-1.40%

 all shedding Wednesday’s gains. This is what a “violent unwinding of crowded positions” looks like, according to one money manager.

So gloom is up and markets are down. Just as retail investors were thinking was going to be the case, according to recent polls and sentiment trackers.

For example, more than half of people (53%) say the market is heading in a bearish direction through the next six months, according to the latest read of investor sentiment from the American Association of Individual Investors.

The results for the seven-day period ending Wednesday are off from the nearly 60% a week earlier who believed a bear market lurked ahead. But that 53% figure is still well above the 30.5% average who think the market is heading for the bear den.

“Some 56% of people are worrying about a market crash, and 43% are too nervous to invest money in the market.”

— First quarter recurring market-perceptions poll from Allianz Life Insurance Company

Meanwhile, 56% of people are worrying about a market crash, according to a first quarter recurring market perceptions poll from Allianz Life Insurance Company.

Around four in ten poll participants (43%) said they were too nervous to put money in the market now, according to the poll. That’s a nine-percentage point increase from the same point last year.

Eight in ten said they are bracing for volatility through the end of the year. High net worth households also said the choppiness is particularly nasty, with 51% saying the market is more volatile than usual, according to a UBS investor sentiment survey released Wednesday.

Another survey on retail investor sentiment, this time from Charles Schwab Corp.
SCHW,
-3.48%
,
also reflects a worried worldview. While over half of clients were putting money into particular stocks during 2021’s fourth quarter, less than 40% were planning to buy individual stocks in 2022’s first quarter, according to the February findings.

More than four in ten (44%) had a bearish view, up nine percentage points from the same point last year.

The bears are coming, at least in the minds of many. The question is whether a recession is coming too. (“I think we have a good chance to have a soft or softish landing,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said at a Wednesday press conference following the rate hike announcement.)

Read also: Why is the Dow down more than 1,000 points? Should I wait for stocks to sink lower? Here’s what some pros think.

Still financial advisers caution against drastic alterations to a portfolio. “It’s time to make tweaks to your portfolio. You should not make wholesale changes,” Scott Bishop, executive director of wealth solutions at Avidian Wealth Solutions, based in Houston, Texas, previously told MarketWatch.

On Thursday, Kevin Gordon, senior investment research manager at Charles Schwab, reiterated the importance of avoiding sudden, short-term moves — especially in the current moment when there’s been big swings clumped so close together.

If anything, Gordon said, it could be a good time for investors to think again about their long-term time horizons, whether to lengthen them, and the asset allocations to get there. If an investor is more active, it can be better to reallocate a portfolio based on volatility instead of set points on a calendar, Gordon said — but that doesn’t mean constant daily overhauls, he added.

“People who try to trade around short-term headlines largely have been unsuccessful,” he said.

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