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Market Preview: That Sinking Feeling

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- And just like that, stocks are right back where they were before Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve rode to the rescue with QE3 less than a month ago.

It's seem the central bank's generosity is inspiring investors to take profits rather than risks.

The rationale is pretty easy to understand. All three major equity indices began the day up more than 10% in 2012, not a bad year by any stretch, especially when you consider the S&P 500 was basically flat in 2011 and the Nasdaq finished nearly 2% lower.

At their peaks in late September, taking some money off the table had to be tempting, especially with what even then promised to be a dismal third-quarter earnings season looming and the uncertainty of the presidential election and fiscal cliff waiting to complicate the end of the year.

After all, if you're not going to cash in at multi-year highs, when the Fed has already promised to pull out all stops (meaning there's no more rabbits to pull out of the hat), when are you going to cash in?

This week's mutual fund flow data from the Investment Company Institute showed plenty of folks came to a similar conclusion as investors yanked a whopping $10.6 billion out of long-term funds investing in U.S. equities. The outflows are nothing new but that figure is still striking, totaling more than the previous two weeks combined and more than half of the $18.5 billion in total outflows for September.

Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, is still positive about stocks for the remainder of the year and he chalked the sharp drop of late up to nervousness about just how bad earnings season will be.

"Investors have recently adopted a 'wait and flee' attitude toward equities ahead of the Q3 EPS reporting period, which intensifies next week," he said in emailed commentary late Wednesday. "Despite a lessening of the projected y/y decline in Q3 S&P 500 results, according to Capital IQ consensus earnings estimates, share prices have fallen as Wall Street waits for, among other things: 1) Spanish elections and a possible subsequent request for financial aid, 2) U.S. managements' guidance and the possibility that Q3 represents a trough in the EPS slowdown, 3) the U.S. presidential election, which has heated up since the recent debate, and 4) the likelihood of a pre-2013 resolution to the fiscal cliff. We continue to believe equity prices will advance into year-end as successive issues are resolved."

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