Whither the buy-on-the-dips investor?

An informal survey of

TSC

readers suggests that Main Streeters are no longer playing market pick-up-sticks.

"The best I can tell you, is that I am trying to survive," writes

Gary Fisher

, a 45-year-old software developer from Houston, Texas. Fisher moved all his mutual fund money into cash in April, and then -- smart move -- started to buy energy sector funds in June. As of last week he was 50% in cash and 50% in energy funds, and was daytrading energy stocks.

"I tried with the techs, but kept getting whip-sawed," Fisher said in an email. "I am avoiding the techs for the time being."

Jerry Fording

from Dayton, Ohio, seems equally frayed. "The last month has been extremely difficult," Fording writes. "Every time I buy a stock at what I think is the bottom it goes down another 5%. I have stopped using margin and have pulled about 50% of the cash available to me from my account." He's afraid if the dough is there, he'll use it, as he's "not very disciplined." Fording has taken some hits these last two months buying on margin (purchasing stocks with borrowed money, using shares as collateral), and is now actually considering using options to limit his risk.

What market pros call "rotation" is

David Walker's

strategy. The 44-year-old from Huntsville, Ala., writes that he "made mistakes in late summer, assuming the rally into September would continue. I held tech stocks and options too long. Over the last few weeks I have tried to raise cash from some of my semiconductor and cellular holdings during rallies."

Where's the cash going? Small-cap drug and health care stocks, plus some options.

Walker, who is currently in the process of starting up a franchise restaurant, says he would prefer to be less long than he is right now (70% stocks and stock options/30% cash). But he's not ready to sell more with stock prices at these relatively low levels. Indeed, he even considered reallocating some of his daughter's and son's (ages 16 and 12) investments in

Fidelity's

electronics and pharmaceuticals sector funds but, on reflection, decided "they already held a good mix of both."

Investors who are making money appear to be on the short side -- betting stocks will fall.

Victor Leung

, a 37-year-old at-home trader in San Francisco, hasn't sold any of his dozen or so "core long" positions, in tech and Internet stocks, and those are suffering on paper. But he says he's been profiting on short bets against his core positions.

Why pick on his favorites? "I'm most familiar with the company and the trading patterns," Leung says. Indeed, sometimes in the course of covering his shorts (buying back shares, ideally at lower prices than what he borrowed them for in placing the short bet), he'll pick up some extra shares to build his long positions.

This morning, for example, Leung was thinking about shorting 100 to 200 shares of

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

. And when he covers, he says, he might pick up another 100-plus shares for the long term. "I'll short it for the income and maybe add while it's cheap for the retirement."

So what might make tech, and the market as a whole, more enticing for individual investors?

Fording of Ohio says two or three good market days in a row will draw him, but even so he'll avoid buying on margin any time soon.

As for Walker of Huntsville, Ala., he's watching option activity around the

S&P 100 Index

(OEX)

. If the index can creep above 720 -- this morning it was trading down around 704 (see our related

story) -- he might venture back in. But he won't be a tech buyer. "I will probably be more focused on pharmacy, health care and non-tech S&P 500," says Walker. "I fear tech ... has a lot of work to do before moving up very much."

Garrett Goggin

, a 30-year-old at-home trader on Cape Cod, reports being brutalized in one of his two accounts where he has held "blue-chip tech," like

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

and Intel. (He says the other account, mostly for short-term options trading, has been doing much better.) Goggin's plan for the blue-chip account is to wait for energy stocks to come down a bit, buy in, and hold. He doesn't see a bottom in tech for -- get this -- five, six, seven, eight years.

If other individuals agree with Goggin and Walker, that virtuous cycle for the tech sector will continue to turn vicious.

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