Skip to main content

Eileen Levi, of Hingham, Mass., didn't wait for the April 14 stock market slide to pull some profits out of the market; hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller should have had such foresight.

"I actually started right at the end of March taking some things off the table and I did some trimming, although it hurt at that point," says Levi, a former professional investor who now trades stocks in her family's portfolio online. At that point, the

Nasdaq

was declining, but hadn't yet entirely collapsed.

Meantime, Druckenmiller, the manager of George Soros'

Quantum

fund, lost about $3 billion on New Economy investments between the end of March and April 17, according to published reports Tuesday.

While online investors aren't quite logging off yet, many of them now see clicking their way to riches isn't the sure thing it seemed a few months ago. It may be painful to the investors who led 1999's Nasdaq momentum rally, but many say they have pulled back their trading -- and will continue to if the markets vacillate.

While individuals don't have nearly the effect on stocks that large institutions do, the market clearly needs their support, says Peter Cardillo, chief investment strategist for

Westfalia Investments

.

"The little guy is really what counts and so if little guys began to pull out of the market -- they could be pulling out of mutual funds or they could be pulling out individually -- that would hurt the market," Cardillo says.

Even as brokers

Charles Schwab

(SCH)

,

TheStreet Recommends

E*Trade

(EGRP)

and even

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

were announcing record growth in trading and margin income earlier this month, many online investors told

TheStreet.com

they were already adjusting their positions and trading habits.

Many say they began reducing their margin positions late last year and have cut back on trading since March or earlier. During the past few weeks, they've been using rallies to shift out of the speculative "no-earnings-yet" Internet plays into cash they hope to invest more broadly in blue-chip tech stocks such as

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems, Inc. Report

.

Following Abby's Orders

By late March, market pundits including

Goldman Sachs

guru Abby Joseph Cohen began telling investors to increase their cash and decrease their equity investments. They were listening.

Levi, 47, is no exception. After having built up cash in early April, she's put some money back to work during the last two weeks, making selective buys on major dips.

All the same, cash now accounts for a larger percentage of the portfolio. Her account -- smaller than it was before the crash but not decimated -- is 40% invested in stocks compared with the 55% she previously had put into equities.

April's losses haven't put her off the market altogether. But now she's concentrating on big names like

Intel

(INTC) - Get Intel Corporation Report

,

Cisco

,

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Applied Materials, Inc. Report

and

American Home Products

(AHP)

, instead of

Ariba

(ARBA)

and

Merrill Lynch's HOLDRs

for the

B2B

(BHH)

and

Biotech

(BBH) - Get VanEck Biotech ETF Report

sectors.

Levi, who has accounts at both Merrill Lynch and Charles Schwab, says she's trading a little bit less and taking less time to get out of stocks. "I'm probably inclined at this point to take a gain quicker than I might have. I think that's what you're seeing in the market generally," she says.

Investors are indeed less confident about investing in stocks, according to a

PaineWebber

Gallup

poll taken last week. The poll, taken after the record declines in the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

and the Nasdaq Composite Index on April 14, showed that 51% of investors said they were optimistic about the stock market compared with 63% in March.

Other indications of investor interest in the market also have showed that investors aren't as confident in the market as they were, but that confidence is rising.

The

Ameritrade

index, which shows whether its customers are net sellers or buyers, showed that on April 12 about 90% of their customers were net buyers. That number fell to 58% by April 19 but by April 24 was back at 85%.

Clearly all online investors aren't as confident as the Ameritrade index suggests. One online trader who trades based on technical indicators says he has cut back from opening four to seven positions daily to one to three positions per week because the trades just aren't there. Another wrote in about being hurt so badly by margin calls that the account's equity position is off 75% and that he's hanging on by a thread -- the only liquidating he's doing is to meet margin calls.

Deborah Rosen, of Columbia, S.C., has found another approach. An online trading veteran, her portfolio is now flat for the year after having been up 10%.

Her way of dealing with the market swings? "I have been doing lots of yoga and meditation, so I can't say that I am hurting at all." Maybe Druckenmiller should try that.