Great Recession steels Main Street investors for market drop, sparking concern but not alarm

Markets Associated Press

For many investors, lessons of the Great Recession are fresh. They survived, and some thrived with patience. They see no reason to panic now.

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The U.S. stock market took investors for a frenetic ride Monday, triggered by a sell-off in Chinese stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 588 points, or 3.6 percent, to 15,871 points, after briefly plunging more than 1,000 points.

The Associated Press talked with investors across the country about how the market's drop this year has affected their spending and investing. For many, not much so far.

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SELLING CARS IN MISSOURI

John Londoff Jr. cozied up to his computer Monday to check on the market at his family's Chevrolet dealership outside St. Louis and declared it was far too early to be concerned.

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"I think this market would have to continue in a volatile state for weeks before consumers would really pull back," he said from his office in Florissant, Missouri, where the dealership has about 1,000 new and used vehicles.

Londoff isn't a stranger to tough times in an industry that closely follows the stock market. Double-digit interest rates in the late 1970s rocked U.S. car sales. Sales of new vehicles hit a 30-year low in 2009.

Business was "just staggeringly terrible" in November 2008, when typical monthly sales of 350 or 400 vehicles plunged to fewer than 200. The dealership's payroll dropped to 77 employees, well off the 125 there now.

Londoff says his dealership is on pace to sell 5,000 vehicles for the first time since 2007.

"Things seem to be on an upward tick," he said. "We're all concerned about our 401(k)'s, but I have confidence that whatever adjustments are taking place will rebound. At least that's what I'm praying."

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NEARING RETIREMENT IN CALIFORNIA

Patrick Swarthout, 61, says his financial adviser helped him weather the recession that began in 2007 and was the longest and deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He's relying on him again now.

Swarthout, a public affairs officer for the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California, plans to retire in four years to run a bed-and-breakfast that he recently bought with his wife in La Quinta, California, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles. He owns a "blended portfolio" that includes stocks, bonds and real estate.

Swarthout listens to the radio for market updates but hasn't been checking his investment accounts and hasn't contacted his adviser.

"I get advice from (my adviser) and kind of live and die by what his advice is," Swarthout said. "I watch it and if things really start to go bad I will call him and say, 'Hey, what do we do?' ... It's going to have big fluctuations and you can't freak out about it."

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ALMOST TIME TO BUY IN NORTH CAROLINA

Craig Griffin, an investor in Raleigh, North Carolina, said the stock market decline was overdue and was likely to prompt new buying interest from him soon. Just not Monday.

"I wouldn't rush into it. I don't think the thing has bottomed out," he said.

Griffin, who is in his 60s and semi-retired after a finance career at a telecommunications company, is watching the Chinese currency and will look to China's leaders for direction before leaping into the stock market.

Griffin said the market's slide is "not a permanent situation"

"It's going to take some time to climb back up," he said. "There's nowhere to run and hide."

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SADDLED WITH STUDENT LOANS IN NEW YORK

The market swoon has reinforced Danel Muhlenberg's belief that stocks aren't for him.

The 33-year-old New Yorker, who is paying off student loans, has had a 401(k) account for about 1½ years but never had money to invest in stocks beyond that.

"I'm not too interested in gambling my money in that way," said Muhlenberg, who is single and works in midtown Manhattan as director of operations for a cleaning company.

The market's decline "does reinforce my belief that it's a casino, that it's probably safer to focus on saving and living reasonably than to look toward investing for long-term growth," he said.

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Associated Press writers Jim Suhr in St. Louis, Emery P. Dalesio in Raleigh, N.C., and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.