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Americans say stock market gains no help to well-being

Barely one in five of those polled -- 21 percent -- said the market’s gains have made them “feel more financially” secure.
Barely one in five of those polled -- 21 percent -- said the market’s gains have made them “feel more financially” secure.

(Bloomberg) -- More than three-quarters of Americans say the five-year bull market in U.S. stocks has had little or no effect on their financial well-being, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents dismissed the 176 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index since its March 9, 2009 financial crisis low, according to the poll, taken March 7-10. Barely one in five -- 21 percent -- said the market’s gains have made them “feel more financially” secure.

“I don’t think there’s anything real behind it,” said David Skelly, 47, a policeman in Kankakee, Ill. “It’s just an artificial boom.”

The poll shows that most Americans still think the country is on the wrong track; fewer people than in Bloomberg’s December poll expect the economy or job market to strengthen over the next 12 months; and President Barack Obama gets little credit for what gains there have been.

By 56 percent to 23 percent, respondents credit private companies rather than Obama’s economic policies for the stock market’s rise. Skelly, who along with his wife, a community college counselor, has money in the market through retirement plans, mutual funds and individual stocks, objects to the asset-buying program carried out by the Federal Reserve since 2008.

“We’re printing money like it’s going out of style,” he said.

Wealth concentration

The poll’s findings reflect the concentration of financial assets among better-off Americans. About half of Americans own stock, either directly or through retirement accounts, according to the Fed’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances.

Stock ownership that year fell to levels not seen “since the late-1990s,” the Fed said. Even those who participate in financial markets through 401(k) retirement plans often have only modest sums invested. Half of Fidelity Investments customers have less than $25,600 in their 401(k) accounts, according to Michael Shamrell, a spokesman.

“I’m not invested in the stock market, never have been,” said Rich Gleason, 61, of Suttons Bay, Mich., whose floor- covering business failed amid the 2008 credit crunch. “That’s somebody else’s game.”

Wealthier Americans have a greater share of their assets invested in the stock market, while middle-income households have more of their wealth tied up in their homes.

‘Little benefit’

The wealthiest 10 percent of families earn 11 percent of their annual income from capital gains, interest and dividends, according to the Fed. The poorest three-quarters get less than 0.5 percent of their income from such sources.

“Many moderate- and middle-income households have seen little benefit from recent stock market gains and are still grappling with the implications of home prices that, despite recent progress, remain well below their previous highs,” the White House economic team wrote in a March 10 blog post.

The Bloomberg poll offered little cheer for the White House on the economic mood: 42 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s efforts to make people feel more secure economically while 52 percent disapprove. “He’s done a very poor job,” said Robin Walker, 41, a part-time executive assistant in Tucson, Arizona. “Low-income people get all the blessings, while those of us who work out butts off -- we get nothing.”

Wrong direction

The poll also found continuing unhappiness with the direction of the country and ebbing optimism about the recovery’s staying power. By 62 percent to 30 percent, respondents say the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

“I keep hearing in the news and reading in the paper that it’s getting better,” said Patricia Picerno, 52, of Sandy Hook, Connecticut. “That’s for people who have money; for the person in the middle who doesn’t have any money, I don’t think it’s changed at all.”

Just 30 percent of poll respondents expect the economy to strengthen over the next 12 months compared with 22 percent who say it will weaken. The largest group -- 47 percent -- expects conditions to stay the same.

Thirty-eight percent anticipate hiring prospects to pick up compared with 24 percent who say jobs will be tougher to find. A year ago, poll respondents by 43 percent to 26 percent predicted labor market improvement.

The economy probably slowed to an annual growth rate of 2.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, down from 2.4 percent in the final three months of last year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. They forecast the economy will grow 2.9 percent this year, up from 1.9 percent in 2013.

Housing gains

Housing remains a bright spot. By 42 percent to 16 percent, those surveyed expect the market to improve in the next year. Nationally, home prices in December rose 13.4 percent compared with a year earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Composite 20-city home price index.

“We have a phenomenal market,” said Copernicus Guerra, 43, a realtor in San Antonio, Texas. “We didn’t have the big bubble that the East Coast and West Coast had.”

Forty-six percent of Americans say they’re better off than they were at the beginning of 2009, near the depths of the recession and financial crisis. Thirty-six percent say they are worse off, while 17 percent say they were about the same.

The Bloomberg poll of 1,001 adults was conducted by Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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