March 26, 2020 / 6:56 PM / 7 days ago

U.S. investors turn the most bearish since February 2009

NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters) - As the economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic upends Wall Street, U.S. investors are expressing the most pessimism about the direction of the stock market since February and March 2009, in the aftermath of the previous financial crisis, according to an American Association of Individual Investors survey conducted during the week that ended Wednesday.

Some 52.1% of investors surveyed were bearish about the U.S. stock market, up 0.9 percentage point from last week and well above the historical average of 30.5%.

Bullishness, meanwhile, dipped 1.4 percentage points to 32.9%, compared with a historical average of 38%.

Neutral sentiment, which the survey defined as expectations that stock prices will remain essentially unchanged over the next 6 months, rose 0.5 percentage point to 15%, less than half of its historical average of 31.5%.

The benchmark S&P 500 index is down more than 20% for the year to date after hitting record highs as recently as Feb. 19, ending a bull market that began in early March 2009.

The index rose 4.4% in afternoon trading Thursday after record high unemployment claims boosted expectations for more stimulus measures.

Overall, 38% of investors surveyed by AAII said they were not making any changes to their portfolio due to the coronavirus-linked selloff, while 28% said they were actively looking for bargain stocks. Approximately 11% of respondents said they were planning on adding more dividend-paying stocks.

Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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