There's plenty of room on the window ledges of Main Street

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The Independent Online
KAREN THEIS pauses on her way to work in downtown Minneapolis yesterday for a cup of coffee outside the Brit Pub on Nicollet Avenue. Sharing the bench with flowers and other tributes left there in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, she digests the giant headline on her paper - "DOW PLUNGES".

Karen has more than a passing interest. It is not just that she works in a retail stock brokerage where, of course, things "went crazy" during Wall Street's nosedive on Monday, but she herself belongs to the armies of ordinary Americans who in recent years have made their first forays into the equity market. And, like so many others, she has done very well by it. Until now, that is.

Ms Theis, 41, reckons she is down by about $10,000 compared with a week ago. But here is the funny thing: she is neither in despair nor is she panicking. Indeed even as she has watched the numbers rocket south she has done nothing at all except watch and sigh. "You know what, I don't mind, because it wasn't really my money in the first place," she concedes. "It was just paper money."

Whether it is paralysis in the face of a crisis or just good old mid- western phlegm, Ms Theis is far from alone in her reaction. Multiple interviews with holders of stocks and mutual funds in this city yesterday told almost exactly the same story: so far investors are holding their breath and staying calm.

And one or two are even taking advantage of the swoon to buy a few stocks. It is confirmed by Richard Bowler, the manager of a downtown branch of America's leading discount brokerage, Charles Schwab. "We are getting a flood of calls, but mostly it's people wanting to know what's going on. For the most part, they are sitting tight," he said. The reason, he adds, seems to be this: people are clear that they are in the market for the long term and many expected this kind of downturn.

Indeed, for Ms Theis, the gains had begun to seem too good to be true. "I couldn't really believe that the market had got that high in the first place. If you get up to highs like those, you have to expect it to come down too."

Bruce Finne, a government worker from Illinois in town for a conference, is unfazed even though his losses amount to a "multiple of my annual salary". But he, too, has sold nothing. "I'm in this for the long run. If the market takes a year or three years to come back, that's OK," he says.

At Schwabs, customers are coming in at a trickle not a stampede. Mostly, they are curious about buying, not selling. "You could say, I've done a bit more than nibble," says Roger Siberson, as he leaves the brokerage after buying stock in the Norwest banking group. "When there is blood on the street, it is time to buy." Doesn't he worry that the bottom of the market may be still be to come? No, he says, because the domestic economy is still sound. "The bad news," he insists, "it's been overdone."